I wrote this several years ago and the information is still very relevant.
Often when parents search for trainers or teaching assistants to staff their ABA home program for their children with autism, the most frequently asked question is “Where can I find them?” It is true that locating enough team members to do the day-to-day programming can be difficult. But, perhaps, a more important question that a parent might ask is “What qualities should I look for in potential trainers for my child?”
Much time, effort and finances are invested when training a new team member for an ABA home program. Many parents know the frustration of going through this training process, only to have team members who are frequently late or absent. Sometimes trainers quit after only a short time. Some trainers, even with intensive training, are not able to master the skills they need to teach a young child with autism. There are some things you can look for in a potential team member that you can see in your first few meetings.
Dr. Alan Schnee, a behavioral psychologist and supervisor of ABA home programs for children with autism, offers several suggestions and things to look for:
- Is the potential team member on time for their first interview or meeting? Do they have to call and re-schedule several times? This should be an indicator of their ability to be on time and their seriousness about attendance;
- How do they interact with your child on their first visit? Are they having fun and seem at ease?
- Do they seem open to learning? Do they agree to abide by the methods the parent and supervisor have implemented?
- Can they follow directions, both verbally and visually when you or your supervisor instructs them in basic ABA methods with your child?
- Once the basics are learned, can the potential trainer apply principles to other situations? In other words, can they “think on their feet”?
In Behavioral Intervention for Young Children With Autism, Dr. Jack Scott offers this advice in his chapter entitled “Recruiting, Selecting and Training Teaching Assistants”:
- Teaching Assistants need to understand the program objectives and be committed to helping the child make rapid progress;
- They must relate to the child and find joy in his or her progress, while insisting that the child comply with the program;
- They need to be able to act independently and interpret the program based on your child’s progress during a given session;
- They must reinforce enthusiastically and effectively;
- You can assess many things about a potential assistant during the initial phone call: Are they difficult or cranky? Are they too eager, willing to commit before they know everything involved?
- Use your parental instincts to help prevent exposing your child to someone who is unqualified or ineffective;
- Provide potential candidates with reading materials about ABA and ask them to call you when they have read it. This will help weed out people who are not really interested;
- Interview carefully and explore any area that seems suspect or makes them uncomfortable;
- Plan to select the most responsible, talented and caring individuals you can find.
In the last five years since the founding of Reaching Potentials, our staff has supervised numerous ABA home programs and we often give this additional advice about what to look for in a therapist:
- Look for someone who is willing to commit at least one year to your home program;
- Require that those working with your child commit to work at least 2 to 3 two hour sessions per week. This will provide consistency for your child and allow the trainer to be familiar with changes that occur in your program;
- Look for individuals who will agree to attend training classes and workshops about ABA and autism, which will increase their effectiveness in your program.
Above all, remember that you as a parent are the CEO of your child’s home program. Too often, the desperate need to try and provide a child with that magical 40 hours per week of instruction leads to the hiring of inadequate trainers. Your child’s progress depends on highly effective intensive instruction. This starts with a talented Behavior Analyst who will supervise your ABA program, but a program is only as good as the sum of its parts. Having qualified, dedicated, talented, enthusiastic trainers who will do the day-to-day programming with your child will help to ensure that your special child reaches his or her potential!