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Taming Frankenstein/Reclaiming Jerrard:

Picking up the pieces after ABA

By Carolyn Takos

Intro by Lyn Waldeck

In many of our recent newsletters, NACD has been focusing on creating and changing behavior for the better by the feedback the child is given. Carolyn Takos is a very dedicated NACD mom who first came to us in desperation to reverse a behavioral nightmare created during their time with ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis). We have asked Carolyn to tell her story of how the wrong feedback affected her son and their family.

Carolyn:

For many years, ABA therapy has been the “cure-all” for everyone on the Autism Spectrum; our experience has been one where the bad consequences have far outweighed any benefits from it. My son was diagnosed with High Functioning Level One Autism, formerly known as Aspergers. ABA therapy was recommended for him, and I, not knowing any better, got him signed up. They had him for almost a year for 20 hours a week. It’s been two years since he “graduated” and I’m still trying to undo some of the things that they did to him. They left us with eightproblems that needed correction. It’s important to know that during ABA therapy, each child is assigned to a one-on-one therapist.

The positive outcome from ABA might be an acceptance of differences among children; but the negatives are:

1. Needs “help” with everything – If he didn’t want to do something, he’d say he needed help and they were quick to do it for him. And I mean everything, from putting on shoes to coloring to writing his name; everything.

2. He doesn’t play by himself -Someone was always with him and doing things with him, so now he expects the same treatment at home. Since he is an only child, he expects me to be that one-on-one playmate, 24/7.

3. Candy was given for behaviors they wanted to see, like treat training a dog.

4. He learned the benefits of poor behavior – He learned that if he didn’t want to do something or be somewhere, then all he had to do was act poorly and he would be removed from the situation. This could be anything from a “temper-tantrum” to hitting people in authority. He also learned that if he “recovered” from the poor behavior, he would get candy. Ultimately, he was rewarded for some of the worst behavior a child can do.

5. They used this treat training to reinforce the behaviors they wanted to see; one instance was waiting patiently. At the time of his graduation, they had “worked up” to him waiting patiently for one minute and that would result in a treat.

6. He learned that he could demand the attention of his therapist by acting poorly, even when I was getting a report on his daily progress. She stopped in the middle of a sentence and gave her complete attention to him. Even now, he will rudely demand my attention when I’m trying to talk to someone else. His rudeness can start with just trying to get my attention to making so much noise that I can’t hear or talk over him. He has even used “hugs” as a means to get my attention; not loving hugs, but an aggressive throwing himself at me to interrupt the conversation.

7. Friends aren’t friends. They called everyone there a friend, even though one, maybe two, actually acted like friends. The rest did not display anything friendly toward him. This resulted in finding “friends” at the park from kids who were trying to avoid him or were even being mean to him. It was heartbreaking to watch the treatment of the “friends” from the park and how he would happily tell me he made new friends. I’m happy to say that he doesn’t claim strangers as friends now, but he also doesn’t know how to be a friend either.

8. Sorry is a magic word. And I mean a really magic word. If he said he was sorry, even though he wasn’t, then the consequences for his actions just went away. I spoke with the directer about this; just ask anyone in prison for manslaughter and they’ll tell you “sorry” doesn’t make the consequences go away. He was absolutely shocked the first time I explained to him that you actually, need to feel remorse for your actions for “sorry” to be real and even then it doesn’t magically get you out of the consequences.

If you ask me if ABA helped, I have to say absolutely not. At first, when I looked at this list I thought, “We’ve only corrected half of this;” but reality is, we’re still working on almost every point. It’s been two years since he’s graduated, and we are only a little bit through undoing the damage that ABA caused. At least it’s been forward progress.

Back to Lyn:

Fortunately for this family, NACD understands how to harness neuroplasticity in order to create change in sensory dysfunction, how to build processing, how to develop executive function, and how to use feedback to change behavior patterns. This family is diligent in doing their program and more importantly are good at staying very connected so that we can guide them to a better place in life. From the beginning I knew we were working with a smart boy. I knew there was a sweet kid wanting to emerge. Today life is less of a horror story, and the kind, confident, and well-adjusted kid is shining through.

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