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with Heather Gilmore, MSW, LLMSW, BCBA

Communication Skills: ABA Providers Need to Work on Communication Skills, Too (Not Just Clients)

Communication Skills of the Service Provider

Communication skills are often taught within the field of applied behavior analysis particularly when working with children or adults who have a disability or developmental delay.

Something that is often overlooked is the communication skills that the service provider has themselves. Not everyone has the same communication skills.

Sometimes, a service provider’s lack of or differences in certain aspects of communication skills can interfere with treatment satisfaction or outcomes for the client.

When a service provider has quality communication skills, a client is more likely to follow through on their recommendations, as well.

Examples of Effective Communication Skills

Some basic aspects of communication skills that are relevant for ABA providers include:

  • active listening
  • empathy
  • paying attention to the client’s verbal and nonverbal communication

These aspects of communication can be further broken down into behaviors that the provider can display. However, we will will review that information in another resource.

More Communication Skills for ABA Providers

Explaining Treatment

ABA providers should also be competent in their ability to thoroughly explain their treatment recommendations and services as well as to discuss behavioral principles in a way that both aligns with the field and that makes sense to the client.

Being Conceptually Systematic and Making Sense to the Client

This is a balancing act of remaining conceptually systematic (one of the core dimensions of ABA) and making sure that parents understand the terminology and concepts that you are using.

Dialogue about Risks and Benefits

ABA providers should also be able to express risks and benefits of a treatment recommendation.

Receive and Respond to Criticism

They should be able to receive criticism or feedback appropriately.

Accepting “No” as an ABA Provider

ABA providers should also be able to accept “no.”

“Accepting no” is another common goal particularly when working with children. ABA providers (and parents) often want to teach children how to accept no such as when a parent tells them they can’t have something they want. ABA providers need to have this skill, as well.

For instance, if a parent declines to adopt a recommendation such as a certain number of treatment hours or a certain toilet training protocol, the ABA provider should be able to accept the “no” and respond appropriately.

Responding to Distressed Individuals

ABA providers should be competent in appropriately responding to someone who appears stressed or overwhelmed. This includes remaining calm and professional.

Listen and Collaborate

Take the time to listen to parents and truly hear them. Invite them to participate in the development of treatment goals and a treatment plan.

Communication Skills Aren’t Just for the Clients

ABA providers often work on communication skills with children and adults who have a disability or developmental delay.

It is important that ABA providers strengthen and utilize effective and helpful communication skills in their own behavior when working with clients, as well.



Biglu, M. H., Nateq, F., Ghojazadeh, M., & Asgharzadeh, A. (2017). Communication Skills of Physicians and Patients’ Satisfaction. Materia socio-medica, 29(3), 192–195.

Ranjan, P., Kumari, A., & Chakrawarty, A. (2015). How can Doctors Improve their Communication Skills?. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 9(3), JE01–JE4.

Communication Skills: ABA Providers Need to Work on Communication Skills, Too (Not Just Clients)

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 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). Communication Skills: ABA Providers Need to Work on Communication Skills, Too (Not Just Clients). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from