Choosing the right ABA therapist for your child is a big decision for any parent. You need to feel comfortable that their style and personality will work well with your child’s specific needs and feel confident that they possess the right experience and expertise.
However, knowing what to look for and how to assess therapists can be difficult, especially for families who may be engaging with ABA therapy for the first time. As the executive director of an ABA therapy center, I’m here to help parents faced with this challenge by sharing advice on what to look for when choosing an ABA therapist.
First, what is an ABA therapist?
The term “ABA therapist” actually covers two different types of therapists involved in the delivery of ABA therapy.
- The supervising therapist is called a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). They are responsible for writing and monitoring your child’s treatment plan, as well as supervising the therapist that delivers it.
- Working under the supervision of a BCBA is a Behavior Technician (BT) or a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT). They are responsible for delivering the therapy to your child.
Here are five key questions to ask any BCBAs and BTs/RBTs you are considering as therapists for your child.
1. What is their personality like?
When choosing a therapist, many people overlook a therapist’s personality, but it is a critically important part of the selection process. It’s vital to choose someone you feel completely at ease with, as this will help you communicate with the therapist and learn from their feedback. Having strong communication with the therapist will help you to build confidence in the therapy process as you and your child progress with it.
A therapist must be fun and engaging, with plenty of energy to get them through each session. Patience is also a virtue, as sessions can sometimes be slow and challenging.
The best way to assess a therapist’s personality is to have a meeting with the therapist you have in mind so you can get to know them and hear from them what their individual style and approach to therapy is.
If you feel comfortable after this meeting, you can then progress to a trial period where you’ll be able to monitor how your child interacts with the therapist during each session. For therapy to be effective, your child needs to build a good rapport with the therapist. If you can’t imagine that happening, then the therapist isn’t a good fit for your needs.
2. What is their academic and professional background?
BCBAs are highly qualified, having achieved a masters or PhD as well as passing a national certification exam. When you are researching a potential therapist, check if their masters or PhD program specialized in areas that have particular relevance to your child’s needs. Next, inquire about their professional history, such as how many families they’ve worked with and what they have learned from their experiences. For example, if your child is preschool-age, inquire about the therapist’s experience working with children in this age group.
Academic qualifications among BTs/RBTs will differ, as a masters or PhD is not a requirement for the job. When you find a potential BT/RBT, inquire about the qualifications that they have. Also, ask the same questions about their professional work experience as you would with BCBAs.
3. What is their proposed treatment plan?
The approach the BCBA takes to developing treatment plans is also of critical importance. The more tailored and personalized a treatment plan is to your child’s specific needs, the more effective it will be. Therefore, avoid therapy providers that take a cookie-cutter approach to developing a treatment plan.
Treatment plans also need to be focused on the root cause of behavioral problems, not just on the behavior itself. For example, perhaps your child has difficulties every Monday morning before starting school for the week. An effective treatment plan would focus on what’s triggering this challenge and how your child can better manage it, rather than just trying to treat the behavior.
4. How do they approach data?
ABA therapy is a behavioral science; therefore, data collection and analysis is vital in order to track progress and make ongoing adjustments to the treatment plan. Check with your therapist about how they collect data, what metrics they use to measure progress, and how they report their findings to you.
The only way to determine if behavior goals are being achieved is through data, so subjective measurement such as observing behavior and providing general feedback is not robust enough. Specifically, you should ask to see examples of how a therapist collects and analyzes data. You should also have them walk you through an example report and explain how they use this data to make adjustments to therapy sessions.
5. How do they involve the parents?
Make sure to ask the therapist how they involve parents in the treatment process. For treatment to be effective, parents and therapists need to take a joined-up approach, with parents continuing many of the techniques between each therapy session. Ask what type of feedback the BT/RBT will provide you with after each session and what instructions they may provide to help you incorporate ABA techniques into your everyday routines. Ask the BCBA how you’ll fit into the bigger picture of the treatment plan and how they see you working together to achieve behavior goals.
You should also assess if the therapist’s treatment plan and the demands it will place on you and the rest of your family can be accommodated. If you feel that the plan the therapist proposes could be overwhelming, you should raise these concerns with the therapist rather than taking on something that could be too much to maintain long term. Your therapist will be able to adapt the strategy to ensure it’s manageable.
One final tip
Don’t be afraid to take your time. Resist the urge to choose a therapist as soon as possible and don’t set arbitrary deadlines for yourself. It’s fine to take your time until you find an ABA therapist partnership that’s right for you.
Ultimately, you need to trust your instincts. If you have doubts about someone’s personality, style, or approach to therapy, or if you feel that your child won’t get on with them, then speak to other therapists and repeat the process until you find the right therapists for you and your child.
Estee Rothstein, BCBA is the Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy, a New Jersey based provider of in-home ABA therapy for children with autism. Estee also regularly contributes to discussions around autism as both a public speaker and writer.