What is a Behavior Contract in ABA?

A behavior contract is a written agreement between the client and the therapist that outlines specific behavioral goals and the consequences for reaching or failing to reach those goals.

Alan Hollander
January 15, 2024

What is a Behavior Contract in ABA?

A behavior contract is a written agreement between the client and the therapist that outlines specific behavioral goals and the consequences for reaching or failing to reach those goals.

Understanding Behavior Contracts in ABA

To fully comprehend the importance of behavior contracts in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), it is necessary to have a clear understanding of ABA itself and the role that behavior contracts play within this therapeutic approach.

What is ABA?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically validated approach that focuses on understanding and improving behaviors in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ABA utilizes principles of learning and behavior to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behavior, social skills, communication, and overall quality of life.

ABA is based on the belief that behaviors are learned and can be modified through systematic interventions. ABA interventions are individualized and tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual. These interventions are designed to teach new skills, reduce challenging behaviors, and promote independence and social integration.

a group of people sitting at a table

The Role of Behavior Contracts in ABA

Behavior contracts are powerful tools used within ABA to promote behavior change and facilitate progress. These contracts are formal agreements between the individual receiving ABA services, their caregivers, and ABA professionals.

The purpose of a behavior contract is to define expectations, reinforce positive behavior, and establish consequences for challenging behavior.

In the context of ABA, behavior contracts serve several crucial functions. Firstly, they provide a clear and concise outline of the target behaviors that the individual is working on, making the expectations explicit and measurable.

This clarity helps everyone involved understand what is expected and what will be rewarded or addressed.

Secondly, behavior contracts promote accountability and responsibility. By actively involving the individual in the development of the contract, they become an active participant in their own behavior change process. This sense of ownership and responsibility enhances motivation and engagement, increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

Lastly, behavior contracts foster communication and collaboration among the ABA professionals, family members, and caregivers.

The contract becomes a shared reference point, allowing for consistent implementation of strategies and interventions across different environments. Regular communication and collaboration ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals and can provide necessary support and reinforcement.

Overall, behavior contracts act as a roadmap for behavior change in ABA. They provide structure, accountability, and promote effective collaboration among all stakeholders involved. By clearly defining expectations and consequences, behavior contracts help individuals with autism progress towards their goals and achieve positive outcomes.

Basics of Behavior Contracts

Behavior contracts play a crucial role in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) implementation, providing a structured approach to behavior modification. Let's explore the definition and purpose of behavior contracts, as well as the key components that make them effective tools in promoting positive behavior change.

Definition and Purpose

A behavior contract, also known as a contingency contract, is a written agreement between two or more parties that outlines specific behavioral goals, expectations, and consequences. It serves as a visual representation of the behavior change plan, providing clarity and accountability for all parties involved.

The purpose of a behavior contract in ABA is to establish a clear understanding of the desired behaviors and the consequences associated with those behaviors.

It helps individuals with autism and other developmental disorders understand what is expected of them and provides a framework for reinforcement and consequences based on their performance.

Components of a Behavior Contract

A behavior contract typically consists of several key components that contribute to its effectiveness. These components include:

  1. Identifying Information: This section includes the names and roles of the individuals involved in the contract, such as the person with autism, parents, caregivers, and ABA professionals. It also includes the date the contract was created.
  2. Target Behaviors: This section outlines the specific behaviors that are being targeted for change. It should be clear and concise, describing the behaviors in observable and measurable terms. For example, instead of stating "improve communication skills," a specific target behavior could be "initiating and maintaining eye contact during conversations."
  3. Goals and Objectives: This component defines the desired outcomes of the behavior change plan. It includes both short-term and long-term goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). For instance, a short-term goal could be "increase eye contact duration from 2 seconds to 5 seconds during conversations within 2 weeks."
  4. Rewards and Reinforcement: This section outlines the positive consequences or rewards that will be provided when the individual successfully demonstrates the target behaviors. It may include verbal praise, tokens, privileges, or other preferred rewards. The rewards should be meaningful and motivating for the individual.
  5. Consequences: This component describes the negative consequences or loss of privileges that may occur when the individual does not meet the expected behaviors. It is important to ensure that the consequences are fair, reasonable, and proportionate to the behavior.
  6. Data Collection and Monitoring: This section defines how progress will be measured and monitored. It may include specific data collection methods, such as frequency counts, duration recordings, or checklists. Regular monitoring allows for ongoing evaluation and adjustments to the behavior plan, if necessary.

By including these components in a behavior contract, it becomes a powerful tool for behavior change in ABA implementation. It provides a structured framework that enhances communication, collaboration, and accountability among all parties involved, ultimately leading to positive outcomes for individuals with autism.

Benefits of Behavior Contracts in ABA Implementation

Behavior contracts play a crucial role in the implementation of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) by promoting positive behavior, fostering accountability and responsibility, and enhancing communication and collaboration. Let's explore these benefits in more detail.

Encouraging Positive Behavior

Behavior contracts provide a framework for encouraging and reinforcing positive behavior in individuals receiving ABA therapy. By setting clear goals and expectations, behavior contracts establish a roadmap for desired behavior. This allows individuals to understand what is expected of them and empowers them to actively work towards achieving those goals.

Through the use of rewards and reinforcement strategies outlined in the behavior contract, individuals are motivated to engage in positive behaviors.

Positive behavior may include following instructions, completing tasks, utilizing appropriate communication skills, or engaging in social interactions. By focusing on positive behavior, behavior contracts help individuals develop new skills and habits that contribute to their overall growth and development.

Promoting Accountability and Responsibility

Behavior contracts also promote accountability and responsibility. By clearly defining the expectations and consequences associated with behavior, individuals are held accountable for their actions.

This accountability encourages individuals to take ownership of their behavior and the impact it has on themselves and others.

Through behavior contracts, individuals learn to understand the direct relationship between their actions and the resulting consequences. This promotes a sense of responsibility and empowers individuals to make more informed choices.

By consistently reinforcing positive behavior and addressing challenges through the behavior contract, individuals develop a greater sense of personal accountability and responsibility.

Enhancing Communication and Collaboration

Behavior contracts facilitate effective communication and collaboration between individuals receiving ABA therapy, their caregivers, and ABA professionals. The process of developing a behavior contract involves open and ongoing communication to establish clear goals, expectations, and strategies for behavior management.

Regular communication allows for the exchange of information, feedback, and progress updates. Caregivers and ABA professionals can collaborate to ensure consistency in implementing the behavior contract across different settings.

This collaboration enables everyone involved to work together towards a common goal and make necessary adjustments based on the individual's progress and needs.

The use of behavior contracts in ABA implementation provides structure, guidance, and accountability, ultimately leading to positive behavior change.

By focusing on reinforcing positive behavior, promoting accountability and responsibility, and enhancing communication and collaboration, behavior contracts contribute to the overall success of ABA therapy for individuals with autism.

Creating Effective Behavior Contracts

When it comes to implementing behavior contracts in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), creating effective contracts is essential for achieving positive outcomes.

Here are three key components to consider when developing behavior contracts: setting clear and specific goals, defining rewards and consequences, and establishing monitoring and evaluation methods.

Setting Clear and Specific Goals

A crucial aspect of behavior contracts is setting clear and specific goals. These goals should be observable, measurable, and attainable, allowing for objective evaluation of progress. By clearly defining the desired behavior or skills, both the individual and the team involved in the ABA program have a common understanding of what needs to be accomplished.

Example Goal

Increase the frequency of appropriate social interactions during playtime from 2 times per session to 5 times per session within 4 weeks.

Defining Rewards and Consequences

Behavior contracts in ABA often utilize a system of rewards and consequences to motivate individuals and reinforce desired behaviors.

Rewards can be in the form of tokens, points, or privileges, while consequences may involve the removal of privileges or access to preferred activities. It is important to clearly define the rewards and consequences associated with the target behavior to provide a consistent and structured approach.

Example Rewards Example Consequences
Extra playtime Loss of screen time
Sticker chart with small incentives Time-out from preferred activities

Establishing Monitoring and Evaluation Methods

To ensure the effectiveness of behavior contracts, it is crucial to establish monitoring and evaluation methods. Regular and systematic data collection allows for objective tracking of progress towards the identified goals. This data can guide decision-making and help determine if adjustments or modifications to the behavior contract are necessary.

Monitoring and Evaluation Method

  • Daily tally of social interactions during playtime
  • Weekly review of data with ABA professional

By setting clear and specific goals, defining appropriate rewards and consequences, and establishing monitoring and evaluation methods, behavior contracts in ABA can be more effective in promoting positive behavior change.

These components provide a structured framework for individuals with autism to understand expectations and work towards achieving their goals, while also providing a means for caregivers and professionals to track progress and make informed decisions.

Implementing Behavior Contracts in ABA

When it comes to implementing behavior contracts in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), collaboration and involvement of various stakeholders are key to achieving success.

This section explores three important aspects of implementing behavior contracts in ABA: collaborating with ABA professionals, involving family members and caregivers, and monitoring progress and making adjustments.

Collaborating with ABA Professionals

Collaboration with ABA professionals is essential for the effective implementation of behavior contracts. These professionals, such as behavior analysts or therapists, have the expertise and experience to design behavior contracts that align with the individual's goals and needs.

Working together, parents and ABA professionals can identify target behaviors, set realistic goals, and establish appropriate reward systems and consequences. ABA professionals can provide guidance and support throughout the process, ensuring that the behavior contract is tailored to the unique circumstances of the individual receiving ABA therapy.

Involving Family Members and Caregivers

Involving family members and caregivers is crucial for the successful implementation of behavior contracts in ABA. They play a vital role in providing consistent reinforcement and support outside of therapy sessions.

By actively participating in the behavior contract process, family members and caregivers can reinforce positive behaviors and help shape the individual's environment to facilitate progress.

Involvement can include attending parent training sessions to learn about behavior management techniques, providing input on the design of the behavior contract, and actively implementing the strategies at home or in other settings.

This collaborative effort ensures that the individual receives consistent support and reinforcement across various environments, maximizing the effectiveness of the behavior contract.

Monitoring Progress and Making Adjustments

Monitoring progress and making necessary adjustments are essential components of implementing behavior contracts in ABA. ABA professionals, along with family members and caregivers, should regularly track and evaluate the individual's behavior to assess the effectiveness of the behavior contract.

Monitoring progress can involve the use of data collection methods, such as frequency counts or duration recording, to objectively measure behavior change.

This data helps identify trends, patterns, and areas that require further attention or modification. Adjustments to the behavior contract, such as modifying goals, rewards, or consequences, can be made based on the analysis of the collected data.

Open and ongoing communication between ABA professionals, family members, and caregivers is crucial during this process. Regular meetings and discussions allow for the exchange of information, sharing of observations, and collaborative problem-solving.

Together, they can make informed decisions and adapt the behavior contract to ensure continuous progress towards the desired behavioral goals.

By collaborating with ABA professionals, involving family members and caregivers, and closely monitoring progress, the implementation of behavior contracts in ABA can be optimized. This comprehensive approach maximizes the potential for positive behavior change and empowers individuals with autism to reach their full potential.


What types of behaviors can be targeted with a behavior contract?

Behavior contracts can be used to target a wide range of behaviors, from simple behaviors like brushing teeth or turning off the lights when leaving a room to more complex behaviors like social skills and communication.

Are behavior contracts effective for all clients?

While behavior contracts can be an effective tool for many clients, they may not work for everyone. Some clients may need different types of interventions or strategies to achieve their goals.

How long should behavior contracts last?

The length of a behavior contract depends on the specific goals being targeted and the client's progress towards those goals. Some contracts may only last a few weeks, while others may last several months or more.

Can parents or caregivers be involved in creating and implementing the behavior contract?

Yes! In fact, involving parents or caregivers in the process can help ensure that the client is receiving consistent support across all environments. Additionally, involving parents or caregivers can provide additional motivation and accountability for the client.

What happens if a client fails to meet their goals outlined in the behavior contract?

If a client fails to meet their goals outlined in the behavior contract, there should be consequences as outlined in the contract. These consequences should be appropriate and meaningful to encourage future success. It's important to remember that consequences are not meant to punish but rather to motivate change.


Behavior contracts are a powerful tool in ABA therapy. By providing a clear structure for behavior modification, they help clients learn new skills and behaviors, understand the consequences of their actions, and provide a way for therapists to track progress and make adjustments as needed. If you're considering ABA therapy, talk to your therapist about how behavior contracts can help you achieve your goals.