BCBAs and other ABA providers who work with children with autism and related disabilities are likely very aware of the need to have parents and caregivers involved in the child’s treatment in some way or another. At a minimum, the parent should be mindful of the child’s treatment plan and programming, so they understand and consent to what the child is working on in ABA therapy. However, if possible, parents and caregivers should be a bigger part of their child’s treatment. This is typically done through parent training. Parent training should be individualized for each child. However, there are some general recommendations that you might consider when trying to implement parent training in your ABA practice.
Parent Training in ABA is Essential to the Child’s Progress
Parent training is essential to a child’s success toward their therapy goals. Although children can make gains in their ABA therapy sessions even without parental involvement, it is much more likely that they will make more progress and make progress more quickly when parents are involved with the ABA therapy as well as when the parents receive training and guidance on implementing ABA concepts that are individualized for their child outside of ABA therapy sessions.
Strategies for Implementing Parent Training in Your ABA Practice
Whether you’re not used to incorporating much parent training in your ABA practice, or you have provided some parent training. Still, it hasn’t been a high priority, or you have experienced some barriers to incorporating the service into your practice, you can use the following recommendations to improve the quality of care that you provide your clients, specifically by integrating and improving your parent training services.
Setting Expectations (with Yourself and the Parents)
When you are first starting ABA services with a client, you should set the stage for parents to be more likely to be involved in their child’s ABA therapy. To do this, be clear about what you would ideally like to accomplish with parents regarding parent training. Of course, it is okay to modify your expectations and individualize your approach based on the client’s needs, the parent’s ability to participate, and the parents’ resources (such as when lack of transportation negatively impacts their ability to come to the office). However, generally speaking, from your clinical opinion, do you recommend that parents meet with you once a week or biweekly?
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Another question to ask yourself is if the client’s insurance provider will determine how often parents can receive parent training. Will you offer telehealth or home-based sessions if the parent can’t come to the office or the ABA center? Also, determine what your rescheduling strategy will be. Will you attempt to reschedule for the same week, the following week, or within the month?
If you have this information clearly outlined before you meet with families, it will be much easier to be clear with them about your approach to parent involvement. They will also feel like you genuinely want them to be a part of the child’s ABA therapy.
Active Listening & Considering the Parent’s Perspective
Although, as BCBAs, we often have an agenda of items we want to address with our clients. We also have our clinical recommendations based on our assessments, observations of the child, and the scientific evidence that seems appropriate for the child. However, practicing active listening with the parents and caregivers you work with is essential.
Active listening is a communication skill that involves going beyond just talking to someone or letting them speak but quickly replying with whatever it is you are waiting to say next. Active listening involves not just physically hearing the other person’s words but also putting effort into truly understanding the meaning and intention behind the message the person is sending.
To gain more “buy-in” from parents and to increase the likelihood that they will want to participate in parent training sessions (which can already make them feel a bit awkward because it can be difficult admitting, as a parent, that you need extra help with your child), you should be extra aware of your efforts to make the parents and caregivers you work with feel heard and understood.
You should also be willing to explore what the parents would like their children to work on in ABA and at home as opposed to you just telling them what to work on. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your professional recommendations, but you must also consider and incorporate the parents’ ideas when possible. If the parent suggests something that doesn’t seem realistic, you can compassionately offer suggestions, such as breaking their goal into smaller, more realistic goals that the child is much more likely to accomplish.
Having a Plan in ABA Parent Training
Instead of just having parents come into a parent training session and allowing them to talk about any topic they want and then letting the conversation wander wherever it happens to go, it is important to have a plan for the session. This is not to say that you shouldn’t give parents an opportunity to share what’s on their minds. You should most definitely do this to an extent. But you need to have a plan for how this will be managed. The purpose of this is so that the parent and the child can get the most benefit out of the parent training sessions.
To create a plan and to have structure around your parent training services, you might consider having certain topics that you’ll cover with parents, so they learn important ABA concepts. You can individualize the way you approach these topics in a way that is in the best interest of the child and the parent. This could be developed by identifying topics you feel are important for your clients to explore or by using a parent training curriculum.
You might have an outline that you’ll follow for the progression of your parent training sessions. This could look different for each client, and it could look different from one ABA provider to another. However, it might include an introduction period where the parent discusses how the week went. Then it might include a 10-minute discussion where you provide education about the designated topic. Then you might provide modeling of an intervention for 10 minutes. Then you could allow the parent to practice the skill for 5-10 minutes. Lastly, you could go over your recommendations for what the parent might practice at home with the child until the next parent training session. This is just one example of how you might conduct a parent training session. It is helpful to have a plan.
Communication with Parents
It is important to have effective and regular communication with parents. One way to do this is to incorporate a parent portal into your ABA practice management. ABA therapists who use a parent portal with their clients increase parent and caregiver participation in the child’s ABA therapy. It also makes it easier for both the parent and the ABA provider to share important information. WebABA offers a parent portal in their ABA practice management software. Try a free trial of WebABA to support your ABA parent training services.