The diagnosis of autism brings with it a deluge of treatment options. Parents of a newly diagnosed child often feel overwhelmed and confused. At least, that is how it was for me.
Like so many parents I gradually realized the tremendous extent of my son Robert’s challenges, clinically termed as “moderate autism and significant cognitive delay.” My son Robert was just two years old and I was filled with shock and sadness. I hurt deeply; I hurt in a way I didn’t even know to be possible.
Each day I shifted between grieving, researching, and trying to teach Robert. One day in desperation I stated flatly: “He is unteachable!” My eyes filled with tears as I watched Robert twirling in the den curtains and gazing through frantically flapping fingers at the light above. Then I had a moment of realization: “Maybe it isn’t that he can’t learn, maybe we don’t know how to teach him.” That realization would change both of our lives, as it led to the treatment that became his lifeline – applied behavior analysis (ABA).
Robert’s needs were extensive. My husband and I read about ABA for children with autism and decided to try the specialized one-on-one teaching program. We agreed to try ABA for six months and then decide whether to continue. It did not take six months to decide. The combination of an expert ABA consultant, customized programming, and guided training and practice in implementing ABA proved that Robert could indeed LEARN! In three weeks, Robert learned more than he had learned in eight months of his previous therapies. Better yet, Robert began to look forward to working with his ABA technicians who were both nurturing and reinforcing.
In the next five months Robert learned to focus and attend, to understand over 100 words, to follow basic directions, and to begin to speak. He was even potty-trained in this time frame. We were learning how to teach Robert and he was learning to make his desires and needs known. Robert was “learning how to learn.” For the first time since his diagnosis, we looked to the future with optimism.