his guest post was written by Shirley Nutt whose son, Wyatt, was diagnosed at age 5. Wyatt was treated by our FirstPath Autism Founder, Romey Kiryakous and her team at the Genesis Behavior Center.
My son was five years old when diagnosed. We had no idea what to do but I was bound and determined to find out. I learned very quickly that most people’s advice filtered through their own agendas. It was at a support group meeting for parents of children with autism that my husband and I met Romey at FirstPath Autism.
At the time, I had never heard of things like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA Therapy) and Theory of Mind (TOM).
All I knew was that my child was kicked out of numerous preschools and now the school district was talking about institutionalization and my son was only five years old. We had tried everything: time-outs, spanking, ignoring the behavior, reward systems, sports, etc, etc, etc. Nothing worked. After learning about ABA Therapy and TOM, we knew it was something we needed to learn about and try.
I remember those early days…
…learning what an extinction burst is, using ABA Therapy and following through no matter how difficult it was and then crying privately because it was painful to administer the medicine of ABA. I remember thinking about parents of children with cancer and how painful it must be to watch them suffer through chemotherapy treatments and then I realized that ABA is to autism as chemo is to cancer….and that helped give me strength to get through the tough spots.
My son was minimally-verbal back then. He talked but not conversationally. He would talk about things HE wanted to talk about and only to convey information. I remember after a few months of ABA, driving with my son in the backseat, and I would always try to have a conversation but it was always one-sided. On this particular day, my son responded back to me and before I knew it, we had about five or six exchanges. We had an actual conversation for the very first time! Thank goodness I was wearing sunglasses to hide my tears!
My son is now 16 years old and a senior in high school. He has a driver’s license, a bank account and a job. He attends college courses as part of his high school curriculum studying computer graphics. He has NO aggressive behaviors, is sweet, soft-spoken, independent, reliable and can make eggs better than I can. This would not have been possible without ABA.
ABA taught us that behaviors are a form of communication.
ABA taught us to analyze inappropriate behaviors to find the reason for the behavior and then teach a replacement behavior that serves the same function. In the early days, my son would go up to a group of kids on the playground and hit someone. After applying the principles of ABA, we discovered that he merely wanted to engage in play but had no idea how to do that.
This is also where Theory of Mind comes in. You see, we know what happy, sad, proud, and embarrassed feel like but a child with autism has difficulty labeling these behaviors and then making the connection on how to behave properly. A child may have a complete meltdownbecause a tag on their clothing is annoying them but they don’t know how to communicate this so everyone just sees a kid having a meltdown. ABA teaches you how to determine WHY the behavior is occurring and then how to teach a replacement behavior (ie signing that something is itching, telling you something is itching, etc).
There have been some interesting side effects of learning ABA.
Using ABA reinforcement at home means we are able to be better parents to our other teenage son. We have a stronger marriage because we can look past an undesirable behavior and gain better understanding for each other, and I have even used it in my career to manage my employees.
Learning ABA is not the tricky part. ABA reinforcement on a consistent basis is the tricky part. Studies have shown that using ABA on a consistent basis has a well over 90% success rate (Lovaas). I’m pretty sure that if there was a pediatric cancer treatment with that high of a success rate, parents would be begging to be a part of it. Here’s your chance to be strong for your child. Use your love for your child to administer the medicine of ABA. I promise you that you will not regret it!