This guest post is from teach.com. Read more about the author at the bottom and be sure to check out their site!
For parents of a child with a diagnosis like autism, a developmental disability, or a form of mental illness, it can be a scary and intimidating task to try to find reliable help in supporting their child’s growth.
Enter the realm of the Applied Behavior Analysts.
These professionals use data-driven and research-based practices to identify and understand the function and patterns of a child's behavior. The ultimate goal of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is to then use proven techniques to increase positive behaviors while, at the same time, actively extinguish negative (and potentially harmful) ones.
It’s one thing to decide that an ABA therapist could help your child, but how do you go about finding one? Furthermore, how do you ensure you find the most qualified match for your child and your family’s needs?
Start with Your Local School’s Child Study TeamDepending on where you live, your local school district may already be equipped to help. As more students are entering schools with autism and related diagnoses, many municipalities are finding it more cost-effective to bring specialized support services like Applied Behavior Analysis in-house rather than outsourcing them to private services.
Naturally, this increased demand for school-based behavioral analysis services has created a concurrent demand for passionate educators with the qualifications to fill districts’ needs. As such, more teachers and educators are pursuing degrees like a Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis and certifications from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board to help answer the call.
To see if your child’s school district offers ABA services, start by reaching out to the child study team at your child’s home school. Inquire about what services your child qualifies for and what you can do to put available interventions in place as a part of a Behavior Intervention Program (BIP) and/or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Your knowledge and advocacy can go a long way to ensuring your child gets the best and most appropriate services for their condition!
In some cases, not only are there ABA programs available through the school, but there are home therapy programs you may qualify for as well (either through the school district itself or the state). Be sure to ask about ways to get the most out of your child’s ABA therapy services.
As an educator myself, it was not until I met my wife, an ABA therapist, that I had any idea that these types of services were fairly commonplace in our home state of New Jersey. Unfortunately, not all states are as progressive with their support of special needs students and their families; your mileage at the local school level may vary.
Check with Your State Laws and Insurance ProviderMany states mandate some degree of financial support and/or insurance coverage for autism and mental health-related services. While in many cases ABA services are covered under these regulations, there are still states and insurance companies that classify ABA as “experimental” in an effort to deny coverage.
Check your local laws and personal health insurance policy to see what services you qualify for. There is a good chance that your child may be able to have their ABA therapy covered by your insurer or, at the very least, paid for using tax-exempt ABLE Act savings accounts.
For families where school ABA programs are either unavailable or simply not enough, the prospect of a cost-effective private option covered by insurance can potentially make a huge difference.
Not All Behavior Analysts are Created EqualBefore your child begins any ABA program, be sure to do your homework and be sure to find the best-qualified provider for your family’s needs.
Start with reputable databases like the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s website or the Autism Speaks “find a service” web tool. These sites allow you to find and contact reputable, qualified ABA therapists in your area. In most places, you should be able to find several local candidates; this will allow you to seek out the best match in terms of rapport and approach.
If you choose to strike out on your own to find an ABA therapist, be careful! As ABA has grown in popularity, there has been a rise in clinicians who promise “ABA-style” services without actually possessing the qualifications to implement the full ABA model.
When screening candidates, insist upon seeing their actual credentials. The qualifications you should be looking for include one of (or any combination of) the following:
hese credentials ensure that the professional has gone through extensive training and is qualified to conduct ABA services correctly and effectively. If a candidate cannot provide evidence of this type of certification, proceed at your own risk! Your best bet would be to move on to another candidate that is fully qualified.
In addition, you should ensure that any ABA program you select for your child is being actively overseen by a registered BCBA. Ask candidates to provide the name or names of the BCBA professional(s) that will be supervising their efforts with your child. Then, double check that the names are, in fact, registered BCBAs on the BACB website. Reputable ABA therapists will be forthright with this information as it is considered unethical (and in some states illegal) to practice ABA without this type of professional supervision.
ABA therapy is an effective way to help children develop positive behavioral outcomes. With a little bit of legwork, getting the help of an ABA professional doesn’t have to be a daunting task. A little due diligence will go a long way!
Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education (including Teach.com), technology, and parenting focused websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings.
This article was originally published at bSci21.org. Author Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA.
“Dear Behavior BFF, How do I get my child to be more independent? I want her to handle dressing herself- things like getting out clean clothes, putting them on as much as she can, putting her dirty clothes in the correct hamper, etc. I know she is capable but she just chooses not to take care of these things by herself!”
I am going to take your word for it that your daughter does not have any limitations that would make the tasks associated with independent dressing difficult. So- how do you get her to actually do it? And do it consistently?
One question I have for you is simply this: Where are her clothes and hamper? Are they easy for her to access? Let’s look at the physical environment and see if we can decrease the response effort for the desired behavior.
Response effort is what it sounds like: the amount of effort necessary to make a response. In other words, how easy it is to engage in the desired behavior. We all typically orient toward a low response effort over something that is tedious or difficult. We can find ways to lower the response effort for the desired behavior, making it easier for our children.
So- if her hamper is in the laundry room and you expect her to walk her dirty clothes down the hallway to put them there- is there an easy environmental manipulation you could try? How about moving her hamper to her bedroom or bathroom- wherever the dirty clothes are removed? Walking down the hall to put clothes away doesn’t seem like a big deal- but a simple hamper location switch could be a game changer for increasing your daughter’s independence.
What about accessing her clean clothes? Is it hard to open her closet door? Does it stick sometimes or is the handle difficult to turn? Is her closet floor a mess that she has to climb over to get to the clothes? (Pause writing this article to go assess my own child’s messy closet to decrease her response effort in getting to her own clothes.)
If a simple environmental manipulation will increase the desired behavior, there is no need for an involved intervention. Try the simple solution first!
Now- moving things around might not be enough to increase your daughter’s independent behaviors. Enter positive reinforcement. What does she get for doing these things listed above? What is the reward for independently dressing herself? The feeling of a job well done?
Whatever the current reward is, it’s not working. If it’s not increasing the frequency of the behavior, it’s not reinforcement. Find a way to increase your daughter’s independent dressing by offering positive reinforcement following every instance of the desired behaviors. This can be any range of things- a high five, verbal praise, access to a preferred item or activity, points toward a goal in a token economy, whatever works for your family!
No matter what behavior you are trying to increase, these are the go-to first steps we can always try as parents. These are powerful evidence-based tools of behavior analysis that are quick and easy to try and can lead to some pretty fantastic results!
A simple strategy to try to increase desired behaviors- make it easier to actually do that behavior! Decrease the response effort by arranging things in a way to make it easy to do the expected behavior.
This text was originally published on bSci21.org by Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA.
“Dear Behavior BFF, I’ve tried using a token economy and it helped for a little while. But lately my son has told me that he doesn’t want to earn stickers and he doesn’t care about the new toy he can get from his sticker chart. What do I do?”
Now- a token economy is a great tool when it is combined with great positive reinforcement. What your message is telling me is that it’s not the token economy that is the problem. The rewards you are offering your son are not reinforcing. It sounds like they were super reinforcing and effective for a while, but your son is just not that into these rewards anymore.
So what do you do? Throw out the whole token economy system? No! Let’s find some more effective reinforcers to help you be successful again.
As parents, we assume we know what our kiddos like. We know what they are into, what they want, and what their preferred items are. But sometimes the things they will work to earn may surprise us.
Our kids may become satiated with the rewards we are offering them. This means they have had enough and it’s no longer piquing their interest. No matter what the cause, what we do know is that our children’s preferences change. To use effective positive reinforcement, we must identify what is reinforcing to our child at this point in time.
Enter preference assessments.
A preference assessment is “a variety of procedures used to determine the stimuli that the person prefers, the relative preference values of those stimuli, and the conditions under which those preference values change when task demands, deprivation states, or schedules of reinforcement are modified” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2014).
As parents, we can do this in a number of ways.
Any time we have a valid system of positive behavior supports in place, such as your token economy, and it stops working- it’s not the system. It’s the reinforcement. The reinforcement you are offering is simply not strong enough.
Up the ante. Give better options for rewards. Identify potential reinforcers by conducting a preference assessment. Let your son choose his reinforcer.
Whenever there is a new problem behavior, or a behavior management system not working- my first response is increase the positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors.
Be prepared to continue to do preference assessments every once in a while. Our children’s interests and preferences change, so if we stay in the know we can have effective reinforcers at hand.
Find more tools for parents in Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom's Sanity!
Carr, J. E., Nicolson, A. C., & Higbee, T. S. (2000). Evaluation of a brief multiple‐stimulus preference assessment in a naturalistic context. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 33(3), 353-357.
Cooper, J.O, Heron, T.E., & Heward, W. L. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Pearson Education International.
DeLeon, I. G., Fisher, W. W., Rodriguez‐Catter, V., Maglieri, K., Herman, K., & Marhefka, J. M. (2001). Examination of relative reinforcement effects of stimuli identified through pretreatment and daily brief preference assessments. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34(4), 463-473.
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA