As a parent who runs an autism clinic I often get the same questions from new autism parents. One of these is “Did you ever do ABA with Griffin?” So here is my best attempt at explaining our therapy history for those interested.
Over 10 years ago, we began our journey with autism and therapy treatments. At that time things were more limited than they are today, the diagnosis rate was much smaller and there wasn't a lot of options available to us. It actually took us almost two years into treatment to even get a diagnosis because the testing at the time consisted of a checklist where Griffin didn't meet enough of the criteria. Instead he was labeled as PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified), which doesn't even get used much today.
We started out like many in Oklahoma with Soonerstart from age 2-3 which helped us transition to his school program and get us in to the waiting cue to see a developmental pediatrician. We also tried two different speech and occupational therapy locations before finding our “right fit”. I was a highly involved parent and was not comfortable going somewhere that didn't have that friendly "at-home" feeling for Griffin. I was put off when therapists "felt sorry" for me as a mom or seemed focused on all the things my son wasn't doing according to their view of "normal".
I often tell parents that one of the biggest things I have learned throughout our journey is that if the caregiver (parents) are truly invested and feel comfortable with the treatment approach then they will see the biggest gains. Period. When you just take your child from place to place and never truly put in the time yourself then you only get what you put in. It wasn't a therapist or school or person who got Griffin to where he is today, it was a team ran by us, his parents. We listened and we learned and we applied to every area of his life from school to therapy to dinner time. And most importantly it was fun for him!!!
So about ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis), it is developed exactly as it is named. It is about changing behaviors. For some families this is their main goal. They need control in their therapy and they need their child's behaviors to be different. Whether that is to stop the flapping, toe walking, humming, etc and replace with something more appropriate to them or to stop meltdowns. in doing so many children succeed. This helps them function better in rigid environments, like school. Many families thrive in this program and I am happy for them. I am not one to bash anything that helps!
However, for our family and Griffin, our trail with ABA looked like this:
Our sweet boy who didn't throw fits or have major meltdowns, who followed directions but lacked words or eye contact was encouraged to sit in a chair and do repetitious activities trying to help him memorize pictures or appropriate play with a toy. If he repeated it correctly multiple times he was given his juice or a toy he wanted. Within a short duration of time Griffin began crying to attend, at home he pushed away from the chair not wanting to sit, he pushed me away when I tried to play with his toys with him, and overall I felt like he didn't like me anymore. For me, as his mom, something didn't feel right so we had to look elsewhere. (Today, I have met many ABA therapists who use a more play approach to therapy and I am grateful for that knowledge.) I wanted Griffin to want to play with me because he truly wanted to spend time with me and enjoyed my presence with him. I didn't want him to do it because it was something he had to do to get a need met. I wanted true social interaction, initiated by him.
I wasn't the type of parent who focused so much on his flapping hands or humming. I cared that other people stared at him, but I realized that was more about what I thought then what Griffin needed. That flapping and humming actually made him happy and keep him calm. Later in my years of training I repeatedly learned how those “stims” were like me playing with my hair or shaking my leg when sitting, just my stims were more socially accepted. As a society we truly are learning everyday to be more accepting of others versus wanting people to change for our own comfort. Lets hope that continues for our kids.
For Griffin, we wanted a therapy that involved us as parents. We wanted to know what we should do to truly help him become “more social”. Both of us worked full time jobs and Griffin attended school so we wanted to give every extra minute we had to being with him versus going from therapy to therapy. Our journey lead us to the Autism Treatment Center of America where we learned how to play like Griffin, in his world, versus trying to pull him into ours. Like any therapy we learned that it is not a sprint but more like a marathon, that would require as long as Griffin needed to open up more socially. Our entire team learned how to play and it took the stress of trying to CHANGE him and just enjoy our time with him. Kids on the autism spectrum feel our stress and anxiety. They feed off energy levels and react to our reactions. As a mom I wanted to give the best of me to my child at all times. This was only possible with our team of teachers, friends, family, volunteers, and therapists. I am so grateful for all of them jumping in and learning how to PLAY LIKE GRIFFIN!
As I mentioned early, it isn't about if our clinic's therapy is the best or not, the question is what therapy approach is best for your family. It should be the one that you feel that you can be a part of, you can use in your everyday life. Your child needs a world that allows them to be accepted, loved, and lets them grow socially. Most importantly find something you can dedicate some serious time to. Jumping from place to place can be counter productive to your child's program.
TO TEACH SOCIAL SKILLS YOU MUST BE SOCIAL. TO TEACH FLEXIBILITY YOU MUST BE FLEXIBLE YOURSELF.
To those families that choose to put in the time and effort into your program that works for your child... you are a rockstar parent! It doesn't always matter what it is called, it has to feel right, it has to fit, and you have to be a part of it. That is where you find that your journey can be more fun, more positive, and more beneficial to your child.
To learn more about our clinic and our therapy approach for social disorders visit www.thegriffinpromise.com