You’re a parent, which means you already have a lot on your plate. You’re also a parent of a child who has a diagnosis of autism or other developmental disability, which only supersizes the servings of stuff that you have to figure out how to juggle. You’ve navigated through the diagnostic process, have sifted through a multitude of treatment options, and have chosen Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. But, your journey as a parent of a child will special needs continues and you want to do everything you can to help your child reach their full potential. Managing continuation and support of ABA therapy services in the home, on top of everything else, might make you feel even more overwhelmed with the load you have to carry. The good news is it doesn’t have to be as difficult as it may seem. I won’t fabricate things and tell you that it will be a walk in the park, but supporting what your child is learning shouldn’t require you to turn your house into a large scale therapy setting where you now must perform the same duties, at the same level, as your child’s Registered Behavior Technician or BCBA. Supporting ABA therapy in the home requires some careful thought and arrangement to maximize learning opportunities, but can be incorporated within your already existing daily tasks or routines.
Quite often, parents have a laundry list of skills that they would like for their child to be able to demonstrate or behavior problems that are causing some significant issues for the household that they would like to decrease or eliminate. It can be easy to fall into the pit of trying to be everything and do everything at once, and it can certainly feel as if time is not on your side. You may also inadvertently attempt to work on a skill or set of skills that may be too difficult for your child at this time. The problem with this “be all, do all” strategy is that it will likely leave you feeling exhausted without much, if anything, to show for your efforts. Prioritizing and managing your expectations is a must for maintaining your sanity and establishing progress that will help to maintain your motivation to keep going. Dr. Carl Sundberg wrote a wonderful article on managing expectations, which can be found here: www.indyschild.com/managing-your-expectations. Gaining knowledge about your child’s specific strengths and deficits will help you to do that and aid in developing a strategic plan to achieve what you want. Your child’s ABA therapy team should be able to help provide you with a comprehensive review of your child’s current developmental skills. They help you to identify pre-requisite skills that may need to be learned in order for your child to be successful with achieving the goals you have for them and can help you prioritize what to work on first. They can also help you to plan for teaching and how to prompt and fade prompts necessary to teach a given skill.
Sometimes parents aren’t even sure where to start, but that answer is quite easy, actually: Mands! Mands are requests. That is, asking for what he or she needs or wants. For example, asking for or signing “juice” when the child is thirsty. Mands are the only type of language that directly benefits your child. Mands get them access to the things that they like or need. Mands can help to increase social behavior and establish family members as reinforcers because they become the ‘givers of good things’. Mands are a critical language component for any child, but even more so for a child with a diagnosis of autism or other developmental disability that negatively impacts language and communication with others. If you work on nothing else, you and your child will benefit from the time spent teaching them how to mand. Teaching mands does require some forethought and planning. You will need to make a list of items that your child wants or needs on a daily basis. You will then likely need to rearrange your home environment so they cannot gain free access to those items or activities without you or another family member delivering it. Think of it this way: if they can get it for free, why should they ask and why do they need you, or anyone else for that matter? Once you’ve identified your child’s potential reinforces (that list of things that they like or need on a daily basis), then you can use their motivation to access those items or activities to teach them how to ask for them or use them to positively reinforce other behavior that you would like to increase or decrease.
The second most critical way to support ABA therapy in the home setting is to learn about the functions of behavior or the reason/s why your child may be behaving in the manner that they are. For example, they may be engaging in undesired behavior in order to access preferred items or activities. Mand training would then be a vital part of a plan to address these behaviors. Your child may be engaging in undesired behavior when you ask them to perform certain tasks. Your child’s ABA therapy team can help show you how to break those tasks down and apply prompting a fading in a systematic way that will help your child tolerate complying with what is asked and decrease any frustration you may be experiencing with these types of interactions. Your child may be engaging in high levels of self-stimulatory behavior that is impeding desired social communication within the family unit. Your ABA therapy team can help you create a plan to maximize engagement with family members and still meet your child’s sensory preferences. In short, identifying the reason/s behind behavior will help you to create a plan to address them.
BACA encourages and provides natural environment training (NET) services to support YOU and your child as you attempt to implement ABA principles in the home setting. Training sessions are customized for each family and can be arranged around your busy schedule. Please contact the Clinical Director at the location your child attends or your child’s Team Supervisor if you are not yet receiving these services and are interested.
Written By: Melany Shampo MA, BCBA – BACA 1 Clinical Director