Be an Active Participant in Your Child’s Autism Therapy

Child’s ABA Therapy texas

Every single day, we meet with parents of children with autism who want what every other parent on the planet wants – to do all they can to set their child up for success. In many cases, the parents are stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to do what’s right for their child while managing their many other responsibilities.

We sat down with Lisa Guerrero, M.Ed, BCBA, the Regional Director of Texas for The Autism Therapy Group to talk about how parents can be an active participant in their child’s therapy sessions and the options they have when time and resources are tight.

Q: In most cases, what is an ideal level of parent involvement in ABA therapy?

Lisa: Ideally, we want the parents or primary caretakers to be as involved as possible during ABA therapy sessions with their child. We always schedule a meeting with them prior to the first therapy session so that we can go over the treatment plan, answer questions, and clarify expectations. We also spend a lot of time talking with parents about how the treatment plan will be implemented.

This is an important first step because, in order for the parents to be successful participants in the therapy sessions, they have to understand the treatment plan.

Once sessions with the child begin, we prefer for parents to be readily available to observe what the therapist is doing and how the treatment plan is being implemented. We encourage them to ask a lot of questions. As therapists, when a parent is willing to ask a lot of questions, it helps us know that they are really engaged in the process and ensures that we can clear up any misunderstandings or incongruities about the strategies being implemented.

That said, we don’t expect the parents to be present for the entirety of every session, which generally lasts several hours. But it IS extremely helpful for parents to be available to come and go throughout the sessions. This allows the therapist to call them in when they want the parent to observe or model an intervention.

Q: Why is it important that parents and caretakers be involved in their child’s therapy?

Lisa: ABA therapy is a 24/7 strategy. But, even in intensive therapy situations, the therapist is only there for a few hours each day. It’s up to the parents and caretakers to maintain the consistency of the treatment plan even when the therapist isn’t there.

Consistency is extremely important to the success of ABA therapy. If the parents and caretakers don’t understand the treatment plan, the child will not be as successful. ABA therapy is not the kind of thing that the child is engaged in for a few hours before returning to “normal” life. The treatment plan must become the foundation of all the interactions the child has with everyone in their life.

Q: What do you do in situations where the parent simply can’t be there during every session?

Lisa: Often, parents can’t be available for the entirety of every situation because they are at work or managing activities with their other children. In those cases, we try to schedule appointments with the parents outside of the sessions with their child, at a time that’s convenient for them.

These meetings are an opportunity to talk to parents about what we have been doing with their child during ABA therapy sessions, including the things we’ve been training the child’s other caregivers to do. We ask the parents questions such as, “Have you seen them {the caregiver} modeling this behavior with your child? Have they shown you how to implement this particular strategy?”

Whenever we train a nanny or family member on aspects of the child’s treatment plan, we always leave notes for the parents instructing them to watch the caretaker to see what they are doing with the child. This helps ensures a higher level of consistency in the child’s treatment.

As I said earlier, it’s critical that everyone who is involved in caring for the child is on the same page. Consistency is key when it comes to the success of ABA therapy.

Q: If the family has other children, is it important for them to be involved in the therapy plan as well?

Lisa: Everyone who is involved in the life of a child in ABA therapy will benefit from being trained in the strategies the therapist is implementing with the child. It’s a family effort. It’s in everyone’s best interest to be an active participant in the therapy plan.

When everyone is involved, the child will experience faster progress and more overall success. However, the level of involvement from other children depends largely on their ages. This is one of the things we assess and talk with parents about right from the start.

Q: How do you and the other therapists at The Autism Therapy Group involve parents in their child’s treatment plan right from the start?

Lisa: In most cases, we conduct a thorough intake with families before we even do the first assessment with the child. This is a good opportunity to set expectations about parent and caretaker participation. At that time, if there are going to be any barriers to participation, we work out a plan for how to deal with those barriers in light of what’s best for the child and the family.

Most parents who are seeking out ABA therapy not only understand that their involvement is necessary – they want and expect to be involved. They already understand the level of dedication to really see progress and are willing to do what they need to do for the success of their child.

That said, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach. Every situation is different, and so we try very hard to be very flexible to what the child and the family need and work within the time and resources that the family has. Whenever possible, we arrange treatment sessions to ensure that there is consistency across all situations and with all the different people that are involved in the child’s life.

For example, if a grandparent is the primary caretaker of the child several days a week, we do our best to schedule some sessions during the times when the grandparent is there. Again, consistency is the key to success.

Q: What is the most important thing you want parents to understand about their involvement in their child’s ABA therapy?

Lisa: ABA therapy produces significant long-term benefits if parents and caretakers can manage to devote a lot of time upfront. All the time spent now will serve to reduce stress and time-consuming behaviors, like temper tantrums, later on. That’s one of the most important things for parents to understand. If they put the effort in upfront, they will reap the benefits later.

It’s also very important that parents understand the different variables that may come into play and how important it is to be open and honest with their child’s therapist. Many parents are working full-time jobs, parenting other children, and managing busy lives with multiple responsibilities. Maintaining a consistent treatment plan is easier said than done! It’s very easy to become discouraged and overwhelmed.

Because of this, it’s extremely important that lines of communication are open between the child’s therapist, parents, and other caretakers so that we can adjust the plan if something isn’t working.

We want the plan to be a positive experience for everyone involved!

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