My first contact with severe autism
The path that led me to learn about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and its potential starts from my meeting with Mario.
Mario was a 3-year-old autistic non-verbal child who was entrusted to me through ADH (home educational care for disabled people) in 2015.
I had to look after him for 4 hours a week, in 2 meetings each lasting two hours. Those hours immediately seemed never-ending and extremely difficult to me. Mario in fact:
- would not make eye contact with me
- didn’t seem interested in me at all
- he wasn’t interested in the games I proposed to him
I felt totally disarmed: the educational tools and techniques that I had been taught at University didn’t seem to work at all with Mario.
The meetings with him seemed like a failure to me.
Of course, in those 4 hours a week Mario’s mother could take some time for herself but, apart from that, I thought I could not do anything useful for the child.
When I left that house, the family remained with the problems and difficulties that they had before.
The only activities that seemed to interest Mario were:
- walking on tiptoe
- running around the house
- jumping on his feet
- flickering with his hands
- vocalizing the letter “u”
- repeatedly watching a video of Peppa Pig on the tablet, from minute 1:30 to minute 1:38
What to do to help him?
I began to research on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), which I had briefly heard about as the “therapy for autism”.
I started reading articles, watching videos and trying to replicate what I saw.
At that time I didn’t master the tools that I have now, in particular I didn’t know how to administer the reinforcements adequately and, even if I managed to engage Mario in some images matching activities for a few minutes, I still could not be incisive in my intervention.
From Educator to ABA Tutor
The turning point came when my boss at that time suggested that I should follow a First Level Master: “Autism and developmental disorders: theoretical foundations and behavioral teaching techniques”.
The Master gave a comprehensive basis on ABA.
I was fascinated:
Finally I came into contact with a branch of psychology that applies the scientific method.
In fact, I discovered that ABA is not just a method for autism, but a real science that studies the scientific laws according to which EVERYONE (and not just people with autism) behave.
These laws are like the law of gravity: they continue to exist and function even if we decide to ignore them and appeal to “common sense”.
As for autism, the scientific literature (see for example Lovaas, 1987 or Sallows & Graupner, 2005) agrees:
There is no other treatment that achieves the results of ABA.
The Master, however, gave me only a theoretical basis. I needed practical tools, case studies and supervision.
I then decided to take the path to become an ABA Tutor with RBT® certification.
I discovered an unexpected world.
Until that moment I had come into contact with “theories” that seemed fascinating to me on paper, but that I didn’t see applicable in the real world:
Smoky theories, certainly captivating, “romantic”, but impractical and not functional.
Theories that seemed to be built more on the necessities of those who formulated them than on the necessities of the people who needed a concrete help to improve their way of living.
ABA, on the other hand, is a science based on DATA:
- we collect data
- we analyze data
- we propose interventions based on data
- those interventions are adjusted on the basis of the data collected
- concrete results and visible improvements are produced in the quality of life of children and their families
I started working as an ABA Tutor.
The concrete results
The meeting with the world of ABA was fundamental for me to grow both as a professional and as a person.
It put me into contact with professionals who like no one care about the lives of the people they look after.
I saw concrete results.
The intervention with each child is not an easy path, there are no “prepackaged” answers.
Every goal, especially the initial ones, must be hard-earned. Continuous dialogue with your Behavior Analyst is essential.
Ironically, one of the children I looked after later on had the same characteristics as Mario:
He flickered his hands, walked on his toes, jumped, vocalized the letter “u”.
It seemed that life had basically challenged me with the same situation, with the difference that I then had the skills to deal with it.
Over time I saw concrete results in this child:
- he began to look at me in the eyes
- he began to imitate motor and vocal responses
- he correctly requested some items he wanted
- he began to name some objects and to give them to me on request
- he began to use some toys in a functional way
What I saw in reality, I saw it witnessed by the graphs.
Each month the child was learning at an ever-increasing speed.
I saw improvements in all of the children I took care of, both from a behavioral and didactic point of view.
The improvements were witnessed by the data I collected.
From ABA Tutor to Assistant Behavior Analyst
The results achieved working as an ABA Tutor and the continuous dialogue with my supervisor made the passion for what I was doing grow in me.
So, I decided to continue my training to become an Assistant Behavior Analyst and I completed a postgraduate ABA training course at Florida Institute of Technology. I then began doing this as a job.
This path has led me to found Data Driven ABA (DDA) together with my colleagues.
ABA has opened up a fascinating world to me, which I am discovering more and more every day!