This post is a continuation in my “Hiring ABA Therapists” series. To read the previous posts, click here:
So you found some experienced ABA therapists in your area (or some super energetic people willing to learn), you conducted interviews, observed the therapist interacting with your child, finalized pay rate, created a weekly schedule, and hired a Consultant to run the program.
Now you become the Manager of a really cool corporation called “Your Child’s ABA Therapy Program”. The Consultant running the program is there as a guide to oversee everything, provide training, and track progress. There are still many tasks left for the parents to do, and it is in your best interest to know what to expect.
To a parent, the relationship between the ABA professional(s) and your family can be a strange one. The therapists are the experts on behavior and motivation… but you are the expert on your child. People you just met a few days ago are now in your home several hours a day… which can be difficult for your other children to understand. It can be hard to draw a boundary between “The therapist needs to know about our household in order to help my child”, and “The therapist is my best friend/support system and I finally have someone to talk to!” Particularly if you've never hired in-home staff before, this will be a new and interesting experience for you. Whether you employ 1 therapist or a team of therapists, there are some general tips that will make the process run much more smoothly:
- Missed sessions, no-shows, repeat cancellations, and arriving late to sessions are all to be avoided—that goes for you too, parents. It is unprofessional and rude for the therapist to regularly show up at your home 20 minutes late for a session, and it is unprofessional and rude for you to regularly “forget” scheduled sessions or meetings and leave the therapist waiting outside your home for you to arrive. Make time expectations clear and if either you or the therapist is going to be late or needs to cancel a session, give as much notice as possible.
- The therapist should begin work by doing Pairing only. The therapist should not arrive for their first day of work and start firing demands at your child. Pairing should be fun, noisy, and full of laughs and your child’s favorite activities.
- The therapist should have questions! It doesn’t matter if the therapist is someone with no experience that you found through a friend, or if they have 2 degrees in ABA. They should have questions about your child, behavior, reinforcement, etc., and the therapist should seek feedback from you. The therapist may have years of experience, but it wasn’t with your child. If the therapist has no experience they should be asking you what things mean: What’s a VR? What is a prompt? How do I get the child to do X or Y or Z?
- The therapist should arrive to your home with a goodie bag full of edibles, toys, activities, games, books, or fun items for the child to interact with. This is something that a brand new therapist probably won’t know to do, so you will likely need to tell them. As a new therapist just meeting a child, its unrealistic to expect the child to work for toys they see everyday in their own home. Some therapists believe in working with what is in the child's home only, but I dont. I think reinforcers should be a mix of what is in the home, as well as special things I bring with me.
- Decide how you want to monitor sessions (because you should be monitoring sessions). Options include a communication log, videotaping sessions, or observing sessions. What you are looking for is a good rapport with your child, adherence to the programs and behavior plan, successful transitions, lots of breaks, and good energy. I have said it before—energy is one of the most important qualities to look for in a great ABA therapist. Even if the therapist has no experience, they should be able to get on the floor with your child and play and have fun. The relationship between therapist and child is just as important as the programs being taught.
- The Consultant should assess your child and provide initial training to you and the therapist. Once therapy begins you will need programs, materials, a program book, and a quiet, distraction free room where therapy sessions are held. Ongoing communication between all team members, as well as training of staff members, typically occurs 1-3x a month.
- Staff turnover is normal. In this field, people come and go. Experienced therapists move out of state for higher paying jobs. Inexperienced therapists realize they don’t like the job and leave the field. Some families may have the same therapist working for their family across several years, but thats really more of the exception than the rule. It can be painful and difficult, but you found one great ABA therapist and you will find another.
- Follow through with what goes on during therapy sessions. The therapist needs your consistency in order to get the best results. If the therapist tells you she is requiring your child use utensils at meals, then you need to require the same from your child. You, the therapist, and the Consultant are a team now. The more you all work together, the better for your child.
- Be prepared for personality differences between therapists. If you have hired a team of therapists, then one therapist may be bossy, another very timid, another messy, another neat, etc. Just because the morning therapist enjoys chatting with you when she arrives doesn’t mean the afternoon therapist will. Respect individual differences, and don’t expect all the therapists to do their job in the same way. Its actually a good thing for your child to learn from differing personality types.
Running your child’s in-home ABA program --even with the help of a Consultant-- is hard work. The families who handle it best tend to be organized, great communicators, and self- disciplined. It’s important as a parent to educate yourself and become knowledgeable about ABA and behavior. The Consultant and therapists won’t be moving in with you. When all the professionals pack up and leave for the day you need to know what to do about behaviors, or just how to get your child to sit down and eat dinner.