How to recruit ABA tutors

Firstly. A legal disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. I do not work in HR. I am a Mum.

I am often asked about recruiting staff. I have spent over 17 years finding people to work and help with my boys including 16 years of managing full time ABA programmes for all my boys. In fact, if you add up the years they each did ABA full time, the cumulative total is 27 years. Deserves capitals don’t you think? 27 YEARS!

We live in London. Everyone seems to think London is a hotspot for finding ABA tutors. I can tell you without a doubt it is not. In fact, it may be worse than elsewhere in the country as trainee tutors are not paid very high wages but Londoners have to pay high rents. Trainees cannot afford to live and train here.

Everyone wants a trained up tutor with lots of experience. In some ways, this is the easiest option to go for IF you can find one. But, they cost more and if you are not funded by the LA or waiting to go to tribunal , then cost may be an important factor.

Over the years, I did sometimes find experienced tutors but at least 50 % of the time, I found people to train up. Occasionally, this did not work out but mostly, those tutors we trained turned out to be excellent and most of them have continued to work in the field of ABA.

What makes a good tutor? Personality is the deciding factor for me. The tutors work long hours with your child, who may be non verbal and have challenging behaviours. They need to be patient and have the ability to not get annoyed with a child whose actions may be difficult to manage. The best tutors are cheerful, they smile, they are happy people. I can usually tell who will make a good tutor within five minutes of meeting them. Very awkward when it’s a definite no and they have travelled a long distance to meet you and you realise almost immediately that you will not be employing them.

I have turned down experienced tutors in preference to untrained ones whose personality fits more with our family and my boys.

The other really important factor is a natural affinity with children. I have done interviews where the potential tutor just talks to me and ignores the children. I used to make an excuse to leave the room for a few minutes and see what happened. The good ones got down at the child’s level and tried to engage them. The ones I didn’t employ, stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to do. Once a small boy hugged a potential tutor. She stood like a statue, staring ahead until finally he let go.

Play. The ability to play is crucial. A good ABA programme should be based on teaching a child through play. Not sitting at a table doing ‘work’. Down on the floor playing or out in the garden playing or in the park playing. So, part of the interview might be getting out a box of Lego or playmobil and seeing if the potential tutor can play. If they can’t, how are they going to be able to help a child to play? And how are they going to make the sessions fun? I once asked a chap to play with lego and he did just that. He sat at the table totally ignoring the boy  and had a very nice time building lego. No eye contact, no speaking or referencing the child. Perhaps he thought I wanted to know what his Lego skills were like. He didn’t get the job.

I could ramble on and on but there is a big chunk about running an ABA programme in my book and also some videos on my Facebook page about finding tutors.  Both in the name ‘A Parent’s Guide to Coping with Autism’.

A few more pointers. I mainly used gumtree to recruit. I would include LSA or TA in the title as well as ABA or VB. There are some excellent TAs already working with children with autism who have not yet discovered the miracles of ABA. Once converted to it, they never look back!

I have also trawled nanny sites to find nannies who may have special needs experience. One of our best tutors was looking for nanny work but she was a special needs teacher. We employed a few South African teachers because of some loophole which meant they needed to redo some qualification. The teaching world’s loss was our gain.

As the boys grew older and we needed babysitters, we often employed local students. We ended up training some of them, who now have careers in ABA. not related to the degrees they were studying.

Don’t dismiss training up tutors. You may find that they prove the most loyal to you and are often perfect for your family because they have no preconceptions. An ABA programme is individualised, so too are they, as they have been trained specifically to work with your child.

I know that finding good tutors can be one of the most stressful parts of running a programme. Good luck.

Photo shows a great ABA session in progress. Coooking, making a costume (Minecraft) and then turn taking playing Frustration.