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Thursday, June 12, 2008

BEWARE of those who claim they do ABA!

Who is qualified to run

an Intensive, Comprehensive ABA programming

for young children with autism/PDD?


A Certified Behavior Analyst (also known as ABA Consultant) is qualified to develop, implement, assess and supervise an ABA program. A Certified Behavior Analyst is also qualified to train someone to become an ABA Therapist to implement and run an ABA program.

An ABA therapist also called ABA assistant, ABA teacher or Home Program Assistant implements ABA techniques/protocols in a behavior related plan. They DO NOT and are NOT QUALIFIED to create or develop an ABA program. ABA therapists are under constant supervision and are required to report daily to the Certified Behaviour Analyst. Parents will take their own risk if they take up an ABA therapist who is not supervised by any Certified Behaviour Analyst.

So BEWARE of those who call themselves ABA expert therapists, because they are not Certified Behavior Analysts. Certified Behavior Analysts are highly educated and trained professionals in Applied Behavior Analysis.

The following formal training is required of a Certified Behaviour Analyst:

Formal training

  • Must have a Masters degree (in Special Education or AUTISM or Psychology with specialized training and experience in applied behavior analysis and Autism/PDD).
  • Supervised practicum, internship, or employment experiences in applied behavior analysis ie 15 graduate level credits in Applied Behavior Analysis, 1500 BCBA supervised work hours and has passed a difficult exam.

Directing and supervising intensive, comprehensive behavioral programs for young children with autism requires special skills in ABA.

These skills are best developed through supervised, hands-on experience in providing this kind of programming to youngsters with autism/PDD. Important skills a Certified Behaviour Analyst must have:

  • Knowledge of the research literature in behavior analysis and related fields in general, and early intensive behavioral intervention for autism/PDD in particular
  • Using behavioral methods (discrete-trial and incidental teaching) to teach young children with autism/PDD skills.
  • Strategies to enhance generalization of learned skills
  • Knowledge of and access to a curriculum consisting of:
    • A scope and sequence of skills based on normal developmental milestones, broken down into component skills based on research on teaching young children with autism/PDD
    • Prototype teaching programs or "scripts" for teaching each skill in the curriculum, using behavioral methods
    • Data recording and tracking systems
    • Accompanying materials
  • Selecting teaching programs based on direct observational assessment of each individual child's skills, normal developmental sequences, behavior analysis principles, and integration of skills within and across domains
  • Training others to use these methods
  • Establishing and maintaining relationships with parents as active co-therapists
  • Strategies for transitioning children successfully into regular classrooms, when appropriate

Unfortunately, a number of individuals and programs who claim to be able to provide intensive behavioral programming for young children with autism are not qualified to do so. Some of these claims appear to be based on the misconception that "behavioral programming" refers only to procedures for reducing problem behavior.

Others seem to be based on the invalid assumption that one can learn to provide this kind of intervention simply by watching some videotapes, reading some books, attending a workshop or two, or having some experience teaching individuals with autism.

Still others reflect a response to the increased demand for these services that may be uninformed at best, blatantly opportunistic at worst.

Parents and other concerned persons should ask prospective directors or supervisors of intensive behavioral programs for young children with autism/PDD to provide documentation of their qualifications in the form of: degrees; letters of reference from professors, employment supervisors, and/or families to whom they have provided similar services; evidence of any certificates or licenses; results of any competency exams they may have taken in applied behavior analysis; participation in professional meetings and conferences in behavior analysis and therapy; or publications of behavior analytic research in professional journals. A few workshops or courses do not qualify one to practice applied behavior analysis effectively and ethically.

There are many behavior analysts with expertise in studying and treating autistic behavior, and many public and private treatment and education programs for people with autism and related disorders that use the principles of applied behavior analysis (although not nearly enough of them!).

These are some practices you should expect from an ABA consultant:

  • They will observe the child with Autism/PDD at least a few times.
  • They will develop a system for collecting objective data about the skills and needs of the child with Autism/PDD, and train caregivers or teachers to implement it.
  • They will conduct a functional assessment or functional analysis of any problem behavior to determine why the problem occurs.
  • They will develop an intervention plan, based on the functional assessment or analysis results, that addresses the factors in the person's physical and social environments that contribute to the problem, and aims to change those factors. They will seek input from caregivers and other professionals, where appropriate, in developing the intervention plan.
  • This plan should include training to help the child with Autism/PDD develop appropriate and useful skills (instead of using "problem behavior" to get what they want), but may also include other intervention procedures.
  • They will directly train caregivers or teachers to implement the intervention plan.
  • They will observe the people implementing the intervention and provide feedback.
  • They will modify the plan as needed to ensure its continued effectiveness, based on direct observational data.
  • They will share data and collaborate with other professionals involved in the case, such as a psychiatrist if the person is receiving medication for the problem behavior or related conditions, or a psychologist who is conducting diagnostic assessments. They will also share data with family members and caregivers, and seek consultation from other professionals when needed.
  • Some behavioral consultants will have a private practice, but others may work for private or public programs or services. They may provide services in schools, adult programs, community settings, or homes.
  • Some aspects of consultation will vary depending upon whether it is provided as a continuing part of a school or adult service, as an intensive treatment service, or as a service provided through a hospital, private, or university group practice.

You should feel free to ask the consultant how they will help and what processes they will use. If the consultant does not say they will use the methods listed above, ask them why not. If they do not have the training to use the procedures, that means you should find a different consultant who has this training, experience and skills (even if they have a license to practice psychology or an impressive title).

We suggest that you do not use a consultant who focuses mainly on reacting to "problem behavior," unless a crisis or other particular circumstances warrant this focus. Focusing mainly on reacting to "problem behavior" will not help prevent it from happening in the future and does not represent current best practice. In crisis situations or in the case of an escalating behavior problem that requires immediate action, treatment should address both immediate concerns and preventive strategies, such as changing environments and teaching appropriate alternative skills. In most other cases, the main focus of the behavioral consultation should be on skill development.