ABA: What is it and what it means to me

By Anonymous

I would like to begin this blog by introducing myself… but sadly, I do not feel like I can. You see, our community is so conflicted about ABA and I cannot put myself in that position. It saddens me. I wish I could show you my smile as I complete a task in ABA.  

When I was asked to write this blog, I felt conflicted. I wanted to do it, but I didn’t feel like I could handle the thought of being potentially “attacked” and reading hurtful comments on the internet. But I feel that it is important that others learn from my journey. That is why I chose to do it anonymously. I hope that I can tell you who I am one day. I will tell you that I am a young adult with autism. I have only experienced ABA as an adult.  

I remember my first session six years ago. The therapist asked if I wanted to go on the computer. I said yes, but I saw a puzzle on the way, and communicated that I wanted to do a puzzle. Right from the start, I worked on communicating what I wanted. I have worked on waiting, coping strategies and so much more.  

ABA is a very important part of my life, growth and skills development. I ENJOY it. I enjoy learning, growing and making progress. I look forward to it. I am a part of my therapy sessions. I am involved. My input and preferences are taken into consideration. 

For example, one of my current programs and targets is focused on interrupting because this is an area of social communication skills that is hard for me. I once asked one of my therapists to bring a “special guest: a toy special guest” to my house the next time she came. She did just that. I had to earn it by interrupting less than a certain number of times. I was so excited.  

We used my love of figurines to help motivate me to learn and become more conscious of my own interrupting. The one time I only got to see a few special toys and not all of them, I was feeling upset, but it was a great time to practice coping strategies. I did feel frustrated when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to earn them all, and that I’d run out of interruptions. But I voiced this to the therapist appropriately and it turns out that I did a great job!  

We never take my special interests, likes and leisure skills away from me. We do not judge them. They are my choices. But we do expose me to different leisure skills that adults may enjoy, such as embroidery, latch hook, roller skating etc. I come up with the ideas for the most part. I have learned that I’m not great at cross stitching but that I like roller skating and find latch hooking to be relaxing, even though when I first tried it, I thought it was hard and wanted to give up right then and there.  

I’m also working on waiting. I’m allowed to wait using fidgets, headphones, my phone, coping strategies and tools, and even hold small toys in my hand. It is considered a success if I wait a certain amount of time without complaining. I’ve made great progress. I look forward to ABA each week and recognize the great impact it has made on my life and my future.  

My ABA therapists and BCBA have learned so much from me. Their approach and my ABA program is not written or done in a way that will change who I am. It is done in an effort to make sure that I have the best future possible, feel successful in what I do throughout my life and can live life to my fullest potential.  

My sensory tools are never withheld from me. I’m not told that I can’t script or stim. I feel like ABA is my safe place. Like I am understood and free to be me. Throughout my life I’ve always enjoyed structure and learning and making progress. This is what ABA means to me.  

I know that to some people, ABA can signal traumatic thoughts… I respect this fully. I have experienced PTSD from a different experience before too. It is hard, very difficult. I’m not asking that you change your thoughts if you’ve been hurt or saying that you have to agree with every part of ABA. I’m asking that you try to approach all therapies and supports in general with an open mind. Instead of saying that ABA is brainwashing or bad dog training, can you just say that it didn’t work for you?  

I read what I see on social media about ABA, and it makes it hard. It makes me hesitant. It shouldn’t. I know that my ABA place is a good place and that things are not done in a harmful way. I would appreciate if people told families and individuals that any therapy can be done wrong and any therapist can be not the right fit—it doesn’t just have to be a BCBA or RBT. You can also have a speech therapist or occupational therapist who doesn’t work well.  

Different learning approaches may not work well for you or the person that you support. This is OKAY. I’m just asking that you not judge people by their job title… because they may be a great person and do a great job even if they are an ABA therapist or BCBA. Please respect that I am entitled to my point of view and should be able to voice it without feeling like I’ll get “attacked.” 

There are definitely some things about ABA that I do not agree with, such as making someone sit in a chair, denying access to sensory tools, making someone earn their basic needs or sensory items being used as reinforcers. I feel ABA should not be used to change who people are, but to help them reach their full potential… WITH autism.  

I know that I don’t show my faces in these photos, but I’m asking that you imagine a smile. I’m not saying that I’m always happy at ABA or that I never feel frustrated. This is a part of life. When I do feel frustrated, we talk about it. We problem solve. This is what is done in any good therapy, in my opinion. No matter what the therapy is.  

Thank you for joining me for this quick story of my ABA journey. I hope one day that I can tell you more.  

Learn more about getting started with ABA and asking the right questions.

woman waiting in line at grocery store

 My ABA target was waiting 4 minutes without complaining. In this photo, on this outing trip to the grocery store, I waited 10 minutes without complaining as I played happily with my toy dragons. I used a tool that works for me. It is not a tool that adults normally use, but that’s okay. It helped me be successful. That is what matters.

woman working on a latch hook kit as part of ABA therapy

 One of the adult leisure activities I picked to work on is a Latch Hook kit. I ended up loving it! I even ordered another.

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