Two toddlers playing with adult

If you’re a parent searching for ABA therapy for your child, then you probably have a ton of questions about what to look for in an ABA therapist. That’s completely understandable, as the right therapist can have a hugely positive and lasting impact on your son or daughter. 

However, you may not be fully confident about what makes a good ABA therapist, especially if this is your first experience with ABA therapy. So to help you along your journey we’ve put together this quick guide on what to look for in an ABA therapist.

First off, what is ABA therapy?

You have no doubt already read plenty of material on what is ABA therapy, so we’ve kept this section brief. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a common type of therapy for people with autism. It focuses on improving specific behaviors and skills in people with autism, such as social skills, communication and domestic activities.

At a very high level, this is how the process works:

  • An ABA therapist identifies a needed skill
  • As the child engages in the desired skill or appropriate behavior they gain access to reinforcing items
  • Over time, this reinforcement encourages the child to continue engaging in the targeted skills   

How is ABA therapy delivered?

ABA therapy services must be provided by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A BCBA is not a physician, however the training and qualifications requirements are rigorous and include:

  • A masters or PhD in psychology, behavior analysis or education.
  • Passing a national certification exam
  • Seeking a state license (in certain states)

The BCBA writes each treatment plan and then works with Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT) or behavior technicians, who deliver the therapy. 

Therefore, you will be teaming with two people during your child’s ABA therapy. The BCBA, who writes and monitors the treatment plan as well as supervises the person delivering the therapy, and the RBT/behavior technician, who delivers the therapy to the child.

Here’s what to look for in both of these professionals.

What’s the therapist’s previous experience?

As discussed above, all BCBAs have gone through rigorous qualifications and training. Therefore the important variable to check is what their previous experience is in the field. Ask how long they’ve been working as a BCBA and roughly how many families they’ve worked with over that time.

Ask the same questions of the RBT/behavior technician who will be delivering the therapy. Qualifications will also differ among these professionals, as unlike a BCBA, a college degree or masters is not a mandatory requirement. Therefore, inquire about their academic background as well. 

What’s their personality like?

Personality is extremely important when it comes to what makes a good ABA therapist. This is particularly the case at the RBT/Behavior Technician level, as they are the ones delivering the therapy to your child. They need to be fun and engaging and be able to form a close rapport. 

Patience is also an extremely important virtue in a good ABA therapist. You need to have confidence that even during the most challenging behavioral situations, the therapist will keep a cool head and not lose their temper. 

How personalized is the treatment plan?

The level of personalization in the treatment plan that the BCBA develops is also very important. Avoid a therapy provider that takes a cookie cutter approach to treatment plans. The plan should be personalized to your child’s needs. Therefore, it should only be written once a functional assessment has been completed.

It’s also important that the treatment plan takes into account the root causes of any behavioral issues that it plans to address. For example, a behavior issue may be identified as regular tantrums during bath time. However the BCBA should seek to identify what may be triggering this, rather than just focusing on the behavior.        

How many RBTs/Behavior Technicians does the BCBA supervise and what are the supervision processes?  

There are strict rules in place governing the supervision requirements of RBTs/behavior technicians by BCBAs. However, you should still ask a few questions here, such as how many RBTs/Behavior Technicians does the BCBA supervise and what the monthly supervision process looks like. Also ask what training procedures the BCBA has in place, for both the RBTs/Behavior Technicians, as well as for parents and teachers.  

How do they collect and use data?  

ABA therapy is grounded in scientific principles. Therefore, in order to constantly monitor progress and optimize the treatment plan, the collection and use of data is vital. Ask the provider what metrics they use to measure progress, and how they’re presented and updated. If they are using subjective measures, such as simply commenting on how your child’s general behavior is, this is unreliable.

Ultimately, data should be used to carefully track and monitor all behavior goals. This allows evidenced based decisions on all future changes and modifications to the treatment plan, ensuring it’s fully personalized to your child’s specific needs.  

How are they managing your expectations?

You will no doubt have a lot of questions for the BCBA about the results you can expect to see and how long this will take. It goes without saying that every child is unique, therefore it’s impossible for a BCBA to give any specific time frames or promises at the very start. If a therapist makes big promises and commits to specific timeframes, then they are setting unrealistic expectations. 

And lastly, it’s fine to ask for a trial period first 

As a parent, your number one priority is ensuring that your child is receiving the best possible ABA therapy. In which case it’s fine to ask for a trial period first, before you commit to a therapy provider. 

During this period, examine how well the therapist is interacting with your child and if they’re forming a positive and relaxed relationship. And remember, modern ABA therapy is not aversive and does not use punishments for bad behavior, so monitor how the therapist manages difficult behavior situations with your child. 

Ultimately, you have to be completely comfortable with your chosen provider. If it doesn’t feel right, then find another ABA provider that you feel more comfortable with.   

For more autism resources for families in New Jersey, visit our blog directory. Or if you would like to find out more about the ABA services we provide to children with autism, you can get in touch here.

Estee Rothstein BCBA, Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy

Estee Rothstein BCBA, Executive Director at Golden Care Therapy

Estee Rothstein is the Executive Director of Golden Care Therapy. She is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a master’s degree in Education. A proud mom of six, Estee brings her unique parenting perspective to her long career working with children with autism that spans more than 20 years. Outside of running her business, Estee also provides advice and consultancy to other professionals working in the field, and is a frequent speaker and writer on a range of autism topics.