How to Teach ABA Without Making Your Child a Robot

His life was a routine. His life was a schedule. His life stepped. His day-to-day life was chronological. We evolve into the militant enforcers of a strict routine, a strict schedule, the strict followers of chronological order, and we do not delve from that line.

How to Teach ABA Without Making Your Child a Robot https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/teach-without-making-child-robot/

Yet, in the physics of constant movement, in the physics of constant applied behavior analysis (ABA), how much was he going through life enjoying his routine—his schedule—his steps—the life of chronological pieces of a puzzle? When ABA poses as a critically important way of educating our children with autism—does it steal our children away from the enjoyment of a moment?

It was the first year he seemed to get it. The concept of a birthday finally just seemed to click. The focus is on him, a cake, a party, friends, and presents. It was a pure joy in his family’s eyes that a moment was happening to him, and he understood it. When the time rolled around to unwrap the presents, he turned into a beautiful, pristine example of ABA therapy- it was perfect, except it wasn’t…at all.

He was textbook ABA, complete perfection. He opened his gifts exactly as every typical human being did. He would have scored very high in the category of following steps, but that is all he did. He unwrapped his gift, hardly looked at it, moved onto the next, hardly looked at it….and at the end, he celebrated and looked for positive enforcement because he did exactly what he was supposed to do.

Enjoying the actual gifts were forgotten, it was lost because we as militant enforcers robotically created him that way. We ultimately forget that a human should feel, they should enjoy, they should be enthusiastic—we ultimately forget that we should not withdraw our children with autism away from who they are.


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The art, and it is an art, of stimming to many is a behavior we try to abort the minute we notice an onset. Yet stimming is a reaction to a feeling…and they too like every typical individual should be allowed to feel. Every behavior the strays from the line of “typical,” is not wrong or negative. The problem and the resolution sit in the same breath; they are those militant enforcers—it is us.

Everything in life is the result of a great love or the lack of it. The instant we become parents the way we once knew the concept of love changes. We become baptized with the ability of “great love” when we become parents. It is an unending love and love that is determined and unstoppable.

When it is that you become a parent and you have a great love for something you created, you will do anything for your child. Yet a strict ABA is not always the best for our children; they too deserve the ability to feel. They deserve the opportunity not to have to be like everyone else, and the opportunity to be a child with autism is okay.

We have all felt the overwhelming feeling of drowning in one thing or another. Getting ourselves stuck in a cyclical pattern where we become numb to everything going on around us or inside of us. Then one day we wake up. Then one day we stop, we smell the roses. We see who we have become.

We see what we’ve missed while we were drowning in our central vision, and we open our eyes. That feeling of drowning and training central vision thinkers is what it is like for our children when we constantly force ABA as the bible of their lives our constant goal is to be the same as an ever-changing—ever different- typical person. Without knowing it, we easily can mold our children into robots instead of people. The unintentional aftermath of great love.

What is it that we want for our children with autism? From the minute they are born we choose their paths and their dreams. We create a mental picture of who WE want THEM to be. It is true; we may have to prompt them through tasks in life. Yet what if we prompt them to feel and to love in a way that humanity hardly receives.

For with someone who is as pure as heart as a child with Autism, they easily soften even the hardest of hearts…and we quiet that quality in them.  It is imperative out of great love, to not allow our children to be stuck drowning as a central vision thinker. It is up to us to prompt our children to stop and smell the roses and slow down on their journey through the only life they get.

We must allow a child with Autism to feel all their events in every portion of their lives, and not just routine their way through life….because that is the perspective humanity thinks they should be. Persons will be remembered in life as a good and loving, who knew joy, felt emotions, gave love, and who touched lives by being in the room—more than one who takes three prompts finish a task. Your child’s legacy does not need to be a robot; it needs to be human.

This article was featured in Issue 88 – Knowledge is Power

Maria Rohan

Maria Rohan RN, BSN 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 opportunity 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 movement.

  • Avatar Mickey Keenan says:

    You might find it interesting to view this take on Nuturing children.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfDRf2tHCyU&feature=youtu.be

    It was created by two behaviour analysts.

  • Avatar Ann Onymous says:

    It’s a great thing that Behavior Analysts follow an ethical code which accommodates for Informed Consent. This consent includes the mutual collaboration between caregiver and analyst to direct the course of treatment. If your son was behaving like a robot on his birthday, it’s because you instructed and/or agreed with the Analyst to form a plan to reduce stereotopy and increase compliance. The Behavior Analyst isn’t some mad scientist building robots out of people’s children. Goals of treatment are derived from the individuals themselves and the ones who requested treatment in the first place, the caregivers. A “pristine example of ABA” does not solely rest on 100% compliance. Analysts have targeted laughter, empathy, expressing various emotions, etc. as well and this article doesn’t reflect that. Please become more informed.

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