Since the birth of my blog, I have consistently received emails from parents and caregivers all over the world who do not have access to an energetic team of ABA professionals, don’t have ABA agencies/schools in their area, or can’t afford to pay for ABA therapy. These parents inevitably want to know “How can I do this ABA thing??”
As I have stated on my blog before, research clearly and consistently demonstrates that in the best case scenarios slightly ½ of the kiddos with Autism who receive quality and intensive ABA from an early age will go on to achieve typical functioning across adaptive, play, social, and academic domains. Even for those who don't make those huge gains, they still make substantial gains and improvements compared to the kiddos who receive no ABA.
What does ABA look like in the best case scenario? Well, here is a free resource describing what an excellent quality ABA program looks like. To briefly summarize, a quality ABA intervention program should:
The sad truth is not every child has realistic access to quality ABA programs, for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the child doesn’t NEED ABA, or wouldn’t benefit greatly from ABA, it just means they don’t receive it.
So to those parents and caregivers, my advice is to DIY: Do It Yourself.
Empower yourself and help your child at the same time. Would it be great if everyone had quality ABA treatment options? Of course! But if that isn’t a reality for you, please don’t feel as if all hope is lost. I don't think a systematic and intensive treatment method like DTT is realistic for a parent to implement (with no professional help) but methodologies like Incidental Teaching could easily be incorporated into the day of a busy parent.
Here are my brief guidelines for how parents can work with their own kiddos:
- Do your research: Become knowledgeable about Autism, Behavior Management, and ABA strategies (such as Prompting & Task Analysis). The more you learn through trainings, webinars, books, or research articles, the better you will be able to help your child. Much of the information available to professionals is not restricted, anyone can access it.
- Learn how to collect ABC data: Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence data is very helpful for intervening on behaviors. Problem behaviors impede learning. In order to teach your child skills, it is critical to decrease disruptive behaviors. In the absence of a professional, a fundamental knowledge of the functions of behavior, and reinforcement & punishment will empower a caregiver to confidently handle problem behaviors.
- Focus on teachable opportunities: Look for moments throughout each day where your child spontaneously communicates with you, gives eye contact, approaches a peer, etc. Work on capturing and expanding upon those moments, to teach a variety of skills such as imitation, language, turntaking, etc. I do this all the time by narrating the action and treating babble as conversation. When my nonverbal kiddos give me eye contact, I smile, wave and greet them. When they babble around me, I respond back while describing what they are doing “Oh, I see you are playing with blocks. Look, you have a red one, and a blue one….”. Throughout the day look for these moments and picture them as a piece of bubble gum that you want to stre-t-t-t-tch out as long as you possibly can.
- Embed learning into your child’s day: The opposite of capturing those teachable moments is knowing how to contrive an opportunity to teach. Most parents don’t realize just how many little moments in the day can be turned into an opportunity to teach. When giving your child breakfast, work on self help skills (pouring the milk), language (“I want cereal”), or fine motor skills (independently using a spoon), just in one 20 minute meal.
- At a minimum, understand Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: I like to tell parents “When in doubt, act like you didn’t see it”. When new behaviors pop up and you don’t quite know what to do or why it’s happening, a good rule of thumb is to starve the behavior you don’t want and feed the behavior you do want. That may look like turning your head and ignoring your child when they start throwing peas at the dinner table, and providing immediate attention and eye contact when they eat their garlic stick. DRA is a quick and easy strategy to implement for busy parents, especially if you have other children to attend to as well. Save your attention, words, and eye contact for the behaviors you want to see increase. Then think about a replacement behavior. For example, when your child goes to throw peas, remind them they can sign “All done” if they are done eating.
"A Work In Progress" by Ron Leaf