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Why Client Assent in ABA is Important

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Does your client have rights? The overwhelming answer to this question should be YES!! However, many of us still have written into our behavior plans, “Ignore the student” or “Don’t let the student escape.” Client assent and client dignity are extremely important in the world of ABA and education. But what does this look like? What does it mean for our clients? 

The Link Between ABA and Client Assent

When I was first starting in the field of ABA 20 years ago, I had a student who engaged in tantrums and flopped to the ground whenever a work task was presented. We were instructed to follow him to the ground with a work task during these challenging behaviors so that he would not escape the work task. Does that sound familiar to anyone? Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. 

Today, I couldn’t even imagine doing this. The student was telling us with his actions that the work that was presented was too hard for him or it wasn’t fun at all. We should have respected him and let him leave the table. Then we should have come together as a team to brainstorm how to make the work environment more exciting and less challenging. 

Knowing what your clients’ strongest reinforcers are is a great way to start gaining client assent in ABA. Download our free reinforcement checklist below to start determining which reinforcers work for your clients the most!

How ABA and Client Assent Have Evolved

20 years ago, the world looked a lot different from an ABA perspective. ABA is always evolving. It’s a science and it should be evolving. But 20 years ago, when students engaged in challenging behavior, we didn’t automatically jump to the function. We didn’t always ask, “Why?” We’d say, “What does the behavior look like? Well, maybe treat it like this.” We also didn’t always understand that challenging behavior was trying to tell us something. 

Today’s ABA should look vastly different than that. When students engage in any type of challenging behavior, we should be asking ourselves, first and foremost, what are they trying to say? Sure, the functional behavior may be for escape, but it’s probably because of something that we did. Perhaps the environment wasn’t conducive to learning, the work was too challenging, or there was no motivation to complete the task. 

What is Client Assent?

Assent in ABA occurs when a learner either verbally or non-verbally agrees to participate in treatment.  When the learner is running away from the task at hand, we definitely don’t have assent. Obtaining assent requires anyone working with the learner to watch for signs of that assent. Behaviors that demonstrate assent may include smiling, active engagement, saying yes, coming to the table, and wanting to hang out with you. Assent withdrawal in ABA could happen at any time.  It might show itself in challenging behaviors, like leaving the area, crying, or backing away. We should always be attentive to the learner. 

Having good programs, having a good level of positives to every negative, and having strong reinforcement can help us be more likely to gain that assent from our clients. We need to have fun with them. And if we’re having fun, hopefully, they’re having fun. Who doesn’t want to have fun while they’re learning?


In summary, we reviewed what client assent looks like in ABA, why it’s important, and how we can know if a client is giving us assent. 

Start gaining client assent through your clients’ most preferred items and activities! Download the free reinforcement checklist below.

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