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ABA Therapy Tips for Parents

Updated: Feb 5, 2021

The information below is not meant to diagnose or treat. It should not take place of consultation with a relevant qualified healthcare professional.

Working as a team is the most important thing. Even though we work with your kiddos, it is important to remember you; the parents are part of the team as well. When it comes to ABA, parent involvement is key.

Here are a few parent tips to help you along the process:

Following through with demands

One of the most common phrases you will hear from your team is, “follow through.” Following through is an essential skill that we want our kiddos to learn. Often children with Autism Spectrum Disorder demonstrate high rates of non-compliance, but following through allows us to teach life skills.

If you tell your child to do something or teaching new skills such as cleaning up and/or requesting, you will need to “follow through” and determine how to teach your child to get from point A to point B independently. You may need to provide prompts at first, but to teach your child to be independent, you will eventually need to fade your prompts.

Following through doesn’t just apply to teaching new skills and instructions, it also applies when you are decreasing unwanted behaviors.

What does it look like?

When we teach new skills and/or replace unwanted behaviors, we provide multiple opportunities to practice.

Set the expectation! If you say something like “pick up your toys,” expect the child to pick up their toys. They may have a fit by throwing themselves on the floor and saying, “I don’t want to,” which is ok. Follow through by going down the prompt hierarchy to figure out how it can be accomplished and getting those toys picked up. Here are some possible things you may do or say:

  • You could point to the toys and direct the child to the toy bin.

  • You might say, “First clean up, then we’ll go to …”

  • You may clean up together, taking turns.

  • You may bring the toy bin to the child and hand-over-hand put the toys in.

Hand-over-hand (or full physical prompt) may be the first few toys to build momentum. Once the child gets started, they may get the hang of it and continue to clean up on their own (high 5!). If not, following through may look like full physical prompts the entire way. There are multiple options here to follow through. Remember, if you gave instruction or are purposefully teaching a new skill, the task needs to be completed whether your child did it independently or provided some assistance

Providing attention at the wrong time

Attention from parents is very rewarding for your kiddo. Attention can be both positive and negative. Positive attention refers to things you do to let your child know you like something she or he did. Negative attention happens when you give your child attention for something you don't like. If your child keeps tugging at your shirt and calling your name, you may tell him/her, "Stop!" In this example, you may not realize it, but you have just given your child attention. You may find yourself giving attention to negative behaviors more than positive behaviors because you are in a hurry or flustered. For children, negative attention from you is still attention, especially if they were not getting your attention before the behaviors. So what should you do? Ignore. Ignoring works because it takes away attention from the behaviors you want to decrease. Your child learns that she will not receive attention for misbehaving.

Do not be fooled by the term ignoring. It is a very active process for the parent. Think of ignoring as the opposite of paying attention. When you ignore your child, you do not neglect him or stand by while he misbehaves. Instead, you take all your attention away from your child and his behavior. This means reduced eye contact, not talking to your child about what they are doing, engaging in something else, and don't respond to attempts to get your attention. Ignoring usually helps stop behaviors that your child is using to get your attention. This includes behaviors like throwing tantrums, whining, and interrupting. The goal is to decrease behaviors you do not like, or you want your child to stop.

Developing independent skills

Sometimes parents give too much attention to their child’s needs and do not provide them with a chance to develop independent skills. We get it; you are rushing - it’s faster to get them dressed and put their shoes on to get out of the house in the morning. Here is the problem; if they don’t have the chance to practice, they won’t learn. Parents are a great insight into their children and know them the best, but that closeness can also put kids at risk of hindering the development of independent skills.

Take a step back; give them a chance. Try and see if they can accomplish smaller steps in each skill, then step in and help.

So before rushing in, watch, give them a chance!


Consistency is another term parents will hear over and over again from their team. An ABA program relies a lot on consistency, which cannot be done without the parent's active role at home. Consistency refers to the steady, unchanging follow-through of routines, procedures, and consequences established.

Skills are developed through consistency. Think about when you learn to write your name. You do it again and again and again - this is how a skill is learned. Similarly, when you are working on a replacement behavior, consistency is vital. Let's say your child screams every time he/she wants your attention. As a team, we have decided to say 'mommy' is more appropriate - we teach this skill during our session, and when we leave, we expect parents will follow through promoting this skill. If parents give in to their child's demands by screaming, it can delay progress. Giving in can confuse the expectations for kiddos and delay the process. Maintaining consistency allows your kiddo to understand expectations and promote growth and progress.

Contributed by: Natasha Heaselgrave, MSc BCBA

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