What to Look for in an ABA Therapist: Child Assessment Strategies

Abnormal and Challenging Behavior (A-B) is a normal part of development. Most children experience moments where they act out or have difficulty with emotional control, but these behaviors don’t always have negative connotations. In fact, many children have difficult moments as a result of developmental challenges that need to be properly identified and addressed. 

The challenge lies in identifying which children are more likely to experience A-B behavior again and again, as well as which child services professionals are most qualified to address the issue effectively. That being said, not all A-Bs are created equal. Some may exhibit fewer signs of future problems than others – which means it’s important for parents and caregivers to identify potential red flags when evaluating potential A-B therapists. 

Here is an overview of some key factors you should consider when looking for an ABA therapist:

Defining Characteristics of A-B Behavior

A-B behavior refers to undesirable, repetitive, or impulsive behaviors that interfere with a child’s ability to function effectively, either socially or academically. This behavior can be very mild and may not be noticeable by others, or it can be severe enough to cause significant social or academic problems in a child. Signs of A-B behavior include:

  • Excessive stimming (such as fingerspelling, rocking, or twirling objects)
  • Aggressive behavior (as in hitting, biting, or shouting)
  • Inappropriate or dangerous play (such as climbing on counters or attempting to drive a car)
  • Inappropriate or inappropriate sexual behavior (such as dressing up in age-inappropriate clothing)

Why Is ABA Effective for Abnormal and Challenging Behavior?

One of the key distinctions between ABA and other forms of therapy is the focus on measurable outcomes instead of the more subjective concept of “well-being”. ABA therapy is designed to address the specific challenges of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) through the use of proven strategies. By using these strategies, therapists are able to identify problematic behaviors more quickly and then design activities to prevent them. These strategies include: 

  • Prompting behavior with a tangible, prompt reinforcer (e.g., food, a toy) 
  • Instructional prompting (e.g., guiding a child through a task or teaching a new skill) 
  • Rewards (e.g., positive attention, extra playtime)

You’ve Decided to Try an ABA Therapy; Now What?

If your child’s behavior specialist recommends ABA therapy, it’s time to begin gathering information about how ABA therapies are trained in the US. Ask your specialist to provide you with the names of therapists who specialize in ABA therapy for children with ASD, or find therapists online to get recommendations from. 

When speaking with ABA therapists, make sure to ask about their training and experience with ASD, as well as their approach to treatment. ASD is a complex disorder that can lead to very different outcomes in children with the condition. ABA therapies vary widely in their approach to treating ASD, so it’s important to find a therapist who has experience treating children with ASD. Make sure to ask how they approach child assessment and how they approach problem behaviors.

Look for Evidence of Training in Child Assessment and Diagnosis

ABA therapists who carry certification in ASD and specialize in ABA therapy for children with ASD benefit the most from the increased public trust. This is for two reasons. The first is the increased public trust in the expertise of the treating therapist is essential to the long-term success of the treatment. If the referring therapist is not an expert in this field then the treatment will likely fail. 

Second, it is critical that the therapist is appropriately trained to conduct the assessment. There are several organizations that offer certification in ASD and ABA. Among them is the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Ask Experienced Therapists About Their Experience with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

When interviewing potential A-B therapists, ask about their experience with ASD. Depending on the type of therapist you’re interviewing, you may also want to ask about the frequency of their visits to children experiencing ASD. You don’t want to blindly choose a therapist who visits a handful of children per year, but you also don’t want to blindly choose a therapist who has never encountered an ASD child before. 

Keep in mind that even though ASD is a common condition, it is not common knowledge within the mental health field. It is therefore not common knowledge that ABA is probably the best treatment for ASD. Therefore, you may experience some pushback when inquiring about the effectiveness of ABA therapy. Make sure you go into this conversation informed, and make sure the therapist you’re interviewing has experience treating ASD children.

Look for Staff Who Are Certified in ABA Therapy

Finally, make sure the therapist you’re interviewing is certified in ABA. ABA therapists who have received certification in the approach they use have been rigorously trained to apply that approach with the highest degree of effectiveness. This ensures that the treatment being given is as structured as possible, and therefore has the highest chance of success. Certification in ABA therapy indicates that the therapist has completed a series of rigorous, specialized assessments covering all aspects of diagnosis, diagnosis of severity, communication, social behavior, and skill development. This includes all the areas that a child with ASD may need help with and all the areas affected by ASD.


The development of ABA therapy for children with ASD is a result of the growing recognition of the importance and benefits of applied behavior analysis (ABA) for children with special needs. ABA is a scientific approach to changing behavior that relies on reinforcement and teaching new behaviors via positive reinforcement. The use of tangible reinforcers such as food is a hallmark of ABA. 

ABA has been proven to be effective in treating many different types of behavior problems in children, including tantrums, selective mutism, aggression, and peer relationships. In many cases, if ABA works, why would we ever try another form of treatment? While ABA can be effective in treating many symptoms of ASD, it is important to remember that ASD is a complex disorder. Not all children will respond to ABA. It is also important to understand ABA is only one treatment option for children with ASD.


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