Staff Retention and Natural Environment Teaching Provide Consistency for Your Child With Autism

ABA therapy centers aren’t immune to high staff turnover, but autism experts at Roots share how the natural environment teaching model benefits children — and staff — in the long run.

For so many reasons, the employment market is in flux, and that includes the world of ABA therapy. Parents want to know that their child is working with ABA therapists in an effective and consistent manner, with as few disruptions as possible. “Staff retention and low turnover are important for families. It makes sense that parents want their ABA therapy center to have solid teams and provide variety as well as consistency to their child. We focus on natural environment teaching at Roots, which really helps with this,” says Jillian Burgard, President and CEO of Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy, which she co-founded with Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Jen Link.

“Because of our natural environment teaching approach and not a cubicle-style environment, children get to know all the therapists,” Link says, referring to both Roots locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills. “Children and therapists are not isolated. If a child requires one-on-one support, it’s built into their schedule, but the bulk of the child’s time at Roots is spent moving through the whole environment.”

The natural environment teaching model really helps provide consistency for children as it relates to the therapists that work with them, because all the therapists at both Roots locations are prepared to pick up and support a child’s learning in all situations.

“Everyone is fully trained and familiar with each child so if a child needs to review colors, for example, a quick rundown from the BCBA to the technician provides that consistency,” Link explains. “This model works very well when someone goes on vacation or needs time off work.”

Combined with intentional and thoughtful integration of new staff and returning college students into the therapeutic setting, natural environment teaching creates a model where staff can efficiently transition into their roles and children can still move forward with their ABA therapy, Link explains.

The value of consistency, and of change

When a child is showing progress, it’s understandable that parents want to keep the good stuff coming, believing that any change has the potential to derail that progress.

“That could mean a change in paraprofessional at school, or a new teacher or speech-language therapist. It’s not unique to ABA therapy,” Burgard says. “All parents want their children to excel and when growth is happening, any little flicker is not welcome. It’s true that change is hard, but that’s especially amplified when you are seeing progress with your child.”

The natural teaching environment at Roots maintains balance between consistency and uncontrollable changes — like a teacher moving out of state, for example. “For those things we can’t control, at Roots we do everything we can to minimize those changes and produce healthy responses and outcomes for kids,” Burgard says.

“We also provide parents with the knowledge that in the long term, there will be a new bus driver, a new teacher, and many other changes in their child’s life and schedule, and we support the children and continually assess ways to teach through the changes,” she adds.

Look for strong leadership

The experts at Roots credit their staff consistency with strong relationships and high levels of communication within their ABA therapy teams at both the Lake in the Hills and Buffalo Grove locations. Satisfied, supported staff members provide a strong foundation for success in the Roots ABA therapy model.

“We spend an intense amount of time looking for the right people and training them so they can work effectively with your child,” Link explains. “When someone new comes in, your child will experience a lot of play and bonding and getting to know that new person who will incorporate programmatic therapy over time, building a very robust schedule of programming.”

This foundation builds upon natural environment teaching, where children learn effective ways to generalize their skills across teachers and situations. “It’s the essence of what we do at Roots. Through relationship building and bonding with various therapists, children are able to generalize their skills and progress in multiple settings, with other people and across environments, which builds their repertoire and supports growth,” she says.

What parents can do

For the sake of your child’s success with consistent ABA therapy, Link and Burgard offer some key suggestions for parents when they are selecting a therapy provider — or transitioning to a new one.

Trust your gut, Burgard says. If you are wondering out loud if it’s normal for a therapy team to change 10 times in a couple months, there’s probably a larger staff-retention issue at your provider. “You don’t ever want to be in that position,” she says.

When selecting a provider, ask some key questions. “Find out what their staff training process is like. What is their hiring process? If someone leaves the team, ask how the provider fills that gap,” Link says. When every day counts, you don’t want your child’s progression to halt because of provider staffing problems, Burgard explains.

Also ask to talk with parents whose children are already receiving therapy at that location. Learn from them what their experience has been, especially with regard to staff turnover.

Find out how the provider acts on feedback received from parents and from staff. “Do they see things from the staff member’s point of view and change what may not be working?” Link asks. “You absolutely want your provider to make changes that, in the long run, lead to more success in staff retention and operational procedures that make families comfortable.”

Learn more about Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy’s two locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills at rootsautimsolutions.com.

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