Intensive ABA Services News and advice on Autism treatments - The Lovaas Institute

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Summer 08

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Parent Training

By Nicole Murillo, M.A.
Lovaas Institute - Los Angeles

One of the most important components of the services we provide at the Lovaas Institute is parent training. While we may be the experts in the field of applied behavioral analysis, parents are the leading experts on their child. Thus, their input and perspective, and perhaps more importantly, their participation in their child's treatment is highly valued. Here are some tips that I've found useful for both supervisors and parents to make this experience as successful as possible.


1. Communicate & meet parents where they are

Sometimes as supervisors, we have big ideas and plans for parent training. It's important to sit down with parents and have a realistic conversation about the areas they would like to work on and what they can contribute to the training. Families have busy lives, and successful parent training depends on creating a program that is doable and practical.

2. Set up situations for success

Implementing interventions, teaching new skills, or managing a situation that is historically difficult can be stressful. Make sure that whatever skills you address in parent training include successful and rewarding interactions between parent and child. For example, if you are working on getting ready in the morning, show the parent how to systematically introduce each step individually and reinforce the completion of one step, versus several steps at once.

3. Spend time on data collection

Often times we encourage parents to take data, and then provide them with lengthy data sheets and limited instruction on what each component of the data sheet means. Spend time discussing why the data is important and follow through by presenting the data they collected in a summarized form, such as a graph. By doing so, you can visually show the parents the fruits of their efforts and reinforce the importance of collecting data.

Parents are always on the move and behaviors occur at all times. Thus, if you are expecting parents to take data on a behavior that occurs across environments, provide them with simple and portable data sheets. Smaller 5 x 7-inch binders work well because you can transport them easily.

4. Be consistent and utilize a variety of teaching techniques

Schedule the frequency of parent training and, if possible, establish a consistent time every week/month. Parent training is an important component of every home program and scheduling these sessions emphasizes this. Communicate with parents regarding times and locations (e.g., grocery store, dinner time, breakfast time, etc.). As with our students, adults learn through a variety of modalities. In order to make the time productive and engaging, utilize techniques such as videotape, role play, and observation of demonstrations and 1:1 sessions.

5. Use natural observation

Parents often have concerns with routines or activities that do not occur regularly during treatment hours, such as sitting at the dinner table or running away at the grocery store. As a supervisor, observe the family interactions in these settings in order to get a clear idea of the antecedents, behaviors, and consequences. Videotape is also a good tool to use for behaviors/skills that parents would like to address at home. You can review the videotape with parents and establish an accurate baseline.

6. Keep it simple

You may observe a hundred things that you would like parents to learn or the parents may have a hundred things they would like to address. It is easy to get overwhelmed as you try to address everything at once. Remember that by focusing on one or two things, parents will still learn the behavioral techniques and have the opportunity to be successful, which will hopefully generalize to other situations in the future. I like to discuss with parents one behavior and one skill they would like to address. For example, you can work with a family on reducing tantrum behaviors at bath time and helping their child prepare for share time at school.

7. Focus on parent-child interactions

Parents often tell me that parent training is frustrating because they feel blamed or feel like they're always doing something wrong. I like to frame parent training as improving their interactions with their child and making them positive. By helping the parent identify how their responding facilitates compliance or appropriate toy play or appropriate sibling play or enjoyable trips to the grocery store, you are addressing their role as parents. Unlike therapists, our parents have to play the dual role of parent and behaviorist. Reconciling these two roles can be difficult, but ultimately rewarding. In fact, research shows that a consistent parent training component leads to lower levels of stress and anxiety for parents of children in behavioral intervention programs.


1. Observe your day to day interactions

The best way to narrow down what you would like to focus on in parent training is to observe your daily interactions with your child. What inappropriate behaviors are occurring often? What situations elicit difficulty for you or your child? What interactions/situations would you like to improve? Your daily experiences with your child are the first things we would like to address in parent training.

2. Be willing to learn (and take data)

You will always be the leading expert on your child. During the parent training process, you will learn behavioral terms and techniques that have been successful during your child's treatment. To make the situation optimally successful, be willing to incorporate these techniques into your life. Data collection can be cumbersome and time consuming. However, your data are so helpful to your supervisors when it comes to analyzing the functions of behaviors or monitoring your child's acquisition of a skill. Eventually, these data can be helpful in that you will learn how to quickly identify the function of a behavior without the data because you can recognize the patterns of behavior.

3. Set aside time

Schedule opportunities for you to observe your child's 1:1 sessions in order to familiarize yourself with the skills he/she is learning, the behavioral techniques that are successful, and to help understand the principles of reinforcement. This is an excellent way to prepare for parent training. Then, schedule consistent times for parent training to occur with your supervisor, as well as locations, depending on the skills you are addressing.

4. It's not necessary to do everything at once

One of the wonderful things about behavioral techniques is that by learning the basic foundation, you can address almost anything! From verbal protest to crying to eating to math homework, the basic principles are essentially the same. Therefore, while you may want to address a variety of issues, it's a good idea to start with one or two things and practice applying behavioral techniques to those few situations. Eventually when it is time to address other skills, you will have the basic foundation and be a pro!

Whether you are a parent or supervisor, perhaps the best advice I can give you is have fun! Don't always focus on negative behaviors. If playing catch with Dad on Sunday mornings is a priority, start there. Fun is a powerful reinforcer for everyone!

Do you have other ideas of skills to incorporate during birthdays? Share them with us here

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.

Puppet Teacher! Have a stuffed puppet praise and tickle the child. Have the puppet give the instructions.

Mandy! Sing Barry Manilow songs with either a good or an outrageously bad voice.

Funky Dancing! Sing and dance to really funky songs. Hold the child in your arms, or on your feet.

Cookie Monster Praise! Practice your imitations of kid show actors, such as Barney, Goofy, or Cookie Monster. Give praise in their voices.

Hair Torture! Lay the child down and gently sweep your hair over their face with "oh, no" or whatever to let them know it is coming.

Harry is in a regular second grade class with minimal support from a confederate aide. One day during reading centers with Harry's teacher, the kids read a story about a messy pig. Harry's teacher asked the kids whether they would want a pig for a pet. All of the kids said "yes," except for Harry. When asked why, he laughed and said if HE were to get another pet, he would get a "riding bull" because it would be a lot more fun than just a messy pig.
- California

4-year-old Deron was playing with a peer, when the peer suddenly announced that he was going to use the bathroom. Deron declared that he, too, was going to use the bathroom and followed his peer. Upon entering the bathroom, Deron worked furiously to pull down his pants. He quickly turned around, only to discover that his peer had beat him to the toilet. Assessing the situation for a brief moment, he nonchalantly stated, "Still go," walked over to the side of the toilet, and began to aim in the small space left by his seated peer...His aim was impeccable.
- California

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