We have been patiently waiting to start ABA for months now, which will consist of 15-20 hours a week intensive therapy (in our home). While they (Basics NW) are in the process of training a person for Dawson’s time slot, we have begun the introductory phase with Ellen. She is my go-to girl for any questions regarding the entire ABA process and she is amazing. She has been coming to our house once a week for about a couple months. Ellen is here for 1.5 hours and shows us how ABA works so we can get prepared for what is to come.
The first few appointments were mostly just talk about what to expect as well as some homework for myself. I was given a couple videos specific to what our lives will soon become. I read every paper and watched (and also re-watched) the videos. I study, I research and I learn everything I can about something before diving in head first…especially when it comes to autism. It’s a entire world with so many unknowns, so when an opportunity arises with cold hard facts, I listen up.
ABA has been shown to do nothing but good for people with autism. It’s VERY repetitive and can be overwhelming. It requires a lot from the family, much more than I was anticipating. I’m not complaining, just a little surprised by just how much work goes into this process (probably why it so expensive, which is why it’s so difficult to get insurance approval….which is why there is such a long wait list).
There are a lot of steps, and I was thinking about maybe recording a session for anybody who is interested in exactly what goes on in a visit? Readers digest version: Dawson will be able to use PECS (picture exchange communication system) to tell me what he wants. Sounds easy, right? How hard can it be for a 3 year old to hand a picture of what he wants to his mom? Answer: HARD. It’s actually such a process that in order to properly and effectively use PECS as an accurate form of communication, you need two people. One person is the physical prompter (who is also responsible for recording data with every single exchange) and the other is the communicative partner. Are you still with me? I told you, it’s very detailed.
So, the first two appointments were stressful. Dawson would look at a picture right next to him, while I held the object of said picture in my hand. In this scenario, it was skittles. (It HAS to be something motivating. If it’s a picture of broccoli, he won’t hand it to me. No kid asks for broccoli!!) Anyway, he couldn’t figure out that he just has to place the picture in my hand to get the object of motivation (skittles). It was extremely frustrating to see him not be able to do something so simple.
Ellen, our ABA specialist would have to physically grab Dawson’s hand, guide him to the picture, pick it up and deliver it to my hand. We did this 100 or more times (while recording data of every single exchange) and he still couldn’t get the hang of it. I didn’t get discouraged. I knew this process would take time and patience….and to be honest, I didn’t expect Dawson to be able to do anything on his own for months.
The next appointment, everything changed. He grabbed the picture and placed it in my hand. I immediately (you only have a 1/2 second time window) rewarded him with the motivator on the card…swinging him by his ankles. I set him down, he reached over and again grabbed the picture and placed in my hand. I picked him up by the ankles and swung him. I did this 77 times (remember, we have to record the data of every single exchange) in just 15 minutes. I was sweating and I was crying.
How could I have ever questioned or doubted my sons ability to want to communicate? I assumed it would take him months to comprehend the PECS. It took him just two short sessions to prove me wrong. Shame on me for letting his autism be an excuse for how intelligent he is.
We set aside therapy time every single day. ABA is just as important to our daily routine now as brushing our teeth or taking a shower. Dawson has been showing steady progress and today, Ellen informed us that we are moving on to phase 2!!! (Details to come later on phase 2).
In comparison to other kids, Dawson’s progression is slow….but in our house, we treat every single step forward as a homerun.
This process is so different from any other services (pre-k, occupational, physical and speech therapy) Dawson receives. It focuses more on repetition and reward, vs sensory input and regulation….all of which I believe to be crucial for Dawson’s success. It’s a lot, I know. Some people could argue that it might be too much for Dawson…and they could be right. But I know I won’t be the one to ever doubt his capabilities again.