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Back to School Best Practices for ABA Clients, Schools, & Parents

By Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA

Going back to school following three months of summer vacation can be very difficult for students. A few challenges that young learners may face when returning to school include getting adequate sleep, waking up on time and resuming a morning routine. Additional challenges may present themselves in the classroom. For instance, trouble sitting at a desk, difficulty following directions, issues completing work and challenges attending to the teacher’s lesson. 

These challenges pose a risk to the learner being successful in the school setting. Let’s take a look at what we as practitioners can do in order to assist our clients in returning to school.

(Hint, scroll to the bottom of the article to download your free Skill Generalization Tool to track skills and behaviors across different environments as your client goes back to school.)

What Can ABA Therapists do For Their Clients in the Home to Assist Them With Their Transition Back to School?

As an ABA professional you can help assist your clients in having a smooth transition back to school by incorporating elements of a school setting into your session.  But first, you will need to gather information about what your client struggles with at school. Ask yourself, have I observed this client in school before? Am I able to sit in during class or speak to their teacher? Consulting with the child’s caregivers to ask them what challenges their child has faced at school is always a good idea as well.


Let’s say the teacher has reported that the child has trouble remaining seated in the classroom. Are there any goals appropriate for your client that they can work on at a table? Think outside of the box, it doesn’t have to be an academic task like filling out a worksheet or reading. For example, you could work on sitting at a table during a meal and holding a conversation during the set mealtime. In this setting you can work on sitting appropriately, eating independently and conversational skills all at once.


How about if my client struggles with transitions? In school, students have many transitional periods from one activity to the next. This can be especially difficult for a client who is not used to following schedules, has trouble following directions or has trouble leaving preferred activities. During sessions with your learner try incorporating a schedule and provide adequate reinforcement for following it. Make sure to add both preferred and nonpreferred tasks within the schedule. This will help your learner get used to transitioning between different environments and activities.

How Can Schools Create a Smoother Transition for Students at the Beginning of the School Year?

The beginning of the school year can be rather hectic for everyone. Some students may have an easier time than others, but the most important thing is to reward and reinforce the good. We encourage teachers to focus their attention more on good behavior and minimize attention to bad behavior. Does this mean to ignore bad behavior entirely? No. When safety is at risk, maintaining student safety is the top priority. However, if there is a way to block a dangerous behavior without an excessive reaction that is preferred. The reason is, that many children find any form of attention to be reinforcing and therefore a reprimand might be seen rewarding.

What Can Parents do to Assist Their Child in Returning to School?

During the school year does your child typically sleep in and have a relaxed schedule on the weekends? How do they tend to perform on Monday’s when they shift back to their school routine? Do they have trouble waking up? Are Mondays at school challenging for them? How about returning from a three-day weekend, spring break or winter break? Assessing your child’s ability to tolerate a change in their routine will help you determine just how much preparation they will need for the school year. If your child struggles a lot with changes in schedules you may need to consider altering their sleep schedule and morning routine to match their school schedule a few weeks in advance. However, if your child is able to change their schedule within a short period of time, you may only need to alter their routine a few days before the start of the school year. Let’s take a look at other skills parents can work on with their child to help them in the classroom.


Does your child have trouble sitting at a table? If so, you can try to incorporate some enjoyable activities at the table with the stipulation of remaining seated. Some examples of activities that your child might enjoy at the table include, sensory bins, play-doh, art projects, coloring, preparing a snack or playing a game. The important thing to remember is if your child gets up from the chair is to pause the preferred activity and ask them to sit back down in order for you to resume it.


How about if my child has difficulty following instructions? If you notice your child has difficulty following directions, you may consider shaping this behavior at home. First, you will want to start off with simpler one step directions that your child is more familiar with. When the child follows the direction, you want to reinforce it with something they enjoy, could be praise, tickles, high five, bubbles, etc. Then, once they master simple directions you can move on to more complex instructions that your child is unfamiliar with. You may need to provide extra prompting at first and then fade it gradually. Make sure to reinforce independent responses with greater intensity than prompted in order to encourage your child to follow directions independently.


It is important that all the individuals in the students’ life work together to set them up for success. This includes keeping an open line of communication and discussing any concerns that arise across your child’s environments. If you notice anything of concern, please consult with your child’s BCBA for assistance. ABA can help teach a wide variety of skills like manding, tacting, social skills, self-care skills, following directions, transitioning between environments and following a schedule.

How Can ABA Therapists Manage Their Schedules?

A student’s struggle to maintain a schedule is relatable for ABA therapists. As Behavior Analysts, we can have a hard time maintaining schedules as well. With AccuPoint’s practice management software you can:


  • Track your authorization units and reconciling it against what you are scheduling
  • See which staff member is available to work with your client
  • Create schedules on a recurring basis
  • Send mass text messages to staff to notify them of upcoming sessions

Download Your Free Skill Generalization Tracking Tool for Back to School

Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA

Tania Duarte, M.S., BCBA

Tania Duarte received her M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida State University. She has over ten years of clinical experience working with individuals with disabilities in various settings, including schools, homes, clinics, and community settings. Additionally, she has worked with DataFinch's Customer Experience Team, assisting ABA practitioners with their data collection software needs. Tania currently serves as the eLearning M.A. Program Coordinator at ABA Technologies and works with students pursuing their masters in ABA at the Florida Institute of Technology.

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