What if I told you that my first time learning about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was in college? It wasn't even my freshman year, it was more towards the end of my college career. There was ONE paragraph about Autism in my Psychopathology and Childhood class. That was back in 2008-2010. ONE PARAGRAPH! The paragraph didn't even mention Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
My first job out of college in 2010 was as a behavior therapist at a clinic in San Antonio. I immediately fell in love with the job and all of the kiddos! I received extensive training as I had no clue what I was doing the first couple of months. I was pretty terrible, I'll admit. I was able to improve and I did with the help of the two BCBA's (Heeeey, Gia & Sarah) who were brilliant. They still are. They taught me so much and sparked a passion for my career. Forever grateful for that opportunity.
It wasn't until I moved back to Houston that I quickly learned there are different types of ABA and different teaching styles. ABA has evolved so much since I started and it continues to evolve. I learned the most about ABA by working under an awesome BCBA, Lauren! Although we have very different teaching styles, our goals for the kiddos are the same. We want anyone we provide therapy for to be as independent as possible and IT IS POSSIBLE.
I have heard and read so much backlash about ABA from disappointed parents but I always tell those parents, "your child experienced the wrong kind of ABA". One thing I hear a lot is that ABA teaches those with ASD to be robots but the right kind of ABA will teach critical thinking skills and life skills. ABA is not about sitting a kid down in a chair ALL day and making them memorize a bunch of irrelevant things. I'll dig further into what it is below.
I became licensed and certified as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) last year after taking a break from ABA and then coming back to it. It's been a long process but I made it! Whenever I'm asked what I do, I have to go into this looong explanation because no one ever knows what a BCBA is or what ABA is. I always get the question, "So, are you analyzing me right now?". Most times I politely say "no" but in reality, it's hard to ignore people's behavior. Most times if I hang around someone long enough I have pinpointed three of their most excessive behaviors and the function of those behaviors. LOL. They aren't always negative either. I'll explain more about BCBA's and what they do on another post because that last statement probably went over a lot of my reader's heads.
So what in the world is Autism?
- first thing to know is that it is a DISORDER, not a disease. There is no "cure" for the disorder but with intensive treatment outcomes improve for many diagnosed with Autism.
- It is a spectrum disorder meaning that those diagnosed with Autism may range from having a little bit of skills (or no skills) to having a variety of skills. Meeting one person with Autism does not mean that another person you meet with Autism will be the same or have the same skill set. Something I always hear is, "Autistic people can memorize things and are like genius', right?". I cringe hearing the word, "Autistic"! Again, just because you heard that one person memorizes entire skylines and then draws them by memory doesn't mean that all people diagnosed with Autism can do that.
- Many of those diagnosed with Autism have challenges with speech, communication, social skills, play skills, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, etc.
- Factors including but not limited to sensory sensitivities, sleep disorders, GI disorders anxiety and depression may affect those diagnosed with Autism.
- Click here to learn about the symptoms of Autism
What in the world is ABA?
Here are the basics:
- It is the ONLY evidence-based treatment for Autism (Larsson, 2008)
- ABA is therapy based on the science of behavior and learning. Yes, it's a science!!
- ABA therapy works to increase behaviors such as attention, language, memory and even academic skills.
- ABA therapy seeks to reduce problem behaviors (e.g. talking out of turn, spitting, cursing, eloping, you name it!)
- Positive reinforcement is one of the main focuses of ABA! I repeat, POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. If you're looking for an ABA provider, that should be one of the main focuses of your child's therapy.
- ABA is individualized treatment. Meaning, it is tailored specifically for the individual receiving the therapy.
-ABA is intensive the first couple of years (30-40 hours a week!)
There is so so so so much more to ABA but I tried to just highlight the basics. If you still have no clue what I talked about or just want to learn more I have listed some resources below.
If you are looking for an ABA provider in Houston check out Applied Behavior Learning Center and schedule a tour!
Cooper, John O., Heron, Timothy E.Heward, William L.. (2007) Applied behavior analysis /Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Pearson/Merrill-Prentice Hall,
Larsson, E. V., Ph.D., L.P., B.C.B.A. (2008). Intensive Early Intervention using Behavior Therapy is the Single Most Widely Accepted Treatment for Autism. It is No Longer to be Considered either an Experimental or an Investigative Treatment. In fact, it is the only evidence-based treatment available for autism. Retrieved from http://www.wncbest.org/fileadmin/user_upload/ieibt-Lovaas.pdf