Parent Training: What is it and Why Does It Help?

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

By Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA

If you are the parent of a child who has been diagnosed with autism, there are many things to consider as you work to secure services for your son or daughter. In order to best navigate this process, consider obtaining some basic training in the area of applied behavior analysis, or ABA, which is the science of changing socially significant behavior.

ABA can be used to teach important skills like communication or safety skills. It also helps to reduce problematic behaviors that a person with autism might engage in, such as aggression, self-injury, or eloping (running away). If your child is receiving ABA services at school or at home, you’ll find parent training invaluable. It will give you a foundation for understanding the general approach being used, and will help to ensure a consistent approach is used with your child, whether she (or he) is at home or in the classroom.

So, where to start? First, if you’ve secured early intervention or home consultation services, start with these service providers, because they are familiar with your child and his or her specific needs. ABA programming should be overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, or BCBA, who should take the time to explain assessment results, programming, and intervention approaches used with your child. This information will help you understand the approach being used, and you will begin learning how to implement ABA techniques at home. Staff overseen by the BCBA should be able to to model techniques for you and provide feedback on implementation. That will help you be prepared for those times when service providers aren’t in the home. If your child receives ABA programming at school, you may be able to talk with the overseeing BCBA who can provide general guidance. Recommendations from school providers will be less specific, however, because they are not working alongside you in your home.

More generally speaking, if might be beneficial to gain some broad training in foundational areas that can help you better respond to your child’s behavior. A quick Internet search yields results for webinars, books, and weekend courses that can provide information that will empower your approach. Look for topic areas such as: the functions of behavior (why behavior occurs); how to respond to problematic behavior; antecedents (events or actions that precede problematic behavior) vs. consequences; how to teach communication skills; how to approach feeding issues and toilet training; and how to best promote safety skills. While these resources can’t replace consultation by a trained professional, becoming familiar with some foundational concepts of ABA can help you feel empowered when advocating for your child and working with various service providers.

An excellent resource is A Parent’s Guide to Evidence-based Practice and Autism, published by the National Autism Center at May Institute. This guide is available as a free download at

Lastly, consider involvement with others in your community. Find ways to connect with other families in the area who have children with special needs. Not only will these parents understand some of the unique trials you’re facing, but they can also recommend educational resources, as well as caregivers, service providers, and educational advocates, all of whom may have insights to share as you seek to learn more about autism and how to best meet your child’s unique needs. Build a network and rely upon it. These folks can often help with making connections and sharing information.

Training on foundational concepts, and less formal information sharing, will best equip you to meet your child’s needs and know what to look for when evaluating whether a current educational or in-home service delivery method is ideal. You are your child’s best advocate. Knowing what to look for will help you to ask the right questions to ensure his or her needs are being met.

Jenna Garvey, M.Ed., LABA, BCBA, is Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Chicopee, Mass. She can be contacted at

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit