Applied behaviour analysis has its roots in behaviour therapy developed in the 20th century.
The earliest examples of the use of behaviour therapy for children on the autism spectrum appeared in the early 1960's and 1970's in the USA. These early programmes involved both reinforcement and punishment techniques. ABA used both of these techniques to improve social and communication skills and to reduce disruptive behaviours.
Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas was one of the earliest pioneers of ABA, initially working with non-verbal, institutionalised children with autism. He concentrated on improving verbal skills using applied behaviour analysis. However many of the children lost their verbal skills when the programme ceased and they returned home. Those whose parents were directly involved in therapy made much better progress.
Lovaas went on to work with younger children, aged 2 to 4, in their home setting to see if the skills learned by the children were maintained. He developed Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (The Lovaas Method) from this work.
Over the last 50 years researchers and practitioners have developed a range of other ABA-based interventions and techniques for individuals on the autism spectrum.