As your child begins ABA therapy, it is typical to have countless questions about what to expect. How will you know that the therapy is “helping”? Will this be some kind of cure for their diagnosis? How long will it take to see results? So many questions! Keep reading to learn answers to these questions and more!
ASD is a developmental disorder that results in deficits in communication, social interactions, and repetitive/restricted behaviors. ABA Therapy seeks to close the gaps between those deficits and the skills needed to be as independent as they are able to be. Improving an individual’s overall functioning level is typically the goal of treatment for autism, including that of ABA therapy.
Throughout the course of treatment, it is fundamental to ensure that oversight and progress monitoring is occurring. Let’s review some of the best ways to monitor their progress toward improved communication and social skills, and reduced maladaptive behaviors.
First, it’s important to consider how long to expect to be in ABA therapy. Of course, the answer is not as simple as we all wish it were and varies greatly.
Some children who require significantly more support (in the past referred to as “lower functioning”) may need therapy for a longer duration than those who require less support and experience more mild deficits.
While we may not have an exact timeline, there are many ways that you can work together with an ABA therapist to ensure your child makes ongoing progress.
So how do you know your child is progressing? This is a loaded question with endless possibilities. Progress may be measured against neurotypical peers, cultural or family expectations, or one’s own learning and behavioral history.
You know your child is making progress when he or she is continuously moving forward toward an end goal. That end goal could be many things including independent living, communicating effectively, or engaging in the least restrictive environments.
The great thing about ABA is the ways in which your child's progress can be measured and tracked by you and your treatment team.
ABA is highly data-driven. ABA therapists do not make decisions without consideration for what the data is telling them. Regularly reviewing the data can help identify if problematic behaviors are decreasing and if adaptive behaviors are being demonstrated, as well as what skills are progressing and which ones need more support.
This data may be in the form of a formal assessment (i.e. AFLS, VB-MAPP, etc.) or your child’s program data or behavior data. Forta uses smart technology to help determine the best courses of action for your child that are translated into actionable steps for your care team.
If you are unsure where you could locate the data and graphs, ask your child’s BCBA to direct you. It may be housed in an online data collection system or on paper datasheets.
During your child’s treatment session would also be a great time to request your BCBA to go over the graphs and data to explain how to interpret the information.
Your BCBA should provide you with more guidance on what level of involvement from you would be beneficial during sessions. But observing and/or participating in sessions will give you a great opportunity to observe progress in the skills being taught. This is a benefit of in-home ABA therapy.
Observing will also help you to identify the progress that may not be evident within the data. For example, if your child had no interest in therapy when first starting and now initiates play and conversation with their RBT, that is huge progress. The data may not show this if there were no specific goals in place related to initiating play and conversations. However, observing will help you identify those additional effects of the therapy process.
As your child learns new skills in ABA sessions, we want to make sure that these skills are being applied to their natural environment. Learning a skill in a controlled environment isn’t as beneficial if it isn’t able to be demonstrated in the environments where the behavior matters most.
That is where generalization comes in! When a skill is mastered within the ABA sessions, it should be trained and tested for generalization with other people (i.e, you!), in other environments, and with novel stimuli. You can test the skill’s generalization outside of sessions by providing the instruction and monitoring their response. (Don’t forget to reinforce success!)
Check with your BCBA if they have any particular guidelines for testing for generalization that you should take into consideration.
All of the above recommendations involve some level of communicating with your child’s BCBA. Regular treatment guidance meetings with your BCBA should occur to discuss progress, treatment modifications, train you on individual interventions, etc.
If you are unsure that your child is making progress, always reach out to your BCBA.
If the treatment team has identified that your child is not making progress, a collaborative approach to addressing a lack of progress is necessary in resuming progress.
Let’s consider the steps that can be taken to rectify this and ensure they resume making progress.
The first step should always be to chat with your child’s BCBA. Explain the lack of progress that may have been identified and inquire about any barriers they may have identified. It’s possible that the perceived lack of progress can be explained by the BCBA as your child actually making slow and systematic progress. Those small successes can sometimes be overlooked. If that is not the case, troubleshooting any barriers to progress will be the most important step. This should typically be initiated by your BCBA, but your feedback about barriers is important too.
It’s possible that the processes being used to teach your child need to be modified, the prompt levels need to be adjusted, or a new intervention plan is needed, among countless other possibilities. Your BCBA should be able to explain what potential barriers exist and what the plan to remedy the barriers is, as well as how to further monitor if the modifications improve progress.
Many children have multiple providers besides their ABA therapists which make up their full care team. These may include speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. If consistent progress is not being demonstrated through ABA therapy when you’ve already had discussions with your BCBA, and despite modifications, progress remains stagnant, you may consider discussing problem solving with other providers.
If your child takes or needs medication, a medication adjustment may also be necessary. If your child is in another therapy, an adjustment to the frequency may be helpful as well. It is also beneficial for your child’s various providers to collaborate with each other, so everyone can be aligned on your child’s goals. For example, if they’re working on vocal speech in ABA, but the speech therapist is working on ASL, this could be a major conflict, resulting in confusion and reduced progress in both vocal speech and ASL.
The science behind behavioral principles used in ABA can be applied to far more than therapy for children with autism. However if your child is not making progress in ABA (and again, troubleshooting has occurred and modifications have been made), it may be beneficial to get a re-evaluation to identify if any comorbidities are present.
While the interventions used in ABA can be applied successfully across various disorders and even with neurotypical children too, it is possible that another form of therapy may be of benefit, either instead of, or in addition to ABA therapy.
My hope is that I have helped you check a few of the questions or concerns off of your long list of questions you have as a parent of a neurodiverse child who is gearing up to start therapy. There are many ways to monitor your child’s progress toward the goals that you and their treatment team put into place.
The biggest takeaway is to find a few ways that work for you to best monitor your child’s progress and keep on advocating for what is needed to continue watching their progress unfold.
Communication is key. This can’t be stated enough. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s progress, talk to their BCBA and/or other service providers to identify barriers and make the adjustments necessary. Keep on trucking along in helping your child be the best version of themselves possible.