by Lizzy Engelman

Caregiver Involvement in ABA Therapy 

ABA therapy is designed to benefit both the client and the family. When a child has special needs, it’s a struggle to achieve and maintain a healthy family environment; therefore, caregivers should expect to be actively involved in ABA therapy sessions.

ABA adopts a team approach, where the therapist trains, encourages, and empowers the caregiver to take an active part in helping his or her child engage in new, positive behaviors rather than problem behaviors. Ideally, the caregiver becomes the “expert” with respect to their child. ABA therapy is a collaborative relationship, and the caregiver is instrumental to the success of any intervention program.

After initially observing a few sessions and becoming better familiar with the program, caregivers are trained in behavioral intervention techniques. In time, caregivers may be asked to take data or assist in directly teaching his or her child.

The ABA therapist is part of your team, and you’ll work together to improve your child’s life and your family dynamic. It’s a team effort, and it involves cooperation, communication, and commitment from everyone involved.

On occasion, children cry, engage in challenging behaviors or even become aggressive during ABA therapy, because they may not want to comply or participate. As therapists work on building skills such as compliance skills, play skills, attending skills, and behavior skills, it’s important to take the therapists’ lead and not “rescue” the child. The behavior analysis professional is equipped to deal with these challenges and will help to manage them.

According to Elle Olivia Johnson, author of “In-Home ABA Programs,” there is a 50/50 rule. Therapists are responsible for 50 percent of training and the caregiver is responsible for the other 50 percent. In order for a child to meet his or her behavioral goals, caregivers must also learn to master the techniques used by therapists, because caregivers are ultimately responsible for implementing the ABA program when the therapist is not present; therefore, a successful ABA program trains the caregiver.

Johnson suggests the following tips for caregiver :

  • To ensure that your child is ready to learn, allow 30 minutes prior to the session for your child to wake up fully from bed or naptime. They should be clean, dressed, and alert before their session begins.
  • Avoid over-scheduling. Back-to-back speech, occupational, and behavior therapy sessions is exhausting for both the child and the caregiver. Create schedules that allow ample margin time for play, rest, and creativity.
  • A hungry child is distracted and irritable, so feed your child prior to the therapy session.
  • Plan to be available during the therapy session. That means, putting the cell phone down. Therapy sessions are not the appropriate time for household chores to get accomplished, naps, or errands. Even if you feel like you are simply observing, you’re leaning how to implement behavioral techniques by watching your therapist engage with your child. As a result, in their absence, you will be better equipped to guide your child toward meeting his or her goals.
  • Plan for the siblings. Siblings can be distracting during therapy sessions, so consider ways to ensure that the location for therapy is consistently quiet.
  • If your child is sick with a fever, diarrhea, or a severe runny nose, please cancel the session. Therapists engage with a large number of children and families weekly, and in order to avoid contagious illnesses from spreading, it’s best to cancel (ideally 24 hours in advance).
  • Be prepared to participate. This means, asking questions when something is unclear to you, reading materials provided to you by your therapist, doing your own research, and educating your other family members in ABA techniques. Ultimately, you are your child’s advocate and teacher, and your participation significantly impacts your child’s success. In the absence of your therapist, you are the specialist. Having your own ABA “toolbox” to draw from will drastically improve your child’s skills, your relationship with your child, and the emotional health and well-being of your entire family.