What Is Priming in ABA Therapy?

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Priming is a technique used by clinicians to help patients overcome phobias or other anxiety disorders. It is typically done with the use of eye-contact, and often through exposure therapy. The idea behind priming is that it helps the brain “connect” past experiences with current ones so they can be more easily recalled later on in life

Priming is one of the most important tools in ABA therapy. It is a technique that helps to increase the response from an individual. This can be done by using different stimuli to get a response, or by using different words or phrases when talking to someone.


Priming is a cognitive therapy concept that involves linking one thought, event, person, or object to another.

Even if we aren’t aware of it, we are all subjected to priming. The media and marketing industries depend on our associating their material or brand with certain emotions or experiences. We may also form connections with unpleasant situations, such as being almost struck by a vehicle at a certain crossing.

Priming may assist therapists employing applied behavior analysis (ABA) approaches prepare a client for a future event, reducing stress. The client may then associate reduced stress with that particular change, and ultimately change in general, to make transitions easier. This is especially beneficial for children with autism, who typically struggle with any disruption in their routine, no matter how slight.

Transitions in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy are aided by priming.

Autism is a developmental disease characterized by symptoms that affect socialization, communication, learning and cognition, as well as some physical coordination.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is now the most effective treatment for autistic symptoms and encouraging good behavioral improvement. This type of therapy is evidence-based, with treatment plans tailored to individual clients, such as children with autism, and objective data collected to determine whether the treatment program is effective.

Minor life adjustments are challenging for people with autism, particularly children with autism. A change in habit, ambiguous instructions, unexpected time, variances in foods during meals, and other apparently little deviations in a regular routine or anticipated result might cause severe emotional discomfort. Children with autism might respond to these changes in a variety of ways, causing disturbances and agitation that can be difficult to settle.

Teachers, parents, therapists, and caregivers may use priming to help moderate this response. This is a behavioral method that provides a feeling of stability during unexpected changes or transitions, making transitions simpler for both children with autism and their caretakers.

Priming is defined in cognitive psychology as the influence of one stimulus on the processing of a related stimuli. Words, pictures, or ideas are often used to connect the stimuli.

What Exactly Is Priming?

Every day, priming touches everyone. Few of us are aware that we are pre-programmed to react to specific stimuli, but our memories and experiences may influence how we respond to a variety of stimuli.

Walking by a billboard depicting food, such as a cake or hamburger, and feeling hungry is a typical example. Even if you didn’t look at the billboard directly, when pictures of something tasty enter your subconscious, your mind responds by making you hungry. Similarly, seeing someone on their smartphone may serve as a reminder to contact your parents later that day.

Word association is another example. If you read the term doctor, for example, you will identify the word nurse quicker than the word cat if you are presented these words later. This is because your mind is pre-programmed to think about medical tasks or individuals. When your brain is exposed to a notion, it activates, making it simpler to retrieve related concepts.

Understanding information stored in units, or schemas, in your long-term memory is the basis of priming. When you activate a schema, it becomes simpler to access by entering your awareness, making it more likely to manifest in your behavior.

When a behavior therapist utilizes priming, they connect these units on purpose to build a mental network that may be utilized to elicit certain actions and feelings. This network aids in the individual’s preparation for a certain set of events.

Restrictive or repetitive behaviors, such as a rigid insistence on many aspects of their life being the same, are common among children with autism. Autism patients may adopt rituals and routines to maintain a feeling of consistency. They typically struggle and have problems managing their emotions and actions when these are interrupted. Priming may help children with autism feel more confident in situations where there is less structure and regularity.

Priming Techniques

There are a few different Priming Techniques.

  • Repetition priming: It takes less energy to activate a schema again once it has been engaged once. When a schema is activated repeatedly, it becomes hyperaccessible, lowering the rate of activation. This keeps regularly activated schemas available for much longer.
  • Associative priming is most often associated with word association, such as reading the word cat and immediately thinking of the word dog. Semantic priming is a sort of priming in which a stimulus is processed more efficiently when a related input is provided.
  • Negative priming: In rare circumstances, priming may inhibit rather than activate linked schemas, reducing their activation. This happens when units fight for the mind’s attention, such as when you make tea and think about milk and sugar, yet neither milk nor sugar can emerge in your behavior at the same time.

There are various features of effective priming:

  • To guard against outside tension, the job will be done in a tranquil, soothing setting.
  • In a calm, gentle, and supportive approach, the therapist will offer strategies.
  • Lessons on priming should be brief.
  • It is necessary to introduce materials.

Testing, correcting, and instructing are not the same as priming.

ABA Therapy for Children With Autism: Priming

ABA therapists, schools, parents, and other caregivers often utilize priming to help children with autism cope with significant or tiny changes in their routine. The following are some of the benefits of priming for children with autism:

  • Prepare the youngster for the shift before it occurs.
  • Incorporate predictability into fresh information or activities.
  • Reduce tension and anxiety associated with any kind of change.
  • Boost the child’s adaptive behavioral change success.

Supporting transitions via priming may help a kid with autism see and feel comfortable with alternate future scenarios. Before requesting the child’s involvement, walk them through the prospective future activity. This will help them manage their emotions about the shift in their routine. Even if the rehearsals take place in a different context, such as a therapy office, ABA therapists may set up “rehearsals” for these events as part of a priming exercise.

Priming may help smooth transitions between classes in schools where instructors deal with children with autism, for example. Before the afternoon class, the instructor may show their autistic children the materials that will be used in the afternoon lesson.

Priming may also take place before to the activity, providing an overview of what will take place. For instance, the instructor could introduce a new mathematical subject that the students will be working on shortly before moving on to the real lesson.

When used correctly, priming may be beneficial.

Introducing the notion of change to a kid with autism during treatment may help them manage their emotions in the face of change later in life. It establishes the groundwork for dealing with change in the near term, preparing them for the larger changes that will inevitably occur throughout their lives.

It is critical that the treatment atmosphere be peaceful and encouraging when a therapist works with a kid on the autism spectrum to introduce priming and prepare them for prospective changes. This treatment is often conducted in the client’s home to offer the most comfortable and secure atmosphere possible. Because the person will resist change, the objective is to present it in the most favorable atmosphere possible.

It’s also possible that the therapist may need to work with parents or teachers to educate them how to employ priming to help the youngster. It helps if parents and caregivers reinforce the tactics used in ABA treatment sessions in their regular interactions with the child, as it does with most ABA therapy procedures. This helps teachings stick since they may be used in a variety of contexts.


Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatment and Intervention Services (2019, September) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a U.S. government agency that (CDC).

Preparation (December 2013). Priming (Texas Guide for Effective Teaching).

APA Dictionary of Psychology, priming.

Priming. Today’s Psychology

Definition of priming. Psychology Reference and Research

A Review of Behavioral Strategies and Support Considerations for Assisting People With Transitional Difficulties July 15, 2015. Autism and Developmental Disorders: A Review Journal

Asperger Syndrome and Autism: Success Strategies Accessible Information Resources

Priming. Autism Spectrum Disorders Network of Nebraska

Transition Time: Assisting Autism Spectrum Individuals in Moving From One Activity to Another Autism Resource Center of Indiana

Children on the Autism Spectrum Have Easier Transitions (December 2019). Today’s Psychology

Toolkit for Transition Autism Has a Voice.

Transitions for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Opportunities for Growth (March 2020). Harvard University is a prestigious university in the United States.

The “ABA Priming principle” is a technique that is used in ABA therapy. The principle states that the child should be placed in an environment where they are familiar with their surroundings before they are introduced to new and unfamiliar environments. Reference: premack principle aba.

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