On any given day within the two buildings on the campus of Healing Haven, clients work one-on-one with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists in an enriching and engaging environment to learn and practice important life skills. It’s the job of skilled ABA therapists to support clients to do their best work.
But what makes an ABA therapist effective? Before signing on with a provider, there are many questions a parent — or even a prospective employee — could ask to better understand the quality of the therapy provided. Some helpful questions may be: How is your staff trained? What is the role of the BCBA with the child’s ABA Therapist? How do you support your staff and families?
ABA therapists are responsible for delivering the majority of therapy, so their skill level is paramount, says Jennifer Badalamenti, Ph.D., BCBA-D, LBA, Director of Clinical Standards at Healing Haven, the Madison Heights-based ABA therapy center for individuals with autism and other developmental needs.
“We create a high quality, caring environment and use ABA therapy approaches where kids with autism can make meaningful gains. What’s most important is the method we use to train and prepare our ABA therapists,” explains Badalamenti.
The role of training
Based on interest, experience and personality, Healing Haven works to pair therapists with clients to establish a good connection or fit. Then, therapists learn methods to create a bond with their clients — which is a big part of what makes Healing Haven so special, Badalamenti says.
Healing Haven’s ABA therapists are young professionals, many of whom are pursuing higher education. They train and sit for an exam to become registered behavior technicians (RBT) who practice under Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA).
But training doesn’t stop after the exam. Ongoing modeling, feedback and check-ins are essential to ensure that an ABA therapist can display the necessary competencies at the onset of their position and on an ongoing basis. Healing Haven’s ABA program is designed to ensure there are high levels of feedback and involvement between the ABA therapists, the BCBAs and the supervising staff.
Building close relationships
Effective therapy is about more than just following a set of guidelines. It’s also about building relationships and working to ensure consistency for the best therapeutic outcome for the client. Parents should ask their ABA clinic to explain how staffing works and how often their children may experience a change in ABA therapists.
At Healing Haven, ABA therapists receive training that emphasizes how to build a relationship with each child, how to find each child’s strengths and how to help that child build on their weaknesses.
“Therapy should be fun, the kids should want to be there with us,” explains Badalamenti. “Consistency in staffing allows for these relationships to bloom. Having a clinic that understands this relationship is a critical piece to a child’s growth.”
Healing Haven’s ABA therapist training focuses on building technical excellence as well as promoting a culture that is inclusive and caring. The program has a strong focus on the well-being of the staff, and this shows in the quality of care provided to Healing Haven’s clients.
“We are aware that being an ABA therapist can be a difficult job. We do everything within our power to support our staff,” says Badalamenti.
Fully trained and fully supported
Thorough training of ABA therapists is one piece of a quality program, but ABA therapists don’t work alone. BCBAs are responsible for overseeing the ongoing success of each child’s program. Parents should ask about the role of their child’s BCBA and how the BCBA supports the ABA therapists.
At Healing Haven, BCBAs spend up to 20% of the child’s therapeutic time in one-on-one consultation with the ABA therapist and child. During this time, they make sure the quality of the intervention is high and adjust goals, as indicated by the child’s data. The BCBA individualizes the programming for the child and analyzes the collected data to better assist in making child-specific changes to optimize outcomes.
Because of the highly collaborative nature of ABA therapy, support and supervision for BCBAs is a hallmark of a quality program. Healing Haven provides that extra layer of supervision for the BCBAs.
“Essentially, our supervisors have supervisors. My role as the Director of Clinical Standards is to help the BCBAs continue to grow,” says Badalamenti. “I have worked in the field for more than 25 years and have used my experience to help us develop solid protocols for the BCBAs to follow.”
For BCBAs who are new to this field, having an extra layer of support to help them build their skills is beneficial for the outcome of their clients.
A focus on stress management
Parenting can be a very challenging job, and the stress load only increases with the added layer of an autism diagnosis or other disability. Therapists, who work directly with a child for several hours a day, five days a week, can feel this stress, too. So how does the therapy provider support parents and staff in practical ways?
“At Healing Haven, parents can learn mindfulness and stress management techniques in their ABA Parent Training, or through individual counseling,” explains Badalamenti. “And our staff has the opportunity to participate in weekly mindfulness workshops and receive plenty of high-connection support from their teams,” she says. For everyone involved, learning healthy ways to manage stress can lead to better outcomes for the child.
Asking the right questions to determine the quality of an ABA program is important, but nothing replaces parent intuition. For this, parents should trust their gut, the experts at Healing Haven recommend. Parents should tune in to how ABA clinic representatives make them feel. Do they feel heard and understood?
“We are respectful of the journey everyone is traveling, from staff to parents. We are grateful to travel the road alongside them,” Badalamenti says.