Tips for getting the most out of ABA therapy

Does this sound familiar? After doing some research and hearing recommendations from people you trust, you’ve made the choice to enroll your child in an ABA therapy program. Problem is, you’re not sure exactly what comes next. What can you do to help your child succeed? We’ve got a few tips we’d like to share.

Tip #1: Educate yourself on the core principles of ABA.

If you want to help your child succeed in their ABA therapy program, the first thing to do is ensure that you have a solid grasp on the subject yourself. To start, the core principle that guides ABA therapy is as follows: “Behavior is Lawful (guided by principles), Observable (we can see it), and Measurable (we can count it).”

All behavior happens for a reason, and appropriate behavioral analysis can influence and shape it. Changing what happens before or after a given behavior may alter the behavioral pattern. By shifting our own behavior, we empower children to make different choices.

But how does this translate into daily life? We can record specific behaviors, as well as the events that preceded and followed those behaviors, and use this information to figure out why that paritcular behavior occurs.

For example, one child may scream because he doesn’t want to leave the park, and another child may scream because she’s experiencing sensory overload. The screaming may sound the same, but the motivation behind the behavior is different.

Behavior doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and myriad factors influence an individual’s actions at any given moment. That’s one reason why it’s helpful to work with an ABA specialist: they are trained to see connections and deduce the functions of behaviors.

Tip #2: Take data at home.

In partnership with your child’s ABA clinician, decide which behaviors you’ll track at home. For example, perhaps your child has a problem behavior such as self-injuring by hitting himself or herself in the head with their fists. In order to find ways to decrease this self-harming behavior, you’ll want to note each instance, as well as what was happening directly before the behavior and what happened immediately afterward.

Note that this is a significant responsibility, and that you’ll want to ask fellow family members for their participation and support in this area!

Your ABA specialist can provide you with ABC (antecedent, behavior, consequence) data sheets to track effectively. These data sheets will help you and your child’s support team to understand the motivations behind the behavior. Furthermore, the data will shape a Positive Behavior Support Plan (PBSP), which emphasizes prevention of problem behaviors such as self-injury via antecedent management.

Once you’ve discovered the function of the self-injury, the PBSP will help you to take steps to reinforce replacement behaviors (defined as socially appropriate behaviors that meet the same function as the problem behaviors).

Tip #3: Communicate with key support people, and be consistent.

When your child begins working with an autism professional, he or she will learn new skills and practice modified behavior. As such, the time that your child spends working with a clinician each week is very valuable. However, your child’s time in ABA is outweighed by time at school or at home with you. That’s why it’s vital for the major players on your child’s support team to work together and send a consistent message regarding behavior.

It’s up to you to communicate with your child’s ABA specialist and consistently implement your child’s Positive Behavioral Support Plan at home. In turn, it’s also important to ensure that your child’s teachers practice PBSP principles in school. This way, your child will receive regular guidance and reinforcement, which helps tremendously in establishing new behavioral patterns.

Tip #4: Review PBSP data with your child’s support team on a regular basis.

If your child is receiving ongoing behavioral support through ABA therapy and an in-school program, then professionals are keeping behavioral data. Ask to review this data on a regular basis, and share the data sheets that you’ve been keeping at home, too. Reviewing the raw data allows you and your child’s ABA clinician to evaluate the effectiveness of the PBSP over time; it also helps point the way to possible modifications.

Tip #5: Be persistent and be patient.

ABA therapy is evidence-based and powerfully efficient, but even so, it may take time to discern lasting change in your child’s behavior. In fact, it’s common to see an “extinction burst” (a temporary increase in the targeted behavior) as a child tries harder to maintain their existing behavioral patterns. It’s difficult to see things get worse before they get better … especially if you’ve been dealing with your child’s problem behavior for an extended time prior to ABA.

So dig deep, be persistent, be kind, be supportive, be patient … and be sure to get the support you need to stay the course.