Recognizing ABA Therapy Red and Green Flags

By Natalie Schad | 11 June, 2024
Abacus Therapies - ABA Therapy Red and Green Flags

Starting ABA therapy for your child is a big step, and you want to make sure it’s in the right direction. You may be wondering how to tell if the therapy is truly helping and if your child is in good hands—we’re here to assist you on this journey. 

In this article, we’ll break down the red and green flags of ABA therapy, so you can feel confident about the support your child is receiving.

Importance of ABA Therapy for Autism

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, helps children with autism by breaking down behaviors into manageable steps and using positive reinforcement. It’s proven effective in improving overall quality of life, teaching essential skills, and reducing problem behaviors. 

By focusing on each child’s unique needs, ABA therapy supports their development and independence.

What Are Good and Bad Practices in ABA Therapy?

For the therapy to be effective, you should be able to distinguish between positive and negative practices. In the following section, we’ll explore some warning signs that may help you ensure your child receives the best possible care.

ABA Therapy Goals and Approach

Red Flag: One major red flag in ABA therapy is when the goals focus solely on eliminating autistic behaviors. This can be harmful, as it prioritizes making your child appear less autistic over their overall well-being. 

For example, a therapist might aim to stop behaviors like hand-flapping or rocking, which your child uses to self-soothe. Suppressing these behaviors are signs of a bad ABA therapist and can lead to increased anxiety in your child.

Green Flag: In contrast, a positive approach focuses on improving your child’s quality of life. A good RBT or ABA therapist will respect your child’s need for self-regulation and work to find safe and socially acceptable ways for them to do so. Instead of trying to eliminate stimming, the therapist may help your child find less noticeable ways to self-soothe.

For instance, they might introduce your 6-year-old with autism to stress balls or fidget toys that provide the same comfort without drawing as much attention. Another positive goal is teaching your child effective communication skills, so they can express their needs and emotions clearly.

Therapist’s Techniques

Red Flag: Another red flag that can help you differentiate between good ABA vs. bad ABA therapy is the use of punitive measures and overly strict compliance training. When a therapist uses negative punishments or demands complete compliance, it can foster a negative and fear-based environment for your child, as well as raise concerns about the competence of the therapist and staff.

For example, if a therapist insists on eye contact or punishes your child for not sitting still, they are not respecting your child’s comfort level or natural behaviors. This type of behavior can make therapy uncomfortable and increase resistance and anxiety.

Green Flag: Supportive ABA techniques, on the other hand, include positive reinforcement and encourage self-expression. A good therapist congratulates your child on their accomplishments, which fosters a nurturing and motivating environment.

In this case, if your child successfully communicates a need or completes a task, the therapist may provide verbal praise, stickers, or small rewards to recognize their efforts. This method builds your child’s confidence while also making therapy fun and engaging. 

Promoting self-expression is also very important. With a qualified ABA therapist, your child can freely express their feelings and ideas.

Communication Between Parents and Therapists

Red Flag: If a therapist fails to communicate with you on a regular basis or include you in the therapy plan, it indicates that the therapy may not be comprehensive.

Green Flag: A positive indicator, however, is when there is active collaboration and parent involvement, as well as frequent updates on your child’s progress. A good therapist will keep you up to date on your child’s progress and any difficulties they may be experiencing.

They may hold regular meetings to discuss your child’s progress, provide detailed reports, and offer training sessions to help you reinforce your child’s skills at home. Working closely with the therapist allows you to better support your child’s development while making sure that they receive consistent and effective care both in therapy and at home.

Emotional Guidance in Therapy

Red Flag: One concerning approach would be to train children to completely mask their emotions and fake happiness. Forcing children to smile or show affection on command can cause confusion and emotional distress. 

A therapist might, for example, insist that your child smile during their sessions, even if they are unhappy or uncomfortable. This practice teaches children to hide their true feelings, which can lead to long-term emotional harm and difficulty expressing themselves authentically.

Green Flag: A positive strategy, on the other hand, focuses on promoting sincere emotional expression and understanding. A good therapist helps your child improve their communication skills to be able to share their true feelings, which creates a safe and supportive environment. 

Instead of insisting on a forced smile, the therapist can ask your child how they are feeling and validate their emotions. This way, your child learns that their feelings are important and that their emotional experiences are valued. It also helps your child develop healthy ways of expressing their emotions. 

So, when wondering “is this ABA good or bad?”, it’s crucial to look at how therapists handle emotional guidance and whether they prioritize your child’s emotional well-being.

Child Consent and Comfort

Red Flag: A major issue in ABA therapy is when therapists ignore your child’s discomfort. Imagine your child is displaying obvious signs of distress, such as turning away, becoming agitated, having an autism meltdown, or throwing a tantrum, and the therapist insists they continue with the task. Pushing a child beyond their limits while ignoring their need for a break can make therapy feel overwhelming and negative. This disregard for your child’s feelings can jeopardize their emotional well-being and trust in the therapeutic process. 

Green Flag: A therapist should honor your child’s boundaries and allow them to take breaks when needed. A good therapist will notice when your child appears tired or stressed and offer them a break or suggest a less demanding activity for children with autism

In case your child appears overwhelmed, the therapist could recommend a short play session or a soothing activity. Paying attention to your child’s comfort builds a trusting and supportive relationship. 

By acknowledging your child’s need for space and breaks, the therapist makes sure that each session is positive and encouraging.

Prioritizing Your Child’s Well-Being

To conclude, understanding and identifying ABA therapy red and green flags is very important for your child’s progress. Stay actively involved and aware to ensure they receive the highest quality care. 

If you ever feel uncertain or need guidance, our team at Abacus Therapies is here to support you every step of the way. Your child’s happiness and growth are at the heart of everything we do and our team of highly specialized BCBAs and RBT therapists we’ll be happy to help you.


How do you know when to stop ABA?

Consider stopping ABA if your child shows more anxiety, resistance, or regression in skills. If therapy sessions often feel negative or your child frequently seems distressed, it may be time to reevaluate the therapist choice or explore other therapy options.

What is the personality of an ABA therapist?

A good ABA therapist shows patience, empathy, and support. They should be skilled in positive reinforcement, open to working with parents, and respectful of your child’s boundaries and individual needs.

Is ABA therapy punishment based?

Modern ABA therapy focuses on positive reinforcement, not punishment. Good ABA practices reward desired behaviors instead of punishing. If a therapist uses punishment often, it’s a red flag that indicates damaging or outdated techniques.