ABA therapy is a term that we in the Autism community refer to often. Why? Because research shows that it can be one of the most effective ways to treat autism. Is it a cure all? Nope. Is it easy? If I had to chose between doing thirty hours of back labor again or doing two years of ABA therapy, I would do the labor without painkillers. . . with triplets. (PS: The epidural I received after 18.5 hours of labor – did not work!!! But that’s another story.)
As I mentioned before, we have ABA therapy in our home four afternoons a week. My son did not come equipped naturally with the ability to regulate his emotions so when he found himself unable to make friends at daycare and felt bad about it, he threw chairs instead of saying, “Hey, would someone like to play with me?” ABA therapy teaches him to recognize his emotions and cope with them in a healthy way. For example, they taught him to count to ten in Spanish when he’s frustrated. When he mastered that basic skill, he graduated to coming up with a plan B for when he doesn’t get what he wants (versus telling Mommy he’s going to kill her over not getting Pikachu). He’s made progress and there are huge improvements over where he was at when he was four-years-old, but there are still days when I cry because the process is just so damn hard especially when things are not going well for me personally.
The holidays are not a good time. It’s a reminder that I have no parents to go home to and no significant other to kiss under the mistletoe. Today, I came home feeling overwhelmed by being alone so I set out to make Great Aunt Barbara’s chocolate peanut butter balls. I never make this candy because it’s like eating crack (there’s a pound of powdered sugar) and it’s a messy process. In preparation for the arrival of my son’s therapist, I opened the front door just as she pulled up and told my son not to shut the door on her (which he continuously keeps doing to his therapists). While my hands were covered in chocolate, my precious boy jumped up from the couch and ran to the door where he locked his therapist out. (I’m positive that whoever invented profanity had children. Seriously.) He refused to let her in so I had to wash my hands and pry him away from the door so she could get in.
And here’s where we get to the hard part.
As a consequence for his behavior, he had to go sit on his bed until he calmed down. This did not happen easily. He cried and begged for Mommy. It hurts me when he cries and even when I know it’s coming, it’s so difficult not to put a stop to therapy and hug him. But I didn’t. Because one of us has to hold this ship together. After ten minutes of struggling and crying, his therapist got him on his bed for his calm down session. Once that was done for the predetermined length of time, he had to do three tasks to make up for his behavior.
I coped with this situation by turning up Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas and doing the awkward white girl dance in the kitchen.
The toughest part of ABA therapy, is letting the therapists do their job. There have been times where my son raged for an entire two hours and I wasn’t allowed to comfort him. I had to follow the plan so we reinforced good behavior (with treats or preferred activities) and ignored the bad behavior to extinction. My son’s longest tantrum to-date is 4.5 hours. I’m not from a culture that breaks easily. The more he pushed for what he wanted that day, the more I dug in and refused to be broken.
And that’s what you have to do in order for ABA therapy to be effective.
Is it worth the time, money, and expense of my sanity? I think so. But truthfully, only time will tell if I chose the best course of treatment for my son.
Fingers crossed science doesn’t let me down.