Increasing Parent Engagement and Treatment Effectiveness using Values

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Angela Cathey, MA & Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Brett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA

Brett DiNovi & Associates

As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), or other care provider, for developmentally disabled children it becomes important to develop strategies for working with stressed parents. Stressed parents struggle more often to put into place your treatment plans, and thus, can unintentionally comprise treatment fidelity. In order to help your learner achieving the best outcomes, you must develop empathy for the parents’ situations and develop methods for increasing acceptance and motivation with regard to their children’s treatment.

One way in which you can promote treatment adherence is to clarify values with your learner’s parents and teach the parents to attend to these values in difficult situations. “Values” as we refer to it here is a mid-level term from Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) that refers to evoking the functions of verbal behavior, particularly those functions evoked by verbal ‘rules’ and ‘hierarchicals’ (see resources on Relational Frame Theory; RFT like this for a more detailed account).

When used effectively, evoking awareness of ‘values’ at key moments can assist the parent in contacting contingencies that better support effective parenting behavior. For example, if a parent is needing to extinguish tantrum behavior in public places they may contact aversive direct contingencies (i.e., other parents providing criticism or dirty looks) when they ignore obnoxious behavior from their children in public places. These conditions might normally punish the parent’s tendency to follow treatment protocol. If the provider evokes the functions of ‘values’ effectively during these aversive direct contingencies, or teaches the parent to evoke these functions themselves direct contingencies may be augmented to increase the likelihood of effective parent behavior.

Evoking the functions of rule-governed behavior can both reduce the parent’s sensitivity to aversive direct contingencies experienced in the moment (e.g., pain, shame, anxiety, sadness), as well as, transform the functions of direct contingencies. For example, the parent feeling pain, shame, or anxiety in response to other parents’ reactions may instead contact ‘pride’ with the recognition of how their behavior is values consistent.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can utilize the functions of verbal behavior to better drive adaptive behavior in parents or learners be sure to watch Brett DiNovi & Associates, LCC videos on these topics.

Be sure to check out the full video, and to subscribe to Brett DiNovi’s YouTube channel and let him know what you would like to see in future videos.  Also be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

bSci21Media, LLC, owns the top behavior analytic media outlet in the world,  bSci21Media aims to disseminate behavior analysis to the world and to support ABA companies around the globe through the Behavioral Science in the 21st Century blog, bSciEntrepreneurial, and the ABA Outside the Box CEU series.

Brett DinoviBrett DiNovi, M.A., BCBA has the unique and distinguished experience of studying the principles of applied behavior analysis under the rigorous scrutiny of both Dr. Julie S. Vargas (formerly Skinner) and Dr. E.A. Vargas at West Virginia University’s internationally recognized program. For the past 26 years, Brett has used behavior analytic principles to create large scale change across school districts, Fortune 500 companies using principles of Organizational Behavior Management (OBM), and across individual learners. Brett has been a OBM consultant in Morgantown WV, an instructor at West Virginia University, a guest lecturer at numerous universities, a speaker on multiple Comcast Newsmakers TV programs, an expert witness in due process hearings, has publications in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, and has been in in executive leadership positions across schools and residential programs nationwide. In addition to an award from South Jersey Biz Magazine for “Best Places to Work,” an award for “Best of Families” in Suburban Magazine, and the distinguished “Top Ranked U.S. Executives” award, Brett’s proudest accomplishment is being a role model and father for his daughter and two stepchildren (one of which has autism). Brett can be reached at


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