Whether or not we autism grandparents are involved with our grandchildren, we should be knowledgeable about ABA therapy – autism’s most widely used and proven therapy. ABA therapy has the evidence-based “best practice” recommendation of the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association. Scientific research has confirmed the effectiveness of ABA therapy.
The number of newly-introduced “miracle therapies” for autism seems to continually increase as autism becomes more prevalent. Unproven therapies usually have three calling cards. First, they make use of amazing anecdotal stories (“My child experienced a miracle cure from autism). Second, their advertising and marketing materials are heavy on fantastic claims. And third, they site zero scientific evidence. (I just now Googled a few companies that provide ABA therapy, and none uses amazing anecdotal stories or fantastic claims.)
One way to expose an ineffective autism therapy provider is to Google the therapy company’s name accompanied by the word, “controversy.” That often leads to damaging information provided by courts, claimants, and watchdog entities.
Our grandchildren’s parents need to be aware that ABA therapy is probably unique in the amount of positive scientific study and scrutiny it has received.
My first encounter with ABA therapy took place when I visited my 2-year-old granddaughter’s prospective “school” – an ABA therapy provider. They showed me a series of clipboards – one for each child – that had lots of blocks and lines and numbers and phrases and dates and times. The clipboards contained meticulous documentation of ongoing micro-strategies and results. If, for example, a micro-goal was for the child to make eye contact with the therapist when the therapist said her name, the clipboard would document every prompt and result and, if successful, the positive reinforcement. I learned that ABA therapy is one-on-one therapy that includes ongoing documentation of goals and results.
Each ABA program is customized for the specific child. ABA utilizes lots of techniques – all focused on what happens both before and after a specific behavior. A custom mixture of techniques is developed according to each child’s abilities, challenges, and personality. ABA has been proven to be helpful for language and communication, attention and focus, social skills, self-control, self-help, motivation, etc. And it can be helpful in replacing problem behaviors (tantrums, aggression, self-injury etc.) with positive behaviors.
The overall strategy of ABA therapy is to use positive reinforcement techniques in a way that can be carefully measured and documented.
ABA therapists are of course human, and some are “better” than others, so it is important to ask for references from other parents. Also, there are “trained” ABA therapists and “Certified” ABA therapists. By law, “trained” ABA therapists must be supervised by Certified ABA therapists. (ABA therapists who are not Certified should be expected to be just as effective as those who are.)
Although not required, parents and caregivers are sometimes provided with enough ABA training to do various ABA techniques at home. This often entails parents being available to receive an hour or two of instruction per week. But again, this type of parental training isn’t required, and progress can be expected without it.
The final advice of course is that with autism, each child is different. Although ABA therapy “works” on most children, there are rare cases when other types of therapies are more appropriate. Again, “rare.”
Those of us who participate as caregivers for our grandchildren can be knowledgeable about our grandchildren’s therapies and determine whether there is a way for us to participate when our grandchildren are in our care.