Archive for December, 2009

Staffing ABA Home Programs

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

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:

  1. 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;
  2. How do they interact with your child on their first visit? Are they having fun and seem at ease?
  3. Do they seem open to learning? Do they agree to abide by the methods the parent and supervisor have implemented?
  4. Can they follow directions, both verbally and visually when you or your supervisor instructs them in basic ABA methods with your child?
  5. 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”:

  1. Teaching Assistants need to understand the program objectives and be committed to helping the child make rapid progress;
  2. They must relate to the child and find joy in his or her progress, while insisting that the child comply with the program;
  3. They need to be able to act independently and interpret the program based on your child’s progress during a given session;
  4. They must reinforce enthusiastically and effectively;
  5. 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?
  6. Use your parental instincts to help prevent exposing your child to someone who is unqualified or ineffective;
  7. 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;
  8. Interview carefully and explore any area that seems suspect or makes them uncomfortable;
  9. 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:

  1. Look for someone who is willing to commit at least one year to your home program;
  2. 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;
  3. 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!

Is it autism?

Friday, December 11th, 2009

I have been contacted recently by several individuals who are concerned that a very young child they know might have autism. They want to know what the earliest signs of autism are and how they can detect them. Many caregivers focus on whether or not the child is talking, walking or any of the other normal developmental milestones that most people are familiar with. But these milestones may not be a helpful tool in determining whether or not a child should be referred for evaluation for autism and accomplishment of these kinds of milestones may not rule out autism either.

There are different types of milestones, ones not often included in typical published lists, which should be evaluated. has done a fabulous job of compiling and presenting these milestones here:

At the heart of these milestones is social reciprocity, the sharing of joy, attention and information, with eyes, gestures and later, words.

Also this site has a list of “red flags” for autism that warrant further investigation and evaluation if a child is demonstrating anything on this list.

For example if a toddler does not use gestures such as pointing and showing items, this could be a cause for concern.

The site also has a video glossary to contrast the difference in children meeting the milestones normally doing a variety of activities and children who have ASD attempting the same activities.

This site is a must read for anyone concerned about a child and autism.

Wandering, Autism and Project Lifesaver

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

James Delory, age 7, a youngster with autism from Nova Scotia, wandered into the woods and snow and was missing for two days. We were all elated when James was found, hypothermic but alive. It is now being reported that James passed away Monday night with his family at his side.

Rescued boy dies in hospital

A recent survey by the National Autism Association reveal that 92% of responders felt their child with autism was at risk for wandering. Children with autism may not understand the danger of leaving a caregiver. They may become attracted to animals or water. In fact, drowning is a leading cause of death for a child with autism.

Preparedness is key when dealing with this issue. Here is an article from The National Autism Association that outlines strategies.

You may also wish to consult with a Behavior Analyst, who can help you implement a Behavior Intervention Plan for wandering.

But what happens if the unthinkable does occur and a child is missing? An organization call Project Lifesaver has developed a tracking device that can turn what would have been hours or days into minutes:

“Citizens enrolled in Project Lifesaver wear a small LoJack® SafetyNet™ personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits an individualized tracking signal. If an enrolled client goes missing, the caregiver notifies their local Project Lifesaver agency, and a trained emergency team responds to the wanderer’s area. Most who wander are found within a few miles from home, and search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes. Recovery times for PLI clients average 30 minutes — 95% less time than standard operations. “

Local law enforcement agencies must be involved as this is not a device that can just be purchased off the shelf and used. Read more at Project Lifesaver’s website to see how you can help to get this service your community.

Toxic Toys?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

With holiday shopping in full swing (well, for me I would say half swing!) I thought it would be a good idea to check out some recent information on toys that may be contaminated with lead or made from materials that may be toxic.

The following link is from an organization call This non profit company tests common household products for toxic chemicals. The article below talks about the latest news concerning toxic chemicals in some popular toys.

After you read the article, be sure to browse the entire site for more information about toxins in household products. The site explains how the testing is done and has associated research and reference links.

The database on the site has information about 5000 items that have been tested including toys and children’s products, apparel, cars, pet products and other common household items. Check it out!


Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I just came across a great book on my shelf for parents and students who want to know more about and be more fluent with the terminology of Applied Behavior Analysis:

Behaviorspeak: A Glossary of Terms in Applied Behavior Analysis
By Bobby Newman, Kenneth Reeve, Sharon Reeve and Carolyn Ryan

This is a thin paperback, written in an easy to understand and humorous style. Behavioral terminology is often not well understood and it can be misused and misrepresented when talking about and implementing behavioral techniques. This book will help to clear up misunderstandings in a way that is painless for the reader!