We think we’re great. Having said that, what sets apart a great ABA program from an okay ABA program?
The answer to this question could probably turn into a dissertation with graphs and citations, so this outline covers just a few essential features that pertain to the most important function of an ABA program: progress for your child.
- Skilled clinicians. The field of ABA has grown exponentially in the last 10-15 years. This is great for clients in a lot of ways but the downside is that many ABA companies have such an emphasis on growing large and fast that they need to snap up every BCBA and behavior technician they can so they have the staff to be able to serve all their clients. As it currently stands, the moment someone gets their BCBA credential, they can be hired immediately (and paid well) as a Clinical Supervisor regardless of any other training or expertise. In our experience, Clinical Supervisors need much more than just a BCBA credential to be an effective supervisor. Our approach is to hire only experienced supervisors or promote from within so we can train all the necessary skills, gradually assigning more and more responsibility with close oversight, then carefully making the determination of when they have the skill set to be an independent Clinical Supervisor. Also, nearly 100% of our new hires are experienced behavior technicians. Behavior technicians with experience and an RBT credential are also in high demand, but without formal education, solid training, and hands-on experience, they cannot effectively implement the behavioral protocols designed by supervisors. Adhering to these standards does necessarily limit the size of a company, but we maintain it is not worth the compromise to do otherwise.
- Individualized programs. Clearly, ABA is individualized: we all do assessments, get baseline data, and then track the progress of that specific child. However, an okay program has a “bank” of pre-written instructional plans that the supervisors choose from depending on the child’s skills. Yes, individualized, but, a better program has not only assessed the child’s deficits but has also assessed how the child learns. With a better approach, each instructional plan is designed taking into account what tactic will work best for that particular child. As an example: an okay program with a catalog or bank of predetermined plans might have pictures as a prompt when teaching certain language skills. An example of a better and more individualized program would be to further evaluate the child’s needs – that is, assessing whether the child would do better with pictures, signs, or vocal words as the prompt for a certain language objective. Is the individualized program approach more labor-intensive? YES. Does it require clinicians who have the ability to make these kinds of calls? YES. (See “1. Skilled Clinicians” above.)
- Genuine ABA. Make no mistake, the BCBA credential is essential and important to the practice of ABA. However, there is so much more to the practice of behavior analysis than the necessarily limited amount of material that is taught in BCBA programs and tested on the exam. One of the most exciting (and we think essential) attributes of behavior analysis is that there is always more to learn and that each child’s progress or lack thereof can be continually evaluated according to the principles of behavior analysis. It is not uncommon, however, for clinicians to do just what has worked in the past for another child or to make decisions that are not based on the actual principles of behavior analysis. And the actual principles of behavior analysis are why ABA has earned the reputation it has today. We are discouraged to see watered-down ABA programs that merely look like genuine ABA to the inexperienced observer and that are not true to the science. Genuine ABA means analyzing behavior, which means going well beyond what is taught in BCBA programs to develop those indispensable analytical skills. It takes hard work, the willingness and intellect to continue learning, and, most likely, an accomplished mentor with a comprehensive understanding of behavior analysis.
- Investment in your child’s progress. Even more than commitment, it probably takes passion. Yes, going through the motions and showing up for the client will probably result in okay progress. But a great program has a culture of pride, where clinicians thrive on doing ABA to the best of their ability, share client successes with each other, and celebrate, personally and professionally, the progress of your child in which they had a hand.