Embarking on the ABA Journey – Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series for families considering or beginning ABA services.

So, here you are, beginning Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services. Maybe you have a child who is engaging in some challenging behaviors that make your child or family’s day-to-day life unsafe or difficult to manage. Maybe your child is not communicating in a meaningful way, and his or her ability to participate in social settings or complete a daily routine is limited.

Whatever your personal circumstances, you have chosen ABA services in an attempt to remediate some of those challenges and have taken the first step in improving outcomes for your family.

Once you have secured funding, and identified an ABA program or analyst with whom you are comfortable, assessment and treatment can begin.

Here are some steps you can take to maximize treatment outcomes for your family:

Ask questions. The behavior assessment and treatment plan may be a long and arduous document full of mumbo-jumbo and clinical terminology. It is really intended as a reference guide for professionals throughout the course of treatment. However, it is an ethical obligation of your behavior analyst to explain these terminologies to you, and it is not unreasonable for you to request a written summary of treatment findings and recommendations in more user-friendly wording.

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If you don’t make explicit requests, your behavior analyst may assume that you understand the plan and may proceed full steam ahead, while you actually remain in a cloud of confusion, with no real understanding the why’s, where’s, or when’s.


So, as often as necessary, request that your behavior analyst allocate time to sit down with you and review the current procedures in a way that you understand.


Read up. While no one expects families to be fluent in ABA clinical language, it is an expectation, and often a requirement of services, that families become familiar and proficient in their child’s treatment plan.


If you learn that a particular procedure is being used, such as Discrete Trial Training, Positive Reinforcement, or Extinction, Google it. Read books. Take workshops. You will be far more able to support and advocate for your child throughout the duration of his or her development if you take steps to empower yourself by learning about these procedures.


Stop, look, and listen. There is a common misconception that a behavior analyst will arrive at the client’s home and work one-on-one with the child while mom or dad runs errands or takes a break.


Far from it. Being present when a behavior analyst is working directly with a child is a valuable learning opportunity. Make sure that you schedule time to sit back and watch what the therapist and child are doing, how they are doing it, and what they are saying.


Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the behavior analyst, “Can you show me how to do that?”or “Am I doing it right?” The behavior analyst appreciates these questions since they demonstrate involvement and create an opportunity to teach you. Your learning is just as valuable as your child’s.


If you are aloof, disinterested, or absent, the behavior analyst may struggle to teach you the skills that you need in order to help your child when the analyst isn’t there.


Data, data, data! Probably the least popular component of ABA is data collection. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. ABA relies on data to interpret whether an intervention is effective or not. It is simply insufficient for a parent to say, “He had a really rough week,” or “she is out of control today.” That doesn’t tell the behavior analyst enough about the behavior in question.


Often, the analyst needs to know the precise frequency of a certain behavior or exactly how many times a new skill was used. Don’t underestimate the significance of these things, as they will greatly affect the quality of treatment you receive. If a behavior analyst does not have adequate behavior data, they will be unable to make treatment decisions. And if something isn’t working, they need to know.


Your behavior analyst should take steps to make data collection manageable. They are responsible for providing training to you on how to correctly collect the required data. But be prepared to make adjustments for it. You may need to set reminders or allocate a certain time each day to record behaviors, and those are unavoidable commitments.


Be willing to adjust. ABA is not a convenient intervention. It doesn’t fit nicely into your daily routine or magically alleviate stressors in the environment. You can’t just sprinkle a little here and there or attend to sessions only when you feel up to it.


It is a marathon, not a sprint, and the winner will most certainly be the tortoise and not the hare. Those who are willing to stay for the long term will undoubtedly reap the most benefits.


Your behavior analyst may offer recommendations for household adaptations that you can make to improve skill acquisition or reduce the likelihood of a challenging behavior. They may recommend that certain activities increase or decrease and that priorities be realigned to account for immediate or urgent needs.


While the extent of your flexibility is negotiable, it is important to remember that these recommendations are made with the most direct and effective teaching procedures in mind. Outcomes can at times be achieved without such measures, but may face a delay or side effects, as a result.


Weather the storm. An unfortunate fact about challenging behavior is that it often needs to get worse before it gets better. Your behavior analyst will review an Informed Consent with you to discuss risks and benefits of certain procedures and will not proceed without your agreement.


However, be prepared for interventions that require your commitment even when you see an undesirable behavior increase in frequency and worsen for a period of time. These interventions can improve the behavior in the long term, but there is certainly no path of least resistance when it comes to behavior modification.

So, you are now armed with some essential knowledge to prepare you for your ABA journey. Remember that your behavior analyst is your ally. He or she will be a valuable resource and will willingly assist you with any challenges that you experience throughout the treatment process.

For more information about any of the topics raised in this blog, please contact one of Grafton’s highly skilled Board Certified Behavior Analysts, who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.  Please contact lucy.c.bargioni@grafton.org.