look for the “why” – Autism & ABA therapy

look for the %22why%22 - Autism & ABA therapy
“One of the keys to allow children with Autism to thrive is to understand how they process information, and adjust their education and activities accordingly.” – Dr. Mercola

Sparrow Rose Jones, an Autistic adult, wrote a guest post for A Diary of a Mom  about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. I was shocked by what I read. Do you know how ABA began, what the concept was behind it? You may know the premise of how it was started, but stick with me because I will give you some ideas on how to help your child, and how to tweak ABA to help your child more efficiently and respectably.

Dr. Ivar Lovaas is the psychologist who established ABA. Sparrow wrote an excellent article containing in depth information on the therapy and goes to great lengths not to make parents who’ve supported ABA for their child feel guilty. In the article, ABA – by Sparrow Rose Jones, she says, “Much has changed, but this core premise of Lovaas’ work remains solid. ABA’s core belief is that forty hours per week of therapy geared toward making a child externally appear as “normal” as possible will “fix the brokenness” inside that made the child behave that way. ABA believes in an extreme form of ‘fake it until you make it.’” Shockingly, Lovaas said, “You have to put out the fire first before you worry how it started.” 

This isn’t how Autistic people should be treated. And, frankly, that’s not how to best help a child or adult who has Autism. This idea completely ignores their humanity. 

Consistently looking at what needs to be fixed in an Autistic child is a bombardment of negative thoughts.

We have to see the positives in the Autistic person if we’re going to instill in them a sense of worth.

How would we feel if every action of ours was looked at as wrong, and in need of change? What would that do to our self-esteem? If all you ever heard was that you needed to fix what you do every day, it wouldn’t give you hope, it would be quite discouraging.

I’ve talked about it before, but forty-hours of therapy for a child is beyond what they can or are should be made to handle. Children need play, they need down-time, they need to be a child. Emma (age 12, not positive of her age, but it’s close to this, and non-speaking) of Emma’s Hope Book says, “Autism is not a developmental delay, rather it is a different road entirely.”

When you can see that Autism is a different road entirely, your mind opens to such possibilities. Life is smoother, brighter, and different, but in a good way. It’s acceptance, but it’s acceptance that’s good. 

We can’t look at it from Lovaas’ perspective, “putting out the fire first before you worry how it started.” No, we need to completely shift that idea on it’s head. We have to find out why FIRST, then move on to help our child.

If we don’t have the why, we really can’t help them in a humane way.

So, why? Why is your child irritated? Why aren’t they focusing? Why are they jumping or spinning? Why are they chewing on their clothes? Why are they crying or upset?

Is it sensory issues (because most children with Autism have sensory issues). Is their tag bothering them? Do they not like the person who’s teaching them (because if your child is nonverbal, they can’t tell you how they feel)? Are the lights too bright? Are the colors in the space too bold? Do they need a chewie to help with oral issues? Are they crying because they’ve been through this routine hundreds, if not, thousands of times and are tired of it because it’s hard?

Watch your child closely, watch their eyes, listen to their sounds, watch their body language to find answers to these questions.

When you find the “why” it will be a beautiful present you can unwrap. Autism is so complex, but so amazing.

look at your child's abilites
Lia*, the Developmental Interventionist who came to our home to do therapy for a few years taught me so much about this. She really looked at the “why,” and although she’d been trained in ABA, she knew how to modify it to fit Autistic children. She was amazing. One day I called her, in desperate need of advice. Jeremiah had been standing on the t.v. stand, table, counter, and on the back of the couch. I couldn’t keep him down, consistency wasn’t working.

Lia, knowing Jeremiah has Sensory Processing Disorder said, “He’s probably looking for a higher perspective. He likes what he sees when he’s up there. Put him on something high that he CAN stand on, take him outside to the top of your play set.”

I was so relieved. Could this really be the answer? I have back problems and lifting a strong five-year-old down from up high was really wearing me out, plus that’s not what I wanted to do all day. I tried it, and after being consistent with it for a few days, he stopped climbing on furniture he wasn’t allowed on.

Other Autism parents can give us great perspectives too, depending on which ones we listen to. I was talking with one of those Autism parents the other day and she mentioned that they teach their son in the way he learns. Her son learns through music, so they use it to teach colors, shapes, etc. She said he sang words before he talked. I love it.

Then I thought about how Jeremiah learns, and that is through sensory. We found this out through working with Lia. Yeah, she’s done wonders for us and Jeremiah!

Everything we can possibly teach him with sensory, we do. Meaning, when we asked him not to touch the t.v., we put our hand on his and removed it gently, while saying, “Hands off.” We used hand-over-hand when putting puzzle pieces in their places. We used hand-over-hand while telling him to put his snack back in his cup. When teaching Jeremiah how to swing, I put his legs back, while saying, “back,” and moved them forward when saying, “forward.” (While using hand-over-hand, if he resisted, we let go after a count of two or three, it wasn’t done forcibly.)

I can’t tell you what a difference it’s made hearing Autistic adult’s perspectives, having a therapist that saw who my child is and what he needed, and not looking at my son’s disability, but what his abilities are and how I can help him best. It’s taken some really amazing teachers, and I have a long ways to go, but I’m eternally grateful.

I received a comment the other day on Twitter from a mom that was upset by another post I wrote. She said in part, “My verbal son doesn’t love Autism.” I’m really saddened by this. Sure, there are bad days with Autism, but aren’t there for all of us? For the most part my son is happy, and I don’t feel he would be that way if I was more negative. When I’m negative, he’s definitely not as happy. I’m a large determiner of how my son feels about himself.

Here’s a great quote from Jess at Diary of a Mom,

“And it’s funny really (in a not funny at all kind of way) that we talk so much about the inflexibility, the rigidity of those on the autism spectrum when really, isn’t it US, the so-called neurotypical population, who are stuck in this frightfully narrow rut of perception? Isn’t it us who insist that Autistics conform to our version of… well, everything? Isn’t it us who are really so rigid in our thinking as to be capable of believing that other ways of processing, thinking, communicating, experiencing are wholly invalid? That’s pretty remarkable (and, in its practical application, horrifying) stuff, isn’t it?”

I’ve written two other posts on ABA, My Thoughts on Applied Behavior Analysis, and More Perspectives on Applied Behavior Analysis.

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3 responses to “look for the “why” – Autism & ABA therapy

  1. I am autistic and against normalization. It’s like telling a cat not to scratch when you can just provide a scratching post or making a flutist hold their instrument inline when the flute is a transverse instrument.

  2. Dr Kathleen Levinstein

    Lovas also was curing gayness with ABA before he unleashed it on the Autism community- (we all know how well that went) ..

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