Applied behavior analysis beneficial for children with traumatic brain injury


Randolph, Mass. — Applied behavior analysis (ABA), has been proven by hundreds of studies to be the most effective method to teach children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder, as well as those with neurobehavioral disorders, including traumatic brain injury (TBI).

“ABA involves systematically applying scientific interventions to make socially significant changes to behavior,” explains Jennifer Derderian, M.A., M.Ed., BCBA, LABA, Clinical Director at the May Center School for Brain Injury and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Brockton, Mass.

There are a number of ABA techniques that work well for children on the autism spectrum and those with TBI. These include teaching in small steps, pre-teaching and transition warnings, predictable and structured schedules, opportunities for repeated practice, and positive reinforcement.

The number of children in this country who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and TBI is increasing every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children in the U.S. has a spectrum disorder. TBI is now a leading cause of disability among children and young adults in the U.S., with tens of thousands affected every year.

Young people who have sustained TBI, like their peers with autism, may experience challenges in a number of areas including:

  • using and understanding language
  • social skills
  • emotional control, flexibility, and coping
  • academics and learning
  • planning, organizing, and remembering
  • personality changes
  • paying attention
  • gross and fine motor skills

“Many of the challenges experienced by students with TBI can be successfully addressed when a multidisciplinary team of professionals employs the principles of ABA in classrooms and therapy rooms. These students can and do make meaningful gains in academics, social skills, vocational skills, and in learning replacement skills for challenging behaviors,” said Ms. Dederian. “It is so rewarding to see students succeed in regaining skills and becoming more independent.

In spite of the significant challenges that accompany a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, there is much cause for hope.”

Jennifer Derderian, M.S., M.Ed., BCBA, LABA is the Clinical Director of the May Center School for Brain Injury and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Brockton, Mass. She can be contacted at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 60 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit