By: Jacob Papazian MS, BCBA – Regional Clinical Director

Receiving an autism diagnosis for your child or loved one is an overwhelming process that brings a flood of emotions: relief that there is finally an answer, fear of the unknown, trepidation for battles to come. The list is endless, and they all come crashing in waves that relentlessly beat at you with no warning. I am writing this blog post not only as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®), but also the parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

Personally, it was the uncertainty that shook me to the core: what will my loved one’s life be like in the future? Will he be happy? Will he require support his entire life? What will happen when my partner and I are gone and he is alone? The relentless search for interventions began creating a whirlwind of confusion that still plagues us to this day.

A simple Google search for “treatment for autism” brings a plethora of interventions: ABA, Floor Time, Equestrian, Speech, Occupational Therapy, Recreational Therapy, SonRise, Music Therapy, and the list simply continues to grow. How do you choose the “right” one? What is the “best” option? How do you, as the parent, make an informed decision that minimizes your resources (i.e. time, money, travel, etc.) while maintaining progress.

How Do I Become a Savvy Consumer?

The first step to being a savvy consumer is to do your research and determine which are going to be the most effective. With so many options to choose from as far as interventions are concerned, it can be completely overwhelming. A quick Internet search can provide a plethora of information regarding efficacy, side effects, and testimonials for and against. Although these data are helpful¸ they are not evidence. Testimonials are simply expressions of an experience and not necessarily reflective of the true nature of that treatment. More importantly, the individuals expressing these opinions may not necessarily be experts in that intervention and may not be able to speak fully to all aspects of the treatment or not provide a full or impartial depiction of each component.

The most important thing to do is to find the empirical evidence that supports the intervention of choice. You will find many interventions that are not based on scientific data or those in which only very weak forms of evidence exist. It is strongly recommended that these types of interventions are not implemented simply because they take up resources that could be used for those that are evidence based and have a long history of effectiveness.

So I Chose an Evidence Based Service. Now What?

The second major step to being a savvy consumer is to advocate for what your loved one needs. You will be encouraged to try things that seem strange in any intervention (see our ABC blog about the strange things we do in ABA and why we do them!)

But if something does not seem right or just plain wrong, voice your concern. If your loved one is not receiving the services they require or the provider is not following through with what they prescribed or recommended, speak up. Any professional worth their copay is going to listen to your concerns. They may continue to recommend services in a manner that is confusing or difficult to attain in its entirety, but those that simply dismiss your concerns are not worthy of your time or resources.

The third major step: look at the qualifications of the professionals working with your loved one. What type of credentialing do they hold? Does your state have a license for their intervention and if so, are they licensed and in good standing? Is there a national credential or certificate that is recognized by insurance companies? Remember that licensing and certifications provide standards for education and experience and screening. Don’t be shy to ask about their educational background and their current licensing. Transparency about history and experience is a critical feature of effective and ethical service delivery. Ensuring that person delivering services is either certified/licensed or supervised by someone that is can dramatically improve the quality of services delivered.

The final step to being a savvy consumer: constantly evaluate progress. If you are spending your time, energy, and effort to engage in a treatment or therapy, it is important that it is effective. If the professional you are working with is not actively monitoring progress or keeping you involved in changes to the overall plan, it may be time to discuss your concerns with them. In order to ensure that effective decisions are being made, BCBAs® routinely review data collected in session and make decisions.

Being a Savvy ABA Consumer

Up to this point we have discussed being a savvy consumer of any type of service. However, Applied Behavior Analysis programs have their own specific accreditation and intervention styles that require specific consideration to see if they are a good fit for your family. Not all programs are created equal and each BCBA® is going to approach your child’s treatment differently based on their experience, training, and clinical style. Here are things to look for when trying to find a quality ABA provider.

Look for a program that meets your family’s needs.

ABA programs can be offered in a plethora of settings but are most commonly in home or in a center/clinic for outpatient treatment. If you know that scheduling will be difficult or the drive to the program is going to be a barrier to treatment, home based services may be a viable alternative. Perhaps home is going to be incredibly distracting for your child or there simply is not a private enough area to complete treatment for the day. A center based program may be more appropriate to promote learning and progress. If you are concerned about leaving your child at a center based program, ask to observe a session. You may be asked to observe from an observation room or similar to protect the privacy of other consumers in the clinic, but a quality program encourages participation in treatment. (Attentive Behavior Care offers both home and clinic based program in most of its locations!)

Ask about accreditation.

Ask if the program is accredited. Although not required for insurance reimbursement, accreditation demonstrates that program administration has gone through the process of evaluating their systems for quality control, clinical excellence, and consumer satisfaction with services delivered. Remember that all accredited programs have pain points and problems and that non-accredited programs can be fantastic and provide incredible services. This is simply a way for you to gather more information about the program. (Attentive Behavior Care is a 2-year Accredited Behavioral Health Center of Excellence – BHCOE)

For more information about ABA therapy or how we can help your child, contact Attentive Behavior Care today.