How to find a Good Therapist for your child
I’ve been asked to write about how to pick out a good Behavior Therapist. I’ve never been asked this before, so I guess I’ll describe what I look at when I first hear, meet, and spend time with a client. I’ll try to add some insight on what Behavior therapists are and are not supposed to do on a case. Also, I’ll touch upon some things that I’ve learned.
In the Behavior Analysis field, which is small and relatively young, your reputation is everything. It can make you or break you. Everyone in the Behavior field knows who the greats are here in Florida– Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz, Eb Blakely, Tom Freeman, Ansley Hodges, Dr. Sharon Titus, Dr. Jing Zhou, to name a few. But unfortunately, not everyone in Florida can pick these few individuals. But it does go to show that their reputation precedes them.
Actually, I would ask someone in the field who you trust if this person/organization is a reputable. Then, I’d ask other parents if they know of this person/organization or if they can ask their therapist what their thoughts are on this person/organization. In this field, it really is about who you know. Also, UCF CARD (University of Central Florida Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) and APD (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) is a really good resource on reputable places, people, and services.
Some first impressions are very important. If you have a bad first impression of this person, I’d either wait and see for 2 weeks or just look for some one else. It is true that the services are for the client and that our job is to ensure the safety and well-being of all interested parties with an emphasis on the client. But if the therapist does not include or get along with the family and is not professional and ethical, then, we are not providing our client with an environment that is suitable for positive behavior therapy.
3. The autistic client
Despite not making eye contact or acknowledging people in a typical (normal) fashion, I’ve found that autistic children are very aware of the people around them. It’s quite startling and amazing when autistic children give you a small glimpse of understanding.
For example : When I was a Lead Teacher at a school for developmentally delayed children, the Directors would sometimes send potential students to me to see how they would react in the new setting. With the parents present, the child would usually warm up to me in a mater of seconds and begin to engage in play or initiate play with me. The parents were usually smiling or shocked that their child came to some one other than a family member. The Directors called me a “Child Whisperer. ” (after the show named “Dog Whisperer” with Cesar Milan).
This example is not an advertisement. But it is an example of how autistic children know who they like and trust. Very few new people are included in their exclusive group of family and friends. Also, for the Directors to call one of their employees an excellent worker, is another indication of the care that your child will receive with that organization or person.
4. Experience and Education
Not all who are in the behavior field have the same amount of experience and/or education. Some have no education, but have lots of experience and are well known in the field. Others have little to no experience and have certificates and have taken classes or gone to trainings and are just starting out getting experience. If you feel more comfortable, you can ask the therapist what experience they have or what education they have. But usually, if the person is a BCaBA (Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst) they have their Bachelor’s or a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) they have their Master’s, plus, they have enough experience and continuing education.
5. Goals and Ways to get to those goals
Another thing to watch for is that all interested parties agree to the same goals and treatment. The therapist needs to communicate the treatment that is to be administered to the client. If everyone is running the same program the same way each time, then the treatment will be a success and you can move on to another goal.
Also, goals have to be realistic and practical. You can’t expect the goal to be to for the child to ask for Doritos when the child does not like Doritos and is nonverbal. The therapist must be flexible with the treatment also. If the treatment has been run for months and the child is not responding, then the treatment method must be changed. In order to get a behavior, the environment must be changed. The environment could be a room, a movie, food, people, tile floor, carpet, etc., etc.
Autism is like a key and lock. You have on lock and a huge ring full of keys. You have to keep trying each key until one of them fits. If your therapist is stuck on just one way of doing things and is not open to suggestions, then, maybe they are not right for your case.
6. Other treatments besides ABA/VBA (Applied Behavior Analysis/ Verbal Behavior Analysis)
It’s important for a therapist to not advertise other treatments that are not ABA/VBA based. If they do and you are uncomfortable, please feel free to tell the therapist that you are not interested and ask them not to solicit anything else to you. If they don’t take the hint, then, you need to either talk to their superior or get another therapist.
In the event that a family would like to pursue other treatments while seeing the behavioral therapist, we are to be supportive and continue our work. Also, we are to document when the other treatment was administered and when it ends. It is also important for the therapist to read up on Non-ABA/VBA treatments or to show the family where they can get that information. Everyone must work together for the benefit of the client.
7. Some things I’ve learned along the way
I was told by a very smart behavior analyst that I should always work as if I were being watched. It’s a great way to keep myself on my toes and focused on my work. It also benefits the client that I am treating him or her as if they were one of my family members. I also talk to my clients like I would talk to a typical child. Whenever I work with a child I talk to them about what we’re doing or going to do. Some people around me ask me “Who are you talking to?” I smile while looking at my client and say “I’m talking to ___.” Communication with all interested parties is the key to a successful positively reinforcing environment.