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.
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA