You have have heard the term “BCBA,” “ABA therapy” or “behavior analyst” floating around the autism world. If you’ve recently had a child diagnosed with autism, you may be wondering what kind of help they can get.
While there is some controversy surrounding the idea of ABA therapy (applied behavioral analysis), my belief is that this evidence based form of behavior therapy is very much needed and, when used properly, can result in positive outcomes for your child.
So let’s talk about the controversy surrounding ABA Therapy. ABA therapy is a vast field that is most commonly associated with autism. It is designed to focus on helping people with autism to acquire skills and teach adaptive behaviors. In theory, the concept is simple; use positive reinforcement to gain desired behaviors.
ABA therapy helps children on the autism spectrum to develop skills they wouldn’t naturally develop while reducing behaviors that can be harmful. Skills can be anything from potty training to going out somewhere without having a meltdown. While this sounds normal to anyone who has had a toddler in public, we aren’t talking about just toddlers. We’re talking about kids that can be taller than their parents
The controversy regarding ABA therapy is that some people think teaching a child to be something they’re not can be seen as a form of abuse. ABA therapy was founded by O. Ivar Lovaas. He was known to use electric shocks on autistic children to stop them from behaving in obsessive, repetitive ways. The thought process was that you had to take a child who was not neurotypical and make a person out of them. He thought he was saving them, but what we know today is that this type of thing is unacceptable.
ABA therapy has been compared to “gay conversion therapy” where therapists believed they could make a gay person not gay through therapy, however we know that that does long term damage to a person.
At my therapy practice and my new autism therapy center, Awetism Wonderland, we take a holistic, nurturing approach to ABA therapy. The idea isn’t to teach these kids to be someone they’re not, however like with any child, you have to teach them what behaviors are appropriate and how to deal with feelings they’re having in a positive way.
For example, if we go back to the idea of a tantrum in a grocery store, the tantrum may be brought on my being overstimulated and wanting to leave to get out of being overstimulated. ABA therapists may try to teach behaviors that help the child react to that overstimulation in a productive way, but many merely try to teach behavior that the child is forced to be complicit with rather than seeing that the child has a need.
Our approach is different. We want the best for our children and yes, sometimes that work is difficult, challenging, and even hard on them, but that’s what makes us stronger, better, and keeps us learning. Our ABA therapists teach functional ways for children with autism to express their emotions so that they are seen and heard while also reducing behavioral problems. For example, stimming (self stimulation usually in the form of repetitive movements) can come out in movements such as hand flapping, which is a way of self soothing and is harmless, but behaviors like a child repeatedly banging their heads is a behavioral problem that is harmful.
My motto is always about exploring the awe and wonder of autism because autism isn’t something to be “fixed.” It’s something to explore. It’s a way of viewing the world differently. It should be celebrated. If we can learn to see the world through their eyes, then we can see that trying to “fix” them is harmful, but helping them learn valuable skills to help them navigate through life is beneficial.
What are your thoughts on ABA therapy? Leave a comment letting me know!