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Useful Things I Learned from Being an ABA Therapist   Leave a comment

Before I start, I want to be absolutely clear that this post is not meant to condone ABA as an autism treatment. It is merely an attempt to find a tiny bit of good in my past career. (The biggest good was getting to know the children I worked with, and many of the families were delightful people doing what the “experts” had told them to do.)

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is still a hot-button issue in many parts of the autism community. I used to do ABA, primarily Lovaas-style. The type of ABA I did is heavy on table time and progresses through a specific set of programs designed to teach everything from speech to academic skills to self-help skills. It was touted as being scientifically validated and able to “recover” autistic children, or at least make them indistinguishable from their peers.

There are all kinds of problems with that, and with the ABA industry as a whole, but other people have written about that far more eloquently than I ever could. So today I want to talk about the useful things I took away from my time as an ABA therapist. Because there are some helpful techniques and attitudes I learned.

If the student isn’t learning, it isn’t their fault. My first ABA consultant taught us that if the child wasn’t learning what we were trying to teach, there was something wrong with our approach. Maybe we weren’t consistent enough from one therapist to another. Maybe we needed to present the material differently or change the way we requested the behaviour. Whatever it was, we were the ones who needed to adjust.

Breaking tasks down into steps and chaining behaviours. As someone who has ADHD and the accompanying executive dysfunction, it can be helpful to break down a large task into smaller steps. That way I can focus on one small piece at a time instead of getting overwhelmed trying to figure out where to start. Chaining tasks is also a really helpful concept that has helped me change my routines (and develop them in the first place).

I know my A-B-C’s. Not my alphabet (though I do know that as well), but a way of figuring out how to help my two-year-old, non-autistic child behave appropriately. When he does something I would rather he not do, I look at the antecedent, or what happened before he did the thing, I look at his specific behaviour, and I look at the consequence, or what happened afterward (i.e., what he got out of it). This is most beneficial when I remember my developmental psychology, since that tells me that a toddler doesn’t yet have the executive functioning to control his impulses (and as an ADHDer with impulse control problems, I understand this intimately). Understanding the reasons why he does something helps me find other ways for him to get whatever it is he needs, in a more acceptable fashion. It also usually comes back on me: a lot of his behaviour happens because I didn’t put something out of his reach, or I wasn’t supervising closely enough, or I was ignoring his attempts to get my attention.

I don’t over-react to things. One of the things I learned as an ABA therapist was to keep my cool at all times and to be neutral when correcting responses. This translates to my kid having a mom who responds to things like refusing to come for a diaper change by asking if he can come on his own or if he needs help. This gives him power in the situation that is appropriate for his developmental level but still gets the job done.

Some of the teaching methods can also be useful, but it depends a lot on the person and the thing you are trying to teach.

But there you are, a list of the positive practical applications of ABA techniques. Note that understanding child development is important (it wasn’t needed when I was working), as well as respect for the individual’s particular needs and desires (again, not necessary in my work). As with so many things, intent and attitude matter.

Announcement!   Leave a comment

As you probably know by now, I was diagnosed with ADHD in February 2005, at the age of 28. The last nearly 11 years have been spent figuring out how to manage my symptoms, since there are times (like right now) I can’t take medication.

One of my biggest problems has always been time management. How long does the thing really take? When is my appointment? Which days should I do this rather than that?

I’ve read a lot of books (most notably, Julie Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out) and tried implementing their strategies, but nothing really stuck permanently until the following happened:

  • I started using a Moleskine datebook.
    • I wrote everything down in it.
    • I checked it daily.
  • I spent a few months seeing an ADHD coach.
    • Objective accountability has always been good for me.
    • She helped me see that I’m actually good at some things to do with time management and just needed to tweak my approach to capitalize on what I’m good at.
  • I started making a list of everything I needed to do in a day and checking things off.
    • I stopped worrying about how much I did and focused more on what I did.
    • I tweaked things to get them to work for me.
    • I started noting in my datebook what tasks I was doing when, as a measure of my time.

In 2015, I prepared monthly planners for people to download and print for free. These planners incorporated all of the results of my learning and tweaking, as well as a few features other ADHDers requested.

For 2016, I am continuing to provide these free printable planners (in this Google Drive folder), but I am also putting the planner up for sale as a coil-bound book you can purchase at Each planner will contain three months as well as the special planning pages that make my system work so well.

I have a few other things in the works, like project planning pages and a financial planner/organizer, but this is first and January-March is ready to purchase. I am so proud of myself for making this happen!

Posted February 5, 2016 by karalianne in Admin Post

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