If I didn't believe in the potential of the children I work with then I couldn't do my job. As an ABA professional it is imperative that I stay committed to the program and "keep my eye on the prize", no matter how bad it may get or how many issues a client may have. When I first meet with parents I often hear a variation of the statement "You seem so sure...how do you know this will work?". I believe in ABA as a science and a teaching methodology. I have seen what ABA can do to completely change the lives of children and their families.
I'm used to my optimistic attitude being met with skepticism or just outright disbelief. Usually, its some variation of "I'll give this ABA thing a shot, but I'm not expecting much".
The reason why I can be so confident when discussing with a new client what ABA can do for their child, is because I understand that Progress is Success. It took me some time get that concept but once I did it made it so much easier to deal with resistant parents.
Parents, please understand that no one can tell you how to "fix" your child. We professionals are not magicians and we do not carry wands. Do not let a professional make blanket statements to you promising grandiose results, because that's not possible. There are so many variables to an effective ABA program. To name a few, there is the number of hours of therapy per week, the training and quality of the therapists, the amount of programs/skills being taught, effectiveness of reinforcers, etc.
Sometimes professionals who work with special needs children have higher expectations of these children than would be on typical children. That is definitely setting a child up for failure. As parents and therapists it is important to prepare yourself for an uphill battle. There will be good days and bad days. The child may gain skills very rapidly and then regress again. The child may develop concerning behaviors that you do not understand. You may become frustrated, feel hopeless, or feel impatient to get the child "fixed". If a child learned to label 3 words in 4 months, that's success. Their vocabulary has grown by 3 words. Learn to celebrate progress (even small progress) because sometimes during therapy, progress will only come in baby steps. "Perfection" is not a goal, its an unrealistic expectation to place on any child.
Here's a few unrealistic goals that I have helped therapists and/or families get rid of:
- Being partially, or "kind of" on board- This one is a biggie. I come across so many families who don't know this: ABA is a therapeutic method that requires parental and family involvement. That is a fact. I like to explain this to parents by saying "What is most important is what you do when the therapists leave". Family involvement means you know your child's programs/goals, you know what your child has mastered, you know how to prompt your child, etc.
- Ignoring the need for data- The last "A" in ABA stands for Analysis.....as in Data Analysis. ABA is an empirically supported, data driven therapeutic method. That is what makes it so sound, precise, and effective. You will limit the success of ABA therapy if you are not properly collecting data. I get it, I swear I do. Data can be boring, and anti-glamorous... but without data at the core of your ABA program, how do you know when something is mastered? How do you know if an intervention worked?
- Expecting others to do the "heavy lifting"- This may sound similar to point #1, but there is a difference. A family can be on board with the ABA therapy, but still drop the ball when it comes to the first "A" in ABA, which stands for Applied. Applied basically means we aren't describing theory or discussing hypotheses, we are actually implementing and doing the work. We are rolling up our sleeves, and doing some heavy lifting. I have worked with families who have behavioral interventions in place that they have never implemented on their child. Or, the child has been taught hundreds of mands and the parent still lets the child lead them by the arm to what they want. It is so important as a parent that you feel comfortable doing everything the therapist does.