The Wild Wild West of Behavior Analysts: Buyer Beware
This blog helps parents and caregivers understand what negative qualities to look out for and what positives are a must in a behavior analyst or ABA Therapy agency.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is estimated to affect 1 in 68 children in the US. Science shows that early detection of ASD, when followed by the right interventions, can lead to better outcomes for children affected by autism. Parents with children on the spectrum are in constant search for therapy methods that will provide results. There are many alternative treatments available, but many do not have the hard data to back up success. Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA) therapy is evidence-based treatment. United States Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, has endorsed intensive behavioral intervention for individuals with autism: “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.” (Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General) But, you must not assume that everyone boasting the title “behavior analyst” is board certified or licensed to practice. It is up to you to be sure your child is getting the best treatment available.
“BAD” Behavior Analysts to Walk Away From
Some professionals holding other licenses are calling themselves “behavioral analysis” but are not really experts in the field. Over the years, there have been many changes to the profession’s outdated research and practices. But yet, I am still seeing some “behavioral analysts” use those old methods and providing false hope to parents. True Behavioral Analysts should be starting treatment with positive behavioral plans, not “aversive therapy” which utilizes inhibitors and unpleasant consequences meant to reduce unwanted behaviors. There are many bizarre quackery treatments used with autistic children by people masking themselves as a “Behavioral Analyst Specialist.” Always check credentials for those who claim to be qualified “ABA” therapists. For example, for licensed clinical psychologists, you should inquire about the level of training in behavioral interventions for autism, including training in applied behavior analysis.
“GOOD” Behavior Analysts
In-home ABA agencies have BCBA’s and ABA technicians working as a team. Here are some things you should consider when choosing an ABA agency:
- Choose an agency that has a Board Certified Behavioral Analysis (BCBA). And in New York, they should also be licensed (LBA). For more clarification contact the Behavior Analyst Certification Board at bacb.com and ask a supervisor. These professionals often supervise other people, including paraprofessionals, who will be working directly with your child.
- Finding the right relationship between the child, family, and therapists. Although ABA providers hold a similar core value and beliefs in common, there are some differences. Some therapists may embrace sensory and medical conditions impacting behavior; others do not. Some consider the use of visual supports as very important and others do not. Some believe it is best to start with augmentative communication systems in some cases; others only believe in verbal communication. Some focus on constantly creating new and novel situations so your child is motivated; others provide extremely rigid environments. Before beginning treatment, you should discuss their various approaches to treatment.
- Expectations should be realistic. Be careful of providers offering any “instant cure.” It takes a lot of work by a lot of people (including you) to help a child master their goals. Any therapists promising to cure your child of ASD in a few years are making promises they cannot keep.
- Data Collection is key: “Show me the data!” It is a very big component of ABA therapy. The agency should provide you with regular data that is understandable to you. They should explain the data and how they interpret it. They should be able to summarize the improvements made in each area.
Once starting treatment look for the following:
- Treatment goals and instruction are developmentally appropriate and target a broad range of skill areas such as communication, sociability, self-care, play and leisure, motor development and academic skills.
- Goals emphasize skills that will enable learners to become independent and successful in both the short and long
- The instruction plan breaks down desired skills into manageable steps to be taught from the simplest (e.g., imitating single sounds) to the more complex (e.g., carrying on a conversation).
- The intervention involves ongoing objective measurement of the learner’s progress. The behavior analyst frequently reviews information on the learner’s progress and uses this to adjust procedures and goals as needed. *The analyst meets regularly with family members and program staff to plan ahead, review progress and make adjustments as needed.
Parents, guardians and other care givers should monitor the program by observing sessions and participating in training sessions and consultations. Most important use common sense and good judgment when choosing a provider. If it doesn’t feel right chances are that something is wrong. If it doesn’t make sense, ask questions!
If you have any questions about whether the behavior analysts at ABC are certified and licensed, rest assured. We are! If you have any other questions, call or shoot us an email at ABC and we’ll be happy to answer.