It is natural for parents to wonder what role they play in the ABA process and how they can work effectively with an ABA therapist. When parents are active participants in their child’s treatment plan, the autistic child is more likely to succeed. Without your support and involvement, it is difficult to generalize skills and customize sessions so that they meet the needs of you and your family.
I have been working as a Behavior Interventionist for just over two years now, and have found this job to be very rewarding, both by my clients’ progress as well as the gratitude of their parents. Parent involvement has been a crucial aspect of my job and has played a large role in my clients’ success. Throughout my time as a BI, I have noticed that the skills I implement during therapy strengthen much more when they are practiced outside of session time. This is largely due to parent involvement in team meetings as well as during and after therapy time at home. However, while working with a different client in which parent involvement was quite minimal, I noticed that certain skills died out very quickly because they were not prioritized in the child’s day-to-day life. This goes to show how important it is for parents and ABA therapists to build a successful relationship, and failure to do so can make or break the success of therapy. Therefore, I am here to provide advice on how to create and maintain a balanced and effective relationship between parents and ABA therapists.
Continue generalizing at home
Though a therapist is responsible for teaching new skills and reducing unwanted behaviors, parents play a pivotal role in the ABA process and should be aware of what their role at home is. Given the fact that each therapy session is typically 2-3 hours long and is held 4-5 times a week, it is crucial that you reinforce the techniques and skills taught during therapy time in normal day-to-day life. For example, when an autistic child refuses to follow instructions during a therapy session, the Behavior Interventionist will try to use a different approach instead of giving up entirely. However, if, outside of therapy time, parents stop reinforcing a set of instructions as soon as their child resists, the lesson won’t have a chance to take hold. Though this may sound harmless, when techniques used during therapy and outside of therapy are inconsistent, it poses a much larger problem in the long run. On the other hand, if parents help to generalize what their child practiced in therapy, they can make more consistent progress. For example, if an autistic child is developing communication skills, parents should motivate their child to verbalize their wants, needs, emotions and problems as much as possible. This can be as simple as prompting your child to ask for a glass of water before you give it to them during mealtime. Similarly, if your child follows a prompt immediately, reinforce their behavior by giving them a reward that fits their preferences, such as a snack or a hug.
Build an open and honest relationship
For a parent with a busy schedule, it is normal to feel overwhelmed if the therapist’s treatment plan is too difficult to accommodate. It is vital that you attend the monthly meetings put in place to discuss your child’s progress as well as raise any concerns you have about the process. Having an open and honest discussion with the BCBA can alleviate stress related to ABA techniques incorporated into your everyday routine, and it can also give the BCBA a chance to revaluate the treatment plan so that it is more manageable for you and your family. It is normal to feel anxious about admitting the challenges that you might be experiencing at home. However, if left unspoken, these challenges can significantly hinder the success of your child’s therapy. Therefore, I highly encourage you to build an open and honest relationship with your child’s ABA therapist. Not every discussion needs to be specifically about your child; feel free to indulge in small talk about what you did over the weekend as a family. This will help break the ice and reduce any awkwardness between you and the ABA therapist. Overtime, this may help in feeling less anxious about sharing certain challenges that you might be facing at home.
Communicate about your child’s progress
Moreover, as mentioned above, a BCBA and Behavior Interventionist are only around your child for a limited period of time. This means that they are completely unaware of your autistic child’s behaviors outside of therapy as well as how you reinforce the lessons from therapy. Therefore, noticing and sharing any unusual behaviors that your child may present at home gives the BCBA a chance to create a specific treatment plan to either increase or decrease various targets. As a parent, you can make note of problems that arise outside of therapy and share them either at a team meeting or through a personal email with the BCBA. By being honest about your child’s progress and providing as much detail as possible, you are simultaneously strengthening your relationship with the BCBA through truthful communication.
Know when and how to speak up
Parents should refrain from interrupting sessions if you find certain steps unconventional. ABA therapists have years of training and are skilled enough to apply the therapy via best practices. If you go against general ABA guidelines –for example, if you use punishment to reduce unwanted behavior – the process will become difficult for everyone involved. To maintain an effective relationship with the BCBA, it is important to address concerns related to sessions in private instead of disrupting a lesson. Your concerns are valid and the BCBA can always use a different approach to reinforce a certain technique. After all, since you know your child better than anyone, your insight and engagement is invaluable for your child’s growth.
Find the right therapist for your child
However, not every BCBA will be the right fit for your child. You may be following all the tips mentioned throughout this article, but if your child’s BCBA is not reciprocating the effort that you are putting in, it might be time to search for someone else. Be honest about your decision and have a meeting with the BCBA to discuss your concerns and/or ask for alternative options. Once you have been matched with someone new, don’t be afraid to comprise a list of questions to ask your child’s potential BCBA, as this can be useful in determining if they would be a good fit for your family.
By following the tips mentioned above, parents and ABA therapists can work together effectively and reap the benefits of ABA therapy.
Harnoor Grewal is an undergraduate student at the University of the Fraser Valley where she is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Outside of school, she works as a Behavior Interventionist where she assists with the development and implementation of behavior intervention plans, focusing specifically on autism treatment programs. In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing, traveling, and spending time with her friends and family.