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A novel, based on the life of an 18th century peasant girl who marries into nobility...

I am totally kidding.

My newest book, "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about ABA" is now available for purchase on
I'm just going to say it: It's my best book so far.
(If you are unfamiliar with my previous books, just go to Amazon and type 'Tameika Meadows' into the search bar).

I stand by that huge claim. If you buy the book and hate it, let me know and I'll give you a cookie or something.

This is my BEST book yet because I combined all the ABA horror stories I hear from families, all the questions parents ask me when I first meet them, all of my kind-but-honest responses to those scared parents, cold hard data, but also warm, soft hope.
The book also includes 2 *bonus* Parent Checklists with over 50 suggested questions to ask potential ABA providers. I talk to so many parents with newly diagnosed children and tell them "You should be asking more questions", and they respond with "But I don't know what to ask!". Well.. now you will.

My hope is that any parent who finds themselves nervously facing their computer screen trying to process and digest everything about ABA to make a decision for their child, can instead just get this book and have all their innermost questions and fears addressed in clear, simple language.
If you have visited my blog for longer than 10 seconds then you should know by now that clear and simple language is how I roll.

Specifically, this book will honestly and plainly tackle the following common parent questions or concerns:

  • If ABA is so great, why does it get SO much hate? (I did not mean to rhyme right there)
  • How do I know if I'm getting quality ABA treatment?
  • How much should I be paying the ABA provider?/Why is this so expensive?
  • What will ABA therapy cost my marriage, or my family?
  • Do all children with Autism NEED ABA therapy?
  • Who can provide ABA therapy? What training do they need?
  • What setting for ABA therapy (home, school, center) is the BEST?
  • How much therapy is enough therapy?
  • I have NO idea how to read these assessment results from the BCBA. Help.
  • Can older kids or adults benefit from ABA therapy?
  • Isn't the goal of ABA therapy to force Autistics to be "Normal"?
  • What is the role of the parent in ABA treatment and why is parent training so crucial?
  • What the heck is a FBA (Functional Behavior Assessment)?
  • How quickly will my child progress/improve with ABA therapy?
  • Why doesn't my BCBA provide direct therapy to my child?
  • What is the difference between Non-verbal and Non-vocal?
  • Is ABA therapy the right choice for my child, and for my family? 
  • What will my child be like after years of ABA therapy? What should I expect?
  • Why are ABA providers so judgmental about sensory diets/sensory integration?
  • Why can it be so difficult to obtain ABA treatment for older kids/teens?
  • Why can't ABA sessions be 30-45 minutes long, like so many other therapies?
  • Can ABA ever truly "not work"?
  • Why does ABA force compliance?
  • Does ABA today still use aversives and punishers?
  • What questions should I ask this new ABA provider we just started with?
  • How can I determine if an ABA provider is practicing ethically or not?

And many, many more!

Order your copy today, all the cool kids are doing it: Click here to go to Amazon.

So much to say on this topic, far more than anyone would actually want to read.

Does ABA therapy require/demand/force individuals into a narrow and specific box titled "NORMAL"?
(Well, it shouldn't anyway)

But the myth persists.

I mean this in the best way, but many of the children I work with just are not going to fit into that "normal" box, no matter how much someone tries to push or squeeze them into it... it ain't happening.

And that's a cause for celebration!

The very thing I love about working with such a diverse group of kids, is that they are all different, yet all interesting. I work with some super fascinating small people, who constantly show me how dumb I am. And I thank them for it, because how can you grow if you already think you know everything? You can't.

As a provider, of course I know the research on the effectiveness of ABA therapy. I also know the many success stories I have seen with my own eyes, of children I directly worked with. But success story does not equal "...and then the child was totally normal!".

A couple of reasons why my job is not to drive families in my car to a fantasy location called "normal":
1) Each client/family I work with usually has their own idea of what "normal" means. If you have been in this field more than 10 minutes, you know this to be true. This client over here may live in a home where no one really cares what time they go to bed, as long as they stay in their room and are quiet. But that client over there, may live in a home where all the parents want most in the world is for that child to get their 7.5 hours of sleep every night.
2) Even when a family can explain to me what "normal" means for them, it quickly changes! Again, if you have been in this field more than 10 minutes you know this is true. Sometimes parents tell me they want desperately for their child to talk, but what they really mean is they want their child to communicate. Or, a parent may tell me they want desperately for their child to go to "normal" school with their big sister, but next thing you know that parent has decided to homeschool. Expectations change, as perspective changes.

So if ABA therapy is not about hitting a child over the head with your magical "normal" baseball bat, then how exactly is it decided what the goals of treatment will be? I'm so glad you asked.

If you are working with a quality ABA provider, the goal selection process will look something like this:

"I need to evaluate/assess your child to collect baseline data" – This just means data is collected at the onset of services to create a starting point. Over time, that starting point data will be reviewed again and again to make sure the child is progressing. If therapy has been happening week after week after week, but the child has not progressed past that starting point, then something is seriously wrong. This is why it’s important to collect that initial data, so over time you can compare the child’s current learning to their previous learning.

"What are your goals for therapy? Tell me the reasons why you initiated services." – The people who asked the ABA team to show up clearly had reasons for doing so, and we need to know what those reasons are. We cannot fully help if we don’t know what issues are happening. Treatment planning should always be a team effort, with the family/client working together with the BCBA to create goals.

"What are the highest priority areas of concern in the home? At school? In the community?" – What this question is really getting at is “where do you want to start?”. It isn’t unusual that families want to work on…oh, 85 behaviors or so when you first meet them. Unless I can get a good idea of the priority level of those 85 things, the treatment plan will be a chaotic mess. Prioritizing treatment helps focus in on the areas of deficit that are impacting the client the most.

"Describe your household: rules, routine, disciplinary procedures commonly used, etc." – This question gets at Culture. Households form a sort of culture, or a way things are done. Stepping into a household/family dynamic and imposing completely opposing culture onto it, is not a great idea. It will likely lead to aggressive resistance. What is more helpful, is to teach the family strategies and techniques that line up with the way their household functions.

"Can you finish this sentence: In 5 years, I want my child to be able to....." – This question is really getting at long-term goals. Professionals need to know long-term goals, because every long-term goal is really made up of hundreds of baby steps. Gradually introducing those baby steps leaves less work to do down the road and increases the likelihood of successful skill acquisition.

"Your child scored low on (insert skill domain here). Do you care about that??" – One of my fave questions to ask. I have learned to ask this, because I used to do quite a bit of assuming. Things like “Of course, you guys want him to write his name, right?” or “Of course, you guys want her to stop eating with her hands, right?”. Maybe not. If I see an area of concern, I will bring it up. If the parent isn’t as concerned as I am or wants to stick a pin in that issue until a later time, then it’s really important that I know that.

My normal is not your normal, and vice versa. What's considered "normal" in your household might not fly in my household, and what's "normal" in your marriage could be unbearable for another couple. That's why normal is such a useless word to throw around, because it has too many meanings to actually mean anything significant. 

One of my pet peeves is when a parent says to me during an intake, "I just want him/her to be normal!". Ummm, and that means what?? :-) Seriously, I need details over here. I do not have an intervention for "normal" behavior, nor do I know how to program for that.

Does ABA therapy seek to change individuals? Yes! Behavior change is the entire point of this therapy, either increasing appropriate behaviors or decreasing inappropriate behaviors. But if you think that the only change ABA therapy values is when a child can be fully "normal", you are:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” 
Mark Twain

This is a topic that is really, really, important to me because I have really, really, experienced the lack of it a time or two....or 50.

Goodness-of-fit (let's just call that GOF) is a bit of a buzzword people like to throw around to describe that ideal match between employer and employee. Employers want (or should want) happy, productive employees, and employees want to not hate their employer. So it would seem logical and in everyone's best interest to aim for GOF. Then why is it sometimes so lacking?

GOF is more than just the employee/employer dynamic. I have observed or directly experienced a lack of GOF when it comes to: working privately with consultation clients, being assigned cases at an ABA company, families/parents being assigned ABA staff, and supervisors/BCBA's being assigned direct level staff or supervisees.

In each of those areas, it is crucial for overall success that team cohesiveness, compatibility, and mutual respect occur. But in each of those areas, I have seen it not occur. The consequences of a lack of GOF are weighty, and unfortunately can lead to preventable fallout such as staff burnout or client termination (initiated by the parent).
If you are an ABA peep working in this field, you likely can think of an example when you were paired up with a co-worker, supervisee, or supervisor and GOF was lacking.
If you are a parent receiving ABA services, I'm sure a few examples come to your mind of a therapist or two that just lacked GOF with your family.

This is an issue that affects all of us, because ABA therapy/consultation always requires a team. That team could be the BCBA and RBT, it could be the parent and the BCBA, it could be the employer and their employees, but each of those teams can quickly fall apart when GOF is not considered.
For example:

RBT's/Direct staff - Do the other RBT's on the team work collaboratively with you towards client success? Do they respond to your notes/questions/emails/texts? Are schedule/hours changes discussed as a team, and agreed upon by everyone? Are the other therapists open to you observing them as a learning opportunity and vice-versa? Does the BCBA/supervisor on the team support you and make you feel valued?

BCBA's/Supervisors - Are the other BCBA's you work with a helpful place to brainstorm or safely vent? Do your supervisees respond appropriately to feedback and demonstrate appreciation for the time and energy you pour into them? Do you feel that your caseload resides in that sweet spot between where your expertise lies and areas where you need to grow and stretch? Do the people you supervise, teach, or train, support you and make you feel valued?

Parents/Families - Does the ABA team welcome your input and suggestions regarding treatment? Does the ABA team respond promptly to your notes/emails/voicemails? Are you not only allowed, but encouraged, to regularly join therapy sessions as a learning opportunity? Do you feel comfortable addressing conflict or disagreement with the ABA team, and having respectful communication? Does the ABA team seem to have the goal of supporting and valuing your child?

Employees (ABA peeps in general) - Do you know the mission statement and vision of the ABA company/organization you work for? Is there potential for growth at your current employer, either promotions, new responsibilities, or areas of professional development? How many of your colleagues regularly experience burnout, and how does your employer respond to that? Does the work culture at the organization stifle or embrace individuality? Does your employer support you and make you feel valued?

One of my favorite quotes at the moment is "Employees join companies, but leave managers". Yup, accurate.
Personally, I've been that unhappy employee who loves the job but hates the management/ownership.....which over time will turn you into an employee who hates the job.

Lack of GOF is often blamed on the individual and not the situation. Like the alpha dog BCBA who keeps clashing with the alpha dog parent. Or the micromanaging employer who keeps clashing with the autonomous employee. Or the naturally inquisitive RBT who keeps clashing with the BCBA who receives questions as criticism.

Continuing to shove a square peg into a round hole may eventually work (if you shove hard enough), but I doubt that square peg will be very productive or useful to anyone in that position.

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The Discriminative Stimulus is defined as a stimulus in the presence of which a particular response will be reinforced (Malott, 2007, Principles of Behavior).

SD is just ABA speak for the demand, instruction, or the event/stimulus that serves as a signal to someone that there is something they need to respond to. Now, that response can also include a non-response. Not responding is always a possible choice, that comes with its own possible consequences.

For example, if my cell phone rings and it is someone I do not want to talk to I have choices:
-answer the phone
-don't answer the phone

The phone ringing is a SD because when it rings, there is a specific response that in the past has led me to contact different consequences. Some pleasant, and some not so pleasant.
When my cell phone rings, I am not confused about what I should do. I know what my choices are, and depending on who is calling (or if I recognize who is calling) I then make a choice based on my history of reinforcement with that person.

SD's can vary in how they are delivered, the specific reinforcement that they make available, as well as the specific expected response.

In ABA therapy sessions, sometimes hundreds of SD's can be delivered throughout the session, and each one of those SD's has a specific expected response, as well as specific consequences available for each possible response.

The SD has an authority based on the history of consequences being delivered.
I'll say that another way: Let's say I state the SD "give me blue" to a child, and I then provide a consequence of playing on an iPad if the child gives me yellow. Assuming playing on the iPad is a reinforcer, over time I am going to see the child consistently respond to my SD by giving me yellow. Is yellow in this example actually correct? No. But it does not matter: I gave my SD, I followed the child's response with a reinforcer, and I have superglued this particular response to the SD.

And this explains why your kids don't listen.

Reinforcement is like the most powerful superglue on the market. It binds things together, as can be seen in the example below:
(SD) "Clean up the toys" ----> (Response) child cleans up the toys ---> (Consequence) "Thanks so much, you can go outside now"

Assuming in the above example that going outside is a reinforcer, over time the child will learn the expected response to the SD of "clean up the toys", AND they will learn that good things happen after they demonstrate the expected response. In other words, you just taught your child that when they clean up their toys, they might get to go outside.

If I flip this scenario on its head, I can show you how SD's (and their absolute authority) can sometimes cause you to teach things you did not mean to teach:
(SD) "Clean up your toys" ---> (Response) child cries/child screams "no!"/child does not respond to the SD ---> (Consequence) "Ugh! Fine, I'll clean the toys up. Just go outside while I clean up this mess"

Assuming in the above example that going outside is a reinforcer, over time what will the child learn? A few things actually:

-child will learn that problem behavior or not responding is a response
-child will learn that escape/avoidance behaviors work
-child will learn that cleaning up the toys is not a requirement to be able to go outside

Did you mean to teach that? I am nearly positive you did not. Unfortunately, the absolute authority of the SD remains unmoved by the fact that you didn't intend to teach new ways to avoid a demand.

Don't freak out, there is a way to avoid this trap.

First, understand what Instructional Control is and how it can help you. I promise, it isn't as scary as it sounds.

Second, see below for some common characteristics of successful SD's. A successful SD helps your child learn in an effective manner WHAT to do, and WHY to do it (because good things might happen). Let the absolute authority of the SD work for you, and not against you.

Characteristics of Successful SD's

  • The SD is precise: A precise SD includes only the language necessary for the individual to know what to do. Extra details, threats, or reminders are best left off the SD, particularly if the individual has communication deficits or is very young. Good example - "Get down". Not-so-good-example - "Michael Benjamin Clark, you get down off that railing right now before you fall and break your neck".

  • The SD is stated, not asked: Unless you are cool with the individual tossing you a "No/I don't feel like it/I don't want to", then do not present the SD as a question. A question gives the option of refusal. 

  • The SD allows for a brief time to begin to respond: Brief as in, a few seconds. I have been in this field a long time, and I have developed an internal countdown timer that kicks in when I give a SD. To help yourself learn this skill, when you give your child a demand silently count to 3. Or, you could subtly tap a finger against the inside of your palm 3 times. If you get to 3 and the individual has not at least started to respond, it is time to provide a consequence. Another completely personal reason why I like this "internal countdown" is because it helps parents not flood the child with SD's. If you are busy counting in your head, you can't rattle off 4 more demands, when the child hasn't even responded to demand #1.

  • The SD is consistent: Especially if the child has communication deficits or is very young, avoid changing up the SD rapidly. This can possibly be confusing, and impede learning. Once your child is demonstrating they know how to respond to the SD, that is the point where you can start to change the language used, or not use language at all (such as pointing at a book on the floor to indicate the child needs to put the book away).

  • The SD consequence is consistent: The most critical point about understanding SD's is that what follows the response equals learning. You are teaching your child how to respond to you based on what happens when they respond correctly, and what happens when they respond incorrectly. If you decide that the SD "Make your bed" means fluffing all the pillows, then the bed being made with 1 pillow fluffed, or the bed being made with some of the pillows fluffed, are both incorrect responses. No exceptions. You would then prompt the correct response so the child knows they made an error.

  • Attention is gained before the SD is given: If you observe the ABA team work with your child you will get to see possibly hundreds of SD's delivered during a therapy session. You may also note that the team works to gain the child's attention before stating the SD, to make sure it is heard. This could look like approaching the child, bending/squatting down to look in the child's face, waiting for a break in crying/screaming, or making a statement such as "Are you ready?", to verify the child is attending.

  • The SD is not repeated over and over again, nor is it screamed, or shouted: SD's are bosses. SD's are in charge. SD's call the shots. They do not need to beg, bargain, plead, scream, or lose their cool. Remember, your child only has a short time to respond correctly. If they do not respond correctly, you just deliver a consequence (such as a prompt). It will be very tempting to state the SD over and over again, but don't give in to that temptation. Over time, this will actually teach your child they do not need to listen to you the first time, and that ignoring you is an effective way to avoid a demand.

This post will focus on making sure your child is therapy ready before an ABA session, and what exactly that means.

When the ABA professional asks you to please have your child "therapy ready" when therapy sessions start, what do they mean?
  • If the child is ill or experiencing unusual circumstances (e.g. child slept only 2 hours the night before) the therapist should be notified before arriving to the home
  • The child has been fed, or offered food recently
  • The child's diaper is dry, or they've been taken to the bathroom recently
  • The child is awake (therapist should not have to wake a sleeping child)
  • Preferably, the child is not engaged with their most preferred items or toys

The point of these guidelines is to make sure the therapist does not arrive to the home to work with a child who is hungry, crying, wet/soiled, tired, or fixated on a specific toy or item. Any of these scenarios is likely to start off the session on a bad note.

For the therapy sessions to be most beneficial, the child should be in an attentive learning state, calm, and ready to contact reinforcement (if they are already contacting valuable reinforcement, they may be less motivated to work with the therapist). 

Throughout the session the therapist will present multiple demands and lead the child through frequent transitions, often at a quick pace. Many parents want to know what to expect of a therapy session, especially if they are new to ABA. I could walk into 1,000 homes and see ABA sessions happen in 1,000 ways. So a very general example of how a therapy session could look is detailed below:

Therapist arrival: Greet client and family, take time to set up for session
Transition: Therapist transitions client to work area, takes time to build rapport and engage with established reinforcers
Transition: Reinforcers are put away, and demands are presented/specific goals are targeted. Contingent upon performance and correct responding, breaks or reinforcement are intermittently delivered
Transition: Outside play time, or more adaptive teaching opportunities are embedded into the session such as a snack, playing basketball outside, sibling interaction/family games, or going for a short walk
Therapist departure: Therapist informs the client and family the session is complete, takes time to clean up work area, collect data, and record session note

It is easy to see from this brief session outline that if the child is sick, tired, hungry, etc., the session could quickly grind to a halt and dissolve into extended problem behavior. Most of the time (not always, but very frequently) if my staff contacts me to after a session to discuss how horrible the session went, after some digging I find out that the session started on a very bad note....and probably should have been rescheduled.
If sessions are consistently starting off on a bad note, that means goals are consistently not being targeted intensively, which means data scores are consistently dipping or decreasing, which means ultimately = the child will not progress as they should. So this issue of "therapy ready" is actually quite serious.

It's important to plan to set your child up for success before therapy sessions, so that in the long term they are regularly contacting success during sessions and progressing through treatment plan goals. I usually give my clients several tips to help them set their child up for success, I will include a few below:

  • Using language or a visual, inform the child that it is almost time for a therapy session. It may be helpful to show them a picture of which therapist is coming (e.g. "Look, Ms. Nicole will be here soon"). It should not be a shock to your child when the front door opens and the therapist is standing there.
  • Set aside the most valuable reinforcement (and let your child see you do this) and explain that they can have it when the therapist arrives. As a BCBA, I do this all the time during supervision sessions by arriving with valuable reinforcers, and then telling the child "I'm going to give this to Ms. Nicole", to increase motivation to work with the therapist.
  • Have your child engage with a neutral activity shortly before therapy starts (example: coloring, Play Dough, etc.). The activity should not be overly stimulating or too reinforcing, but should help the child get into a calm, on task, and alert state before therapy begins. It may be helpful to have them engage in this activity in the same area the therapist will work with them. Often, therapists arrive for a session and the child is having free play, or unstructured time spent running, jumping, climbing things, etc. In a situation like that, the child is very unlikely to be motivated to come over to the therapist and sit and work. 
  • If problem behavior begins to happen right before the therapist arrives, this can be an amazing opportunity for learning. Don't feel the need to quickly calm or soothe your child, but instead use the therapist's arrival as an opportunity to ask for help. Example: "He fell out on the floor right as you were pulling up, now in this situation what should I do??"

*Tip: More information about what typically happens during an ABA therapy session.
It's that time again!

Over the holidays I'll be traveling and very much anti-working (pajamas... Netflix... pie) so I will be taking a break from the blog until after the new year.

In my absence, I leave you with one of my fave holiday things: LIGHTS

Every year my munchkin and I make our rounds at local light displays. I could lie and say I do this to create lovely memories, but no....dazzling Christmas lights just make me giddy :-)

To all my visitors, either brand new or the regulars-- have a Blessed & Merry Christmas, and Happy 2018 in advance.

"A sprinter body is built for speed and power while the marathoner is built for long, slow endurance" From article 

If you supervise/manage ABA cases for any period of time, you will start to notice a phenomenon I like to refer to as sprinters and marathoners.

Sprinter clients are often SUPER excited and energetic about starting services, and just want to hear about your success stories. When you first meet them, you will probably think "Wow! What a great family, I can't wait to start working with them". Sprinters are often the "1, 2, 3, ... Magic!" people.

Marathoner clients aren't quite so dazzling upon first meet. They are happy to start services, yes, but they may be more cautious or skeptical. They might point blank ask you about some alarming ABA information they read online. They may admit they aren't fully sold on ABA. They might quiz you or question your expertise in a way that makes you a bit uncomfortable.

Just like the tortoise & the hare, looks can be deceiving here. Time and time again, I watch sprinter clients start out strong and then fizzle out or hit that dreaded wall. Maybe their child got kicked out of *another* daycare, or the biting behavior from years ago came back, or toileting turned out to be harder than anticipated. When the path begins to veer or curve and obstacles pop up, sprinters start to slow down, or might just come to a stop. Followed by completely disengaging from the therapy process. 
Meanwhile, my marathoner clients often start off slow or bumpy, but they keep a steady and consistent pace, even when things get crazy hard. They understand that therapy is a tiring, ongoing, up and down journey, and not so much a race.

ABA Supervision

Being an BCBA/ABA supervisor means you have a role that you cannot execute alone. The caregiver/parent being on board is critical in order for you to do your job. All the typical supervision duties (assessment, evaluation, program writing, coaching/training, data based decision making) require parent input, parent approval/consent, or parent implementation when the treatment team is not around. Once sprinters burn out and collapse, it will affect the entire team. 

Parental disengagement (the "checking out" process) can lead to staff burnout, supervisor burnout, inconsistent treatment gains, resurgence of problem behaviors, and could put the BCBA supervisor in an unethical position (see ethical guideline 2.15d). It is the ethical obligation of the BCBA to ensure that the client is benefiting from treatment. If parental disengagement is preventing that from happening, then that's a serious problem.


Not sure what a sprinter typically looks like? Here are some common characteristics:
     Over the top excited at the start of services/only expect good things from therapy, view the team as all-knowing experts, unrealistic expectations of treatment, overly attached to staff/wants to develop friendships, give little input/ask minimal questions of the team (“Whatever you think is best”), avoids talking about or facing child’s deficits, avoids discussing the future/planning for long term goals, minimizes or downplays problems or issues, overly confident in their own abilities to execute techniques, approaches treatment like let’s throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, cannot tell you why they chose ABA/low commitment to the process, overly focused on the end of the race or The Finish Line

1 or 2 of these characteristics does not necessarily equal a sprinter. It's the combination of multiple characteristics, combined with telltale signs of parent burnout or lack of commitment that reveal a sprinter.


Not sure what a marathoner typically looks like? Here are some common characteristics:

     Has an appropriate level of fear or skepticism at the onset of services, maintains realistic goals, asks probing or challenging questions of the treatment team, openly voices their opinion/will tell you when they don’t agree, comfortable setting both short and long term goals, may be involved in multiple treatments but understands that ABA requires high commitment, wants to participate in therapy/asks to be trained, openly admits to struggles or difficulty implementing the techniques, asks treatment team to help them advocate in other settings, rooted in reality vs focusing on a future day when everything will be fine, celebrates small successes or the baby steps of progress

     1 or 2 of these characteristics does not necessarily equal a marathoner. It is the combination of these characteristics, combined with consistency when the treatment team is not present that reveal a marathoner.

Action Steps

As the BCBA/supervisor it is common to want to blame yourself when a parent suddenly disengages, checks out, or begins to actively derail/resist the treatment process. This blame isn't just non-helpful, it could lead you to a place of frustration and burnout. 

What is key, is putting strategies in place to prevent sprinter issues rather than trying to react to them once they're already happening. Think antecedent interventions: what are procedures that can be implemented right from the start to help prevent a case from falling apart gradually, or suddenly. 

Procedures like:

  • Company policies such as careful screening/ interview of new clients, an intake process that clearly outlines parent expectations, a parent involvement policy (one that is actually enforced, not just written on a piece of paper), well trained staff who can recognize signs of burnout in the parent, and supported clinicians who are equipped to set the parents up for success.
  • Always view the parent as a vital part of the treatment team. If the parent bursts out of the gate at a sprint, only to collapse shortly thereafter, then the whole team needs to help get that parent back up and on their feet. This is everyone's problem to help solve.
  • At every phase of treatment, continue to review anticipated response effort and commitment levels with the parent. For example, when I introduce behavior plans or implement toilet training protocols I make it very clear to my clients that we are about to roll up our sleeves and work hard. I don't sugarcoat or minimize the increase of effort they are about to enter into, because I don't want that to be a nasty surprise.
  • Lastly, know when to terminate services. Termination is not a dirty word. It may just be the best choice for the client, particularly if due to persistent parental non-adherence to treatment. If any gains or successes are only demonstrated when the treatment team is around (aka behavioral contrast), then is that really effective treatment? I don't think so. 

This is somewhat of a Quote of the Day post, because it's going to be short and sweet.

I get a lot of emails from people all over with questions related to ABA services. Questions like "My daughter is doing XYZ at school, what do the teachers need to do", or "How do I (write/create/make) a (behavior plan/program/staff training)", or "My client's aggression is increasing, how do we stop that", etc.

The problem with questions like these, is they can't be accurately answered in a cut and dry manner. That's not how this works.
ABA therapy is crockpot cooking, not a microwave.

BUT, all hope is not lost. There is a way to discover that good ol' ABA magic, that actually will be helpful for your child, client, or student. The 3 steps below will help guide any of your ABA therapy related decision making, without sacrificing treatment quality. Guide, not completely resolve. Taking the time to complete these steps will point you in the right direction, not completely remove the need to consult with a BCBA.

  1. Carefully assess the recipient of treatment: What is the individuals does their environment impact the behavior of concern...what is the setting where treatment will occur...what training level do the staff/parents currently the individual on medication...what impact does the medication have on the behavior of concern....what impact does the individual's diagnosis (if there is a diagnosis) have on the behavior of the individual currently accessing ABA services....and on, and on and on. This step cannot be skipped. Its critical to evaluate the whole person, not just their behavior.
  2. Review what has already been effective: Professionals refer to this as literature review. This means to look for evidence based strategies, treatments, and therapies, that have been demonstrated effective for the behavior of concern. If that all sounded really confusing and complicated, this website should be a helpful start --ASAT.
  3. Putting it all together: I bet you didn't even notice that you just completed an assessment/evaluation, which led you to a hypothesis, which led you to data. Impressive, right? No really, that was the point of steps 1 and 2. Behavior does not occur in a vacuum, so you first need to gather information about the individual, then examine their environment, then become familiar with what has already proven effective, and then put it all together: create an individualized plan of action. This is why ABA professionals cannot answer "What should I do?" kinds of questions, because its impossible for us to complete steps 1 and 2 if we don't know you.

*Recommended Reading on Parental Involvement:

The Role of Caregiver Involvement in ABA Therapy
Parents: We Need You
Common Questions Parents Ask When Initiating ABA Therapy

I get asked lots and lots of questions by parents when we begin the therapeutic relationship, but if I sorted all those questions into 2 main categories they would be:
"How do I teach my child" and "How do I reduce behaviors".

That's it.

 All of the questions I get can be boiled down to 2 essential questions, that pretty much every parent raising a child with special needs (or any child, really) wants to know.
I can boil it down even more than that. These 2 questions are really getting at: "While you guys are working with my child and implementing treatment/therapy, what am I supposed to be doing?".

THAT is the $1,000,000 question.
To that question I say: You are supposed to be learning.

The typical parent I work with is not an educator, child expert, or a Behavior Analyst. Behavior change is not common knowledge, unfortunately. Much of what I teach parents initially seems counter-intuitive, illogical, or just downright weird.
 For children without any diagnosis or disability, parenting is hard enough. I can't imagine how much harder this process must be when your child learns/develops in unexpected ways, you need a team of professionals to help your child, but that team of professionals knows a LOT of information that you do not know.

That must be insanely hard.

So what's a parent to do? Well here is what NOT to do: open the door to let the therapy team in the house, disappear for the duration of the session, open the door to let the therapy team out of the house. Or: drive your child to the treatment clinic, sit in the waiting room, drive your child home from the treatment clinic. Or: drop your child off at school, pick your child up from school, only talk to the teacher at parent-teacher conferences.

None of those scenarios will help you learn anything about your child's treatment or therapy. But for a long time in this field, these scenarios describe what I saw. I saw parents briefly when I entered or left their home. I saw parents briefly at the start of the day at the clinic, or at the end of the day at the clinic. Quite non-surprisingly, these parents always reported a slew of challenges and issues outside of therapy sessions that the therapy team just didn't see.

This is also why many professionals struggle with parents participating in therapy sessions...its not something they are used to. Not all parents are involved with treatment, so for some ABA professionals it feels odd or accusatory when a parent starts asking questions about treatment.

I am huge on parent involvement and parent coaching, I strongly believe that if the people who hired me do not do the heavy lifting alongside me, then there's no point in me being there.

To the parent reading this: Now that you know what you are supposed to be doing while your child is receiving treatment (Learn), you may be wondering how exactly to do that? Glad you asked.

  1. Ask questions - Parents don't ask me nearly enough questions, and I remind them of this all the time. The team of professionals you are working with have spent a long time accumulating knowledge, as well as applying it to a variety of individuals. In other words, they may know a thing or three. It is in your best interest to ask questions about anything that concerns or worries you. Let me clarify that just a bit, I don't mean questions like "What will he be like at 22" or "Will she ever get married or go to college". The ABA team are not fortune tellers. I mean questions about treatment, goals, behaviors, etc.
  2. Do your research - I know, data and journal articles are not fun to everyone. By research, I don't mean you need to complete a dissertation on Behavior Analysis. What I mean is, do you actually understand the treatment your child is participating in? Do you know what ABA is, and what it is not? If your child has an IEP, are you familiar with IDEA? If your child receives speech therapy, how much do you know about ASHA? If you are signing your child up for therapies you barely understand, then how will you determine if the therapies are being implemented correctly?
  3. Read the documentation....All the documentation. Yes, I'm serious. - We can tell when you do not read our documents, whether its the report, the behavior plan, the programs, the handouts, etc. The questions you ask or the strategies you implement make that quite obvious. If you have not read the behavior plan then how can you possibly implement it? You can't. Which will lead to problem behaviors not improving, or worse yet increasing over time. If what the professionals are giving you to read looks like hieroglyphics, then you can absolutely ask them to translate that stuff into simple words! Or better yet, schedule a meeting to go over the documentation together.
  4. W-A-T-C-H - I usually start easing the families I work with into participation by having them just join the therapy sessions, to silently watch. This accomplishes multiple things at once: the parent gets to see the quality level of the staff, the child gets used to mom/dad being in the room but not rescuing them, and the parent gets to see how we teach skills. Observing the therapy sessions or treatment is an invaluable tool that will yield out so much important information. I do school observations all the time. Just by observing my kiddos at school, I can tell the quality of instruction, the social temperature of the room (how accepting are the other kids), and what is maintaining problem behaviors. If you do 1 thing this week to participate more in your child's therapies, please sit and watch the therapists work with your child. It's the best way to learn.
  5. Ask more questions! - After you observe the speech, OT, or ABA session, or go into the classroom to observe your child at school, you should have lots of questions. Ask those questions. Watching is great, but actually understanding what you just saw is even better.
  6. Talk to the treatment team as if they work for you, because they do - The treatment team is there to help your child, and to a greater extent, to help your family. That means they are accountable to you. Do you feel like they are doing their job? Are they meeting your expectations? Is your child improving? Can you say that your household is benefiting from the intervention, not just your child? If not, its time to have a conversation with the treatment team.
  7. Expect, no--->require professionalism and respectful communication - You have a right to ethical treatment from qualified professionals. Read this post if you need more clarity on that. This one is important: unethical, unqualified, non-professionals are not likely to implement intervention in a way that will actually help your child. I just don't see that ever unfold that way.
  8. Tell us when you don't think treatment is working - If you don't think the behavior plan has changed anything, tell that to the BCBA. It's important for us to know when you do not see the benefit of treatment (we call this social validity). As the person who requested our services, you should be the main supporter of our services. So if, for any reason, you have a problem with the way treatment is being implemented then we need to know that. I can't answer a question the parent does not ask, and your treatment team cannot make modifications you do not request. Parent raised issues help professionals discover problems, become aware of blind spots, or shift our perspective.


Briesmeister, J. M., & Schaefer, C. E. (2007). Handbook of parent training: Helping parents prevent and solve problem behaviors (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Crone, R. M., & Mehta, S. S. (2016). Parent training on generalized use of behavior analytic strategies for decreasing the problem behavior of children with autism spectrum disorder: A data-based case study. Education & Treatment of Children, 39(1), 64-94. Retrieved from

Lafasakis, M., & Sturmey, P. (2007). Training parent implementation of discrete- trial teaching: Effects on generalization of parentteaching and child correct responding. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 40, 685-689.

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