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A Guide for Parents: Choosing an ABA Provider

Parents want the best for their children when it comes time to choose an ABA provider. For parents whose child has autism spectrum disorder, finding the right professional to work with can be challenging if you do not know what to look for. 

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that aims to improve social, communication, and learning skills through positive reinforcement. It is one of the most widely practiced and proven methods among all interventions for those on the spectrum.

By partnering with the right ABA provider, this type of therapy sets the bar high for treatments found in this community. Locating the appropriate one involves more than searching in just your regional area. Finding one that has the necessary characteristics to help you and your child succeed is essential. Keep reading to learn how to start your search for the best ABA provider for your family. 

Credentials 

When starting your search for an ABA provider, families should consider the credentials of those in their area. There are different types and “levels” of providers in the field. With varying levels of education at play, one provider might have more of the education necessary to guide your family to success. 

Credentials to consider include whether or not the provider has a BA degree in a field like ABA, psychology, Child development, or related fields. From there, parents might look deeper for a provider who has obtained a graduate degree in a relevant field or has equivalent certifications and experience. The more time your ABA provider has spent investing in their knowledge of children on the autism spectrum and how to help them and their families, the more likely they are to offer effective treatment. 

Starting Your Search for an ABA Provider

ABA Provider: How to find

Credentials 

When starting your search for an ABA provider, families should consider the credentials of those in their area. There are different types and “levels” of providers in the field. With varying levels of education at play, one provider might have more of the education necessary to guide your family to success. 

Credentials to consider include whether or not the provider has a BA degree in a field like ABA, psychology, Child development, or related fields. From there, parents might look deeper for a provider who has obtained a graduate degree in a relevant field or has equivalent certifications and experience. The more time your ABA provider has spent investing in their knowledge of children on the autism spectrum and how to help them and their families, the more likely they are to offer effective treatment. 

Types of Providers

ABA Providers

BCBA 

BCBA stands for Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Providers who hold a BCBA certification are able to offer behavior analysis services to clients without supervision. They have a master’s level education in a related field, have completed 1500 hours of fieldwork, and have been issued a license by the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board. 

RBT 

RBT stands for Registered Behavior Technician. This certification was created by the same organization as the BCBA. With this certification, a provider is considered a paraprofessional. They work under the supervision of a licensed therapist like a BCBA. Most of the time, ABA therapy is carried out by an RBT while they are managed by a BCBA. 

There are additional professionals who work in ABA therapy. They include licensed therapists, social workers, cognitive behavioral technicians, speech therapists, doctors, and more. BCBA’s and RBT’s are the most common licenses however.

Red Flags 

Not every ABA provider is equal to the next. Some programs have what your family needs and others do not. The ability to differentiate between an effective program and one that is not is important to any search. Some red flags to consider when looking in your area are: 

  • No Evidence – There should be scientific data backing the program and its use. If there is not, this is extremely alarming, and you should keep looking. 
  • No Data Documentation – There should be an established process for tracking your child’s progress in the form of data documentation. This is how ABA providers track changes in a child’s behaviors and skills. 
  • No Supervision – If the provider you are working with is relatively new in the field, there should be someone above them who is acting as their supervisor. 
  • One-Size-Fits-All – Every child is unique and different and ABA providers should cater to those differences. Their therapy should be tailored to the specific needs of your family, not a generalized version of ABA that does not apply to everyone. 
  • No Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of ABA therapy. ABA providers who do not use it or who use it sparingly should be avoided during your search. 
  • Focused on Problem Behaviors – while a goal of ABA therapy is to hopefully reduce problem behaviors, it is not the focus. The focus of the right ABA provider should be the education of new skills and the improvement of understanding. 

Experience 

It might go without saying, but experience is incredibly important in an ABA provider. The more time a provider has spent investing in their education, credentials, knowledge, and understanding, the more tools they have equipped to help your child. 

The important thing to note here is that time does not always equal experience. If a provider exhibits any of the red flags mentioned previously, then time may become irrelevant. Just because a provider has been around for a long time, that does not mean they are better than a newer one. The detail that makes the difference is the time they have spent investing in themselves to improve the care they are able to offer. 

Rates/Insurance 

Unfortunately, a huge consideration for many families is cost and whether or not their insurance will cover services. In a perfect world, parents would do their research to find the most qualified and exceptional ABA provider in their area and run in their direction. When insurance and cost come into play, families should do their best to take all of the above considerations and apply them to the ABA providers who are available to them. By taking these details into consideration, parents/guardians can narrow down the list of providers in their area and start to evaluate them individually to find the right fit. 

How to Evaluate a Practice

Autism Practices

Staff 

Depending on the size of the organization there are some staffing considerations to take underwing. If an ABA therapy practice services a wide range of clients, there needs to be the staff to support quality care. While the majority of services are carried out by an RBT, there should be at least one BCBA on staff. There should be more if the organization works with a lot of clients. The BACB guidelines state that oversight of 6-12 clients is the average. 

Safety 

Safety is essential in any therapy setting, but more so when the organization is working with children. Your child should always be in protected hands. Make sure any ABA provider you are considering has completed in-depth background checks on their staff. If you are bringing an ABA provider into your home, you have every right to ask them to complete one. 

Expectations 

There is no guarantee or magic wand when it comes to ABA therapy. Providers who guarantee results are wrong to do so. This type of therapy takes time, hard work, and patience from everyone involved. Find a provider who sets honest expectations about their treatment plan. 

Plans 

As mentioned earlier, every child with autism spectrum disorder is different and each plan needs to cater to that fact. An ABA provider should focus on developing a plan that shines a light on the skills your child needs to develop, their individual strengths, and how to apply them in real-world settings. 

Data/Documentation 

Data documentation is a critical part of any ABA process. Every ABA provider should be diligent in their effort to collect data, interpret it, and communicate it to families. While complex data might make sense to the professional, they need to spend time explaining it to you so that you understand your child’s progress. This data should then be used to adjust the established program to the current needs of the child. 

Models and Interventions

Autism Providers

Comprehensive Model 

There are different types of comprehensive treatment, but they generally aim to change specific skills that impact functioning and behavior. This includes adaptive skills and social functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder. Comprehensive programs are long-term. When a comprehensive model is implemented at a young age, it is also referred to as an “early intensive behavioral intervention” or an EIBI. 

Focused Model 

Focused ABA interventions are just that, focused on specific behavioral deceleration concerns. This is a short-term intervention aimed to address worries like aggression, self-harm, disruptive behavior, and more. This is generally only necessary when comprehensive models are not working. 

Parent Training 

ABA providers are meant to help children with autism spectrum disorder, but treatment programs may also heavily involve their caregivers. This model is meant to train caregivers on how to help their child learn and develop. Parent involvement has been proven to increase positive outcomes during ABA therapy (Crockett and Fleming, 2007). 

There exists a variety of ABA providers who offer in-home, in-center, or community ABA therapy. Finding one that is qualified, experienced, and has the characteristics (staff, safety, etc.) needed to safely care for your child is the goal of your search. Start your search for the right ABA provider today by narrowing down which ones are available in your area, evaluating their practices, and finding what fits your family best. 

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Sources

Pratt, Dr. Cathy. “What to Consider When Looking for a Qualified ABA Provider.” Indiana Resource Center for Autism, http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/what-to-consider-when-looking-for-a-qualified-aba-provider.html.  

Crockett, J. L., & Fleming, R. K. (2007). Parent training: Acquisition and generalization. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28, 23-36. 

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