It takes a team: Strategies for effective collaboration among BCBAs and SLPs

Rosemarie Griffin CCC/SLP, BCBA

Guest Author

If you are a BCBA working with students with autism, you most likely are interacting with a number of professionals from non- behavior analytic fields. One of these professionals will most likely be a speech language pathologist. SLPs and BCBAs have many areas of expertise that overlap and some areas that are specific to their own certification. It can be hard to navigate ways to create a positive, collaborative and effective partnership, but when one is forged, the sky is the limit for our students. Working towards common goals together can help our students decrease problem behavior and increase their overall engagement level. It can also help our students develop and use functional communication skills across a variety of instructors and environments. This will allow our students to reach the goal we have for all students, which is to become more independent and effective communicators.

Below are some tips to follow to help initiate and maintain a collaborative process when working with speech language pathologists:

  1. Take time to introduce yourself and talk with the SLP with whom you will be working alongside. Often times as a BCBA you may be contracted from an outside agency, so it will be important to introduce yourself to members of the educational team. It is not always easy to take time to say “hi” and introduce yourself, but this small gesture will be the first step in developing a productive working relationship.
  2. Ask the SLP about current progress regarding communication goals. It is important to discuss current communication strengths and weaknesses. This background information, along with working with the student, will allow you to gain a complete picture of how the student is currently communicating. Advocating to the building principal or director that this time is needed may also need to take place so that the SLP can work this into his/her already busy schedule.
  3. If the student is engaging in problem behavior that is a barrier to their learning discuss this with the SLP. Ask the SLP what the student’s behavior and level of engagement is when working on communication-based tasks. If you need the SLP to collect ABC data during sessions, go over what this type of data helps gather. It will be important to discuss that this data helps us understand what happens before problem behavior, what the observable behavior looks like and what happens after the behavior. It is important to note that analyzing this type of data, along with student observations and gathering additional information, will allow you to help determine the function of this problem behavior.
  4. If a plan is set in motion to help decrease problem behavior, make sure that you have read over the plan and provided training for the entire educational team. Some non-behavior analytic professionals may not feel comfortable implementing the strategies recommended. It is important to keep the lines of communication open, so that the team feels comfortable asking questions. This will allow the plan to be carried out with fidelity. Carrying out the plan as recommended is vital to the success and progress of our students.
  5. Work collaboratively and develop shared goals when it is appropriate. SLPs have a wealth of knowledge regarding speech and language. For example, if you are putting together a plan to increase the use of functional communication by the student, ask the speech language pathologist for feedback about what phrases the student could use to communicate how they are feeling. The ability to work together on shared goals, will allow our students to have many opportunities to practice their skills throughout their day at school. These opportunities will allow our students to become more independent and effective communicators.
  6. As mentioned above, shared goals are so very important for students with autism and other more complex disorders. Working with the SLP to create a daily data sheet that can be used over the course of the school day and by other members of the student’s educational team is vital to the student’s success. For example, if you have a student who is in the initial stages of developing a functional response form, they will most likely be working on manding or requesting specific and preferred items or actions (i.e. movie, walk, cookie). A shared data sheet could be created that would allow all team members to gather this data throughout the day. We could gather data on the use of unprompted and prompted mands throughout the day. This section of the data sheet would look like this:

  1. If time allows, watch the SLP work with the student. Can you pick up any pointers from the session that you could incorporate into your time with the student? Have the SLP watch you work with the student as well. Are you targeting something in a different way that they could use when working with the student? Learning from each other is a process but it can be so very rewarding for all involved!
  2. If you have a different idea about what is best for the student feel free to share this with the SLP and the team. Having research and daily data to support your idea is key. This information will set the foundation for a professional discussion about the best way to target goals for your student. Sometimes it is okay to agree to disagree, just set a plan going forward on how you will target something, gather data and discuss progress frequently. Modify treatment strategies as needed.
  3. Share professional research from the field of Applied Behavior Analysis with the SLP. SLPs are in touch with research literature but may not know about all of the wonderful information available through JABA and other journals dedicated to the field of ABA. Ask the SLP for research information or resources from the field of speech pathology. This shared learning can increase the competency of both professionals and help their shared clients make more functional gains. Knowledge is power!

I hope that you can use these guidelines to help your work with students with autism become more systematic and collaborative. Go team, go!

Do you have any other suggestions for an effective clinical team?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Rosemarie Griffin CCC/SLP BCBA is a Speech Language Pathologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and creator of the action builder cards.  She serves students in a public school setting and a private school setting. Rosemarie uses the science of applied behavior analysis to help her students improve their overall communication skills. Her goal is to help all students become more effective communicators and to help all professionals feel more comfortable with providing effective instruction for students with autism and other developmental disabilities. If you have questions about the content of this article, please feel free to contact her at [email protected]. Find Rose on her website or on Facebook at


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