There is considerable research supporting the effectiveness of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for improving intellectual, social, emotional, and adaptive functioning of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Demand for ABA treatment is high; consequently, many families are assigned to wait-lists for intervention. Starting ABA at younger ages is important for positive outcomes for children with ASD, thus, finding alternative ways for parents to access earlier treatment for their children is critical. Many parents want training to implement ABA with their own children, thereby providing behavioural interventions earlier. However, research findings investigating parent experiences while implementing in-home ABA programs have been mixed. Some studies have found that parents experience higher stress, while others report improved parental outcomes in feelings of empowerment, self-esteem, and social support. However, many of these studies have only measured parental experiences at one point in time and parents’ perceptions of their experience and competencies may change over time.
To examine weekly changes in parents’ perceptions of their training experiences and competencies throughout a 12-week intensive ABA training program.
Participants were 14 parents/caregivers of preschool children with ASD (86% mothers), with a mean age of 35.4 years (range 26 – 49.5). All had some college education or more, and average family income was $60,577 (Canadian). Their children (86% boys) ranged in age from 28 to 51 months; 10 had diagnoses of Autistic Disorder and 4 had diagnoses of PDD-NOS. Participants completed intensive 12-week ABA training at a ASD preschool. Each week, participants completed a 17-question survey rating their perceptions of training over the past week (e.g., “How much did you understand the tasks in your child’s program?” “How independent were you in carrying out your child’s program?” “To what extent do you feel in control of your child’s ABA program?”)
The six most positively rated items by parents were instructor effectiveness (13 parents), instructor support (11 parents), effectiveness of ABA in improving outcomes (11 parents), enjoyment of the training program (10 parents), their contribution to their children’s therapy (9 parents), and their understanding of the ABA concepts covered (8 parents). The four least positively rated items were the challenge of implementing their children’s program (14 parents), the stress of the training program (14 parents), effort taken to complete homework assignments (12 parents), and the difficulty of carrying out ABA tasks (11 parents). Overall, parents’ ratings of their experiences and competencies became more positive over the 12-week training program. Parent ratings were temporarily less positive at times of transition; around Week 4 parents started working independently with another child, and around Week 9 parents began teaching ABA to their support persons.
Parents’ perceptions of their experiences and competencies became more positive over the course of the 12-week ABA training program. Although parents found the training to be challenging and stressful, they perceived their instructors as effective and supportive. They felt positive about their ability to contribute to their children’s therapy and enjoyed the training experience. Data collection is ongoing.