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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

ABA Parent Training Research: 3 Studies to Help Support Parents

Applied behavior analysis is a science that can address a variety of issues, populations, diagnoses, and can even be applied to everyday life for the average person. One sub-speciality within applied behavior analysis is parent training.

In this article we will review a few of the many scientific research studies completed that could be applicable for professionals who provide ABA parent training.

Research on ABA Parent Training

RESEARCH STUDY TITLE: Tummy time without the tears: The impact of parent positioning and play


“The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants spend supervised time in the prone (tummy) position to foster motor development and prevent cranial deformities. However, infants may not tolerate the position, and consequently, caregivers may avoid placing their infants in the prone position. The AAP recommends that caregivers provide toys or interaction during tummy time. We evaluated the individual and combined effects of a play mat and experimenter interaction on negative vocalizations and head elevation during tummy time—positive effects were limited. Next, we evaluated a parent‐led intervention wherein mothers interacted with their infants, using a toy, while lying chest‐to‐chest. This intervention was associated with a reduction in negative vocalizations and an increase in head elevation for the majority of infants. Additionally, mothers rated the effectiveness of the parent‐led intervention more favorably than the experimenter‐led intervention, suggesting the effects of the parent‐led intervention were also socially valid.” (Mendres‐Smith, Borrero, Castillo, Davis, Becraft, & Hussey‐Gardner, 2020)


The article that was just mentioned regarding tummy time is relevant for parents of infants. Although ABA parent training is often associated with being an intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder or other behavioral challenges, ABA parent training can also be helpful for any parent including parents of infants.

It is recommended that infants participate in what is known as tummy time to help build motor skills and decrease deformities of the shape of the head. When infants spend too much time on their backs they may end up with a flatter head shape. Tummy time was coined as a term to teach parents about preventing this from happening.

The study suggests that parents, especially mothers, can decrease unfavorable behaviors in infants and help infants enjoy tummy time more by having the baby lie on the mother’s chest rather than on a play mat. This is a behavioral strategy that is appropriate and seems to be preferable for infants and may reduce discomfort in mothers (because they don’t have to watch their infant being dissatisfied with tummy time on a play mat).

RESEARCH STUDY TITLE: An evaluation of parent preference for prompting procedures


“Parent participation in intervention can enhance intervention efficacy and promote generalization of skills across settings. Thus, parents should be trained to implement behavioral interventions. The purpose of the current investigation was to evaluate parent preference for and acceptability of 3 commonly used prompting procedures. We trained parents of children with disabilities to use 3 empirically validated prompting strategies (i.e., least‐to‐most, most‐to‐least, and a progressive‐prompt delay). Once the parent reached the mastery criteria with each prompting procedure, we evaluated his/her preference for each of the procedures using a concurrent‐chains arrangement. We also measured treatment acceptability of all procedures throughout the study. All participants met the mastery criteria for each of the prompting procedures and showed a preference for least‐to‐most prompting. Results suggest parents’ acceptability of procedures prior to training were different than posttraining/post‐child practice. In addition, acceptability rating scores obtained at the end of the investigation corresponded to preference of intervention during the concurrent‐chains arrangement. The results demonstrate the benefits of objective measures for studying preference for behavioral, skill‐acquisition procedures.” (Halbur, Kodak, Wood, & Corrigan, 2020)


When trying to make changes in a child’s behavior or help them learn something new, it is essential to include the parent in the process. It is important to teach parents the skills they need to help their child.

It is also important to consider what parents prefer in regards to the kinds of strategies they want to use to help their child.

In the study, the researchers evaluated what type of prompting strategy parents preferred to use with their child. The prompting strategies that were included in the study included least‐to‐most, most‐to‐least, and a progressive‐prompt delay.

The results of the study tell us that sometimes parents may not be fully aware of what intervention they would prefer to use before they actually try to use it. This is why educating parents on what different interventions are and then giving them the opportunity to practice with the strategy can help them decide what strategy they would like to use more consistently.

RESEARCH STUDY TITLE: A comparison of accumulated and distributed reinforcement periods with children exhibiting escape‐maintained problem behavior


“Differential reinforcement is a common treatment for escape‐maintained problem behavior in which compliance is reinforced on a fixed‐ratio (FR) 1 schedule with brief access to positive and/or negative reinforcement. Recent research suggests some individuals prefer to complete longer work requirements culminating in prolonged (i.e. accumulated) reinforcement periods relative to brief (i.e. distributed) periods, but prolonged work exposure may evoke problem behavior and prevent compliance from contacting reinforcement when treating escape‐maintained problem behavior. We exposed 3 children with escape‐maintained problem behavior to both distributed (FR 1 resulting in 30 s of reinforcement) and accumulated (FR 15 resulting in 7.5 min of reinforcement) arrangements to compare their efficacy in maintaining low levels of problem behavior. We then assessed participants’ preferences for these conditions in a concurrent‐chains arrangement. Accumulated‐reinforcement arrangements did not occasion additional problem behavior, but rather resulted in consistently lower levels of problem behavior for 2 of 3 participants. Participants demonstrated idiosyncratic preferences.” (Fulton, Tiger, Meitzen, & Effertz, 2020).


One common concern for almost all parents is handling maladaptive (or “problem”) behaviors in their children. Many of the behaviors that parents see in their children can be attributed to the function of escape; that is, the children want to get out of or away from something or to avoid doing something they don’t want to do.

In the study mentioned above, the researchers evaluated different reinforcement strategies to see which would lead to more or less escape-maintained problem behaviors. In traditional ABA procedures, some practitioners may use a reinforcement strategy which the researchers call a distributed reinforcement, which in the study was allowing access to the reinforcing stimuli for 30 seconds, and then returning to the demand situation.

However, this has been thought to create some maladaptive behaviors. Subjectively speaking, it would seem that this type of reinforcement system could lead to difficulties in the home or the natural environment. Looking at alternative reinforcement strategies may benefit parents and their children in everyday situations.

The results of the study tell us that parents may want to consider an accumulated reinforcement approach rather than a distributed reinforcement system in which their child has access to longer periods with their reinforcing stimuli. This would be more consistent with natural contingencies, as well.

You can see this when parents give their child a half an hour on the tablet or a period of free play time or when a child takes a 15 minute break from homework, etc.


Fulton, C.J., Tiger, J.H., Meitzen, H.M. and Effertz, H.M. (2020), A comparison of accumulated and distributed reinforcement periods with children exhibiting escape‐maintained problem behavior. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 53: 782-795. doi:10.1002/jaba.622

Halbur, M.E., Kodak, T., Wood, R. and Corrigan, E. (2020), An evaluation of parent preference for prompting procedures. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis, 53: 707-726. doi:10.1002/jaba.616

Mendres‐Smith, A.E., Borrero, J.C., Castillo, M.I., Davis, B.J., Becraft, J.L. and Hussey‐Gardner, B. (2020), Tummy time without the tears: The impact of parent positioning and play. Jnl of Applied Behav Analysis. doi:10.1002/jaba.715

ABA Parent Training Research: 3 Studies to Help Support Parents

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. (2020). ABA Parent Training Research: 3 Studies to Help Support Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from