Understanding Autism through Applied Behavior Analysis

Published in Sikkim Express

Sun, Mar 4, 2018

Having a healthy child is every couple’s dream, once they step into their new phase of parenthood. It really doesn’t matter whether they are going to welcome a baby boy or a girl.
As this toddler steps into their life, every passing day is a joyful one. From hearing them wail, chuckle and laugh when their names are called out, the joy only doubles when the tiny tot calls out mummy and papa.
But there may be many parents for whom experiencing this joy may come late. The delay may come in the form of the child not responding to communication attempts made. They will neither look nor maintain eye contact when called out. They will generally drag or pull the other person when they require something. They may engage themselves in repeated action with objects, such as spinning bottles, tapping toys, arranging things in a sequence and displaying intense dislike towards any change in routine or environment.
Perturbed, overstressed, parents complain — “He/She does not understand anything”. This becomes a reason for constant worry in the family. The thoughts going round- Is the child normal? The child’s ability to communicate becomes a judging factor of his/her well-being.
It is here many will make a mistake and consider the child to be abnormal.
The real truth is, they are just born with the behavioral disorder, commonly said the “child has autism”. Autism, a neurological disorder is responsible for the delay in development and the child being unable to understand the importance of communication.
The instant thought of it can be very taxing on the parent, with assumptions that the child may live entire life on someone else’s constant support. This is where the real parenting challenge comes– to accept the situation and then head towards finding a solution.
Going by what is practiced in our country, if the child is autistic, means rushing him/her to a speech, occupational therapist or special educator. All this may be required but this comes later in life. What is important to know here is the child needs to understand “communication” first – an important prelude to human survival.
How can one help the child understand the need to communicate?
The answer lies in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
ABA is a branch of psychology, which helps an individual with autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and other developmental disorders. It focusses on teaching behaviors, important in the social and personal realms. As there is no concept of the other for the child with autism, they are focused on recurrent behavior. In this process, they fail to communicate within their social surroundings.
This branch of science has been in the US since 1970’s, but we have been late to emulate this effective and good practice. With this late emulation, ABA still remains a practice confined to urban spaces and with a limited professional resource.
Hence, believing it is “better late than never” and as a practicing behavior analyst for the past seven years, disseminating information on the need to adopt ABA for autism treatment, is my moral responsibility.
As we talk about the intervention at present, it is mostly speech and occupational therapy, the target of which are just unidirectional. For instance, speech therapy helps the child with the mechanics of speech and the use of it. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps the child with self-help skills.
But, think to yourself will this be of much value if the child is incompetent to understand the language or perform activities without knowing the need for it?
It is here, the intervention of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), through Behavior Analysts come into play. ABA will not only impart daily life activities, it will most importantly, teach the child the need to communicate and help him understand the nuances of language.
How is it done?
The Behavior Analysts assesses deficiencies in behaviors- speech and language, social and academic skills and use scientifically proven methods for teaching. They work on the child using the principles of behavior, which have been scientifically studied and found to be effective.
Behavior is largely a product of its environment and is strengthened or weakened by its consequences. For example, Behaviors which are rewarded are more likely to increase. Using this as one such principle and furthermore, the Behavior Analyst professional makes the whole process of learning simpler and fun for the child.
As I complete seven years of my career in the filed I can say ABA has managed to changed lives.
It was in my third year of working, a four-year-old boy, suffering from severe autism came to us. He had a tendency of repeating meaningless words spoken by others, medically called Echolalia. Words were never used by him to communicate and eye contact was almost nil. He refused to play with toys and would constantly remain engaged in inappropriate behaviors like rocking and hand-flapping. In the process he could not be toilet trained, thus making life extremely difficult for the parents. He had been taking other therapies for over a year, yet the progress was negligible.
But ABA through its in-depth observation, data collection and analysis found out that the child was engaged in echolalic behavior as he could not understand what the other person asked him, primarily due to his inability to understand communication. While the rocking and hand- flapping behavior was a means to get attention.
In normal circumstances, someone his age can speak and ask for items they require and attention is sought by simply calling out— “mom look at me” or “check me out”.
Having identified the problem, ABA’s intervention came in the form of teaching language and to ask for the things he wanted using its name. During the teaching sessions, a systematic procedure was used, which motivated him to request for food, toys and things of his interest. Initially, he was provided items for free, later he was made to say its name and only after he had pronounced the name of it, the item was handed over to him. In this way, he started identifying things and next time he wanted the same thing he would ask with the name.
After three months of intense sessions, 15 hours in a week the echoing behavior reduced and he started responding to simple questions. Then as he learned how to communicate, he understood the other. His sessions were conducted in a manner to promote generalization by engaging with a variety of people and introducing him to different settings and instructions. Simultaneously his eye contact improved as every time he looked at someone, he was praised.
He was taught to imitate various actions with toys. Thus, began his journey of exploring various toys and since he started to explore the toys in various ways, his level of engagement increased. He then started playing with the toys by himself.
He was toilet trained in five months’ time after the implementation of a well-researched training procedure. He was taken to the bathroom at regular intervals. Along with it, a song was played every time he sat in the toilet. The use of the songs and praises made the bathroom visits rewarding, which earlier felt like a punishment to him. The same thing was repeated by his parents at home.
In few months of intense ABA intervention and patience of the parents, remarkable progress was made. This is how ABA has an upper edge in transforming lives of children born with autism. So, the next time you see any child not being able to communicate after reaching an age-appropriate, instead of fretting find an ABA professional near you and assist the child towards joyful and meaningful growing up.

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About LRF

LRF was formally established in 2018. However, LRF is not new in this field, since 2017 it has been functioning as Lubdhak Therapeutic Solution. With the aim to reach people from all backgrounds, LTS transitioned to LRF.

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