With regard to Autistic Spectrum Disorders (i.e., Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and related disorders), the overwhelming majority of the research conducted on treatment has been from an ABA perspective. In fact, interventions utilizing ABA are among the few evidence-based practices for the treatment of Autism.
Applied Behavior Analysis technologies can be used to address a number of issues relevant to children with ASD, including language acquisition, peer interactions and social skills, responding to group instruction, academic/cognitive skills, following typical classroom routines, self-help and daily living skills, learning in and from the natural environment, and reducing inappropriate behavior(s).
If you are reading this then I am assuming that you are in search of answers on what to do for your child with autism. What is the right treatment plan for your child and how do you know that you are making the right choice? Well, truth be told - you won’t know until you get into it. This is the honest truth as I know it from my experience with my son with autism. When he was diagnosed, I spent many hours researching what the best course of action would be. Don’t get me wrong - I spent many hours crying in the shower or the closet or just wherever I happened to be at the time, mourning the loss of a life I had dreamed about with my child. It took a while to come around but, eventually I came to the realization that I needed to get out of my own way and get him some help. But how was I supposed to do that? There is no category in the Yellow Pages that says "autism." Who was I supposed to call? What doctor should I take him to? Will he ever get better? I needed someone to say " this is what you do next." but that someone did not come along and I was left to make my own decisions on what to do.
After researching about different therapies we eventually decided to try ABA and let me tell you it has changed our lives. Notice that I said "our" and not just "his". Yes, it changed my sons life but it also changed the rest of the family too. It has been an experience like I have never dreamed and I know in my heart that i did the right thing by my son.
How did I know to try ABA? Well, I didn’t. I just knew I had to try something and this seemed the most reasonable fit with my child. I had read the data on ABA, I knew the numbers and all that, but I was more interested in parental anecdotal evidence than in the numbers. The parents that I talked to were all reporting great success so I figured why not try it? What did we have to lose? If it does not work then I will move on to something else.
If you are considering different therapies for your child with autism, I know that it is overwhelming. You know that feeling that you get when you have to do whatever it is you are going to do and you have to do it fast? You cannot afford to lose any time on a therapy that does not work right? Here is my thought - for what it is worth - start with ABA. Without a doubt in your mind - start with ABA first.
Why you ask? Because ABA will teach your child how to learn. Kids with autism do not know how to imitate and therefore do not do well with anything until they get this skill mastered. Imitation - it is the fundamental building block of learning. You have to be able to imitate to be able to learn and this will be the very first skill that ABA will work on. Once your child learns this skill - there will be no limit to what they will be able to do. Sounds interesting right?
Now, let me tell you about my kid. Before ABA he did not talk. He did not have language AT ALL. He could care less when his Dad came home from work. I could have been a broom in the corner of the room for all he cared. I was the tool he used in order to fulfill his needs. He did not connect with me on any level. He did not play with toys - he simply lined them up from one end of the room to the other - and not just toys mind you. He lined up shoes, soap bottles, crackers - whatever looked remotely the same to him. He only ate two foods - chicken nuggets and french fries. He flapped his hands like a bird all the time. We did not go to many restaurants or family outings nor did I dare try a trip to the store unless he was completely contained in his stroller. I always wondered what I was going to do when he got too big for his stroller. He never called out for me and it would be a long time before I ever heard the words "I love you Mommy." At Christmas time I would shop for my beautiful boy in the hopes of finding that "perfect" toy that would make his eyes light upon Christmas morning but when the time came, he never even realized that Christmas had arrived, much less run downstairs with excitement to see what Santa had brought him. I would have to wake him up and bring him downstairs and he never even noticed the toys that my husband and I had spent hours the night before putting together for him. Life for us was bittersweet but it was our life as we knew it and what we believed to be a good life. We did not know it at the time but, we were about to embark on a journey that would bring us full circle to know just how lucky we were to be blessed with this child and how much we were about to learn about him and ourselves.
Flash forward 4 years to life after ABA. My son is fully mainstreamed in his elementary school. He now asks for and waits patiently for his Dad to come home from work and also runs to greet him at the door when he comes through it, often asking if he can help him make some type of contraption or to go bike riding with him. I get to hear his sweet voice telling me that he loves me daily and I know he means it when he says it and it is not just because I told him to say it. He has been in cub scouts and has been playing piano for 2 years! He rides his bicycle all over outside ( by himself I might add) and participates in any game you can dream up. He is a whiz on the computer and I even caught him downloading movies on my ITunes the other day. He asks for all kinds of toys at Christmastime now and we can hardly get him to go to sleep at night on Christmas Eve. He plays with his brother all the time ( and they fight a lot too). He loves playing Guitar Hero III and often beats me whenever we do the guitar battle thing. He is quite the cook too and loves to make dinner. He talks all the time and I still remember how I used to pray beside his bed at night for him to speak to me. I will never take that for granted. I can go anywhere that I want with him and he stays with me. He doesn’t run away or wander off anymore and I no longer have to worry about what I will do when he is too big for the stroller. He tells all kinds of stupid knock knock jokes and is just a typical kid most of the time. He’s a pretty good kid and he has worked hard for what he can do.
I can go on and on with this list. I won’t lie - we still have issues to work on but it is a work in progress and I now know that he has a quality of life that he would never have had if I had not started ABA with him. There are things on our to do list like how to prepare him for school bullies or how to drive a car. I’m kidding!! We still work on social issues like talking too loud or taking another persons perspective but he’s getting better at it all the time and I no longer worry what his future will be like. We have worked hard together and have accomplished much. We have made many sacrifices to do it but at the end of the day look what I have! I have a great kid who no longer suffers from a life of imprisonment inside his own mind. He’s free! He enjoys life and I am so very proud of him.
My point is, there is so much more to ABA than you have ever imagined. It is not all work at a table with zero fun. ABA will teach your child whatever you want it to and your child will love learning. Its fun for them and most of the time they never realize that they are working and learning. Most likely, in the beginning you will experience a few bumps along the road. Our kids like their world the way it is and they are more motivated to stay in it than to come into ours. Some kids go kicking and screaming into ABA and others go quietly into it but it does not take long for them to see that it is fun. I especially loved seeing the dawning come to my sons face whenever he would learn something new. It was like he had no idea of what we were teaching before and then all of the sudden the light would come on and BAM - he would suddenly just get it and you could see it in his eyes. It was pure joy for me.
I know you have all heard the horror stories of discrete trials and how the child only learns in a rote manner and that there is no meaning to what they learn. Please throw that way of thinking down the toliet. ABA, when done correctly and by trained staff will give your child and your family a meaningful and functional life that you all can lead together.
So here are a couple of more arguments for you to ponder if you are still on the fence. Why choose ABA instead of Floortime or RDI or some other methodology? Anyone who is getting their kid to make progress with their chosen form of therapy will tell you that their therapy is the way to go. I truly believe you must find the right pieces to your child’s puzzle. Puzzle pieces come in all shapes and you have to find the right combination to put it together. ABA will give your child the skills he or she will need later on for doing other types of therapies. I personally love the Floortime approach but will it teach my kid how to walk with me in the mall and not run away? Probably not. Will it teach my kid what to do in the event that he ever gets lost from me? Probably not. Will it teach my kid how to try new foods and not throw up each time he puts something new in his mouth? I doubt it. Once my child has acquired enough language and functional skills to have a quality of life then maybe I will move on to another puzzle piece like Floortime or RDI but for right now I have to provide him with the skills he needs first in order to be successful in subsequent therapies later on down the road. ABA does just that.
But what about the cost? Yes, the cost is high. There is no doubt about that. Here was our rationale. My husband and I felt that we were spending his college fund to do the ABA. He needed the money now so he might have a chance to go to college. If we had not done it now there would never have been the chance of him going to college or doing anything else worthwhile in life for that matter. We wanted him to have some kind of life that involved more than lining toys up all day. We also felt that if this were an illness like cancer or some other life threatening disease - would we not do everything we could to get the very best treatment for him in order to save his life? Of course we would! ABA saved my son’s life and my family as a whole. i would do it again in a heartbeat. We made many sacrifices to do it but it was the most rewarding thing we have ever done. ABA is an investment in a life time. It is an investment with many returns and one you will be glad you made.
At the end of the day, I can live my life peacefully knowing that I did everything possible that I could to help him. I always said that I did not want to get 20 years down the road and have to wonder what could have been if there was some type of treatment out there that I did not try. ABA was that treatment and now there is no question in my mind that I did the right thing.