On a Waitlist for ABA Therapy? What You Can Do Right Now

Today’s reality means families are often put on a waitlist for ABA therapy that their child needs now. Learn how you can take action while you wait.

When your child has an autism diagnosis and needs to start therapy, time is of the essence. And nothing is more frustrating than not being able to start working with an ABA provider right away. You may even find yourself on a waitlist for ABA therapy, which can feel like a waste of precious time.

Unfortunately, demand for services far exceeds supply, according to Reena Naami-Dier, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Owner of Spark Center for Autism, an early intervention ABA center in Farmington Hills.

“There are shortages for services everywhere and from every level — at the BCBA or clinician level, and especially the behavior technician level,” says Naami-Dier. The typical wait varies, depending on how many hours of treatment are recommended and if your child needs other services in addition to ABA therapy.

“Sometimes waits can be well over 12 months,” says Naami-Dier, adding that shorter wait times aren’t unheard of. Still, children may not be getting the level of service they need, or families experience cancellations due to staff turnover.

And, at a time when swift intervention can make a difference to a child’s outcome, a six- or 12-month wait is not ideal. “In general, there is a lot of research to support that early intervention is often key. We know that progress can still be made in later years, but starting younger often leads to more success,” she explains. When children cannot receive the support they need, their parents are also left without support to help their children be more successful and more independent.

Don’t give up

In addition to waitlists due to staff shortages, some families find their insurance simply doesn’t provide enough choice of ABA therapy clinics, or they may not reimburse at a level where providers are able to expand their services.

“In these cases, families can contact their insurance plans or, even the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services, and file complaints that their insurance plan is not meeting requirements for having an adequate network,” says Naami-Dier, adding that these actions may not necessarily provide an immediate outcome.

Not every ABA therapy center is alike, and it’s important to have a good fit for your child and your family, but if you’re finding waitlist after waitlist for ABA therapy, cast a wide net, suggests Naami-Dier. “We encourage parents to tour multiple facilities, test out drive times and meet with agencies to get a feel for whether — in spite of not getting every box checked — it could still be a good option,” she says. “I believe one of the best ways to determine a good fit is to meet someone from the agency you are considering in person.”

Don’t give up when you learn the wait times. They aren’t always as long as they might seem. Many families are on multiple waitlists but don’t always let the other therapy centers know when they accept a spot. That means when a spot opens up, the center will call multiple people who are essentially no longer waiting for a place.

“Don’t hesitate to keep reaching out to those companies who you really want to get a spot with. A good provider won’t mind if you continue to check in on your waitlist spot,” says Naami-Dier. “And it lets them know that you are still interested when a spot becomes available.”

While on the waitlist for ABA therapy

Even if circumstances prevent your child from starting ABA therapy right away, there are still positive steps you can take to provide your child with the services they need. Here are some options suggested by Naami-Dier:

  • Look into other available services, like occupational or speech therapy, and, if they are recommended for your child, start right away.
  • If you have an ABA therapy center in mind and want to get on their waitlist, see if they offer caregiver training, parent support or social skills groups, and start these now. “While many places have short wait times for these services, being selective of these based on where you want your child to potentially end up for ABA is a good idea as well. That way, when the waitlist opens up, your child could already be with an agency they are used to, and that clinical collaboration piece can be much more successful,” she says.
  • If your child is younger than 3, connect with your local public school district’s Early On services.
  • Reach out to the Autism Alliance of Michigan and the Michigan Alliance for Families. “They provide a plethora of free resources, workshops, boot camps and more for families and caregivers,” says Naami-Dier.
  • Mary Barbera is a BCBA, author and parent of a child with autism. Access her free workshops for caregivers across a variety of topics, child age ranges and settings.
  • Some ABA agencies offer consulting services while families wait. This service can help you learn strategies to use at home and in the community.
  • Providers don’t want cost to be the reason why you are unable to access services and resources, so ask about payment plans or financing options.

Learn more about Spark Center for Autism in Farmington Hills. Visit sparkcenterforautism.com.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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