When your child has autism, it may feel like there is no map, helping you navigate the diagnosis. The best course of action for a parent is education. Learn about all treatment options and assemble a team that will hopefully help your child meet his/her maximum potential. An essential member of this team is your child’s ABA provider. An ABA provider is responsible for teaching socially significant behaviors, such as communication, social skills, and self-help skills, and then implementing behavior reduction plans to ultimately increase the individual’s opportunity to function independently daily. With so many available providers, how do you select an ABA provider who can best suit your child’s and family’s needs? Using my experience as a BCBA as well as an autism mom, I outlined 7 questions/tips to ask and consider when selecting a quality ABA provider.
- What interventions are used? Believe it or not, there are many different interventions and/or treatments for individuals with autism. It is important to ask the ABA provider whether or not the treatments being implemented are research-based. Applied Behavior Analysis remains the most widely used evidence-based intervention for autism. While many treatment options may sound intriguing or fun for your child, those may not yield the best progress or results. You should also consider asking what philosophy or approach the ABA provider takes. For example, some agencies may utilize Discrete Trial Training (a more systematic approach to learning, where the child typically acquires skills while sitting at a table), some agencies use a more natural approach to learning, and some agencies use a combination of both depending on the skill they are teaching.
- What training and experience does the staff have? A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is the most important member of the ABA treatment team. A BCBA has extensive training and education in how to implement treatment plans for individuals on the spectrum. Whether overseeing the program or working directly with the child, the BCBA’s involvement is critical in the success of the program. Further, consider asking these questions: When hiring staff, are there any specific education requirements (e.g. Masters or Bachelors degree in a related field, and/or direct experience working with children on the spectrum or related disorders)? In order to keep up with the most current treatments and interventions, does the provider offer staff ongoing training? Also, does the provider’s staff have direct experience with my child’s specific needs. For instance, if your child is non-verbal, ask if the staff members are trained in a picture exchange communication system (PECS), or if your child has aggressive behaviors, ask if they are equipped to manage these behaviors safely.
- What approach does the company take in regards to accepting new clients? One of the main reasons I chose my son’s current provider is they are very selective and purposeful with how many clients they service. With the prevalence of autism and increased funding, more and more families with autism are trying to access services. Therefore, many agencies are becoming very impacted. Don’t be afraid to ask the provider if they have a waitlist, how long until your child starts treatment if accepted , and if the hours recommended in the treatment plan will be utilized from the start of treatment.
- What different services do you provide and do you have any specialties? An individual with autism may require treatment from multiple disciplines at one time. Ask the provider what type of services they offer (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy). When a provider offers a multi-disciplinary services approach, members of the treatment team may more easily collaborate on a more frequent basis, so interventions and strategies can be carried over across therapies. It also is beneficial to ask if the agency has any specialties. For example some agencies may specialize in social skills groups or vocational programs. Assess the needs of your child prior to selecting a provider to ensure they offer that specific programming.
- What is the plan? Any respectable provider is going to put together a treatment plan for your child. This should include conducting a functional behavior assessment (determining what factors are causing the behaviors to occur), developing proactive and reactive strategies to manage problem behavior, and figuring out what socially appropriate behaviors can replace the problem behavior. I would consider also asking the provider what their plan is for skill acquisition. An effective provider develops goals and objectives that are age-appropriate and functional, while incorporating the child’s interests to make learning fun. Your child should work on skills in the most naturalistic way possible, and there should be a plan in place for generalization (ensuring skills are demonstrated across multiple people and settings) and parent training. If your child can only manage his/her behaviors with a therapist during session, your family may not be able to access activities in the community setting when the provider is not present.
- What are your company policies and procedures? Determine from the start if you are dealing with professionals who really value providing quality behavior analytic services to your child. Many parents don’t think to ask this initially, but it’s important to question what (if any) policies and procedures are set in place for staff to follow. Ask questions like: does the ABA provider have a service agreement that outlines their policies and your parent rights? Does the ABA provider conduct an intake with you to learn more about your family and your child prior to starting services?
- Are you a BHCOE? A Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (bhcoe.org) is a designation given to those agencies that provide exceptional care to employees and families. They equally prioritize employee happiness, parent happiness, and clinical quality. An agency that is a BHCOE looks at factors related to quality service for your child with autism. So ask if they are such!
- Do your research! I would highly encourage parents to check out providers’ websites and even request a tour of each provider’s facility before initiating services. You can request to speak with the agency’s Clinical Director to get answers to the 5 questions listed above. Also, I recommend viewing websites, like Lovemyprovider.com, to read honest parent reviews of a particular provider. Your child’s ABA team will play an integral role in your family’s life; therefore take your time and do your due diligence before selecting a provider.
Hopefully these 7 questions/tips will help you navigate the search to find a quality ABA provider for your child! For assistance and more information, reach out to our live chat specialists at Love My Provider.