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Working with Parents As a BCBA

As BCBAs, many of us are trained on how to work with individuals on the autism spectrum and other exceptionalities. But, what we aren’t trained for is how to best work with their parents and build a strong relationship with them. Today’s topic is all about working with parents as a BCBA. 

I didn’t realize how important it was to communicate with parents in such a way that makes them feel comfortable until I became a parent. And that sounds so silly. Of course, everyone needs communication. You need to be able to talk with parents and/or caregivers about progress. But I don’t think I ever realized how important even open body language was and the frequency of communication until I became a parent. And what I mean by that is that my daughter was one year old when I had to drop her off at daycare for the first time. She couldn’t talk. I didn’t really know the daycare workers very well. 

After the first day, I got this nice communication log from them saying here’s how she did, she ate this, and she pooped this many times. It was just something really little, but it went a long way. They also stayed and chatted with me for a few minutes when I picked up. They were essentially holding my hand throughout the first few weeks. It was really nice to have. We should all be doing that as professionals.

Tips for Working with Parents as a BCBA

Parents play such a large role in their child’s life so in any program that we’re working on with their child, they’re going to play a big role as well. I’ll never forget a few years ago when I started working with parents who contacted me about their teenager. He had already been working with many different professionals who were trying to help him. They called me in and I tried to help. I took all the information that I could, but I ended up not really being able to help this student for other reasons. The feedback that I got from the parents, however, was not that I didn’t really help them solve this problem. It was that I was the first professional who came in and wasn’t taking notes on a computer while we were talking. I talked to them face to face. 

That really resonated with me. I know how important it is that we have our data, our notes, our logs, and our computers. But at the same time, we have to be able to relate to the people that we work with and their parents as human beings.

If I could just give one suggestion when you’re talking to parents, be as compassionate as possible. Close your computer and really listen. If you need to take notes, ask them if it’s okay to record the conversation on your phone or use something else for note collection like a pad of paper. That’s way better than having an open computer in front of you to block that communication. 

Also, really watch your body language and make sure that your arms aren’t crossed. If your arms are crossed, you look really closed off. So just make sure you have that open body language. It  really shows parents in a nonverbal way that you’re listening.

The Importance of Collaborating with Parents as a BCBA

Sometimes we get so stuck in our goals because we mean well. We want to be effective, we want to make a change, and we want that progress to happen quickly. But sometimes that’s at the expense of taking other people’s thoughts into consideration. So make sure that you’re taking time to pause and ask parents for their input. What do they feel would be important goals? 

Have those conversations even though sometimes it slows you down or it makes that change happen a little bit slower. Incorporate them into that process, answer their questions, and ask them what their priorities are for their child. We may have our ideas of what we think is important, but the parent’s input and their ideas matter too, as well as the input of the individuals if they’re a part of this conversation. Parents can determine some of the goals in the program and they’ll be more likely to follow through on those goals because they’re the ones who chose them. 

When I go in, I’m going in as a BCBA. I’m going in as an ABA professional. But I always tell parents, “I may be an ABA professional and an expert in ABA, but as a parent, you’re the expert in your child. You know your child better than anybody does. So please let me know if you think this is working or not working, if you’re seeing generalization at home, what your goals are, etc.” 

Don’t Be A Burden to Parents

I was a teacher before I was a BCBA, and I remember being so frustrated when parents wouldn’t look into their kid’s bag and get the notes that I sent. Then I had my own kids and understood that parents are overwhelmed. We can’t be giving them more work to do. We’re supposed to be helping ease what’s on their plate and take some of that burden. So let’s have realistic expectations on what we expect parents to be able to implement, knowing that their plates are already full.

When you’re communicating with parents, really make sure you’re highlighting their child’s strengths. Yes, there may be some other things that you’re working on. But instead of just saying, “your child engaged in these negative behaviors today” and leaving it at that, it should be “your child did really well with.” And if you do have to say, “your child engaged in these negative behaviors today,” don’t leave it at that. Say “this is what we’re doing to try and decrease those negative behaviors,” or “this is what we’re doing to try and make this a more positive experience for your child.” I think that that goes a long way. 

BCBA Parent Training

Stay away from behavioral jargon when talking to parents. We love technical terms, we love acronyms. But it doesn’t come across nice. And when we’re talking to parents, you should really be trying your best to use as much everyday language as possible. So instead of even saying something like, “we’re looking to decrease the probability of this behavior happening, just say, “we’re looking to help them be more successful.” Something as simple as that. 

Sometimes parents will nod along if we’re using all that technical jargon, but in reality, they may just be afraid to ask about it. Make sure to use more simplistic terms and more analogies, things that are relatable to them so that they really do understand.

Keep that communication open. Give parents a heads up when there’s going to be a change in their schedule or a change in their staff member. I’ve learned that that is really important. You’re really building up a relationship of trust. The more communication you can have, the more trust will happen. We are giving out a communication log today so you can see exactly what we’re highlighting for parents.


So today, we talked a lot about working with parents as a BCBA. Some really important points to consider when you’re the BCBA are not using technical terms, not always being in front of your computer, and asking for parents’ input on their goals.

Get your free communication log to help you talk to parents about the child’s day or the child’s session.

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