When I first started my career in ABA, I was surprised by how much management and training that was required. In most of my early supervision experiences, I found it so challenging to watch the therapist and provide feedback – it was so much easier to just jump in the chair and do it myself! But if I only did that, I wouldn’t be able to see the therapist’s skills in action or provide feedback.
Our education and coursework prepares us for implementing ABA principles and strategies but it doesn’t always prepare us for some of the non-ABA required work – like training and management. In order to maintain integrity with any programs or plans we recommend, we have to make sure that the therapist, parent, or teacher carrying out the plans and recording data are well trained and capable of following the protocol. The therapists come into the field with varying levels of experience and often rely on us, their supervisors, to provide necessary training in ABA.
So what is the best approach to therapist training?
We often use Behavioural Skills Training (BST) in teaching our students new skills; it’s no different for us! When we are working to train a therapist in implementing a new program or improving a skill, we should be using a similar approach. Why? Because it works!
Here are the steps to training therapists with BST:
It can be very overwhelming to be the therapist who is being observed and critiqued. When doing supervision, give the therapist as much instruction and guidance as possible to explain your reasoning for doing things or wanting to see things a certain way. Give very clear instructions as to what you are expecting from them and also include the ‘why’. Incorporate the behaviour rationale behind the program to help the therapist understand the importance of the program. If they understand where you’re coming from with your recommendations, they may be more likely to follow through with the protocols suggested. For example, if you tell a therapist to ignore a behaviour, they may not understand the importance of that. But if you explain to them a little bit about the functions of behaviour and how you’ve determined that this behaviour is attention-seeking, the therapist would be more willing to ignore the targeted behaviour.
Don’t be afraid to jump in the chair and try out some of the programs you’re suggesting. It’s helpful for the therapist to SEE the program being done and not only told how to do it. The other reason for modeling is for us to test if this program or approach is even doable. If we can’t use 3 clickers to record manding data in a 1-hour period, then we can’t expect a therapist who is newer to the field to be able to effectively do it. Modeling allows us to test what’s doable and also show the therapist that it can be done!
Once you’ve explained and model, have the therapist jump in and try the program or principle you’ve just shown them. Don’t expect them to get it right the first time! Use shaping to reinforce closer and closer approximations of the desired behaviour. Hopefully, over time, the therapist behaviour will get closer to the target behaviour that you want to see.
A supervision session can be very nerve wracking for the therapist being observed. Sometimes, it’s just the consultant, the child and the therapist alone in the room and the therapist is very aware that they are being watched. With this is mind, try to start with something positive when providing feedback. The therapist may need a lot of training and you may want to jump in with some constructive criticism, but try to find something good, even a small thing, that you can mention to provide some positive feedback. Then, you can go in and offer some constructive criticism or feedback along with some concrete steps to improve for next time. It’s helpful to leave the therapist with something concrete, like a form or written suggestions.
We try to stress to the therapist that we are here to observe the program, not them. Training is an ongoing process and we don’t expect change to happen overnight. Be patient and supportive through the process!