Saturday, May 10, 2008
After I got the diet and biomedical underway, I started researching ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). I have a degree in education and thought that maybe I would be able to do this sort of teaching on my own. There were no schools in the area at the time that specialized in autism or ABA and I knew time was critical. Connor had started coming out of his "fog" of autism and was learning faster and easier than before. The only problem (not that there was only one) was that I couldn't find any books that taught moms how to teach ABA! I knew it couldn't be rocket science, and I thought of my self as a capable person, but I couldn't find anything to teach me step by step how to use the principles of ABA.
I don't know how well I can describe ABA. I read a lot of books by moms who said that it was the only teaching method that worked for their kids. I also read the statistics that showed of all the teaching methods for autistics, ABA was the only one with real data on recovery. I read a lot about other methods too, but I didn't see any concrete stats on success stories. I went with my gut and focused on ABA.
After talking to other moms, and doing as much research as a could, I decided to hire a consultant to train me and to run my program. For those of you calculating the costs up to this point, I know, it is crazy how expensive everything is! I got the name of a certified BCBA (board certified behavior analysis). She came out to the house and met with Connor and me. She brought data sheets and books I could read to understand what I was about to do. She explained to me how I would do everything hand over hand at first, ten or so times to get him to understand what I was asking of him. I would put him on my lap and hold his hand and ask him to point to a cat on a sheet of paper with animal's pictures on it. I would say, "Point to the cat" and then I would make his hand point to the cat. I would repeat that many times. Then I would ask him, "Connor, point to the cat" and wait a couple of seconds to see if he could do it by himself. If after just a few seconds he couldn't point to the cat, I would hold his hand and make it point to the cat. If he could do it, I would tickle and hug and kiss him saying what a good job he did. He loved the praise! He worked really hard for me to say "Good Job!". Some kids require food or a toy as a reward, but Connor never did. Praise was enough for him.
Imagine having to teach a child everything in this way. It is impossible to understand how much a typical child learns by watching and listening to other people. Since Connor couldn't do that, everything had to be taught "hand over hand".
Not long into this process I realized I couldn't do this by myself. I had just had another baby and needed to pay attention and take care of him as much as his brother. My parents were wonderful enough to offer to pay for a girl to come out and help teach Connor ABA. Where do I find such a person? They didn't have people on lists looking to do ABA any where that I knew. I started calling the local colleges and asking the education department for suggestions from any of their students. It took months of calling and emailing before I finally got a girl who was interested. Soon after starting to work with Connor, she came to me and said it was too much. Connor was aggressive and sometimes violent with his OCD (obsessive compulsive behavior) and would scream for an hour after something triggered it, which could have been her turning on the light. She told me she wouldn't be coming back the next day. I thought I was going to explode. Little did I know that everything happens for a reason. The next parent support group meeting I went to I got the name and number of a girl who was interested in working with autistic kids. She worked with some of the moms in my support group. The moment I met her, I knew it was going to work.
Now that I had an amazing person working with Connor, I could relax a little. I still had the BCBA coming to the house to give us our topics to teach and to do some more training. She taught us how to "break" Connor of some of his OCDs by just letting them happen and not letting him get his way. Of course that is easier said than done. Sometimes it was just easier to work around something. We soon realized though that the longer we allowed an OCD, the harder it was to break. In those days, we couldn't flush our own toilet or turn the TV or lights on. Connor was the only one who could do those things.
We still do ABA with Connor but it isn't as structured, it is just how we teach him. When Connor started public school, we had to bring in a BCBA to train his teachers how to teach him. School is a difficult place for Connor sometimes because of the inherent lack of structure. Connor still thinks in black and white, right and wrong. He is learning how peers feel and about subtle things like body language.
A good link for books on ABA. http://www.piecesofthepuzzle.com/recommended-books-about-autism-aba.aspx