- What is ABA, and why do I keep hearing about it as an option for my child with autism?
- Applied behavior analysis is the science that studies behavior, and how it changes in relation to the events that occur before and after the behaviour. Many people confuse ABA for a specific type of therapy for kids with autism because in the late 1980’s, Ivar Lovaas pioneered a study in which he used strategies from this science to treat 19 children with autism. Since his study, ABA researchers have produced a large body of evidence showing that strategies from this science are indeed very effective in treating a range of the symptoms associated with ASD’s, which include language and communication deficits, challenging behaviours, impaired social interactions, and a range of daily-living skills.
- ABA and/or behavioural interventions (strategies from the science) are therefore accepted as evidence-based by most health authorities worldwide, and is on the US Surgeon General’s list of best-practice treatments for individuals with ASD.
- Is ABA a treatment ONLY for young children with autism, or can it treat other disorders as well?
- ABA is not a treatment only for children with autism. Before the study that Lovaas published, ABA was already an established scientific field, and there were studies showing how certain procedures from the science could produce meaningful changes to a range of different behavioural issues, for a range of populations. That body of research is also growing, and current researchers have looked at using procedures to improve skill deficits or challenging behaviours in adolescents and adults with ASD, those with developmental or intellectual disabilities, speech and language difficulties, and those with behavioural problems not associated with ASD. Further, work has been done with individuals with ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other related neurodevelopmental disorders. Lastly, procedures derived from ABA have been used to improve children’s behaviours in schools, to teach safety skills, to improve driver behaviour, to increase the efficiency of employees in organizations, to new but a few of the more recent advances researchers have made.
- Is ABA a recognized/regulated profession in Quebec?
- Behavioural therapy is not a reserved practice in Quebec. This means that even though the government recognizes the intervention as necessary for children with autism (shown by the fact that the government has a mandate to offer intensive behavioural intervention for children under 6), there are no guidelines about the qualifications of the people who offer these services meaning that there is no oversight or regulation of behavioural services in Quebec. The reality is that anyone can call themselves a behavioural specialist, consultant, therapist or behaviour analyst in Quebec, even if they have little or no formal training in applied behaviour analysis.
- I’ve heard about BCBA’s or board certification. What is that?
- Even though there is no formal regulation of the practice here, the QcABA advocates for board certification (from the Behavior Analyst’s Certification Board; BACB) as a minimum qualification for those supervising behavioural programs here. The BACB is an internationally recognized association that has set guidelines for the appropriate training and supervision for behaviour analysts, and certifies behaviour analyst at three different levels; board certified assistant behaviour analysts (BCaBA) who possess a bachelor’s degree, board certified behaviour analysts (BCBA) who possess a master’s degree, and board certified behaviour analysts at the doctoral level (BCBA-D). In other provinces in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia) board certification through this association is an accepted qualification to receive government funding for behavioural services. Recently the BACB has also developed the Registered Behaviour Technician (RBT) credential, for those who do front-line service (i.e. the therapists who implement the interventions).
- There are several reasons why clients should consider working with board certified behaviour analysts. First of all, board certification assures the client that the individual has at least the minimum required training and education in applied behaviour analysis. This doesn’t mean that each and every certified behaviour analyst is the same, as just as with all professionals people can have very different educational backgrounds, experience, and ways of practicing. The second and more important reason to work with someone certified is because if a client believes they have been treated badly or unethically by their consultant, there is somewhere they can complain to about that individual. With uncertified consultants, if a parent feels they or their child has been treated unethically, there is no agency or organization to whom the consultant answers to.
- What can I do if I feel my consultant has treated me badly, or is not giving services that are ethical?
- If you believe that your certified behaviour analyst (or a consultant who is NOT YET certified but may be in the process of earning certification) has acted unethically towards you or another client, you can contact the BACB to submit a complaint that will be investigated: http://bacb.com/notice/
- How can I find out if my consultant is certified? How do I find a certified behaviour analyst in Montreal?
- If you are a parent or user of behavioural services and wish to know if your consultant is board certified, or find a certified consultant, you can check the BACB registry of certified practitioners, here: http://info.bacb.com/o.php?page=100155. Use the search box to find the certified individuals by province.
- How can I tell if the ABA program my child is receiving is a good quality one?
- Many parents, consumers, and even behaviour analysts themselves believe that these credentials imply an expertise in autism or ABA. In fact, as we mentioned before, board certification is what the BACB accepts as the minimum qualification necessary to offer applied behaviour analysis intervention. This can make it especially difficult for consumers to know whether the treatment they are receiving is good, even if it is being handled by a certified individual.
The QcABA has been working on a parent-friendly document to help parents assess their ABA program. Keep checking the parents-resources link to see if it has been finished. In the meantime, parents can ask themselves a few basic questions to help them answer this question:
- Did the consultant use a skills assessment to develop goals for my child (for example, an ABLLS, VB-MAPP, Essentials for Living or any similar assessment to see where there are specific deficits)?
- Does my consultant include me in the process of developing goals? When I mention a problem, do they respond to my concerns by developing procedures to improve these problems?
- Has the consultant tackled my child’s problem behaviours (tantrums, aggression, tolerance to frustration, ritualistic behaviour etc…)?
- Are the strategies my consultant chooses for my child based on positive reinforcement first? That is, are ‘rewards’ used for doing good or appropriate behaviours instead of or before aversive procedures are used?
- Does my consultant watch the therapists implementing programs on a regular basis?
- Are there written documents that describe each and every teaching procedure that is being used? (These documents should be written such that almost anyone could pick it up and understand how to run the procedure.)
- Is there data that is taken each day by the therapists, that is used to analyze whether the skill is being learned as it should be?
- If the data shows the skill is not being learned after a short period of time, does my consultant check to make sure that the procedure is being implemented as it should be, and that the data is accurate?
- Following this, does the consultant modify the teaching procedure to get better results (instead of simply putting the target on ‘hold’ – this should not be necessary if targets are chosen based on a skills assessment).
- Does the consultant and/or team directly train me on procedures in my home or the community where challenging behaviours occur? Do they do in-vivo situations with me to make sure all of the improvements experienced in the ABA sessions with the therapists are transferred to our real life?
Hopefully the answers to these questions are yes, but if you are not sure or need more information on this topic, you can ask the QcABA at firstname.lastname@example.org . Navigating ABA programs can be very difficult for parents and consumers, so make sure to do as much research as you can, and if you feel uncomfortable about anything, ask questions until you are satisfied.