Home Health Care 10 Collaboration Tips for SLPs and Behavior Analysts Treating Students With Autism

10 Collaboration Tips for SLPs and Behavior Analysts Treating Students With Autism

by Rosemarie Griffin

Many students with autism work with a team of professionals on a regular basis. Those teams might include a speech-language pathologist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, intervention specialists and behavior analyst. SLPs and behavior analysts treat people with autism and—especially in school settings—these two professionals often work together to help the same students. They also share several areas of expertise, so they might find handling their overlap of services challenging.

However, when SLPs and behavior analysts forge a collaborative, positive and effective relationship, the sky is the limit for students! Professionals working toward common goals help their students increase overall engagement and decrease disruptive behavior. Teamwork between SLPs and behavior analysts can also better teach our students to develop and use functional communication skills across a variety of instructors and environments.

Here are ten tips to help initiate and maintain a collaborative process with behavior analysts.

  1. Take time to introduce yourself and talk with one another. Often, a behavior analyst might work as a contractor, so they might be a new member of the educational team. Although you’re probably swamped, the small gesture of introducing yourself can go a long way in developing a productive working relationship.
  2. Share current progress regarding communication goals. Highlight areas in which the student has made good progress, as well as trickier target goals. Everyone benefits if you take time to discuss the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Advocate to your principal about creating time for this meeting. This will help work the collaboration into your already busy schedule.
  3. If your student demonstrates disruptive behavior that prevents their learning, try talking about it. Behavior analysts receive specific training in evaluating and setting up systems to decrease difficult behavior and increase student engagement. For example, the behavior analyst may ask you and other team members for data regarding what happens just before disruptive behavior, what the observable behavior looks like and what happens after the behavior. Analyzing this type of data—along with additional information—helps determine the function of this behavior.
  4. When planning to decrease noncompliant behavior, make sure you feel comfortable implementing recommended strategies. Ask questions. Being on the same page when carrying out a plan to change behavior improves chances of success and progress with our students. This applies to anyone on the team who suggests a plan or technique.
  5. Give input on functional communication. Help develop phrases or words the student can use to communicate how they feel when working with the behavior analyst—or anyone on the team. For example, if a student tries to leave the room when asked to do a hard task, try to teach them to express something like: “Can I take a break?” or “Can we work on something different?”
  6. Develop shareable communication goals. If we can teach team members to implement communication-based goals, students get more opportunities to practice these skills throughout their school day. These opportunities outside the speech room can help students become more independent and effective communicators.
  7. Work together to create a daily data sheet. As mentioned, shared goals are important for students with autism and other complex disorders. Try creating a shared data sheet to allow all team members to gather information throughout the day. Use it to gather data on the use of unprompted and prompted requests throughout the day, for example.
  8. Find time to watch each other work with the student. Are you targeting something in a different way that the behavior analyst can use when working with the student—or vice versa? Learning from each other can benefit all involved!
  9. Share any approaches you think will work better for the student. Collect research and daily data to support your idea. This information will set the foundation for a professional discussion about the best way to target goals for your student. Sometimes it’s fine to agree to disagree. Just discuss progress frequently.
  10. Share communication sciences and disorders research findings. Behavior analysts may not know about all the wonderful information available through ASHA and journals dedicated to speech-language pathology. And ask the behavior analyst for research on applied behavior analysis. This shared learning can increase competency for both professionals and help students make functional gains.

I hope these guidelines help your work become more collaborative for your students with autism. If you have any suggestions on improving collaboration—please share in the comment section below.

Rosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA, serves students in public and private school settings. She created the website ABA Speech and gives presentations on professional collaboration and on using evidence-based practices. abaspeech@yahoo.com.


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Rose griffin May 18, 2017 - 8:41 pm

Thanks ASHA for posting – so important to work together?

lyonblanc2013 May 18, 2017 - 10:16 pm

Yes, this is helpful. But missing is what a truly-qualified OT can contribute to the ‘behaviors,’ and understanding how the ‘behaviors’ are simply the ‘symptoms’ of underlying sensory processing disorders. SLPs cannot expect to treat without OTs; and SLPs and BSBAs cannot expect to either! If we have learned anything, we should have learned that sensory motor underpinnings are what underlie ASD.

Rose griffin May 19, 2017 - 4:21 pm

You bring up such a great point! I agree that occupational therapists are such an important piece to the team for students with complex communication disorders. I co- treat with our ot on a weekly basis. Great to point out their importance!

Jennifer July 6, 2017 - 11:05 am

These are all great ideas. Sometimes the SLP is the last one in and it can be hard to figure out our place. The team should have clarity about how they got to where they are in terms of communication goals for each student; where they plan to head with that student long-term; and specific areas of need the SLP should be looking at. I have had teams say, “We have a whole program set up and here are his goals. Which one do you want to work on?” That’s not the best way to go at it! So ask the team to give you all the background info and long-term goals.

Brianna July 13, 2017 - 2:26 pm

Loved this article on collaborative efforts on the part of SLPs and Behavior Analysts, the tips were very relevant! I am an aspiring SLPA/SLP and currently working on finishing up my bachelors and getting into the SLPA field; I also have a 10yr old son who is ASD and also has sensory processing disorder. As part of my current studies, I was asked to locate a blog that had relevance to me in both the field of linguistics, and personally; this blog peeked my interest as an aspiring SLP but also because my ASD/SPD son struggles with the demands of being in a GE classroom, and we have yet to find a solution that works for him for communication during times of “spin-outs” or when he gets frustrated. Number 5 on the Tips list was quite eye-catching for me because it is something we struggle with daily and have not been successful with as of yet. He gets overstimulated very easily in the GE classroom yet, he is on grade-level academically so an SD classroom is not the place for him, nor is it plausible for him to remain in the resource room (much less activity and noise) all day either. When he starts to get frustrated during an activity or is getting overstimulated/too many demands being placed on him, he seems to simply “lose” his language skills and exhibits a lot of starts/stops, stammering, and unintelligible vocalizations (repetitive). We (myself and the IEP team) have tried having him request breaks (“I need a break”), colored cards to use in place of verbalizing the need for a break, a 1:1 aide trying to learn his signs to help facilitate him requesting a break, etc., all to no avail. For us, trying to establish what it is that’s causing the challenging behaviors to emerge (non-compliance, throwing self on the floor, running away/avoidance), is the current goal, but I would so love to see my son find a system that works for communication when he is spinning-out and losing control. I feel that many of the specialists within the school district often work separately rather than collaboratively and I feel that important clues to successful extinction of challenging behaviors and/or establishing reliable communication are missed by the lack of collaborative efforts. Currently, my son is in an ED (emotionally disturbed) classroom even though that is NOT his diagnosis, because they have the behavior analysts on staff all day and he has access to the psychologist to help work through especially challenging episodes; this type of staff arrangement is simply not present on GE campuses. I wish there was a happy medium of staff/specialist availability within the GE classroom so my son, and others like him, could have the opportunity to be included in the GE activities.

Rose griffin July 14, 2017 - 9:43 am

Thank you for reading this blog and I am glad that you enjoyed it. I hope that you can share this with your child’s educational team and start a discussion and move towards more collaborative practice.

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