Autism Resource blog:

How to Build Rapport With Your Therapist (and Why It Matters)

Nov 2, 2023
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When starting ABA therapy, you, of course, want to look for a therapist who has knowledge of and experience working with children who have similar difficulties to your child. However, just as important is finding a therapist who focuses on building a rapport with you and your child.

But what is rapport and why is it important?

Rapport is the relationship that you build with your therapist. It is the foundation for progress within therapy. Within ABA, your child will be challenged to learn complex skills which can be frustrating and lead to challenging behaviors during sessions. However, there is research that shows that if the therapist and child build a positive relationship prior to working on tougher skills, the likelihood of challenging behaviors reduces and the enjoyment and success within each session increases (Lugo, et. al, 2017).  

Rapport can be built in many ways, but almost always focuses on getting to know the child as an individual.

What does rapport building look like?

The rapport building process begins with the therapist understanding more about your child. A therapist should learn about your child by listening to you and your child. Your therapist may ask questions about your child’s likes and dislikes:

  • What does your child like to do?
  • How do they spend their free time?
  • What activities do they dislike?
  • Does anything bother them (i.e., loud noises, crowded places)?

Additionally, your therapist should learn about how your child communicates with others.

  • How do they let you know what they need or want?
  • How do you know they are upset?

A therapist should begin with activities that your child enjoys and wants to engage in. Oftentimes, therapists will follow the child’s lead with play activities. This means your therapist will engage in the types of games and play that your child is requesting or showing interest in. If your child is no longer enjoying an activity, your therapist should follow your child's lead to another activity. Additionally in the beginning of ABA therapy, therapists will try to keep task demands to a minimum as these are often challenging and make it difficult for one to build a positive foundation for a relationship.

During therapy, there are a few other strategies that your therapist may use to build rapport:

  • Getting on your child’s level to play and talk with the child where they are (i.e., on the floor, at their table).
  • Matching your child’s energy level by adjusting how they play and interact to the child’s energy level. Some kids love high-energy play while others prefer more relaxed play.
  • Relating to your child’s interests. Having things in common helps build a stronger relationship.
  • Responding to all forms of communication - Responding to all forms and attempts to communicate helps your child feel heard and builds trust. 

Continuous Rapport Building throughout the Therapy Process

Once your child and therapist have established a relationship, the expectations within the ABA sessions will gradually increase. Your therapist will start to work on more difficult skills and challenging situations. Despite these increases, the rapport building process should never end! Your therapist should always prioritize their relationship with your child. Your therapist should:

  • Continue to learn about your child. Our children are constantly learning and growing. That means their interests will change and how they communicate will evolve.
  • Show empathy! Your therapist should show understanding and empathy throughout the therapy process. If your child is having a hard day, your therapist should adjust the session expectations to fit their needs.
  • Prioritize what is important to your child and your family. When considering what to teach within therapy, your therapist should choose skills that are important and impactful for your child and their life.
  • Have fun! Your child should have fun throughout the therapy process. Difficult skills are a lot easier to learn when we are having fun! 

What can I do to help my child build rapport with their therapist?

There are many things you can do to help your child build rapport with their therapist.

  • Be involved - Be present for sessions and take note of how your child is acting and feeling.
  • Communicate - You are the expert regarding your child. Be open and honest with your therapist regarding what is happening in your child’s life. Let the therapist know what adjustments may make your child feel more comfortable during sessions.
  • Consider your child’s feelings - Is your child excited to start sessions or dreading them? Although sessions may be challenging, they should still be positive and fun! If you notice your child is regularly having a hard time going to sessions, some adjustments may need to be made to make your child more comfortable!

Rapport building is a key ingredient to success within ABA therapy. A good relationship between your child and their therapist can help your child take on challenges and learn new skills. While on your journey to find the best therapist for your child, be sure to keep rapport building top of mind.

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