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Help Me Help You: A Parent-BCBA Partnership

By Melissa Fenske, M.S., BCBA, LBS

“I need help! My child is out of control, and I don’t know what to do!”

These words are all too familiar when we first speak to parents who are seeking home, school, and community services for their child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parents and caregivers often feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and that they have lost all control of their home and child. Enter the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). The purpose of a BCBA in the home and community is to teach and empower parents and caregivers to take control and ownership of their child’s behavior. For most parents, this may seem overwhelming at first, but ultimately parent and caregiver involvement is one of, if not the key factor in helping their son or daughter learn new skills that will increase their independence, decrease behaviors of concern, and help them achieve a happy and fulfilling life.

Now you may be thinking, “What does this mean for me and my family? And what exactly will I be asked to do?” As a company, Aveanna understands that family dynamics differ in terms of number of children, number of caregivers, number of wage earners, and daily schedules. For this reason, we schedule in-home services at times that are convenient for the family. When your son or daughter receives services from a BCBA, the first few sessions focus on observation, assessment and data collection. These measures establish the child’s skills and rate of problem behavior prior to intervention and are essential in assessing progress.

Once this initial phase is completed, the BCBA designs the treatment plan with input from the family. Parent participation in the entire process is the key to success. It is important to note that while each BCBA may have a slightly different training model, the steps typically include: review of the targeted goals, modeling teaching procedures, and providing on-going feedback to parents on their performance.

Let’s take a look at an example of a parent training interaction I experienced last week:

When I was in the home at dinnertime, I noticed that my client was moving her fork in a scooping motion rather than using the fork tines to spear the food. As a result, most of the food fell off the fork before she could place it in her mouth. When the food fell, the client bit her wrist and began to cry. I described the problem to her mom and asked to step in and show her a procedure that would help her daughter learn to stop biting her wrist and eat with a fork. After working with me for a few minutes, I asked mom to provide the same level of support. By the time her daughter was finished eating, she independently fed herself with a fork on four out of ten attempts. Additionally, she did not bite her wrist again for the rest of the session.

Mom’s openness to learning new teaching procedures and her consistency in delivering these services have increased her daughter’s independent eating skills and reduced problem behavior associated with her previous lack of success. It is important to note that behavior change does not necessarily occur overnight, but consistent expectations will increase acquisition of new skills and decrease problem behavior.

BCBAs understand that when you invite a professional into your home on a weekly basis, often for several hours at a time, this can seem overwhelming and somewhat intrusive. Our purpose is not to burden you, but to help you confidently address your child’s challenging behavior, improve your family’s quality of life, and empower you to continue to provide intervention when our services end. Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job by giving you the tools you need to help your son or daughter without external support. We are all on the same team, and together we can help your son or daughter meet their goals.