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To be or not to be an ABA therapist… That was the question

While studying Applied Behaviour Analysis, we had a module on myths about ABA. A particular assignment required us to read about people who have had a bad experience with ABA, parents or people with autism. We needed to dig out the underlying reason for the adverse experience. This was a pivotal assignment in my journey of becoming an ABA therapist, as I was having second thoughts about the efficacy of the technique. Through this assignment, I realized it was not the science that was  inadequate, but the inadequacies of the practitioner that caused the adverse experience.  I am glad I came through as an evolved, more mindful therapist.  Practitioners need to be aware of the adverse effects poor practice can have on their clients.

Time and again there are these few points that repeat when talking to professionals in the field. 

  1. Empathy. Knowing that the client is human like you with feelings and emotions. As behaviour analysts we are drilled about focusing on observed behaviour. Does this mean we do not consider feelings and emotions when working on interventions? Incorporating more flexibility can get more buy-in from all members rather than being rigid in our intervention designs and expectations. 
  2. Knowledge. Knowing what the interfering behaviours are. This comes with experience and supervision. Technically we are all taught to target behaviour that are interfering with pivotal skills relevant to the client and his family. It’s important that we keep these in mind while we design interventions. For example- sitting on a chair for 15 minutes may not be a socially significant goal for a 4 year old- even if it may seem important to the parent. 
  3. Mindfulness. Keeping a self-check on ‘Ableism’- Ableism is when we differentiate in favour of people with disabilities. When you are an ableist, you consider yourself superior to the person who may be neuro-diverse. We  put ourselves on a pedestal to control and make decisions for this person. For example- targeting eye-contact as a behaviour to increase purely because it is a component of communication. For a child with autism, if he is able to communicate his needs without eye-contact, is there a need to put an intervention in place to increase it? This is ‘us’ as experts thinking and deciding it is an important skill. 
  4. Focused. Not targeting self-stimulatory behaviour as something to change unless it is compromising the safety of the client or the people around him. We all knowingly or unknowingly engage in self-stimulating behaviour. Do you constantly shake your legs when sitting in a meeting or when you are anxious? I know I do. 
  5. Collaborator. Working as a team and being a professional- Knowing that we all do what we do for the benefit of the client. This also means making space for other professionals like speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and special education teachers. Having direct conversations with others as a team keeping the client as the focus and the main beneficiary of the discussion and intervention. 

Using these pointers, I try to do better everyday and keep a self-check when disseminating about ABA. I learn from the many fabulous practitioners and of course above all my supervisor and my mentor. 

Let’s all just remember to do no harm!

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