Applied Behavioral Analyses (ABA) therapy is about teaching your child life skills, academics, and positive behaviors in a fun environment. Sometimes that means your therapist may do something you don’t always understand. It’s always best to ask why, often, as once you understand you too can apply it at home.
One common question parents often ask is why the therapist is, or isn’t placing demands on a child, especially if the parent has done something entirely different regarding a behavior.
Is the Therapist being too hard?
Sometimes when a therapists places lot of demands, a child with Autism tantrums. However, this does not mean that the therapist should punish or spank.
Many times you will see an ABA therapist holding a child still, forcing them to do things, or to sit still until they stop tantrumming instead of typical punishments like removing a toy, or time out. As a parent, this can be uncomfortable as we often go into survival mode and try to stop whatever has upset the child. Or bargain with them, or put them in time out, or any myriad of techniques that seem appropriate at the time.
An ABA therapist is unafraid of the meltdowns. They place the same demands that anyone would place on a child and hold them to it, sometimes literally, in a safe place.
Is the Therapist being too soft?
However, on the other end of the spectrum you could ask, why is my therapist not jumping on the bad behavior enough?
Sometimes this is a legitimate concern and perhaps your therapist needs to consult with their team better if they are encouraging certain behaviors to continue. If you notice your child has started a new behavior because of what a therapist is doing, always consult the analyst or therapist. Sometimes therapists get it wrong too.
For example: Our child once started purposefully engaging in ‘bad’ behavior to find opportunities to get a demand. This was because, during therapy time when given a demand, he got a piece of candy for performing it correctly. Of course, 40 minute long tantrums ensued as he stole items, gave them back, and then demanded candy for his confused version of good behavior. Looking back, it was a little funny to watch a child run with glee through the house as he stole his sisters night shirt, only to immediately bring it back, then head to the candy jar all proud of himself…as I stood there completely baffled. But at the time it was a confusing experience for everyone involved. We fixed this by speaking to the analyst who banned candy as a re-enforcer. The issue was remedied in less than a day.
But there are other reasons a therapist may not be addressing the behavior. Some techniques involve ignoring a behavior altogether until it naturally falls out of the child’s tool-box. Perhaps they’re licking the table and making silly noises because they think it’s funny, but actually this could be totally unhygienic if they were to do it outside of the home. Here, the therapist may ignore it until the child forgets about doing it because they’re not getting any fun out of it.
Another reason your therapist may not be addressing behaviors yet, is when therapy first begins. Therapists will go through a ‘honeymoon’ stage with the child when they meet. This is where they play, get the child to love them, teach them they’re a fun person and everything will be great. If they come down too hard to begin with, your child won’t want to be around them since they haven’t learnt this person is a fun person to play with. And ABA therapists believe a child HAS to have fun to learn.
It’s always best to ask questions that come to mind with your therapist— it can be a great learning experience for everyone involved, not just your child. This is somebody who will be working with your child for perhaps years to come, and being on the same page with their nuances will make everything run a little more smoothly.