Tuesday, 30 September 2014

How ABA Is Helping Gabriel

I'll admit it - the following three letters used to make me cringe : ABA 

What is ABA?    

The scientific definition is : Applied Behaviour Analysis is defined as the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviours to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement of behaviour.

In other words - it is a method of teaching, using scientific principles.

Typically developing children learn from observing their environment.  It is as if they are born with a blueprint for synaptic connections to form in their little brains, making sense of what they see, taste, smell, hear and feel so much easier.

Children with autism don't have this luxury.  They have to learn in a completely different way.  

Here's the analogy I am going to use to explain how I think they learn :

Someone you know has experienced a stroke.  This stroke has caused disruptions (or damage) within their brain.  They can speak (in their mind) and cannot understand why when they try to lift their arm up, nothing happens.  

Rehabilitation starts soon after.  They have to relearn how to do the most basic tasks, such as brushing their teeth.  How do they learn?  The task is broken down into small steps and repeated, over and over.  This forms new synaptic connections, often in different areas of the brain.  And slowly, over time, they relearn (or learn) how to do many tasks.

ABA, in the broadest sense, basically works on the same principle as Rehabilitation.

So why did I used to cringe?  Well, G-Dad and I once visited a special needs school that applied this method of teaching.  After seeing a child, secured in a tiny booth in front of his tutor, for hours on end, being forced to learn what THEY wanted him to learn, we left quite traumatised.   We didn't want that for Gabriel.

So we compromised.  Instead of 5 hours of ABA a day, we chose to have 2 (our goal is 3). Instead of in a rigid environment, we chose our home, with the freedom to divert from the program for short intervals.  

I often feel sorry for Gabriel's ABA therapist as I constantly challenge and question EVERYTHING. Why do we have to do it this way?  Wouldn't it be better if we did less? I want him to be able to generalise, wouldn't such-and-such prevent this? We want to teach Gabriel how to think not what to think etc.  

It isn't just the ABA program but who is teaching him the program that matters alot too.  Enter G-Mary Poppins.  I cannot sing her praises enough!  She reads Gabriel so well and knows when to push and when to back off.  She makes learning fun for him, which is of the utmost importance.  If Gabriel is motivated, he partakes and learns.  And he is learning.  It is magical to watch.  

ABA does not work for every child on the Spectrum.  But it has been shown to be the most successful teaching method, so far.  Some kids will be on the program throughout their learning years and others only need it for a short period of time.

So for now we wait, patiently, to see what the future holds in store.  We'll keep you posted ;).

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