Universal Protocol Systems in ABA Therapy

October 9, 2023

Universal Protocol Systems of Interaction in ABA Therapy: Creating a Unified, Dignified ABA Therapy Experience

universal protocol systems of interaction in ABA therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy continues to evolve as researchers and scientists learn information about the practice of ABA therapy and about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in general. Over time, leaders in the field have continuously improved to apply the principles of ABA therapy using more supportive methods.

A significant evolution of ABA practices that aligns with these methods is the development of Universal Protocol, which is designed to improve trust and rapport with clients while emphasizing safety and dignity. While Acorn Health has always taught and promoted the foundational behaviors associated with Universal Protocol, our clinical leaders are implementing Universal Protocol systems of interaction across the organization as a standard. This demonstrates our commitment to serving families in the most dignified way possible, and our commitment to improving therapy effectiveness and client satisfaction throughout the ABA therapy process. 

What Is Universal Protocol?

Universal Protocol is not a stand-alone operating procedure; its goal is to establish the foundation for a strong relationship while we learn about the client, and use that information to make their therapy experience personalized. 

Universal Protocol sets the standard that we should and will be proud of every single interaction with our guests and families. 

Universal Protocol is not an intervention, but rather an organization-wide initiative at Acorn Health that sets the foundation from which ABA services are provided to all individuals. By definition, there are seven behaviors as part of Universal Protocol:

  • We provide continuous empathy and positive regard.
  • We enrich the environment.
  • We follow the client’s lead to the extent possible.
  • We invite the client to participate in scheduled activities.
  • We limit nonessential demands.
  • When presenting essential demands, we make them less aversive.
  • We work to prevent escalation to severe problem behaviors.

When a new client begins receiving ABA therapy at Acorn Health, their first experiences will be rooted in Universal Protocol. During the first week or so as clinicians learn about the client, Universal Protocol helps build rapport and establish a caring, positive therapeutic relationship. 

Once an Acorn Health team member and learner are prepared to begin skill-building therapy, many of the dimensions of Universal Protocol are embedded throughout therapy, such as sharing positive empathy and regard, enriching the environment, following the client’s lead, and inviting the client to participate in scheduled activities. However, there are three dimensions that are modified to fit within therapy to ensure we can target skills for growth; for example, limiting nonessential demands, inviting to scheduled activities, and when presenting an essential demand, making it less aversive.

Why Is This Approach to ABA Therapy Important?

The ultimate goal of implementing Universal Protocol is to increase the joy among our clients—that is, to increase the extent to which our clients are happy, relaxed, and engaged throughout the day. Another goal is to prevent escalation to severe problem behavior by removing events or interactions that commonly evoke problem behavior and by reinforcing distress indicators. We teach our clients that Acorn Health team members are not adversarial, but rather are truly there for them and on their side. 

Finally, a key goal and benefit of Universal Protocol is increasing employee job satisfaction. We believe that when our clinicians and team members have joyful experiences with clients built on dignity and trust, they also feel more positive about their roles as ABA therapists. 

How Are Acorn Health Team Members Trained on Universal Protocol?

Clinician training on Universal Protocol has quickly become a priority as Acorn Health began rolling out the approach at the beginning of 2023. By the end of October 2023, every ABA therapist will have completed training, which includes hundreds of registered behavior technicians. All new hires at Acorn Health also receive the same comprehensive Universal Protocol training.

Acorn Health’s organization-wide adoption of Universal Protocol systems exemplifies our ongoing commitment to staying abreast of recent research and implementing evidence-based best practices that elevate the field of ABA therapy.

If you’d like to inquire about beginning ABA therapy services to support your child with an autism diagnosis, call Acorn Health at 844-244-1818 or complete an online inquiry form at acornhealth.com/admissions.