Behavior analysts have a robust toolbox of skills and knowledge that help them promote skill acquisition and affect behavior change. Parents and caregivers, however, have one incredibly important tool that is not as readily available to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) – time. A learner’s parents have easy access to early morning mayhem, mid-day meltdowns, and bedtime blowouts in an organic way that isn’t always easy, or even possible, to replicate for professional service providers. Parents also can’t clock out! Because of the tools each party can bring to the table, a collaborative relationship between the behavior analyst and a learner’s parents can significantly improve treatment outcomes, particularly in areas that will lead to socially significant improvements in home and family life.
Parent training has been shown to reduce parent stress, improve family interactions, and improve child treatment outcomes. Many funding sources, including major insurance coverage providers, make parent training a mandatory component of an applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment plan. It may be especially critical to offer quality parent training in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is not feasible to provide in-person ABA therapy.
Check out these 5 steps you can use to implement or refine an existing parent training program:
1) Identify the Problem
The first step in the treatment of any client is assessing their current levels of functioning, looking for strengths and skill deficits. In the case of parent training, it is the parent we are assessing:
- What skills and knowledge do they already have?
- Are they new to ABA or has their child been receiving services for a while?
- What terminology would be helpful for them to understand?
- Are there specific skills like reinforcement delivery or collecting ABC data that are more directly related to their child’s ABA program from which they would benefit?
- What kind of reaction do they currently have to their child’s maladaptive behavior and would a different consequence be more effective?
Make a list of both general training topics (functions of behavior for example) and specific skills (delivery of reinforcers in the child’s Differential Reinforcement of Other Behavior (DRO) plan) and prioritize these to address in your parent training.
2) Look for Barriers
The most robust, technical, and intensive behavior intervention plan will be unsuccessful if the people responsible for the day-to-day implementation don’t have the capacity or resources for its execution. Parents of children with disabilities, particularly autism spectrum disorder or behavioral disorders, are often “hanging on by a thread.” You may be working with a parent who has not dared leave the house with their child in years. Creating a plan for training parents without considering the barriers to parents successfully implementing what they are being trained on is ineffective and likely to lead to frustration for everyone involved.
Here are some things to consider as you look for possible barriers include:
- Socioeconomic status
- Cultural values
- Employment considerations
- Additional support systems (extended family, religious or cultural groups)
- Education level of parents
- Primary language
- Responses to feedback
Keep possible barriers in mind even when creating and delivering parent training remotely. Videos (and video modeling) may be more accessible to parents than written directions. CentralReach’s parent portal and ABA data collection software is one excellent way to deliver video training to parents.
For more information, download this free guide that offers 7 Tips for Using CentralReach’s Client Portal!
3) Education and Counseling
Parent training can occur in many different ways, but it may be helpful to divide it up and think of two different facets of parent training – education and counseling where a provider conveys information to parents through discussion, materials, and counseling, and behavior skills training in which a provider coaches parents through developing specific behavior management skills which are demonstrated and practiced to mastery.
Education and counseling training is a more time-efficient method in which to conduct parent training as it can be more easily implemented through various means and settings. Education and counseling can be delivered in a group setting, via web conferencing, through your ABA software’s parent portal, and even in a good old-fashioned phone call.
Materials developed for education and counseling on basic ABA topics can be used repeatedly for different families over time. BCBA supervisors may save time by creating reusable resources for education, storing them in a centralized location (such as CentralReach’s file storage), and sharing them with parents via a client portal as part of the client intake process. Education and counseling may also be more easily implemented than behavior skills training for other support people who interact with the child – teachers, babysitters, grandparents, etc.
A few ideas of topics that lend themselves to education and counseling training include:
- Functions of behavior
- Identifying antecedents, behaviors and consequences
- Principles of reinforcement
- Reinforcement vs. punishment
- Prompting and prompt dependence
4) Skill Training
While parent education and counseling is an important part of a parent training plan, parent skills training has been shown to achieve better results than education and counseling alone, particularly in the areas of communication, socialization, daily living skills, motor skills and reduction in ASD symptoms. Behavior Skills Training (BST) is a great way to get parents up to speed in implementing very specific skills and programs. BST uses the steps of Instruction, Modeling, Rehearsal and Feedback to teach people new skills or behaviors.
Here are a few ideas of items you could address with parents using BST:
- Mand Training
- Implementing a DRO
- Utilizing reinforcement schedules
- Setting expectations
- Following a toilet-training protocol
- Using the Premack Principle
If you’d like to learn more about using Behavior Skills Training, CR Institute has a great CEU course available; “Using BST to Teach Staff, Caregivers, and Service Providers.”
5) Measure and evaluate
Once you’ve implemented both education and counseling as well as skill-specific training, you will want to be sure you evaluate the effectiveness of your training. Refer back to the problems you identified at the beginning of your planning; how has parent behavior changed? Have these changes led to changes in child behavior? How have the parents responded to different training modalities and how will you utilize this to plan further training in the future?
If you are using CentralReach clinical ABA data collection software, you can collect data for both parent and child behavior through Sessions (digital data sheets). The data sheets automatically sync back to the client’s Learning Tree (electronic ABA program book) where you can easily analyze auto-generated graphs displaying their progress. Plus, you can review Notes and Forms (auto-filled documentation) you’ve set up related to the parents’ training. Using ABA software to help manage parent training helps to make the process sustainable and visible for remote staff and supervisors.
This evaluation process likely takes you back to step 1 to start all over again with a new set of training priorities, barriers, general training topics, and specific skill training so you can continue to help parents grow and develop over time.
While parent training is an important and integral part of an ABA treatment plan, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming endeavor. Following these 5 steps can help you get a parent training program off the ground in no time so the families you work with can begin reaping the benefits that come from a cohesive and collaborative plan.
About the Author
Alison Walker, BCBA
CentralReach Implementation Coordinator
Alison Walker, MS, BCBA, LBA, has been working professionally with individuals with disabilities since 2003. In her history as a group home coordinator, special education teacher, school district Autism/Behavior specialist, in-home program supervisor, and supervising BCBA candidates and RBTs in a large clinic, Alison has had boots-on-the-ground experience in a wide variety of ABA roles and settings. In each of these settings, she has seen the strain in the system caused by an overabundance of children needing help and the limited number of qualified professionals available to provide much-needed services. Because of this, she is passionate about helping clinicians work smarter, not harder, so they are able to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time supporting staff and helping clients.