He began to flap as the speech therapist cleaned the room dry of anything that would distract the little boy. Then she began her session, today’s lesson: pronouns. She began to struggle. She showed him stick figures pointing to themselves and pointing to other people. “My redshirt,” she repeated to him. He stared at her, no response.
When she repeated a question he clinched his teeth and his eyes wandered, scaling the room trying to find something else to pay attention to. Autism, or just straight boredom? Bad day, that’s what the speech therapist considered the session.
A worried mother puts more and more weight on her shoulders as she worries about her son’s autism the whole way home. She gets home, grabs his favorite toys and begins the underestimated therapy- parental Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). She slips a red shirt on a dinosaur and a blue shirt on a girl Barbie doll.
She has him work for his favorite truck. She questions the boy, his answer: “His shirt is red. Her shirt is blue.” A sigh of relief melts off her shoulders. Her son knows his pronouns, the speech therapist just doesn’t know her son.
According to a study, 42% of children like blue, 14% like purple, 14% like green, 8% red, 7% black, 5% orange, and 3% yellow. What does this prove, that children know what they like, even children with autism? Any child, disability or not, will be more motivated and attracted to learn when presented a lesson with things they like.
Our best teachers for our children are the ones that love them and know them the best, their parents. A 32-year-old man with autism preaches the Snowflake Phenomenon when it comes to his autism and others, people with autism are all like snowflakes, the same but built very differently. As professionals, we need to mold to the “very differently.”
ABA has been the most effective therapy for children with autism to date. We can easily get lost in a very structured ABA curriculum but let’s forget no child is the same. We are teaching a diagnosis to an extent, but we are always teaching a human being. So what happens when a child with autism does not abide by the structure within a set of curriculum guidelines? We chalk it up as a bad day? Sometimes it is not that our child does not get what we are teaching, sometimes he or she is truly exhausted and, if anything, bored. A full-time work week for an adult is 40 hours.
A recommended amount of therapy per week for a child with autism is 40 hours. An adult is tired after a 40 hour work week, imagine being three years old. Every child has a bad day. A child with autism may have a diagnosable body, but he or she also has a heart and a soul that does not and cannot have a diagnosis. A curriculum does not have a heart that beats or a soul that beams. We should pay attention to the living creature more when we hit a brick wall, like every other child, they know what they like. Effective ABA is when we add a parental touch to it, no one knows a child better than a parent, and no one enjoys learning unless it is something they want to learn about.
It’s when ABA and a child’s interests collide that a child learns, hence why the best ABA teaching and learning can be found in the home. We search for “the best” therapists for our children in the world of a strict structured ABA, but in our search, look for the therapists that are more like us — the people that love them the most. Because the best kind of ABA is parental ABA.
Maria Rohan is a registered nurse at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Outside of the nursing field, Maria has dedicated her life to working with children with disabilities, trying to give the most opportunities possible. Having worked with children with autism for 10 years and having the autism diagnosis in her family, Maria writes interactive workbooks for children with autism molding each workbook to their musical voice pattern, attention span, and their likes. She currently sits on the PTO of STEPS Center for Excellence in Autism and continues to let her love for the children plant seeds of a movement.
This article was featured in Issue 54 – Surviving Family Challenges