As an Autism Mom to two children on the spectrum, I am PAINFULLY familiar with the phrase, “If you know one child with Autism, you know ONE child with Autism”. My twins are as different as night and day. What works for one doesn’t work for the other and our parenting efforts have to be so INCREDIBLY directed at each of our three children.
But, when we find something that works, we have to work to adapt it to EVERYTHING that they do. We do this, almost subconsciously, most of the time. We know that they thrive on routine and can’t tolerate surprises. So, we introduce new ideas early and as slowly as we can. Sometimes when we know it’s going to be bad no matter what we do, we jump right in. For Music Man, things just slyly work themselves into the day. For Ballerina, we bring up the schedule. And we insert a new activity. And we do it often, even if it’s relatively last minute. We remind her that something is going to happen. And for Big Brother, whatever happens, happens.
We learned when Ballerina was about 30 months old that she responds very well to ABA as a learning technique. It was introduced while we were still working with our local Early Intervention group and the positive response was almost immediate (much quicker than was predicted). Dad and I were amazed that this worked so well for her as it seemed counter-intuitive to us, but we couldn’t question the results. The success was so great that, a few months later, she entered a preschool program designed entirely around the discrete trials of ABA. And she THRIVED!
She started kindergarten this year, in a mainstream classroom. If you’ve read some of my others posts here, you know how worried I was about this, and whether she was ready for such a drastic change. Things thus far have been going OK. She needs more support than we had originally estimated, but it’s provided and she seems to be succeeding. But then something happened about a month ago that seemed to change everything.
The team working with her seemed to have a brain wave. I’m not fully sure if that’s the best phrasing here, but it definitely works. Ballerina was still regularly finding herself being asked to go to her “Time Out” spot. Someone created a visual tool that utilized the reward system of an ABA-based program. Ballerina was to select her “reward” from a choice of six pictures. On the other side were her instructions. She had to demonstrate “Quiet Mouth”, “Quiet Hands” and “Great Working”. If she demonstrated these three things after 10 minutes, a heart was added to a velcro line at the bottom of the sheet. When she had 5 hearts across the bottom, she could have her previously chosen reward. Once this was done, the whole process begins again.
It really is very simple. Concrete rewards for successfully meeting her expectations. Just like she would do in an ABA discrete trial setting. But in this case, the tasks are more abstract. And she is asked to judge whether she has been successful. But the rewards are immediate rather than a promise for the future which is what works for her general education peers, and she has been able to find success in this classroom.
I am uncertain of how long this type of system will be allowed to continue. I don’t know if, as she gets older, whether they will be able to continue giving her the tight support she currently receives which allows her to complete these tasks and earn her rewards. But I hope that, for as long as possible, we can keep this going. I can see the growth in the work that she is bringing home and in her ability to perform academic tasks. I’m also seeing it spread (slightly) to her more social extra-curricular activities in the form of turn-taking.
We still have a long way to go before Ballerina truly looks like everyone else. But she is starting to “fit in”. And that’s the first step. I don’t want to change her, but I do want her to have the opportunity to make friends and not fully stick out in a crowd.