Getting an ABA Program Started for Your Child

Autism Program: Preschool Teacher Reading To Kids

There are lots of ways to try to educate yourself as a parent or professional on the principles of an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program. Bringing in a knowledgeable speaker on the topic of ABA is probably the most common way to begin. This can often “jump-start” enthusiasm for ABA but will take time and money to sponsor a speaker. If you have a local autism support group or autism school with some ability to bring in a speaker, you may want to try to get that agency to sponsor or co-sponsor a workshop. But there are tips that you can implement right now in your home or school. That’s why I’m going over my top tips for starting an ABA program at home or in school.

Many parents and professionals have said my book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, gave them a great overview of the concepts of ABA therapy. So, for relatively little investment, some parents have purchased multiple copies of my book for their child’s teacher, SLP, OT, and paraprofessionals.

Assessment

The number one thing you should do when starting an ABA program for a child with autism is an assessment. This includes counting any words or pop out words they can say or understand, making note of when problem behavior occurs, and what life skills they are capable of doing on their own like toilet training or brushing your teeth. An assessment can help a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and even your child’s teacher to see what level the child is at and plan for what to do moving forward. I did assessments for all of my former clients and for my son, Lucas.

If you have difficulty getting things going in your child’s classroom or school, start small and focus on getting ABA for your child only (not for the whole classroom). I have an assessment checklist in my program that can help parents, professionals, and educators to be on the same page. Early intervention is key when working with a child with autism. The more you can do at home or with a BCBA, the better.

Make a Plan

If your child is in school, try to get a BCBA with VB expertise in your child’s IEP for a specified period of time each month (i.e. 4, 6, or 8 hours) for program oversight. Putting staff training (for example 6 hours before anyone new works with the child) in the IEP also can also be essential and the BCBA whose services are the IEP can provide that training. There should also be a specific place either at home or in the classroom for therapy to occur. This can be the corner of a classroom, a specific table, or whatever you can come up with. Make sure that table or corner is stocked with materials such as edibles, drinks, electronics, and games.

If services are in your child’s IEP, the BCBA and staff training requirements will follow the student to middle school and then to high school. This may mean that you won’t have to start your advocacy efforts over again as the child transitions and as staff come and go over the years. Getting BCBA services and staff training in the IEP may be difficult but since the IEP legally drives services, I believe it might be something worth pursuing.

Practice Manding, Shoebox Program, and Matching

Select 3-5 items that the child loves and can be kept at room temperature. Things like candy, pretzels, apples, bubbles, and books. Bring them to the table or corner of the room during therapy. Practice manding and reinforcement with these items. You should choose items that you can bring out mostly during therapy sessions that they don’t get on a regular basis. For food and drink, healthier items are better.

You can also start a Shoebox Program or mini Shoebox Program. Take a shoebox or wet wipe box and make a slit in the top. Take either memory game cards or pictures of items that a child sees daily and hold them up to your mouth. Say the word three times and have the child put the card or picture in the box. Another thing you can do with pictures is to have the child match two pictures of the same thing, like their parents, food items, or other things they like.

Object Imitation and Receptive Tasks

Grab some toys or other objects that match and teach the child how to match the motions you are doing with them. For instance, tapping a spoon on the table or getting a fast food restaurant toy to bounce off the table. This you do with the child and they imitate what you are doing. Receptive tasks are asking a child to touch a picture or a body part when you say the word out loud, like “touch your arm.” The child doesn’t have to speak for these activities, but it does show they understand the names of different objects.

Keep Calm and Record Any New Skills, Words, or Word Approximations

Don’t label problem behaviors or avoid saying the word “no.” Positive reinforcement is better than pairing demands with either their name or the word “no.” Make a list of the words that the child learns to say or any new skills they learn. Even word approximations should be recorded and celebrated. Keep a pen and paper handy at all times.

You can implement an ABA program both at home and in the classroom. I hope you found my top tips to be helpful. Remember, you are not alone. If you don’t have a local autism support community, or even if you do, my online community of parents and professionals of kids with autism can help you, too. To get started with an ABA program and get connected with the community, take my free quiz at marybarbera.com/quiz. After the quiz you will get access to a free workshop. If you are ready to jump into my course, join my Autism ABA Help Course today. Starting an ABA program for your child is possible. Take my quiz at marybarbera.com/quiz to get started.