When you learn that your child with autism spectrum disorder would benefit from therapy to build skills and overcome barriers, you have choices to make regarding your ABA provider. There may be a period of trial and error in finding just the right provider for your child — and for you. Asking the right questions from the very beginning can help you find the right fit and help your child start achieving skills more quickly.
“Like anything regarding your children, it’s important to get a good understanding of what to expect, and the best way to do that is to be prepared with questions,” says Reena Naami-Dier, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Owner/Director of Spark Center for Autism in Farmington.
But how do you know if you’re asking the right questions?
Your prospective provider’s reaction to your questions will provide valuable information about what kind of relationship you’re likely to have, says Naami-Dier. “I personally love when parents come in with a list of questions because it shows that they are committed to doing what will be necessary for their child to make the most progress — and that they are willing to work together, which is the key to their child’s success,” she explains.
Because this is new territory for you, start by prioritizing your major goals and concerns, Naami-Dier suggests, then formulate a list of standard questions to ask every provider you meet with. “That way, it can be a little easier to narrow it down and compare each provider you have met and come to a decision you can be more confident in,” she says.
Also, prepare yourself to receive answers that are difficult to hear. This can be a really tough time for parents, “but it will at least set you on the path to finding the best fit for you and your child,” says Naami-Dier.
Your guide to asking the right questions
Start with the most vital questions first, suggests Naami-Dier: what is most important to you and your family and what do you value in a service provider?
Once you have your own personal must-haves in place, consider asking the following questions — and watch for the types of responses that indicate you should move on, she says.
What are realistic expectations for my child?
“There are no guarantees that your child will make progress,” Naami-Dier says, “but what parents should be looking for is a provider’s expectations for parent involvement.” You should also look for how the provider monitors progress and what they do if a child isn’t progressing as expected. It can feel discouraging to learn all the small steps needed to meet long-term goals. “Remember that small steps can lead to large gains,” she says.
How do you set goals for my child?
Ask whether providers write their own individual goals or use pre-written goals that are based on the results of a skills assessment. Find out if you and your child can have a say in the goals that are being written. Look for an individualized approach, suggests Naami-Dier.
How do you determine the appropriate number of treatment hours?
The answer will vary because different providers use different methods to determine treatment plans — and there are minimums necessary to see progress. “Look for a provider who discusses the individual needs of your child, considers the diagnostic team’s recommendations and the ABA team’s initial skills assessment. They should also take into account other services your child is receiving,” Naami-Dier says. “Is the focus on acquiring new skills or reducing barriers — or both?” Anticipate considerations for age, napping schedules or any other preschool or child care experiences. Be concerned if a provider makes blanket statements about treatment hours without considering individual factors.
Who will work with my child?
Research supports the value of working with a variety of behavior technicians to support skill generalization. If the provider indicates that only one technician will work with your child, recognize that this isn’t in your child’s best interest — nor does it make sense for scheduling and for avoiding burnout for your child and the staff member.
How can we encourage even better outcomes?
Parent involvement is so important, so ask how you can get involved, whether services take place in a center or at home. “Realistically, all providers should be requiring a portion of parent involvement,” she says.
Of particular concern
You may not even ask this question, but recognize that some parents wonder if ABA therapy will cure their child’s autism.
“This is a question that requires an honest answer, even if it may be hard for some families to hear,” Naami-Dier says. “Autism is not something to be cured. It is a part of an individual, and our job as providers is not to take that away from someone. Our job is to provide individuals with the skills they need to overcome their own personal barriers, and promote independence, so that they may live an enriched life, and give them and their families the tools to continue to overcome barriers.”
Ask about the provider’s philosophy about ABA therapy’s role for your child. If the provider indicates they can cure your child’s autism, walk away.
Keep asking questions, keep looking for the right fit and don’t give up. “You may have a poor experience with a provider or you may have heard from a friend who had a bad experience. It doesn’t mean all ABA is bad or that you will have the same experience somewhere else,” says Naami-Dier.
“Like with any service — medical, educational or even in everyday life — sometimes it just takes time to find the right person or team for you and your family. Ask questions, and don’t feel like you need to settle.”
Learn more about Spark Center for Autism. Visit sparkcenterforautism.com.