It was when Henry was 4 years old that we got the medical diagnosis of autism. It wasn’t so much a shock as it was an overwhelming wave. We began O.T., integration therapy and speech therapy almost immediately and we started looking at his preschool to screen for an educational diagnosis. I tried to read as much as I could about autism therapies, attended conferences and workshops. There are a lot of “therapies” out there. I knew that beginning a therapy program earlier rather than later was important. I also knew in my gut that whatever route we chose it would be essential that it fit with Henry’s personality and learning style. Also, realistically, it was going to have to fit in with our families lifestyle and personalities as well. If we couldn’t have the consistency at home as in a therapy setting, over the long haul, and as we all know, this haul is LONG, what good would it do? A few seemed they could be quite helpful. Many had that “too good to be true” feeling about them. And still others had “sham” written all over it. In the small print, between the lines…in invisible ink. I was trying my best to educate myself so that we could make an informed, intelligent decision on what might best help Henry. It was terrifying.
Our pediatrician, who diagnosed Henry, encouraged us to call a local autism non-profit organization for help with programs, additional resources, therapies, etc. (And, yes, it was our general pediatrician that worked with us. We do not have a neurologist, or a behavioral pediatrician, or a psychologist. We just have our amazing general pediatrician and for that we will be forever grateful to him!) It took me a year to make the call but finally, this is how we found the ABA program that changed our lives!
Yes, applied behavior analysis (ABA). It POSITIVELY changed our lives.
Applied behavior analysis is defined as “the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.”
What I loved about our experience with ABA was that it “merged group instruction with guided observation, one-on-one sessions with the client and coaching of the parent or other caregiver. Parent training was not just about teaching skills to the child, but teaching us parent how to best understand the child and the nature of their disability.” (learn more about Easter Seals Midwest and their programs here. ) I got to practice what we were learning right along with my son. Together! For two weeks my husband and I were coached, supported, and encouraged by our certified trainers. It truly was a mindfulness-based parenting approach in an ADAPT (Active Discovery and Participation through Technology) type model.
I learned to really see my son and learned how he processed things. Our communication was immediately improved. This program taught us HOW best to communicate with Henry and in turn, he learned how to communicate with us! Easter Seals Midwest’s program most certainly went beyond discrete trial teaching! (learn more about ABA and discrete trial teaching here.) Once we were able to communicate, Henry’s world began to open up to us and our world opened to him! It was, and still is, hard work. It takes continual practice but with this we’ve been able to slowly generalize these skills into everyday settings.
We are almost 5 years out from our initial 2-week parent training. Henry has been in mainstream school since Kindergarten and is going into 4th grade in the fall. Henry has autism. He will always have autism. That’s a part of who he is and we never want to change him into someone he is not. What we want for him is to be the very best Henry he can be. As he grows up, there will always be new challenges, new anxieties, new difficulties in his path. Because of what all three of us learned in parent training, Henry is not just aware of his feelings but can identify them and verbalize them. He has acquired wonderful coping and communication skills, all which continue to evolve. He is able to adapt and generalize these skills into his every day life and learning. He is happy. He is healthy. And he has very proud parents that are positive of his success!
ABA and positive parenting~it truly is what’s inside the program and inside us that makes all the difference.