ABA: Why Do It? A Therapist’s Perspective

I always tell people how much I LOVE what I do. And I. DO. But just like any job, there are some really rough days. I have just recently started with a new company & it has been quite an adjustment. New clients, new coworkers. But one thing that stays the same is the therapy that is given. I’m gonna shine a little bit of light on what I do & the amazing outcomes & benefits I have witnessed first hand.

“I LOVE what I do”

ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is basically is a therapeutic intervention mainly used with those who have special needs. But the amazing thing about it is that it can be used with literally anyone. More specifically though, it has shown substantial improvement with children who have autism. I have seen it firsthand. I have worked with children & adults ages 3 to 21. Not one person is the same. Autism is such a complex thing. There are so many different behaviors & delays that you would never even think of. That’s where myself & my supervisors step in.

The supervisors, or BCBAs,  on each case [child] create the programs and targets that need improvement basically. The therapist, that’s me, applies those programs & hits those targets during each session with the client. Let me emphasize the importance of this program by saying that EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY. Red flags start to show their color early on in life- as early as the first year of life. Kiddos can be placed in ABA programs as early as 18 months old. The biggest sign that is the most prominent is regression. Parents will say that their child was hitting all of their developmental milestones- crawling, babbling, even talking in 2-3 word sentences. Then all of the sudden they start to lose those skills. Their child will stop making eye contact, seem disengaged, & participate in repetitive movements or sounds. Or others may display some serious social deficits- not picking up on basic social cues, laughing out of context, or making inappropriate comments that don’t fit the current situation. Like I said before, every kiddo is different. To make the diagnosing process a little easier there are very descriptive guidelines & criteria a child must meet in order to receive the diagnosis of autism.

“EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY”

I do not have any personal ties with autism. Which might seem a little weird. I feel that most people I come into contact with in my line of work have some sort of common ground with it. Which inspired them to get more involved with special needs. I’ll save my story of how I became a therapist for another time, but for now I’ll just tell you that it is truly my passion. I become so invested in my clients’ success & watching that “click’ happen is a miraculous thing, y’all. I can’t even begin to explain it to you. I have been an ABA therapist for about 1 year and 9 months now, & here are the three most important things about ABA I can pass along to you.

No. 1 It’s Effective

Now, I’m not going to give you stats [which are pretty high btw], but I will share with you what I have witnessed with this program. At the first center I worked at, I was placed on the case of an adorable little 3 year old. She was mostly nonverbal, meaning she didn’t use words or many sounds to communicate. I started with her after she had been with us for about 6 months or so. I watched her go from making some letter sounds to saying full words requesting things she wanted & random objects around her. It was so awesome! All because of the intensive ABA therapy she was receiving.

No. 2 It’s Positive

This is a HUGE one. the biggest thing that is drilled into our heads & what we are taught in our training is the power of positive & negative reinforcement. I know, I know. “Negative” doesn’t sound positive. But it can be! Sorry, don’t mean to confuse you…let me explain. Positive reinforcement is exactly what it sounds like. Giving a child, or adult, vocal praise or some type of preferred item in order to increase a behavior. Essentially, you’re adding some type of stimulus in order ensure that behavior will happen again in the future. Negative reinforcement would be like washing your hands then drying them off. The action of drying your hands off results in the water being gone, thus increasing the likelihood of you drying your hands off in the future. These types of reinforcements are engraved into every lesson, target, & behavior we come across on a day to day basis. Imagine if you made your hubby his favorite dinner. He got home & was SO happy. He gave you a big smooch & said, “Thank you babe, you’re the best!” Would you be more likely to surprise him with his favorite meal again in the future? Well yeah, most likely.

That’s what I do. Even if it’s the tiniest of goals. Like saying “b” for “ball”. Every time that kiddo reaches for a ball & says “b” you better believe I’m giving them that ball. And providing praise at the same time. “Great job asking for ball!” Then eventually that goal will be shaped into what the client can do. “Ba”, “Ball”, etc. I keep saying this, but y’all it’s amazing to watch these kids grow and see how powerful the impact of positive reinforcement can be! The overall goal is to improve their quality of life by helping mold basic & more complex life skills.

No. 3 It’s Flexible

There is no black & white when it comes to ABA. At least not in my eyes. Any kind of goal can be created for every kiddo. I had an older client who was really into anime, so there were targets created based on anime characters she liked that could also represent her emotional state. It was reinforcing to her & it was a functional way to help her communicate how she was feeling at any given time. You have to be really creative sometimes in this line of work. Actually, a lot of the time. If you make it too structured or too loose, it can be really hard to find what is motivating for that specific client.

So…why do it?

As a therapist we see a lot of these kiddos/adults. Most clients attend ABA 20-40 hours a week. For instance I only have two clients at the moment but I see them 6 hours a day. That’s 12-18 hours with just me. That’s what I love about this job. We get to really build rapport with our clients. Which is the base of all successful outcomes. If you don’t have a strong connection with your client, it’s very hard to have them comply with demands you place on them or to just have fun with them in general.

I work with a lot of challenging behaviors on a daily basis. Tantrums. Aggression- biting, hitting, kicking, scratching, pushing. Spitting. Elopement (running away). Stereotypes (repetitive behaviors). Noncompliance (big one!!). And self-injurious behaviors. Among many, many others. It would take me forever to list them all. But these are the most common I see. When I explain this to others they kinda give me the look like, “Why the heck do you put up with that?” and it’s simple really….because I just love what I do.  Yeah one minute my client may be pushing me in order to obtain a certain item they want, but then, after redirection & many times of practicing, they finally use their words to ask for it. Sounds silly & something that everyone should know how to do. But those with autism don’t know how to regulate their emotions properly. They don’t know how to express their needs in words most of the time. They may need to use an electronic device that talks for them because they just simply can’t get the sounds to come out [another reason why early intervention is essential].

“It challenges me & makes me stronger”

It’s a hard job. I come home, just after 6 hours of working & get back to it with my own little toddlers. My feet hurt. I can feel my arm starting to bruise from my client who got a little too frustrated & I was the closest person to them. I’m tired from waking up before the sun rose because there’s no way I’m going to the gym AFTER work. I’m hungry because I didn’t get to finish my lunch due to having to give my full 110% attention to my client to make sure they ate their food & stayed at the table. Please don’t misconstrue this as complaining, I’m just giving you a small glance into the life of an ABA therapist.

It’s difficult. It’s tiring. It challenges me & makes me stronger. And it’s so rewarding.

As always, God bless †

Brittany

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