Clinical Responsibilities of Applied Behavior Analysts
- Initial Interview and Assessment
- Set Short and Long-Term Goals
- Conduct Treatment Sessions
- Engage Patients and Family
- Track and Encourage Growth
- Identify Improvements
- Condition Negative Behaviors
- Work in Different Situations
- Train Others
- Assist with Home Life
Therapists who are licensed and qualified to practice applied behavior analysis (ABA) can choose to work with people, primarily children and youth, who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many professionals deliver this kind of care within the context of an autism clinic, which is a client-oriented organization that caters specifically to patients with autism. ABA therapists take on a number of duties and responsibilities in these clinics depending on their experience and qualifications. Some eventually adopt management or administrative positions after years of practical work with clinic patients.
Initial Interview and Assessment
The ability to comfortably interview and accurately assess patients is an essential skill for any practical behavior analyst. There are many degrees and types of autism, and each diagnosed person faces their own set of challenges resulting from the condition. That’s why therapists conduct detailed interviews and create written assessments to establish a baseline to measure the efficacy of future treatment. This stage also allows the therapist to start building trust and familiarity with their patient, which is essential for long-term engagement.
Set Short and Long-Term Treatment Goals
Compared to other disciplines within the field of psychology, ABA places a strong emphasis on measurable variables and quantifiable progress. Therapists work directly with patients, as well as families or caregivers, to identify priority behaviors that need to be addressed first. These socially significant behaviors are usually ones that are particularly disruptive, like inappropriate verbalization or deficiencies in personal hygiene, according to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD).
Conduct Therapy Sessions
Practical therapists in a clinic also spend a significant amount of time planning and conducting individual therapy sessions with clients. These interactions can range in length and take different forms depending on the needs of the patient. Sessions may primarily revolve around conversational therapy or focus more on direct behavior modification through discrete trial training (DTT). DTT isolates specific behaviors and uses basic conditioning techniques, like positive or negative reinforcement, to help patients develop more productive responses.
Engage Patients and Family
Since participation in autism clinics is usually completely voluntary, ABA therapists also need to make an effort to really connect with patients and their families. Behavior analysis requires consistency and commitment to yield optimal results, so keeping participants engaged and returning on a regular basis is a vital skill. Behavior analysts also need to help families and caregivers learn about autism and how life at home, school or with friends can impact its development.
Track and Encourage Growth
Much like the initial assessment, clinical therapists need to keep detailed notes and records regarding patient progress. Building a detailed file over a period of weeks or months provides much deeper insight into a patient than a single interview. Therapists must leverage this knowledge and information to track individual progress and evolve treatment strategies to accommodate these changes. They can also use this information to help patients note and appreciate the progress they’ve already made through therapy.
An ABA therapist is responsible for identifying any improvements in the client’s life. They usually accomplish this through regular meetings in which they talk with their clients and the loved ones of that client. Therapists need to make sure that the client made significant improvements in key areas. If they do not see any improvements, they will need to adjust the current treatment plan.
Condition Negative Behaviors
Therapists work with their ABA clients to make sure that they understand why certain behaviors are negative and what they can do to correct those behaviors. This can include positive reinforcement where the therapist rewards the client for acting in a specific way based on his or her goals. If the client frequently talks back during a therapy session, the therapist can reward the individual when he or she remains quiet during the session. It may involve giving the client a small treat or giving him or her a few minutes of playtime.
Work in Different Situations
Though some think that these therapists only work in one location, they can work in therapy centers as well as clients’ homes and schools. They are responsible for following any of the rules that those locations have and making sure that clients follow the same rules. Therapists may need to work with coworkers or other students/family members in those settings too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those in the ABA field are recreational therapists who can also work in government agencies, hospitals and nursing homes.
To become an ABA therapist, these professionals must go to school and get a college degree before taking and passing a licensing exam. Those in leadership positions are often responsible for the training of others. A lead or head therapist can train college students working part-time or doing internships on how to handle the needs of those with autism and related conditions. They also make sure that lower-level employees know what to do when a client has a tantrum or when the client’s parents ask them to do things outside of their duties such as watching other kids in the home.
Assist with Home Life
Helping with the client’s home life is a major duty of an ABA therapist. Clients on the spectrum face as many problems at home as they do at school. Therapists can help them create goals regarding how they want to interact with their siblings and parents and how they should act in various situations at home. They also help control the actions that those clients can have at home.
Applied behavior analysts who are interested in clinical work can start building their professional skills while still in school. Internship and other employment opportunities are extremely valuable, as they allow students to get a clear perspective on their prospective career path. While specific responsibilities depend on the individual organization, most ABA therapists can expect to perform many of the same basic duties in any autism clinic.
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