In ABA, parent participation is often encouraged. Parent participation can boost outcomes for all therapies.
There’s no cure for autism – and there is no need to cure autism. While therapies can bolster skills needed to navigate successfully in the world, they are not magic wands, and it’s crucial for parents enrolling their child in therapies to understand that their child will not “outgrow” autism, nor can professionals “fix” autism. Your child doesn’t need fixing; far from it. They need to be met where they are.
At its heart, behavior therapy is a family therapy – it requires parents to learn new parenting methods (like how to set up the house for safety, use less punishment, minimize exposure to unnecessary triggers, how to have successful outings, reduce dependence on screens, increase communication and understanding, and more). Caregivers, siblings, and other family members’ participation can be the difference between therapy that improves quality of life or therapy that is a waste of time and resources.
Here are some success factors in high-quality ABA programs:
- Be transparent with your supervisor. Consistent, honest, and open communication with the supervisor/BCBA is critical! It’s all too common that parents don’t speak up, whatever their reason for avoiding the conversation – but staff can’t read minds, so if something is bothering you, please mention it to the supervisor (not the RBT, since they can’t independently change things and this causes major communication breakdowns.) If you don’t like it, it’s too hard or time-consuming, or it feels wrong for your child or family – you are your child’s very best advocate. “What are some other ways we can achieve this?” “I feel uncomfortable with…”
- Participation, participation, participation. Do your very best to meet regularly with the BCBA, sit in with the RBT, communicate your questions, and allow yourself to be guided – try to remember that feedback your receive isn’t an attack but an attempt to smooth out a recurring unpleasant event. Don’t really understand a concept or a program? There are no stupid questions, and it’s our job to explain and show in a way that each individual can absorb. We are here to help; everyone learns at their own pace and style. ABA can be counterintuitive, so it can take a lot of practice and different examples to start feeling confident.
- Advocate for the right schedule for your child. A kid who is exhausted, hungry, or needs time to nap or decompress after school is not going to learn optimally if the session is at a funky time. Some agencies will push you towards available time slots that don’t work or make unreasonable recommendations for weekly therapy hours. Kids need time to be kids, and sometimes you need family time. It’s important to maintain consistency and cancel as little as possible, but if your child is in no state to learn, it might be best to skip occasionally. Talk to your supervisor about this.
- It’s okay to be silly. We realize that not every parent had loving and attentive parents of their own. Some parents have expressed great discomfort and difficulty when learning to praise their child or how to play in engaging ways. Your parent trainer should meet you where you are, be encouraging, and willing to be flexible with their strategy. Many of us have forgotten how to be kids – you aren’t alone. This is an opportunity for you to have fun and give your child and yourself what you didn’t have growing up.
- Remember your rights. Informed consent means you should be made fully aware of the risks and potential benefits of therapy/therapeutic strategies before they are implemented – risks can include a temporary increase in challenging behaviors. You can drop out of treatment at any time without penalty (however, I urge you to communicate with the agency before that, as it is likely the problem can be fixed without disrupting services.) You can find a different provider. You can reach out to your child’s school or insurance to learn about other resources and supports. ABA can be incredibly beneficial for learners, and it can be inappropriate for others – as the parent, it’s your call whether or not to enroll your child.
Family members are such important members of their child’s treatment team. ABA therapy is a huge commitment – to get the maximum benefit from it, remember that you are ultimately in the driver’s seat. Any provider worth their salt will work with you every step of the way.