What is Choice Theory ABA?

Choice theory is a psychological concept that suggests that all behavior is purposeful and driven by our choices. According to this theory, we are constantly making choices that are intended to fulfill our basic needs and wants.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
November 23, 2023

What is Choice Theory ABA?

Understanding Choice Theory in ABA

In the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Choice Theory plays a significant role in understanding and modifying behavior. By grasping the fundamental principles of Choice Theory, parents can gain valuable insights into their child's behavior and make informed decisions regarding their development and well-being.

Introduction to Choice Theory in Applied Behavior Analysis

Choice Theory, developed by psychologist William Glasser, emphasizes the importance of personal choice and internal motivation in driving behavior. In the context of ABA, Choice Theory recognizes that individuals engage in specific behaviors based on their inherent need for satisfaction and control over their environment.

According to Choice Theory, individuals are constantly making choices, whether consciously or unconsciously, to fulfill their basic needs for survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. By understanding these needs and the choices individuals make to meet them, parents can better support their child's growth and development.

Key Concepts and Principles of Choice Theory

Choice Theory encompasses several key concepts and principles that shape its application in ABA. These include:

  1. Internal Locus of Control: Choice Theory emphasizes the importance of individuals feeling a sense of control over their own lives. This internal locus of control motivates individuals to make choices aligned with their needs and values.
  2. Quality World: The Quality World represents an individual's unique perception of what is important and satisfying to them. It includes people, things, activities, and ideas that bring joy and fulfillment. By understanding a child's Quality World, parents can identify motivating factors and utilize them in behavior modification.
  3. Total Behavior: Choice Theory defines behavior as a combination of four inseparable components: acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology. These components work together to influence behavior, and modifying any one component can impact overall behavior.
  4. No Coercion, No Punishment: Choice Theory encourages the use of positive reinforcement and choice-making opportunities rather than coercion or punishment. By providing individuals with choices that align with their needs, parents can promote positive behavior change and foster a sense of empowerment.

By familiarizing themselves with Choice Theory, parents can gain a deeper understanding of their child's behavior and work collaboratively with ABA professionals to develop effective behavior intervention plans. Embracing Choice Theory empowers parents to create an environment that nurtures their child's autonomy, promotes positive behavior change, and supports their overall well-being.

silhouette of road signage during golden hour

The Importance of Empowering Parents

In the world of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, empowering parents plays a crucial role in promoting the well-being and development of individuals with autism. By actively involving parents in the therapeutic process, they become valuable partners in their child's progress. Understanding Choice Theory in ABA is one way that parents can actively participate and contribute to their child's growth and success.

Parental Involvement in ABA Therapy

In ABA therapy, parental involvement is considered an integral part of the treatment process. Parents are encouraged to actively participate in their child's therapy sessions and collaborate with the behavior analysts and therapists. By observing and learning from the professionals, parents gain valuable insights into the strategies and techniques used in ABA therapy.

Through active participation, parents become knowledgeable about their child's individualized treatment goals and the specific interventions implemented to address their needs.

This involvement allows parents to better support their child's progress by reinforcing the skills taught during therapy in the home environment. Additionally, parents can provide valuable information to the behavior analysts and therapists, which helps in tailoring the treatment plans to best suit the child's unique needs.

Benefits of Understanding Choice Theory for Parents

Understanding Choice Theory in ABA provides parents with a framework and a set of principles to guide their interactions with their child. Choice Theory emphasizes the importance of providing individuals with opportunities for autonomy and decision-making within appropriate boundaries. This approach can have several benefits for parents:

  1. Enhanced Communication: By understanding the principles of Choice Theory, parents can communicate more effectively with their child. They can offer choices that are within their child's capabilities and provide clear expectations. This improves understanding and reduces frustration for both the child and the parent.
  2. Increased Motivation: When individuals are given choices, they feel a sense of control over their environment. This sense of control can lead to increased motivation and engagement in tasks and activities. Parents who understand Choice Theory can use this approach to motivate their child and make learning more enjoyable.
  3. Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Choice Theory emphasizes problem-solving and critical thinking. By encouraging their child to make choices and decisions, parents can foster the development of problem-solving skills. This helps the child become more independent and better equipped to navigate various situations.
  4. Reduced Challenging Behaviors: Offering choices can be a powerful tool in managing challenging behaviors. When individuals feel heard and empowered, they are less likely to engage in resistant or noncompliant behaviors. Parents who understand Choice Theory can use this approach to reduce challenging behaviors and promote positive behavior change.

By empowering parents with the knowledge and understanding of Choice Theory in ABA, they become active participants in their child's therapy journey. This not only benefits the child but also strengthens the bond between parent and child.

Applying Choice Theory in Everyday Situations

A key aspect of choice theory in ABA is its application in everyday situations. By providing choices within structured activities and incorporating choices into daily routines, parents can empower their children and promote their independence. Let's explore these strategies in more detail.

Providing Choices within Structured Activities

One way to apply choice theory in ABA is by offering choices within structured activities. This approach allows children to have a sense of control and autonomy over their actions while still following the predetermined goals of the activity.

For example, during a therapy session, a therapist may present a child with two different toys and ask which one they would like to play with first. This choice empowers the child to make decisions and actively participate in their own learning process.

By incorporating choices into structured activities, parents can foster a sense of ownership and engagement in their child. It is important to ensure that the choices provided are appropriate and relevant to the activity, as this helps the child build decision-making skills within a structured environment. The ability to make choices can enhance motivation, reduce challenging behaviors, and promote a positive learning environment.

Incorporating Choices into Daily Routines

Another way to apply choice theory in ABA is by incorporating choices into daily routines. Daily routines, such as getting dressed, eating meals, or engaging in leisure activities, provide numerous opportunities for choices. For instance, parents can offer their child options for what to wear, what to have for breakfast, or what leisure activity to engage in during free time.

By including choices in daily routines, parents allow their child to practice decision-making skills in real-life situations. This not only promotes independence but also helps develop problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. When children have the opportunity to make choices within their daily routines, it helps them feel more in control and enhances their overall well-being.

Providing choices within structured activities and incorporating choices into daily routines are effective ways to apply choice theory in ABA. These strategies not only empower children but also promote their independence and decision-making skills. By offering appropriate choices, parents can create a supportive environment that encourages their child's active participation and fosters positive behavior change.

Teaching Decision-Making Skills

When it comes to teaching decision-making skills to children, particularly those receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, understanding and implementing choice theory can be highly beneficial. By guiding children in making choices and encouraging problem-solving and critical thinking, parents can empower their children to become more independent and confident decision-makers.

Guiding Children in Making Choices

Guiding children in making choices is an effective way to foster their autonomy and decision-making skills. When implementing choice theory in ABA therapy, parents can offer their children a range of options within appropriate limits. This allows children to have a sense of control over their environment and actions, which can contribute to improved engagement and cooperation.

When guiding children in making choices, it's important to provide options that are developmentally appropriate and aligned with the specific goals of the therapy. For example, during a therapy session, a parent might offer their child the choice between completing a puzzle or engaging in a drawing activity. By providing choices that are meaningful and relevant to the child's interests, parents can increase motivation and promote active participation.

Remember, the focus is on empowering the child and giving them a sense of agency, while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and structure. By offering choices within a supportive framework, parents can encourage their children to make decisions and take ownership of their actions.

Encouraging Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking

In addition to guiding children in making choices, parents can also encourage problem-solving and critical thinking skills through choice theory in ABA therapy. By presenting children with opportunities to solve problems and make decisions, parents can help them develop these essential skills that are valuable in various aspects of life.

Parents can create scenarios or situations where their children must think critically and identify possible solutions. For instance, during a daily routine, a parent might ask their child to consider different options for organizing their toys or planning their activities for the day. By engaging children in these decision-making processes, parents are promoting their problem-solving abilities and enhancing their cognitive skills.

It's important for parents to provide support and guidance during this process, especially for children who may struggle with decision-making. By offering praise and reinforcement for thoughtful decision-making and problem-solving efforts, parents can boost their children's confidence and motivation to continue developing these skills.

By incorporating choice theory in ABA therapy, parents can play a significant role in teaching decision-making skills to their children. By guiding children in making choices and encouraging problem-solving and critical thinking, parents can empower their children to become more independent and confident decision-makers.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors with Choice Theory

Choice theory in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) provides valuable strategies for addressing challenging behaviors in individuals, including those with autism. By understanding and implementing choice theory principles, parents can effectively reduce resistance, noncompliance, and promote positive behavior change.

Reducing Resistance and Noncompliance

One of the key benefits of choice theory in ABA is its effectiveness in reducing resistance and noncompliance. When individuals feel empowered and have a sense of control over their environment, they are more likely to engage in desired behaviors. By providing choices within appropriate limits, parents can offer opportunities for individuals to make decisions and have a sense of autonomy.

For example, when it's time for a child to complete a task they may find challenging or uninteresting, parents can offer choices related to the task. This could include options such as completing the task independently or with some assistance, choosing the order in which to complete subtasks, or deciding where to work on the task. By providing these choices, parents give the child a sense of control and ownership over the situation, reducing resistance and increasing motivation.

Using Choices to Promote Positive Behavior Change

Choice theory can also be used to promote positive behavior change in individuals with autism. By incorporating choices into behavior modification strategies, parents can increase engagement and motivation, leading to more successful outcomes.

Parents can use choices to reinforce desired behaviors. For example, if a child successfully completes a specific task or demonstrates appropriate behavior, parents can offer a choice of preferred activities or rewards as a positive consequence. This not only reinforces the desired behavior but also provides an opportunity for the individual to experience the benefits of making good choices.

Furthermore, parents can involve individuals in setting goals and creating behavior intervention plans. By including individuals in the decision-making process, they develop a sense of ownership and investment in their own behavior change. This can enhance motivation and overall success in achieving targeted behavioral outcomes.

By understanding and applying choice theory in ABA, parents can effectively address challenging behaviors while promoting positive behavior change in their children. With the use of choices, individuals can feel empowered, motivated, and actively engaged in their own behavior modification journeys.


How is choice theory related to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Choice theory is often used in ABA therapy as a way to understand and modify behavior. By identifying the underlying needs that drive behavior, therapists can help individuals make choices that are more likely to meet those needs in positive ways.

Can choice theory be applied to all areas of life?

Yes! Choice theory can be applied to any situation where human behavior is involved. Whether you're trying to improve your relationships, advance your career, or simply live a more fulfilling life, understanding your own needs and values and making choices that align with them can help you achieve your goals.

Is it possible to change our basic needs?

While our basic needs may be innate, they can evolve over time as we grow and experience new things. For example, someone who has always valued financial security might come to prioritize freedom more highly after going through a difficult divorce or losing their job.

What happens if our needs conflict with each other?

It's not uncommon for our needs to conflict with each other at times. For example, we might value both love and freedom, but feel like we have to choose between them in certain situations. In these cases, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each option and choose the path that best aligns with our overall values and goals.


In conclusion, choice theory is a powerful framework for understanding human behavior and regaining control over our own lives. By focusing on our needs, making conscious choices, and building strong relationships, we can live more fulfilling and satisfying lives.