Parents and Professionals Can Work Together

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused

Parents of children with autism will get to know dozens of professionals over the course of their child’s educational experiences and transition to adulthood. Many of these individuals (teachers, therapists, aides, direct care staff) will have a profound effect upon the child’s development and many will remain in contact with the family and child for years and years. Most of these professionals have chosen a career in autism because of their desire to teach and help others.

How can parents and professionals best support each other in a way that is mutually satisfying and that results in the best possible support for the child?

At a recent conference on autism, organized by the Association for Behavior Analysis International, and held in Atlanta, Mary Beth Walsh, a parent of a nine-year-old child with autism, addressed this topic. She talked about her own life and the challenges and successes her family has experienced. She recommended that parents do three things:

  1. Collect data. Frequently measure how your child is doing at home in areas such as toileting, language, and independent play. “Data collection is not brain surgery or rocket science, and it is not just for professionals,” she said. “Collecting data is the best way to make sure our children’s time is not wasted. Learning the basics, and, over time, the finer points of the science of applied behavior analysis, sets parents up to be able to measure our children’s progress.”

    Professionals can help parents develop measurement procedures that are reasonable to do given the many other demands on their time.

  2. Set the bar high. Based on her own experiences, Mary Beth recommended that parents have high expectations and put their children with autism in situations where they can and will learn social skills, community behaviors, and independence. She also advised parents to plan ahead. If your child is in preschool, be thinking about how to prepare him or her for kindergarten. If he or she is in elementary school, be thinking about middle school, then high school, and then adulthood and employment and independent living.

  3. Collaborate with professionals. Addressing professionals, Mary Beth asked that they bring compassion to their interactions with and opinions about parents. It is impossible to fully understand what it is like to love and care for a child with autism unless you are in that situation yourself. The emotional, physical, and financial strains upon parents can be great and can impact their relationships with each other and with other members of the family. Professionals need to be thoughtful, compassionate, and non-judgmental in their dealings with parents.

Mary Beth called upon parents to bring gratitude to their interactions with and opinions about professionals. Unlike parents who did not choose their roles, teachers, therapists, aides, and direct care staff have elected to work with, support, and care for children and adults with autism and other disabilities. The work is difficult, the expectations are high, and the pay is low.

Both parent and professional perspectives are valid, and an appreciation for each other’s viewpoint is important. Parents should always be free to ask questions and challenge the procedures and methodologies used with their child, but the most productive and satisfying relationships develop when there is a level of reasonableness, respect, and appreciation for the work of those who have devoted their careers to this field.

The complementary notions of compassion and gratitude should form the foundation of relationships between parents and professionals. When parents and professionals build strong relationships based on mutual respect and understanding, all parties – especially the child with autism – will reap the benefits for years to come.

By Alan Harchik, Ph.D., BCBA

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder 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. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit