New Kid on the Block – Tips for a Successful First ABA Therapy Session

April 2, 2013 3:15 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

As a behavior analyst, one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had has been helping with the opening of a new behavior clinic. Being a part of that was so rewarding because I was able to see how many children and families that clinic was going to be able to help. We are now opening another clinic this week, and talking with the new families who will be getting services there made me think about how to help them prepare their child for new behavioral therapy services. Once you’ve chosen the right person, it’s time for the big day. Your child may have difficulty getting used to this new person who will be helping him to acquire important skills through his ABA therapy.

Here are some tips on how you can help get your child off to a great start right from the very first therapy session.

  1. Use a social story to introduce your child to the new routine. A social story can be a great way to describe the situation that your child will encounter, tell them about the people they will meet and the activities they will do, and what may be expected of them. 
  2. Communicate with your provider about your child’s preferences. Is your child a rough-and-tumble boy who loves to be tickled and tossed in the air? Or does he prefer quieter play, softer voices, and gentle touches? Are there certain types of toys or rewards that he really enjoys? By communicating these preferences to your child’s ABA therapist, they can make sure that these preferred items and activities are readily available for your child right when he walks in the door to help him get excited about this new experience.
  3. Prepare for the potty. Is your child potty trained, or in the process? Does he need diapers, pull-ups, or wipes? A wet diaper can make a child uncomfortable and irritable, and can have a negative impact on a therapy session that might otherwise be going well, so make sure that your child’s new therapist has plenty of supplies to take care of this. If he is already potty trained, keep in mind that if he is reluctant to use unfamiliar bathrooms, forgets to go use it because he doesn’t know where it is, or perhaps even doesn’t go to use it because he’s having so much fun and is distracted, your child who is normally dry all day could potentially have an accident while he adjusts to a new setting, so make sure to bring an extra change of clothes.
  4. Bring a security blanket. Your child may have a special toy or other item that is particularly fun and/or reassuring for him. Allowing him to bring it in, show it to the therapist, and perhaps even use it as a transition item or reward in session can help make a new situation feel much more comforting and familiar to your child.
  5. Fuel up! It’s not unusual at our clinics for us to get quite a workout with your child…and not in a negative sense! By using Natural Environment Teaching (NET) with your child, we help to teach him how to learn from his natural surroundings. To your child, this looks and feels like play, and can include running, jumping, and lots of other fun gross motor activity. Find out if your ABA therapist has snacks or beverages available for clients, and if they do, look to see if they are items that your child can (any allergies?) and will consume. If not, it would be beneficial to your child if you bring some snacks and drinks to use throughout the session, either just as needed or to help motivate your child.
  6. Be an active participant. As ABA providers, we make the most of our time with your child. But you get to spend much more time with them than we do. By being an active participant on an ongoing basis in your child’s therapy, you can learn valuable strategies to help your child learn new skills and generalize them in other situations. This may just involve observing part or all of the therapy sessions, but can also include hands-on training and coaching. As your child’s therapist builds a relationship with him, in the beginning sessions it may be best for you to take a step back and just observe, as it can be hard for us to compete with you for your child’s attention, but as we build that rapport, active involvement is always encouraged and leads to greater success for your child.

Do you have other strategies that you’ve found to be helpful for your child when meeting new ABA therapy providers? We’d love to hear about your tips in the comments below!

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