Pairing in ABA Therapy

To an uninformed observer, pairing in ABA therapy is a waste of time and resources. However, this could not be farther from the truth! Pairing is a vital component of all ABA therapy programs. This blog will answer all of your questions about pairing!

What is pairing?

In plain English, pairing happens when you’ve matched yourself with the learner’s favourite things. Each person has a favourite colour, a favourite song and favourite food. We also have preferences for people and are more likely to cooperate with someone we like.

In ABA English, pairing is aligning a neutral stimulus with a learner’s high-level reinforcers. The qualities of the highly preferred reinforcers will transfer to the neutral stimulus. This will change the stimulus from neutral to preferred.

How to do pairing in ABA therapy?

The first step in any pairing program is to identify the highly preferred reinforcers. For example, gather the learner’s favourite things and provide free access to them. Observe which items the learner spends the most time with and you can rank them.

Once the highly preferred reinforcers have been identified, you want to engage the learner with them. The goal is to have the learner WANT to come to you. You want to earn the title of “Giver of good things”. Most importantly, you want to have fun with the learner.

It is vital not to place demands on the learner while you’re pairing. Even simple instructions like “look at this” or “can I see?” can derail the pairing process for some learners. Instead of asking questions you should be narrating the play. For example: instead of asking “What colour car do you have?” you should say “You have a red car!”

Once you’ve established the foundation of your newly reinforcing relationship, you will begin to withhold the reinforcers in order to encourage the learner to interact with you to access them. At this point you can also bring some novel or new reinforcers for the learner to access. Having new reinforcers will keep the learner excited and will avoid satiation (to learn what satiation is, you can read this post with 59 ABA therapy terms defined).

When is pairing done?


You will constantly need to be building the relationship that you have with your learner. The work we expect of our clients is difficult and we need to make sure that they’re being rewarded and recognized for their efforts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate ยป
Skip to content