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There are so many unknowns when parents receive a diagnosis of autism for their child for the first time. Your family may notice that autism services are consuming large chunks of your time each week. There are so many responsibilities and lists of professionals that will be in contact with your family on a regular basis. The largest portion of your time will inevitably be dedicated to your child receiving ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) services, so it’s important to do your research and understand what to expect.
What Is An ABA Therapy Session?
Applied Behavior Analysis is the most widely accepted form of therapy that is recommended and covered by both Medicaid and private insurances. ABA is a data driven and evidence based science that has shown significant success in helping children with autism to communicate, socialize, and learn more effectively. Many young children who receive ABA services are able to attend general education classes rather than special education classes by the time they finish elementary school.
What to Expect During a Session
If you are new to this world of Applied Behavior Analysis, you may be wondering what to expect for your child when it comes to ABA sessions. What exactly goes on during these therapy sessions that makes ABA such a successful form of treatment for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders?
Here is the general flow of events that happens when you begin ABA services:
Assessments, Interviews, & Observations
The first thing you could expect when you call a provider to arrange services is that you will be meeting with a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The first meeting is designed to get to know you and your child and to establish goals for your child to improve behavior, communication, social skills, and daily living skills. Ultimately all of these things will help to improve academic performance as well. The BCBA will make it a point to learn about the child’s family and anyone who is in direct contact with the child on a daily basis. This will help to identify any problems that are hindering basic skills and development. Getting to know the people your child interacts with often in conjunction with a formal assessment of your child’s skills will help the BCBA to determine how to set up a treatment plan to help your child with developing skills and for diminishing inappropriate or difficult behaviors.
Recommendation For Treatment
Once assessments, interviews, and observations are completed, your child’s BCBA will submit a report to you and to the insurance carrier. The report will contain recommendations for treatment in order to determine how many hours of services can be provided for your child. The approved hours range from 10 hours per week with many children receiving as many as 40 hours per week.
ABA Therapy Sessions: In Clinic, In School, or At Home
Sessions can be delivered in a clinical setting if your ABA provider has a location where they offer social skills training and ABA services on site at their clinic. Some families split the hours between school and home visits. Each case is different and every plan is customized to the needs of the child with autism and the family’s needs and schedule. A registered behavior tech will be spending the most time with your child as they deliver the treatment plan the BCBA has written for your child. The BCBA is required to supervise the ABA sessions 10% of the time- or an hour for every ten hours of service provided.
Frequency of ABA Sessions
Depending on the number of hours that your child is approved for, the sessions can take place daily or a few times each week. If your child is approved for 30-40 hours per week, there is a good chance that you will be assigned more than one behavior therapist (registered behavior tech) especially if sessions occur more than once a day. For example, your child may have one registered behavior tech accompanying your child at school for four to six hours during the day, and another tech that delivers therapy at your home in the evenings.
The Relationship Between Child & Therapist
The first couple of weeks of ABA sessions will be focused on developing a relationship between the child and the therapist, known as “pairing”. Pairing is an important part of ABA because without a strong working relationship, the therapist will be unable to control the sessions or expect the child to comply with any of the demands or requests that will be made throughout the sessions.
After a successful pairing stage, each session will be activity oriented in a way that utilizes your child’s natural environment and preferred activities. As your therapist embeds instruction into playful activities, your child will be working on improving communication skills, learning appropriate behaviors, and learning replacement behaviors for some of their inappropriate behaviors. For example, a child will learn to ask for help or to take a break instead of destroying a page of math homework to get out of completing the task.
How long and how often are ABA sessions?
Typically, ABA sessions run anywhere from two hours to six hours depending on the circumstances and the settings. It is also dependent on the child and how much they are able to tolerate. When a toddler is doing ABA therapy, they will inevitably need a nap mid morning or mid day (or both), and their nap schedule might limit the times that are open for ABA sessions.
The frequency of sessions may range from twice a week to every day of the week depending on the number of hours that the provider and the insurance company approve.
The more severe a child’s autism symptoms are, the more likely it is to be approved for the higher number of hours each week.
What is the best way to prepare for ABA sessions?
Understand The Time Commitment
The best way for a parent or family to prepare for ABA sessions is to understand how limited personal family time might be. While most families come home from work and school to have dinner, do homework, bathe or shower, and get to bed on time- families with ABA services have to figure out how to manage all of the same necessary tasks with an added member in the family: the behavior tech. It isn’t easy to have someone in your home each day and it can take some time to get acclimated to the idea. Because of the extraordinary number of hours that the therapist will be in your home, it is important that the family and the behavior tech match up well.
Parent Training & Education
Be sure to learn all that you can about ABA and participate in the parent training. ABA is only one part of your child’s learning process. ABA shouldn’t stop when the therapist leaves your home. ABA should be taught to parents and caregivers as a skill that continues after the therapy session is over. The best way to assure that is to make sure that parents are familiar with ABA and that they know how to use ABA to teach a child and shape appropriate behaviors while reducing inappropriate behaviors.
When is the best time to start ABA sessions?
ABA should happen as quickly as possible after a diagnosis of autism. Early intervention is the best approach to helping a child with any deficit whether it be a behavioral deficit or an academic deficit. Studies of the effects of Early Intervention Programs that utilize ABA and other professional resources show higher rates of successful outcomes for children who are receiving these services as early as possible after diagnosis. Older children can still benefit of course, but the children who receive services at a younger age tend to be nearly indistinguishable from their peers as they get older.
Circle Care Services in New Jersey is an ABA provider who can help your family to start the right treatment plan for your child. We offer in-home services, preschool readiness programs, social skills groups, and we work in school settings with our clients as well. If you are seeking ABA services and you have questions about ABA, we are here to help.