Today we had the Tidewater Autism Summit, where a ton of service providers in the area came with their information and families could come and see what there is in the area for those with autism from kids to adults. It was my second year going and it, again, was a blast! I really enjoyed getting to meet other providers, and especially picking up some information I can pass along to families I work with that didn't get a chance to go themselves.
Being there and seeing the different services made me again think about why it is that I choose to provide ABA therapy and how I got where I am.
How I got into ABA was entirely an accident. I was just about to graduate with my BA in psychology, and my first ABA job was the only place I had sent a resume to that called me to interview. I knew very little about autism or ABA at that point, all I knew was from a brief video I had seen in one of my classes that showed a few clips of discrete trial training that left me thinking what I have since heard many people say: "Isn't it kind of like training a dog? That poor kid!" I had the impression that kids with autism were cold and robotic, not very much fun. I went to the interview thinking it probably would not be for me, but I went anyways since I had signed a lease and needed a way to pay my rent so I might as well give it a chance! Luckily for me, the center conducts performance interviews so I had a chance to not only see what they did- but try it out.
It was amazing! The kid they had be work with was adorable, easy to work with, and affectionate! I worked with him for basic imitation and receptive instruction tasks for 5 stickers and after he earned the last one he crawled into my lap and gave me a huge hug. After that, how could I NOT want to do this?
Eventually I realized that this was not just a job I was doing to get experience in order to apply to better grad schools, it was something I was (and am) truly passionate about. I knew working with kids with autism would be a likely career, and started looking into what other forms of therapy were out there, the reasoning behind them, and the benefits of them. If I was going to pursue this, I wanted to make sure I was learning the best ways to help these kids.
I'm not sure if it is the way I was raised, just a part of who I am, or the way I was educated starting in grade school and continuing without fail through my Masters degree, but I require proof before I will believe anything to be true. Looking into what other therapies were out there repeatedly led me to wonder "ok, but where's the proof?" so many claims just seemed so unrealistic, with no good evidence to back them up. If I am going to be helping someone, I want to be reasonably sure that what I am doing and what I am asking them to do is likely to actually be helpful.
ABA has consistently shown to be effective from the first studies of the Lovaas approach continuing to present day studies of more recent techniques such as those used in the Verbal Behavior approach. Most importantly, by it's very nature ABA includes constant assessment of an individuals progress as well as assessment of the effectiveness of the techniques being used. The continual, objective, data-driven methodology allows us not only to know when something is working but to let us know when it is NOT working so that we can try something else with minimal wasted time.
I would like to finish up by mentioning that this does not mean there are not other treatments for autism that may be effective, just that I choose ABA because I find it to be the most convincing. Many other therapies that have empirical support are based on ABA principles. Other therapies that may be effective simply have not had adequate (if any) well designed studies demonstrating effectiveness. Objective data is the key to proving a change has occurred not just in studies but in every day practice.
For more information on different available therapies and which have empirical support, please visit the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) interventions page.
Signing off for now- coming soon my responses to the "ABA vs The Son-Rise Program" video series.