You’ve started ABA therapy for your child with autism and look forward to seeing progress. Whether your child has in-home or center-based therapy, it’s tempting to believe that a parent’s role in ABA therapy is simply to make sure your child is on time and ready for each therapy session.
But here’s the truth: your involvement in your child’s ABA therapy is critically important for their success.
A parent-focused approach to ABA therapy means parents are involved across all areas of their child’s ABA treatment, says Nanette Pfeiffer, Executive Clinical Director with Key Autism Services. “Strong parent involvement is very important for the immediate and long-term success in a child’s ABA treatment,” she says. “And, this involvement has the ability to speed up the overall progress for the learner.”
Taking part in parent training is an ideal way for parents to benefit from a parent-focused approach to ABA therapy — and when parents take an active role in helping their child meet their therapy goals, the whole family can benefit, Pfeiffer says. “Through their involvement, parents can help their child decrease challenging behaviors at home while increasing communication skills, play skills and daily living skills, even understanding their child’s autism diagnosis better,” she explains.
Understanding a parent’s role in ABA therapy
Not all ABA therapy centers require a parent to be involved, but as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), Pfeiffer strongly encourages as much parental participation as possible.
ABA therapy at Key Autism Services is rooted in a parent-focused approach, and therapy teams work around parents’ busy schedules to make involvement as convenient as possible.
“Our standard of care is about two hours of parent training per month and that can be broken up however works best for families. It might be four 30-minute check-in sessions to see how goals are progressing,” Pfeiffer says, adding that some families might need as many as four hours of parent training a month. Any amount is beneficial because it allows access to care for parents.
What a parent-focused approach looks like
During a scheduled parent training meeting held either in person or through a virtual telehealth session, parents and their child’s BCBA walk through specific goals for their involvement.
“Parents will typically have two to four goals in a six-month period and they will overlap with our goals for their child. These may be skill acquisition or behavior reduction goals. If we have asked parents to collect data, we will review this and talk about progress,” Pfeiffer explains.
This is also valuable time for parents to lean into the support of their ABA therapy team, she says. “We’ll also talk through any challenges they might have and they can bring up any outside issues. These could be related to their morning routines or sleep issues — any challenges that we can create additional goals for to really help them tackle what they are facing.”
If parents are brand new to ABA therapy, parent training is a time to learn about what it is and the science and philosophy behind it.
Best of all, when parent training takes place in person, the BCBA can model therapy techniques. “Our therapy is so technical sounding, but parents can see that it’s very basic when it’s modeled,” Pfeiffer says. “For example, if we are working on functional communication, parents can learn that instead of giving their child free rein of the pantry at snack time, a parent can hold up two snack choices and ask their child to use their words (or otherwise indicate) which they want. That’s the goal and modeling it helps so much.”
When parents and therapy teams work on overlapping goals, children with autism gain more exposure, which gives them the opportunity to acquire skills more readily and generalize those skills, too.
For instance, when a child uses functional communication to ask for the snack they want during ABA therapy and parents encourage their child to ask for a snack at home, they have generalized that functional communication skill across environments. If parents aren’t actively involved, their child misses out on learning important daily living skills that contribute to a more satisfying outcome for the whole family.
“It’s so important for the immediate and long-term success for ABA treatment programs when parents are involved in their child’s ABA therapy,” Pfeiffer says. “Initially they’re learning what ABA is and the basic principles, plus their child’s areas of need and building goals around that. But as parent training progresses, they have the ability to help speed up overall progress. Giving their child access to goals across multiple environments and seeing those goals throughout the day will help them learn quicker.”
As a BCBA with a dozen years of experience, Pfeiffer believes so strongly in parent training, she says she wouldn’t recommend undertaking ABA therapy without the inclusion of parent training.
“The critical thing to know is just how important parent training really is,” she says. “We understand that every family dynamic is different, but we advocate for parent involvement because it’s so critical to a child’s overall progress.”
Learn more about ABA therapy at Key Autism Services in Norwood Park, Palos Heights and New Lenox, and in-home ABA therapy across Chicagoland. Visit keyautismservices.com.