What Is Priming in ABA Therapy?

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Priming is a preventative strategy, also known as an antecedent strategy, used to prepare children for a situation or task by providing them with relevant information beforehand. Whether the situation or task may be new or familiar to the child, priming helps an overall more successful outcome for the child and those that support them.

The Role of Priming in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Priming plays a crucial role in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) by setting the stage for effective learning and behaviour change. It serves as a proactive strategy to prepare individuals for upcoming activities, tasks, or instructions, enhancing their understanding and engagement.

Through priming, ABA therapists create a context that promotes the desired behaviours and increases the likelihood of successful outcomes. By presenting relevant information in advance, priming helps individuals have all the tools they need to develop the familiarity and predictability for events that take place in the future. Overall, priming is a valuable tool in ABA therapy that promotes active participation, enhances learning efficiency, and supports the achievement of meaningful behavioural goals.

Some areas that priming can be helpful for are transitions, as transitions involve moving from one activity to another, this change can be stressful for some individuals. When we prime the situation for the individual, this will increase predictability and hopefully lower their stress levels with that exact change, eventually changing their overall behaviour in this particular transition.

Types of Priming Techniques Used in ABA Therapy

Some types of priming techniques used in ABA therapy are:

  • Visual priming: it involves the use of visual cues, such as pictures, symbols, or written prompts, to prepare individuals for specific tasks or activities. These visual cues serve as reminders or guides. Visual schedules, social stories, and interactive videos are examples of visual priming strategies.
  • Auditory priming: it utilizes auditory cues or prompts, such as verbal instructions, sounds, or recorded messages, to prepare individuals for upcoming tasks or to provide reminders of appropriate behaviours. Auditory cues can help individuals anticipate the instruction given and what is expected of them. A simple verbal reminder or statement can serve as an auditory priming strategy. For example simply telling the child that after they finish using the toilet, it will flush automatically making a loud sound.
  • Tactile priming: this involves using touch or physical cues to prepare individuals for specific actions or to enhance their attention and engagement. This can include activities that involve manipulating objects or using tactile cues as prompts.

Benefits and Importance of Priming in ABA Interventions

Priming plays a crucial role in ABA interventions, offering a range of benefits and contributing to the effectiveness of therapy. One key benefit of priming is that it enhances the individual’s understanding and readiness for upcoming activities or tasks. By providing advance information or cues, priming helps individuals anticipate what is expected of them, reducing anxiety and uncertainty. This preparation allows individuals to transition smoothly between activities, resulting in increased engagement and improved performance. As they become more successful in various new situations and task through priming, this ultimately results in them expanding their skill set in various areas in their everyday life.

Incorporating Priming into ABA Therapy Sessions: Practical Strategies

Incorporating priming into ABA therapy sessions involves implementing practical strategies that can optimize its effectiveness outside of the controlled session. One strategy is to use visual aids such as pictures, schedules, or written instructions to prime individuals about upcoming activities or expectations. Visual priming provides a concrete representation of the task, helping individuals understand and prepare for what is to come. A visual schedule can be made personalized to the child’s routine. We like to decorate our visual schedules with the child’s favourite colour and cartoon characters to make them more fun!

Another effective strategy is verbal priming, where therapists verbally introduce and discuss the upcoming activity, providing relevant information and cues. This verbal preparation helps individuals mentally prepare for the task and reinforces understanding. Additionally, incorporating priming within natural routines and contexts can enhance its impact, as the child is not going to be with their therapist forever.

By seamlessly integrating priming into everyday activities, individuals develop a consistent association between the priming cues and the desired behaviours, facilitating something we call, generalization. That means the child can demonstrate successful learning in new places and with different people. This can look like bringing their visual schedule in their backpacks to school, to art class, to piano class, and to grandma and grandpa’s!

Ethical Considerations and Best Practices in Using Priming in ABA Therapy

When using priming in ABA therapy, it is essential to consider ethical considerations and adhere to best practices to ensure the well-being and autonomy of the client comes first. First and foremost, obtaining informed consent from the individual or their legal guardian is crucial before implementing any priming techniques. ABA professionals such as Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBA) work collaboratively with the individual themselves and their parents. Therefore, everyone has a right to make decisions and contribute to the strategies used.

Additionally, maintaining privacy and confidentiality is essential when using personal information or visuals for priming purposes. It is important to protect the individual’s sensitive information and only share it with authorized team members. Furthermore, monitoring the effectiveness of priming interventions and regularly evaluating their impact on the individual’s progress is necessary. This can be done through weekly check ins and data collection done by the team members. Continuous professional development and staying updated with current research and ethical guidelines in ABA are vital for providing the highest quality of care. By incorporating ethical considerations and adhering to best practices, practitioners can ensure the responsible and effective use of priming techniques in ABA therapy.


What is priming in ABA therapy?

Priming is a proactive strategy in ABA that refers to the process of preparing an individual for a specific situation or task by providing cues or prompts that enhance their performance and understanding.

What is an example of priming in ABA?

An example of priming in ABA is using a visual schedule to help a child understand their routine better by providing predictability for smoother transitions from an activity to another.

What is priming in autism?

Priming in the context of autism refers to a teaching technique used to prepare individuals with autism for specific tasks or situations by providing them with cues or prompts in advance. This ensures a more successful learning outcome.

Why is priming important in ABA?

Priming is important in ABA because it helps individuals with autism by preparing them for upcoming tasks or situations, increasing their understanding and readiness. By providing advance information or cues, priming facilitates smoother transitions, improves engagement, and enhances the effectiveness of ABA interventions.