When trying to choose a therapist for their child, families can be overwhelmed by the options and decisions. For this blog post, I reached out to a dear friend who does great work with individuals of all ages at her ABA Clinic, Autism Centers of Tennessee, in Memphis, Tennessee. Alicia and her spouse Morgan have built their clinic from the ground up, and they are a testament to what is possible when you find the right behavioral therapy for your child. Alicia is the Program Director and Lead BCBA at her center.

I asked Alicia a few questions about ABA, and she was able to provide some valuable insight.

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Who can benefit from ABA?

Individuals who could benefit from ABA would be children who exhibit moderate to severe stereotypy that interfere with daily functioning, moderate to severe communication impairments, and even those kids that may need some help with social skills. Children with self-injurious behaviors, aggression, and noncompliance all benefit from ABA therapy as well. Each plan is individualized based on the function of their behavior and skill deficits that they need to work on. The assessment gives the BCBA an opportunity to see why they may be exhibiting these behaviors and the testing gives us information of skill deficits they have so that we can teach these skills with replacement behaviors to improve overall functioning.

For the higher functioning children, who struggle with social relationships and may only have strict repetitive interests (e.g. Fixations on certain topics such as Mario or Pokemon), ABA is great to help them learn ways to interact with other children, set goals while using a self-management system, and pick up nonverbal gestures from individuals that they otherwise may have missed prior to ABA therapy. If a child is functioning in a regular classroom academically, but is not functioning socially, then ABA may be great for them as well. Although they may not need many hours (the therapy does not need to be as intense), they do benefit from it and can use these skills at school socially.

Are there kids who are not appropriate for ABA?

ABA may not be appropriate for other underlying mental health conditions that could be treated by someone who specifically is trained in mental health with fewer hours than ABA. ABA is considered intensive, so we must rule out whether or not a child would benefit from physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, or counseling instead, which is considered less intensive. Do not let this discourage you though from reaching out, because your ABA provider will rule these things out during your intake call. Some ABA provider are trained using the AIM (Accept, Identify, and Move) curriculum, which uses mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis. These tools help those children who struggle with social and emotional challenges, and we have seen much success with our children in our clinic on this new ground breaking curriculum by Dr. Dixon, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Dana Puliliunas, M.S., BCBA.

How should a family choose an ABA provider?

When searching for an ABA therapist that is right for you, choose one that is best for your child. Ask questions in the interview such as, have you worked with children with similar characteristics to my child? Ask how often the BCBA will be with your child and ask how closely are they supervising and monitoring the treatment plan with their supervisees. (A BCBA creates the initial treatment plan and oversees the treatment, but the therapy is typically conducted by RBTs, Registered Behavior Technicians—a child may work with one or more behavior technicians, depending on the provider and the family’s wishes.) The BCBA will create a plan that is tailored for you child, and then will train and supervise everyone on the treatment team to make sure it is implemented correctly. They should be monitoring it closely to see that the behaviors are decreasing, and the child is improving their communication and skill acquisition drills. BCBA’s are in high demand so they are often put on several cases. Feel free to ask how often they will be interacting with your child and monitoring your child’s therapy. Red Flags include not having frequent communication with your BCBA.

ABA Therapy for Children

What can I do if I’m on the wait list for ABA?

Have the referral ready from the MD and PHD when you get on the waitlist and make sure that the ABA clinic has it. When centers pull families from the waiting list, if the paperwork is already completed a family who has everything in order will get scheduled first. It is also a great idea to call once a month (not too much where it’s overwhelming) to follow up and check in about the status on the waiting list every month. Centers love to hear from parents that are excited to get their journeys started with therapy. Parent involvement is key to success, and center staff will see your eagerness to get your child into services.

I appreciate Alicia being willing to share her insight into starting a relationship with an ABA provider! ABA providers can differ; some places offer center-based services, while others offer support in your home, or even a combination. Some providers focus on discrete trial training, while others are more flexible and adjust their approach based on the child and their goals. If you are in the Memphis area and are looking for ABA support, I encourage you to reach out to Alicia at https://autismcenterstn.com .