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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

How do you encourage parents to engage in their child’s ABA treatment?

As with any behavior that we as behavior analysts want to change, we need to look at reinforcement and motivation. We can also use concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) approaches to help parents become more engaged in their child’s ABA treatment.


What will a parent get as a consequence of participating in ABA services? How can you individualize your response to the parent and help provide reinforcing consequences to the parent when they do participate in ABA services?

Questions to ask yourself?

  • Can you create a visual that shows progress on goals?
  • Can you help a parent to see the long-term potential outcomes of their participation?
  • How can you incorporate the parent’s values into ABA services, particularly in ABA parent training?


An establishing operation is known as “any operation that increases (or establishes) the effectiveness of an event as a reinforcer (Miller).”

An establishing operation makes something more reinforcing.

As a behavior analyst and provider of ABA parent training to caregivers of children with autism, can you utilize the concept of establishing operation to encourage parents to engage in ABA? Since when someone is deprived of something that they prefer can potentially lead to an establishing operation relating to the deprived stimulus, we can consider what the parent may be missing or desiring and find ways to incorporate these things into ABA services, particularly parent training.

One example of this would be if a child has been reported by the parent to have difficulty brushing their teeth. The parent really wants them to brush their teeth independently and to reduce the battles about tooth-brushing and dental procedures. You could inform parents that by participating in ABA parent training sessions and implementing ABA concepts outside ABA, their child could be more likely to start brushing their teeth more independently. This explanation may lead to increased motivation for parents to engage in services.

When a parent doesn’t really know what they will be getting out of participating in ABA, they may be less likely to do so. Participating in services involves sacrificing time, energy, and resources from the parent.

Parents, of course, love their children and want the best for them but if a parent doesn’t feel like any real benefit would come from their participation in ABA, they won’t have the motivation to do so. (Establishing operation and reinforcement is important for the parent, the child, and even you, as the behavior analyst.)


What does the parent value?

Do they value family relationships, independence, freedom, respect, or something else?

There are many resources to look into to help you learn more about ACT.

Here is a book you might consider to help you learn more about ACT.

ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (The New Harbinger Made Simple Series)

You might consider having the parent you are working with complete a values questionnaire to learn more about their values.

Consider the parents values in terms of the parent’s life and well-being as well as for the child. If you are able to evaluate and identify the child’s personal values, how might you incorporate the parent and the child’s values into recommendations that you make for the family.

One example of this could be if you discover that a parent values respect and a child values freedom, you could find ways to include choice-making as an antecedent strategy in your recommendations. You might also recommend allowing demand-free time as a noncontingent reinforcement strategy and/or as a differential reinforcement of alternative behavior (DRA) strategy. You could also help the parent work on pairing with the child.


Consider using the concepts of reinforcement and motivation to increase participation. Also, address the parent’s values and incorporate them into your service approach.


Miller, L. K. (2006). Principles of everyday behavior analysis. Belmont (Calif.: Thomson/Wadsworth.

How do you encourage parents to engage in their child’s ABA treatment?

Heather Gilmore, MSW, BCBA

Heather is a freelance writer, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), and social worker. Heather takes interest in topics related to parenting, children, families, personal development, health and wellness, applied behavior analysis, as well as Autism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety. Contact Heather if you would like to inquire about obtaining her freelance writing services. You can view more articles and resources from Heather at and email her at [email protected] You can also advertise your autism services at one of Heather's websites: Heather is the developer of the "One-Year ABA Parent Training Curriculum."


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APA Reference
Gilmore, H. (2019). How do you encourage parents to engage in their child’s ABA treatment?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from