“Intake” is an information gathering process that ABA professionals (usually someone in a supervisory role) use with new clients to determine a few things:
- What specific needs, strengths, and deficits does the client present with?
- Determine the parent training and/or education that will be needed about the purpose of ABA, and the precise implementation of treatment
- Get an idea of current functioning level, as well as past levels of functioning (has the child recently regressed? Are they currently experiencing a surge in language?)
- Determine the best individualized treatment plan for the client
Intakes can be small, or quite large. Many companies have the supervisor who will be working with the client conduct the intake, or if it’s a smaller company, one person may handle all new client intakes (company owner). The intake process should be consistent across individuals, and needs to be lengthy enough to gather important information. Some companies only allow 1-2 hours for intake, which is not enough time at all. It isn’t uncommon that intake may stretch over a few days, especially if other care providers are interviewed or observed, such as the Speech Therapist.
I don’t recommend accepting a new client into your private practice or ABA program without conducting a proper intake assessment. The reason why is it will be difficult to properly create the treatment plan if you only have minimal information about the client. This can lead to poor quality “cookie cutter” programs where all clients who look like "this" get treatment 1, and all clients who look like "that" get treatment 2, etc. Even if important information can be obtained through a brief phone interview, these interviews are usually conducted by office staff. Office staff may have little to no knowledge of ABA treatment planning and often do not know how to gather the kind of information an ABA professional would need.
Most of my intakes take anywhere from 3-4 hours to a few days, and include lots of paperwork. I usually send much of the paperwork to the family in advance, to save time during our actual meeting. This way I can get more into interviewing and direct skill probing, since the background information questions have already been answered via a questionnaire, or form. This is also a great way to begin record review, by having the family or caregivers send you relevant information such as recent psychological reports, the initial evaluation (the report done by whoever diagnosed the child), recent IEP, etc., before you actually meet the client.
It won’t always be possible, but I recommend scheduling the intake visit at a time when the client will be present. Observation, interaction, and direct skill probing are critical to accurate intake, and you will need the client present in order to complete these steps. You also want to keep in mind that parent report can sometimes over or under exaggerate. If the child is actually present, you can test statements the parent has made, or probe for yourself. For example, the parents may state that the child always has a tantrum if they hear the word “no”. You could then set up a scenario where you tell the child “no” to something they want, and see if a tantrum occurs. If a tantrum does not occur, that would tell you there is a history of reinforcement tied to the behavior that is causing the problem behavior to be exhibited in one setting (toward the parents) and not in another (towards you).
A thorough intake assessment will give me much of the information I need to create a behavior plan, initial acquisition programs, and parent training documents. Of course I will need to keep getting to know the child and family dynamics, but much of what I need to know is revealed during intake: Is the house chaotic and disorganized? A routine and visual schedule will likely be necessary. Is the child incredibly aggressive towards their siblings, OR ignores their siblings completely? Social interaction programs, including involving their sibling and other peers, will need to be taught.. Do the parents reinforce problem behaviors in front of you? Parent training will be key. And so on……
The following is intended to be a guide to conducting intake assessments, and there is a link to a sample intake form below.
Conducting an Intake Assessment
* Resource: Sample Intake Form