Are you interested in working with kiddies with autism, wondering what an ABA tutor is and what it takes to become one? Or maybe you are a parent who’s looking for the right tutor for their child? Whatever the reason your here, I’m going to talk you through what an ABA tutor is and what I think are the top 10 qualities that a good ABA tutor should have and work towards. They are all based upon what I have learned and observed throughout my own personal experience as a ABA tutor. I am still learning and striving towards them everyday. I hope you find this list useful and that it gives you more insight into this interesting, challenging and rewarding career path.
But first,what exactly is an “ABA tutor”?
In a nutshell, an ABA tutor is someone who has been trained to ethically use the principles of behaviour (learned from Behaviour Analysis) to teach socially useful skills to a person with autism. In this article I am going to focus on the ideal qualities of a ABA tutor who works with children in particular, as this is where my experince lies.
A really good ABA Tutor should….
Enjoy working with children
If this is your job of choice then you have to love working with kids! The majority of your working day is going to be spent teaching, playing with and generally being around children. So if that doesn’t sound like a great idea to you then this probably isn’t a job that you will enjoy. (Having said that, there are ABA tutor opportunities out there for working with teens and adults, there’s just perhaps a bit harder to come by in the UK).
Be fun to be around!
If you’re not a fun person to be around, then why should your child want to work for you?! Before you start placing any demands on your child, the first thing that you need to do is become their best friend (or at least, a pretty well liked person!). Find out the things that they enjoy and get involved in them! Be it angry birds, tickles or playing pokemon, pair yourself with these activities. Before you know it, you yourself will become someone that your child wants to be around and work for.
Be a problem solver who is curious about human behaviour
To me at least, there is nothing more interesting than studying why we behave in the ways that we do. A lot of what ABA is about is understanding that a lot of our behaviour is actually caused by our interactions with the environment and the world around us. Behaviour can have triggers and happen for predictable reasons, like to get attention or to escape from something that we don’t want to do. If you’re quite interested in psychology and solving behaviour-related puzzles, which at times can be quite complex, then this could be the career path for you!
Be energetic (and don’t be afraid to look a bit silly)!
Consider Tigger to be your new spirit animal when you’re an ABA tutor! This is especially true if you’re working with young children, who often love things like rough and tumble play which can require a lot of running around. This links back to the first point on the list. If you want to be a fun tutor, then you gotta have at least enough energy to be involved in your child’s favourite games! But most good tutors are required to deliver instruction at a rapid pace so that their child has more opportunities to learn. So you need to have the energy (and concentration) to be able to deliver instruction at a speedy pace.
And if your child has done something great, then you need to learn to give them a huge amount of praise! I’ll admit that I’m not the most naturally loud person and giving really big verbal praise (such as “WOW THATS AMAZING COUNTING TIM, GREAT WORK!”) took a bit of getting used to. I was almost afraid of sounding patronising to them. But I was lucky enough to learn from the best and once I began to see the effects of giving bigger, louder praise, I began to do it more automatically and naturally as part of my role as tutor.
Be prepared to learn a lot!
As a tutor you will be constantly learning new things. I cannot even comprehend how much I learned in my first year of working as a tutor. Even having a degree under my belt in ABA could not prepare me for how much I would grow and learn from my real life experience working with the children. My supervisor at the time, who has years of ABA experience, said that she is also learning something new every day in this job. And I think that is a massively important quality in a job, which should not be overlooked. Because if you don’t learn new things from your job, then eventually it will get boring. Being an ABA tutor keeps you on your toes and ready to learn something new each day.
Know when to follow through and be assertive
As much as you need to be a fun person to be around to create a bond with your child, it is also important to set boundaries and to know when to follow through with them. Otherwise everything would be like one big party and you wouldn’t get any work done! So if you give your child an instruction and they don’t comply to it, then you need to follow the behaviour plan which has been outlined to you by your supervisor and respond to their behaviour appropriately. I.e. if were to ask Joel “First do puzzle, then Pokemon” and he throws the puzzle to the floor instead, I should know from his behaviour plan that he reacts in this way to get out of doing work. So instead of trying a different activity, I know that I need to follow through with what i have said and wait for Joel to do the puzzle, with the appropriate amount of help from me. In essence you don’t want to accidently reinforce or strengthen behaviours that are inappropriate by being too nice!
Although this job is extremely rewarding, it is not without it’s challenges. Honestly, there will be days when your child just won’t want to do the work that you had planned.Or when you feel like you have been delivering the same curriculum for a while now but the skill still hasn’t quite been mastered yet. You need to be someone who has the patience to carry on and believe in your child, even on the days that aren’t so great. Appreciate the things which to you may seem small, but which are actually big steps for your little ones!
Be able to deliver the curriculum accurately
The amount of personality that you can inject into how you deliver your instruction can really be the difference between being a good, fun tutor who has their child constantly engaged with the lesson, to someone who is delivering instructions robotically. Knowing what you are teaching your child ahead of time is the key to this. If you are organised and can deliver the curriculum fluently, then you can focus on making the lesson fun. But if you are unsure of what you can class as a correct answer, or how to error correct your child when they get a wrong answer or whether you’re wasting time fumbling for the right flashcards because you didn’t pre-prepare them, then this gives you less chance to really engage your child in the material. This is perhaps one of the trickiest skills to master, (I think every tutor has been guilty of making these mistakes at least once!). As with a lot of things, this one requires pratice, pratice, pratice!
Don’t be afraid of the word data!
ABA tutors use data which they collect on a frequent and daily basis as they teach. They use this data to work out how their child’s learning is progressing. Data is a vital part of ABA that sets it apart from the various fad “treatments” that are out there for children with autism. Behaviour analysis as a science that is evidence based. ABA tutors must use evidence, collected from implementing teaching, to inform themselves about whether a skill is being learned quickly or whether adjustments need to be made to better suit their child’s needs. Collecting data is an integral part of being a tutor, but there’s no need to feel intimidated by it! With a bit of practice it taking data will soon become like second nature to you.
Be a caring individual who is interested in making a real difference to other people’s lives
As much as all the other points on this list are important (especially a desire to work with children), this job won’t be for you unless you truly care about making a difference to the lives of others. You need to be able to put yourself into the other person’s shoes and really think about how frustrating it would be to not be able to sound out words, or to not understand social conventions that other’s seemingly pick up naturally. You need to care about the work that you are doing. No matter how small a difference that you feel you have made, trust me your work will be appreciated ten times over if you have put your heart into it.
And there you have it, my list of what I think makes a great ABA tutor!
A quick note on developing your intuition
As your experience and knowledge of ABA gradually increases, you will start to develop better instincts for the correct way for you to respond various situations.
For example, a boy who I was tutoring at school was joining a P.E class for the first time in a while. The main aim of the session was for him to join in with the session, so we weren’t focusing on following teacher instructions, which we would come to at a later date. I also knew from my background knowledge of ABA a principle known as modelling, where people are more likely to do something if they see others doing the same action. So when the P.E teacher told everyone to sit down (so he could give them instructions about the next activity), when my child didn’t sit down immediately with everyone else, I didn’t force the issue by instructing him to sit down. Instead I simply waited. And sure enough, after a few seconds my boy looked around and then sat down with the rest of the group and went on to participate in the P.E activities.
If I hadn’t used my intuition and kept in mind the goal that we were focusing on, a more inexperinced tutor might have inadvertently caused a behaviour which would have led to the child not participating in P.E with his peers. Unfortunately, developing good instincts is just something that comes with time!
Thank you for reading!!
I hope that you found this list useful and I would love to know what your top 10 qualities of a good ABA tutor are! Let me know in the comments section below!