Teenager smiling.

If your child was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you’ve probably been busy trying to process all the information you’ve received. Add to that all the research you may be doing on your own, recommendation from others, resources you’ve been directed to – it can become overwhelming. Creating a list of essential questions can help keep you focused and organized as you gather valuable information for your child’s therapy. We’d like to help get you started with a few key questions to ask while looking into ABA therapy. Searching for the ABA center that will be the right fit for your child can make a world of difference.

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What is ABA Therapy?

It’s important to understand the ins and outs of ABA. The therapists you are meeting with should be able to help you fully understand what ABA therapy is, its foundation, goals, and how it can benefit your child.

ABA is tailored to your child’s specific needs and provides one-on-one attention to help him reach his goals and learn new skills. ABA focuses on working with your child and family to help develop new skill sets and create behavioral changes through positive reinforcement. ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, is a science-driven therapy that allows an in-depth understanding of how your child’s various environments may affect his behavior. It examines how behaviors such as social skills and learning take place. Through a specifically designed reward system, behavioral changes can be created and have long-lasting results. ABA therapy is used in many areas, including:

  • Social skills
  • Home environment
  • School environment
  • Self-care skills

ABA therapy should be used to help your child learn new skills and behaviors that benefit him in real-life situations. These new skill sets and behaviors should be meaningful and beneficial in his natural environments; home, school, and social settings. Keep in mind that setting goals for his self-care and social skills will help him long-term. These are assets that will help him transition between environments and help him throughout adulthood.

How Will Positive Reinforcement Work for My Child?

Positive reinforcement that is most meaningful to each individual child is used in ABA. It focuses on using a reward system to replace any undesirable behavior with the desired behavior. This method allows a very personalized approach to be taken by concentrating on your child’s behaviors and skills in their real-life circumstances. Ask questions about how the center develops a personalized approach. How will they measure your child’s progress? What if a particular reward isn’t working for your child? What does their overall philosophy look like?

Why Do You Use Positive Reinforcement?

Ask your prospective center why they believe in using positive reinforcement. Do they use any other approaches during therapy? Why or why not?

In the past, punishment was believed to be a quick, effective way to break a behavior and create a change in individuals with autism. It was years before autism was better understood. Science was able to show that positive reinforcement allowed new social skills, life skills, and behaviors to be learned or replaced with successful and long-lasting results. ABA therapy proved to be the approach to take over the once abusive treatment and punishments used to get desired changes and results.

Are Your Analysts Board Certified?

A Board Certified Behavioral Analyst (BCBA) is a specially trained therapist, qualified to develop and implement your child’s ABA treatment, as well as manage his case. A BCBA has the knowledge required to properly oversee your child’s treatment plan. It is important to ask questions about the BCBA who will be overseeing your child and how many cases they take on. How many BCBA’s do they have total? High caseloads can mean less individualized attention for your child.

You’ll find some centers staff BCaBA’s. A Board Certified Assistant Behavioral Therapist will have a certain level of ABA therapy training and a bachelor’s degree. However, they are required to be overseen by a BCBA under various circumstances.

Ask about the center’s training policies. Do they require their staff, including tutors and paraprofessionals, to go through specific ABA training? Be aware that this field can be entered with little or no prior training. Find out if a “front line therapist” will be working with your child. A front line therapist typically does not hold a certification and should be supervised by a BCBA often. Inquire about the training that has already been received as well as the amount of ongoing training required. Here are some additional questions to consider asking:

  • Do you require your staff to go through ABA training before working with your clients?
  • Do they go through social skills training?
  • Is your staff required to attend ongoing training and workshops?
  • What kind of training does your direct-level staff have before working with my child?
  • How often does a BCBA meet with the team who will be working with my child?

A BCBA should be meeting with and observing your child’s team at least two to three times a month. This ensures progress is being monitored, feedback is being given and implemented, and the team remains on the same page. Providing at least two direct-level staff members for your child and adequate supervision are vital for success. Don’t be shy about asking what credentials are held and/or required for their team. It’s also helpful to ask about their turnover rate to learn more about the environment you are walking into. Just make sure to ask questions that satisfy your own comfort level. You’ll want to feel confident about the people you select to work with your child.

What Safety Measures Are in Place?

Just as in school, you want to ensure your child is in an environment where safety precautions are a top priority. Be sure to ask if background checks are required of their entire staff. Even if you are selecting home ABA therapy or social skills programs, it is wise to require a background check. This is usually done by the agency you select for services, so costs are covered by the agency.

What are the center’s policies and best practices? A safe environment should have policies in place to ensure no child is harmed.

  • What measures do you take to prevent abuse?
  • What is the reporting procedure for a parent with concerns?
  • How are excessive or inappropriate actions of a provider dealt with?
  • How often are parent observations allowed?
  • What is the procedure for requesting an alternative method be used with your child if you are not comfortable with current practices?

How can ABA Therapy Prepare My Child for School?

Make sure to go over school readiness with the centers you visit. How can they help prepare your child for the school environment? While every child’s needs are different and they may begin ABA therapy at various ages, it’s important to get an idea of how the center will help prepare for the transition to the classroom environment. Some helpful questions may include:

  • What social skills will you work on to prepare my child for the classroom?
  • How are these social skills met?
  • What life skills do you work on to prepare him for school?
  • How are ABA therapy and school curriculum the same or different? Does this help or hinder my child when transitioning?
  • Will my child continue ABA therapy after transitioning into a classroom environment?
  • What is the typical transition process like?
  • Will he be transitioned into a less restrictive environment?
  • What is the center’s current transition success rate?

How is My Child’s Progress Monitored?

Monitoring your child’s progress and collecting ongoing information is crucial in ABA. Access to your child’s data is also a must. Find out:

  • How often is data collected?
  • How often is this shared with the parent?
  • Will this information be explained to me in a way I will understand or will I have the opportunities to meet with someone to answer my questions regularly?
  • How often will my child’s therapy be adjusted according to the data collected?
  • Are they willing to show you examples of data reports and explain what you should expect?
  • How often will you meet with his BCBA to go over improvements or changes being made to his therapy?

Mother meditating while her children play.

What is My Role as the Parent in ABA Therapy?

ABA therapy encourages parent participation. The success of your child even depends a great deal on your role as the parent, to help form lasting changes. While working together, you and your child’s team can help reinforce positive, long-term behaviors. You’ll work towards replacing those that can cause harm or may interfere with his ability to learn.

Ask questions about their philosophy surrounding parent involvement, including:

  • How much parent participation do you encourage?
  • How much training will I be provided?
  • What will I be able to do with what I’ve learned?
  • Will I be participating in sessions with my child or alone with the therapist?
  • Will I be observing from outside the session?
  • What will I be expected to implement when we’re at home? In other environments?

Carrying out what is learned during sessions is essential for your child. Compared to the amount of time he spends in his natural environments — home, school, daycare — his time with his therapists are limited. By continuing positive reinforcement practices and encouraging the new life skills, social skills, and behaviors learned during therapy, you help strengthen their re-occurrences. Therapy should offer you the time and training needed to take home the essential tools to work with your child.

If social skills are an area of focus, ask how they will be taught with one-on-one therapy.

  • How will you be able to help practice these social skills at home or other natural environments?
  • Will there eventually be group interaction offered during his sessions?
  • Will you participate in these sessions as well?
  • How can these social skills be carried over to a classroom setting?

These are all questions to help you understand the road ahead when determining which center and therapists are right for your child’s needs.

As the parent, the insight you provide is a key component to developing and continuing your child’s individualized therapy. You know your child best and can provide valuable information your therapists would otherwise not have access to. Share what has worked for your child in the past. What motivates him the most? What are his strengths, areas of need, likes, and dislikes? As the parent, you are in a position to provide helpful feedback on what may or may not be working when you follow through with these practices in his natural environments. Finding a center that values and celebrates your involvement is crucial and your child will benefit greatly.

What Types of Services Are Provided with ABA Therapy?

Every family has different needs, so be sure to make a list of questions that are designed to meet the needs of your family as best as possible. You will find centers who may offer in-home ABA therapy, while others are only on-site. Some will offer various social skills programs, family counseling services, and welcome your child’s educators or additional caregivers. Here at the Blossom Children’s Center, we are an all-encompassing center; providing many services under one roof to make it easier on your child and family. Centers like ours allow you to bring your child to one familiar environment for Physical Therapy, Speech, and other needed services. Make a list of your needs and what you’re looking for most in a center. Some of these questions may include:

  • What therapy services do you offer?
  • What services do you offer for families?
  • Do you offer group sessions to work on social skills?
  • How small are the groups?

What Are Your Financial Responsibilities?

You are bound to find centers with varying financial costs. Ask about insurance coverage, billing practices, and costs upfront. Inquire about financial resources that may be available for your family as well. There are many options available from help with medical equipment to travel expenses. Your center should be a willing go-to wealth of information.

While each family and child have their own set of unique needs, being prepared can benefit everyone. Don’t be afraid to walk in armed with your list of questions. All centers are not created equal and finding the best fit for your child will help him be successful with ABA therapy. To learn more about our center, visit us now!

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