Written by Tara Boyd, M.A., CCC-SLP, Executive Director & Speech-Language Pathologist
It can take a long time for parents to get their child diagnosed with autism or another childhood disorder and find out where to seek help. The best-case scenario is that a parent realizes their child needs help, gets an assessment by the right licensed professional, finds out about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and decides it is a good idea. Once parents are committed to enrolling their child in a program, the next hurdle is this: which one????? There are so many and they vary in so many ways: too many to cover in one blog post. My hope here is NOT to provide a complete guide to ABA programs and what type is best for whom; I’m interested in simply starting the conversation. My hope is that this will help shed some light on this topic for parents and professionals who need information about the different types of settings in which ABA is available.
This last November was my 22nd year working with children in ABA programs. Time really does fly when you are passionate about what you do! I feel so fortunate to have worked with so many amazing children and families over the years. It has also been a pleasure to work with so many dedicated, talented people in all different types of programs designed to help children who have varied skills and challenges.
Despite all the variations in people and programs I have encountered, one thing is for certain: ABA, when used correctly, is effective in increasing the skills kids need to have (such as communicating and learning) and decreasing the behaviors that don’t serve them (such as biting and hitting). This part is clear. This is backed by decades and decades of research.
Anything beyond that in the ABA world can get confusing for parents and, quite honestly, to most people. One of the common misconceptions about ABA is that it is one particular therapy, treatment or curriculum for children with autism or other childhood disorders. This is not true. In fact, ABA is “…a scientific discipline concerned with applying techniques based upon the principles of learning to change behavior of social significance.” (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). Professionals sometimes say “ABA therapy” (myself included) because it has become a socially accepted way to refer to therapy based on the principles of ABA. I say it because I know people will know what I mean, but the term “ABA therapy” or “ABA program” could give someone the impression that all programs are the same. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you are a parent, a professional who refers parents to ABA providers, or an interested party for any reason, this is important to consider for the sake of children who are in need of ABA services and cannot advocate for themselves to find the right program.
One of the many ways in which ABA programs differ is the setting in which services are provided. It varies by state; but, in my experience, most ABA programs fall into four main categories in terms of the setting in which the therapy takes place:
Within each of these settings, it gets even more complicated in terms of programming and staff, for example. This is why it is so important for parents to research several programs before making a choice. I know this can be difficult with waitlists, but just do the best you can with what is available. I can’t stress this enough.
Some basic things to consider are:
While I can’t speak for other programs, I can give you some details about our program at Ally Pediatric Therapy to give you an idea of a few other things you may look for in addition to the information above. We offer center-based, school-based and home-based ABA services for our clients and families to best fit their needs. In our center-based program, a supervising Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is on site at all times. Children receive 1:1 instruction and have opportunities for naturally-occurring small group learning or structured group instruction. This can be very beneficial for some children. For example, we offer group treatment in our Social Skills Lunch Bunch over lunch time. This is a time for children to eat lunch with peers of similar age and ability levels and work on individual skills they will need in group settings, such as a school cafeteria or family dinner table. We also offer several different Social Skills Groups on Saturdays for children from preschoolers to teens. Children have individual goals assessed and tracked over the course of the groups.
If you want more information about our services, such as our speech-language or feeding therapy programs, please check out our website at www.allypediatric.com. If you want to see if our program is a good fit for your child, call the office and schedule a tour. Don’t forget to do your research before enrolling your child in any specialized autism or ABA program! This can make all the difference in the world for your child and your family as a whole.
Tara S. Boyd, M.A., CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and the Executive Director of Ally Pediatric Therapy. Tara has worked with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) since 1996.