We are sometimes asked how NACD differs from the ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis therapy approach to individuals with Autism. In simplistic terms, the two approaches have profound philosophical differences that impact on the specific practices as well as the understanding of what needs to be changed.
NACD approaches any individual as a whole person. We seek to understand all of the factors that impact on how that individual functions to understand what works well and what is struggling to work in all areas. Having looked carefully at all areas of function that include things such as speech, depth of receptive language and conceptual thinking, health, and much more, we then look at how to strengthen and stimulate areas of delay or difficulty using neuroplasticity to allow us to improve that function.
Many individuals with whom we work have something that Bob Doman refers to as “negative neuroplasticity” which is the brain changing how it is functioning and developing based on poor input provided by the individual themselves. This occurs when some major channel of processing has been blocked or delayed. The tendency is for the individual to use and misuse other channels and the development that follows has a negative impact on their overall function. In most cases, the key channel that is blocked and or delayed is the auditory channel that allows for conceptual thinking, receptive and expressive language and attention to language.
The delay of the development of auditory processing has a profound negative impact on the development of other basic neurological functions such as working memory and executive function. In turn, all of these issues profoundly impact on the day-to-day function and overall development of the individuals. Not only are the expressive and receptive language abilities delayed but potentially also the ability to think conceptually, to imagine change in the future, to manage time or problem solve when faced with an unexpected situation.
Again to speak simplistically, NACD’s approach is to remove all barriers to the development of auditory processing and to immerse the individual in a rich and varied auditory environment that is designed very specifically to improve and enhance thinking in and understanding language while also addressing any other issues that may be delayed or interfering with positive development such as health and diet, issues with tactility, etc.
NACD is seeking to always work with the whole individual to improve overall function.
Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA) addresses specific skill building through a strict behavioral approach of repetition and reward. It seeks to produce change by building skills and compliance through sustained one-to-one interventions. NACD, on the other hand, seeks to change global function through developing those neurological functions that have been delayed and promoting their use. NACD does use one-to-one targeted interventions but they are designed to produce broad changes in neurological function as opposed to building individual skills.
NACD acknowledges the individuality of each person and the programs are designed to take theses individual differences into account. The approach is both eclectic and creative as opposed to protocol-driven. As the individual’s preferences, strengths and interests are understood and developed, their program of targeted interventions shifts and changes to meet the goals of better neurological function and also support their individuality. The values of the family are also reflected in the individual programs and how they are designed. NACD programs are not protocols but rather fluid targeted interventions that change as the individual changes.
We at NACD also know that we have more to learn. We are constantly seeking new information, new strategies in all areas of health and development that are effective in helping individuals function better and live happier lives. We are constantly changing, adding, including and learning new ways to enhance what we do. Again, we are not protocol–driven. Our work is collaborative with parents and with many other professionals in a variety of fields. We don’t know all there is to know about Autism yet or brain development for that matter. We will continue to strive to learn more about the complexity of how the brain functions and develops.