ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a widely recognized therapy that can effectively improve/teach new behaviors and reduce undesired behaviors in children with Autism and other developmental disabilities.
When parents start their child in therapy such as ABA, they provide informed consent for services, often through signing a form. But there’s another term, known as assent, that is also critical. An ethical and effective ABA therapy plan should be centered around the concept of assent.
Assent in ABA occurs when the child demonstrates an understanding of what is happening and agrees (verbally or nonverbally) to participate. This person-centered model of ABA focuses on the well-being of the child.
What is Assent in ABA?
Assent differs from consent. Consent occurs when the parent or guardian of the child receiving services is informed about the services that will be provided and legally agrees to them.
Signs of Assent and Assent Withdrawal
The Importance of Recognizing Assent
The Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) states that obtaining assent from clients is a responsibility of behavior analysts. The BACB board defines assent as:
“Vocal or nonvocal behavior that can be taken to indicate willingness to participate in research or behavioral services by individuals who cannot provide informed consent (e.g., because of age or intellectual impairments).”
Building trust through communication. Assent promotes a safe environment where the child feels comfortable expressing their preferences and needs. Therapists can adapt strategies to fit the communication styles/needs of the child, which may include verbal and nonverbal methods.
Promoting autonomy. Recognizing the child’s autonomy can contribute to their overall wellbeing and development.
Enhancing individualized care. Making assent a priority emphasizes the importance of involving the child’s unique interests and needs in the therapy process. The ABA therapist can tailor treatment goals and approaches to align with the child’s strengths, needs, and preferences.
Supporting ongoing monitoring. The ABA therapists can consider the child’s signs of assent and assent withdrawal to continuously monitor and adjust interventions.
Increased caregiver involvement. As with other therapies, such as Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy, caregiver involvement is a critical aspect of effective ABA therapy.
Making assent a priority in therapy encourages the therapist to communicate with parents and caregivers about the therapy process and the significance of assent. This education and communication creates a collaborative partnership between the family and ABA therapist.
Research shows that parent involvement leads to positive outcomes in academic and social behaviors. Ongoing collaboration and communication encourages home carryover of strategies, enhancing the effectiveness of ABA intervention.
Challenges & Considerations
Assent is a fundamental aspect of ethical ABA treatment, though there are some unique challenges in obtaining and maintaining assent that therapists and parents should keep in mind.
TherapyWorks offers speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and ABA therapy in person (in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio) and through teletherapy (nationwide). Therapists prioritize assent in all of the therapy services we provide, including ABA therapy. Our team of specialists are experts in working with children on the Autism spectrum and those with developmental delays.