Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is administered by professionals. As a parent, you play an important role in choosing the right person to help your child. But your work won't stop when the professional begins.
Effective ABA therapy for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) relies on active parent participation. You help your child to learn around the clock, even when the technician isn't present.
You'll have plenty of training to help you get started. You won't be in this alone. But following a few basic do's and don'ts can ensure your child gets the most out of therapy.
Getting Started With the Right Professional
Before you can play a role in your child's ABA therapy, you'll need someone to guide the process. That person is a therapist, and as a parent, you have the power to choose the right person.
Therapists certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board will have the letters BCBA after their names. Someone like this is qualified to create and oversee the treatment plan for your child.
Registered behavior technicians (RBTs) carry out the treatment plan that is created by a BCBA therapist. RBTs should be supervised by a BCBA through regular meetings, written reports, or both.
Autism Speaks says you can find a qualified therapist through:
- A local chapter of Autism Speaks. Your local chapter may have information on people in your area qualified to provide ABA therapy.
- The Autism Society of America. The affiliate network can connect you with providers close to you.
- The Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Licensed providers are available via an online search.
- Local connections. Ask your child's doctor or therapist for help in connecting with the right person.
- Trusted providers. Specialized networks can connect you with local ABA therapists who can provide the particular type of therapy your child needs.
Before you settle on one provider, check with your insurance company. Some plans put limits on services, and if you choose a provider outside of their network, you might be required to pay a higher out-of-pocket cost. Most ABA providers will work with you to ensure you are able to maximize your insurance coverage.
Your Role in ABA Therapy Is Critical
Researchers say that treatment works best when parents stay engaged . You know your child better than anyone else does, and you spend the most time with them. You're in the perfect position to help tailor treatment and encourage skill building.
You're not expected to know everything about ABA therapy when treatment begins. Your child's therapist is your guide. This is why it’s important to find a therapist you can trust. You will learn all about therapy goals and how you can help.
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board says parents often have ABA therapy questions , such as:
- How can I help my child apply these skills? During ABA treatment, your child learns at home or in a therapist's office. You'll build on those lessons as you take your child to the store, to school, or on other outings. You may need help in broadening and applying ABA theories to these new settings.
- What routines work best? Your child should participate in everyday activities, such as brushing teeth, eating lunch, and heading to bed. Adaptive skills are built in ABA therapy sessions, but routines solidify them. You may need help building an action plan.
- What should a contingency management plan include? Therapy takes time, and children with ASD may continue to engage in treacherous behavior that endangers their safety or the safety of others. A therapist can help you understand how to handle those incidents.
- How can I help my child build healthy relationships? ASD can impair a child's ability to connect with family members and peers. Therapy helps, but parents also need to foster those connections outside of therapy . You may need guidance to do this.
You may have questions that aren't included on this list. That's expected.
Ask your therapist for help with anything that seems unclear. They are there to guide you through the process.
The Do’s of ABA Therapy
Follow best practices to ensure that your child has the best ABA therapy experience
Throughout your child's ABA therapy journey, you should:
- Help yourself. Juggling work, childcare, education, and ABA therapy isn't easy. Reach out to ASD support groups , experts suggest.
- In these groups, you can connect with others who are also dealing with these responsibilities. You may pick up tools and tricks that help you cope.
- Practice everywhere. The more frequently your child can practice in novel situations , the better, experts say. Use shopping trips, car rides, doctors’ appointments, and church services as opportunities to solidify ABA therapy lessons.
- Ask for progress reports. A child in ABA therapy should learn new skills and behaviors. You should see these in action as you move through each day with your child. You’ll see improvements in virtually every area of life, including academics, socialization, and day-to-day functioning.
- But your child’s therapist should also craft reports you can read and understand. Tracking data helps professionals to determine the next steps in the treatment plan.
- Listen to your child. ABA therapy can be fun, enticing, and even a bit exciting. If your child seems nervous, scared, or angry, pay attention. You may need a different technician or a modification to the approach.
- It doesn’t necessarily mean that ABA therapy isn’t a good fit for your child. The approach might just need to be altered somewhat. Talk to your child’s technician about any issues that arise.
- Ask for feedback. You're part of the treatment team, and you are working hard. Ask your technician for advice about your role. Are you handling the work properly? Where can you improve?
Many parents enjoy ABA therapy. They look forward to the appointments, and they feel pride as their children learn and grow.
While parents are often involved in therapy sessions, they also have the opportunity to relax a bit as technicians take the wheel in these sessions. Parenting a child with autism is a full-time job. Getting hands-on guidance from a professional on a consistent basis can be invaluable.
You will have ups and downs in progress. That's expected. But follow these steps, and you might like the therapy as much as your child does.
The Don’ts of ABA Therapy
Parents of children with ASD have plenty of tasks to tackle, and everyone makes mistakes now and again. You won't be the perfect parent or caretaker. No one is. But avoiding some common mistakes as much as you can could help your child.
As ABA therapy progresses, avoid:
- Skipping appointments. Your calendar is packed tight, and it's tempting to let one or two visits slide. Avoid that temptation.
- Your child needs many meetings with professionals to get better and make progress. When appointments are skipped, your child may lose the progress they have made thus far. This means a longer treatment timeline and slower results.
- Don't let therapy take a backseat to other obligations.
- Certain punishments. It’s easy to think that negative reinforcement is the best way to stop undesirable behavior, but it’s been shown to have the opposite effect.
- ABA therapy uses rewards for positive steps, and certain responses are used to discourage negative behavior. Behavioral technicians do not use physical punishment when kids don't comply. This is a common misunderstanding among therapists and parents, experts say.
- If you're not sure how to handle negative behavior, ask your therapist. Therapy should be fun, so kids will participate without coercion.
- Backsliding. Consistency makes for effective ABA therapy. Kids should know what will happen and when.
- It's tempting to let your child bend the rules now and then just to avoid a discussion. But doing so makes the lesson harder to grasp. Stick with the plan your therapist outlined.
- Accelerating. ABA therapy is built on a series of very small steps that a child masters one by one. You can see the goal in sight, but your child might not see it yet.
- Don't push your child to do anything they don't understand quite yet. Be patient and let the therapy work. It takes time, but the gains are well worth it.
As with most things, there is a learning curve with ABA therapy. With more sessions, you’ll feel more confident in the approach, and you’ll be better able to reinforce the lessons learned in sessions.
Everyone makes mistakes. If you slip, don't berate yourself. But look for ways to start fresh tomorrow, so you can help your child as much as possible.
- Applied Behavior Analysis: A Parent's Guide. (August 2018). Autism Speaks.
- Parents' Involvement in ASD Treatment: What Is Their Role? (August 2012). Cognitive and Behavioral Practice.
- Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Practice Guidelines for Healthcare Funders and Managers. (2014). Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
- Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive. (November 2019). Help Guide.
- Reflections on Applied Behavior Analysis. (April 2019). Psych Central.
- How to Know if You're Getting Good ABA. Child Mind Institute.
- Encouraging Parent Participation in Home-Based Intervention. Association for Science in Autism Treatment.