ABA Therapy For ADHD: Can It Be Used?

Find out if ABA therapy can be used for ADHD, as well as the best behavioral therapies for ADHD.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
January 10th, 2023

Can ABA therapy be used for ADHD?

ABA therapy is also a useful treatment for disorders other than autism. One of them is ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

ABA therapy has earned a favorable reputation, mainly from the benefits it has provided to so many with autism.

Applied Behavior Analysis can be used by both children and adults, with a large number of ABA therapy clinics located throughout the U.S.

Studies show that when ABA therapy is prescribed to ADHD patients when medication is administered, the most severe symptoms of ADHD can be mitigated.

Many medical institutions have recommended behavioral therapy in combination with the medication prescribed to people with ADHD, to more successfully handle its symptoms, regardless of how severe they become.

Source: Healthline.com

Behavioral therapy has been so successful in mitigating problems associated with ADHD that it’s now the preferred method in developing skills in people with the disorder.

Such therapy sessions can lower their inhibitions to act on their impulses, especially in ways that could lead to self-harm.

For parents concerned about the amount of medication prescribed to children with ADHD, having behavioral therapy is beneficial in helping to lower the dosage over a shorter period than without.

Children with ADHD

Kids with ADHD are usually diagnosed early on in life. It's associated with problems involving impulse control, where thinking before acting can be difficult.

Paying attention or becoming easily sidetracked are also symptoms of ADHD. Here are some of the most common symptoms found in kids with ADHD:

  • An inability to pay attention - This is one of the common traits of ADHD, difficulty in paying attention or staying focused.
  • Acting on impulse - People with ADHD have problems staying focused on their behavior, which can frequently result in them acting too quickly without careful consideration of their actions.
  • Hyperactive behavior - Physical activity can be strong, sometimes excessive to the point of difficulty keeping themselves from moving.
  • Talkativeness - Unable to restrain oneself from speaking when it isn't needed or wanted, usually in situations where hyperactivity is exhibited.
  • Problems socializing - In combination with the symptoms named, ADHD patients oftentimes have problems making friends, socializing, and interacting with people, especially those within their peer group.

ADHD has three primary types, which are hyperactivity, combined, and inattention.

Hyperactivity, also known as impulsivity, can grow into uncontrolled movements and fidgeting, or general problems being able to stay in place without moving around. It can be experienced through interrupting people or speaking out of turn.

However, such symptoms can happen at any time, including when patients are alone or with people they feel comfortable around.

Inattention and disorganization consist of issues balancing out the time that they have and completing tasks in an orderly fashion.

They exhibit problems staying focused on single and multiple problems, staying focused, and adhering to instructions laid out to them.

When other people are around, the individual can show major problems with waiting for their turn in performing a task.

Combined symptoms are when hyperactivity and inattention are combined. Although experiencing both might not happen often and can be mitigated, they remain common in kids with ADHD.

Treatment focuses on controlling these symptoms as the patient ages, something that can happen fast or slowly based on the individual.

How does ABA therapy work for children with ADHD?

According to the CDC, behavioral therapy can successfully lower behaviors in ADHD patients that are seen as unbecoming, the same as people with autism.

Studies show that medication combined with ABA therapy is suitable for the majority of kids with ADHD. However, there is an age limit for some children, who could be too young to receive treatment.

For more info, parents should consult with a doctor for precise age on prescriptions. In the meantime, parents can use the approaches of ABA therapy to mitigate ADHD symptoms.

What ABA techniques can help children with ADHD?

The goal of ABA therapy is to show positive alterations in a patient's behavior and actions. This is done using three steps, starting with the antecedent.

The antecedent is a signal or instruction, awareness of the consequences of each behavior shown. How each behavior is exhibited and the result of them is the primary focus of the antecedent.

Both parents and therapists can use specific techniques to build on behaviors that they want a child to exhibit. Here are some of them:

Differential reinforcement

Differential reinforcement is done to strengthen positive behavior that's shown by a child. It's done by rewarding them with the interaction they take as positive. However, parents and therapists delay positive reinforcement during this method.

Discrete trial training

This simplifies complicated courses into condensed and discrete pieces. Rewards to patients are given to show consequences that spring forth from the behavior that they wish the patient to exhibit.

Pivotal response training

In this course, kids begin it with therapy that's based on playtime. It zeroes in on the pertinent areas in a kid's cognitive abilities, such as their social issues and learning capabilities.

During pivotal response training, treatment is neutral, meaning that the actions taken by therapists and parents are related to the behavior shown in a child.

If a child asks for something in a meaningful way, the therapists will provide it as normal, according to the circumstances of the interaction. Good behavior is never rewarded with items that aren't related to their treatment.

Self-management training

Self-management training is frequently done with ADHD patients that are teenagers and older. A plan is created where the patient can follow along with their treatment plan in a way that allows them to manage their behavior on their own.

This is known as self-regulation. For these skills to be successfully taught to a patient, a therapist must give them guidelines on how to reward themselves for exhibiting certain behaviors.

It's beneficial since it allows the patient to understand their awareness and acknowledge behaviors that are found to be negative.

The techniques mentioned can help ADHD patients since they're built with a focus on behavior regulation.

Young people with ADHD have problems controlling their impulses. Disruptions are common, including how they understand how others absorb the behavior they show.

ABA therapy can further help them see how their actions can impact the environment around them.

Still, it's important to remember that such techniques cannot alter the way their brain interprets the world.

It's been proven that children with ADHD who undergo ABA therapy are less reliant on medication as they get older.

However, this usually isn't done on their own. But having them learn positive behavior is a key component of why ABA is recommended in the first place. When a child practices more for their rewards, their actions are shown to be positive.

What are the best behavioral therapies for ADHD?

For people with ADHD, symptoms can make performing ordinary tasks difficult. Problems can occur while at work, at school, or while at home.

Still, ABA therapy for people with ADHD can help them build skills that lower their symptoms, allowing for better performance at everyday tasks.

The objective of ABA is to reduce unwanted behaviors with those which are positive.

It does this by focusing the patient on strategies that improve their ability to focus and organize. As such, control over their impulses is the result.

Behavioral therapy has been so successful that some have completely done away with their dependency on medication prescribed before receiving it. However, there's nothing wrong with using medication alongside behavioral therapy.

What Are the Most Common Treatment Approaches for ADHD?

While there are many varied therapies for treating ADHD, the method for which they are given can vary, especially between adults and kids.

For example, treatments specified for adults are a lot different than those given to children. When treatment is given to kids, it can involve more people, such as parents, guardians, and teachers.

One comment approach is cognitive behavioral therapy.

This is provided to help better complications that pertain to the daily goings on of patients, such as problems with delaying important responsibilities, better management of time, and more careful planning.

Cognitive behavioral therapy allows people to seek new ways of coping with the everyday problems that manifest, and how to control their emotions when they occur.

Other common approaches include supportive psychotherapy, interpersonal therapy, and group therapy.

They can help patients better cope with symptoms as they persist, teach them how to improve on misunderstandings from previous therapy sessions, and build from people that share a similar diagnosis as them.

What can parents do to help their child with ADHD?

Here's what parents can do to assist in their child's ADHD symptoms during therapy:

  • Learn to acknowledge positive actions - Be sure to let them know when they perform a task or behavior that's positive.
  • Make instructions clear to understand - Kids with ADHD have problems focusing and paying attention, particularly for long periods. Simplify instructions so that they're easier to comprehend, or make them concise so that they won't become easily sidetracked.
  • Let them view the progress they're making - When they're able to see the improvement on their own, it can help drive them to become more active in their development.

Behavioral issues related to ADHD

Many symptoms of ADHD are detected during the childhood of a patient. Inattention is one of them. Hyperactivity is another, where staying in one place becomes hard for them to accomplish, especially without guidance.

Other complications include getting angry at random periods, a tendency to argue with authority figures, and antagonizing behavior.

These can grow into more critical issues such as running away from home, truancy and disobeying authority figures later in their childhood.

This is why kids with ADHD must receive help, and ABA therapy is a proven way to reduce the chance of severe behaviors they show.

With a focus on providing young people care that allows them to become productive through a better focus on areas they previously had problems concentrating on, ABA therapy can impact the lives of people with ADHD and their parents in a big way.


  1. https://childmind.org/article/behavioral-treatments-kids-adhd/
  2. https://manhattanpsychologygroup.com/applied-behavioral-analysis-aba-as-a-treatment-for-adhd/
  3. https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/add-and-adhd/
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/behavior-therapy.html
steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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