I am often asked if not ABA then what? It’s important to note that there is no therapy for being Autistic and there is no need for therapy for being Autistic. Acceptance is the key and that means accepting that a child is Autistic. Accept that they will develop Autistically, play Autistically, communicate Autistically, think Autistically and learn Autistically. They need support to become an Autistic with a positive sense of self because of the huge stigma around our way of existing. In short there are no alternatives to ABA because there is no need for an alternative.
Before you do anything:
1. Love and accept your child. Know your child is fully whole, human and has a wonderful life ahead.
2. Listen to Autistic people.
3. Understand the purpose of ABA is to train autistic children to pretend they are non-autistic so when you ask for alternatives be clear what you’re looking for.
4. Remember Autistics are different in our development. Don’t panic if we don’t know how to do something at 4 that non-autistic do. Chances are that non-autistic kids don’t know how to do things that we can. We develop differently so measuring us off non-autistic milestones is nonsensical. ABA has no appreciation for Autistic thinking and learning.
So now you want a way to help your child, but with what?
Sensory: Occupational Therapist or find things to distract. Distraction from offensive sensory input can stop sensory overload. OR help The Autistic Community with its campaigns to change our environment, then we can minimise the negative effects of sensory overload.
Behaviour is communication, stimming is part of our language and part of our learning process.
‘Challenging behaviours’ should not be happening, if they are then something is radically wrong in your child’s life. It’s either sensory or emotional. This can be caused be someone misinterpreting them continually because they are not listening to autistic people or by the sensory environment. Understanding your child and studying their language will teach you what you need to change. Meltdowns have nothing to do with being Autistic. Every human being melts down under severe stress. If meltdowns are happening then it’s up to you to find the stressors and remove them permanently.
Speech: speech therapy can help or you can begin to learn about AUTISTIC LANGUAGE and culture so that you can learn your child’s language instead of putting them through years of therapy. Autistics communicate all the time, others just don’t interpret our language. Stimming is part of our language, as is posture, gesture, movements and sounds (same as every other human). If your child is not communicating verbally then there are lots of AAC devices on the market. AAC users recommend you start teaching them early on, everyone has the right to communicate.
Play : Autistics play in Autistic ways, that’s why Autistics become experts, inventors and are natural problem solvers and environmental communicators. There is no need to teach your child to play.
Engaging: make it interesting or join in with what we’re doing.
It’s important to remember that Communication for some of us is not a transfer of information or words. It is sharing a space and time with another. We ARE engaging just by being. This should be respected. Words are our second language so it’s important you remember that.
Learning skills: we learn things best when the motivation comes from within, when there is an actual need for us to learn to do something. Also we may do things differently but they’ll serve the same purpose and that’s ok. We learn best by experiencing, thinking, touching, figuring out and stimming is actually part of our learning process. We stim to store the learning, we stim while we’re processing or figuring out. We stim to recall our learnings. Stimming is not just for self regulation.
Learning, like everything we do is an emotional process for us. This is why we have ‘special interests’ or passions. We need a rich and full understanding and we need to know the REASON why we have to learn certain things. If it’s not logical then good luck trying to make us learn it.
Social skills: Autistics have ‘social skills’ . We have our own language and culture so we don’t need to become someone else. We do need some help with non-autistic language and culture so we can learn about that the same way we’d learn about any other language and culture. Through role play, games and figuring stuff out. It’s important that our Autisticity is respected at all times as a valid culture and language and that you realize that ‘processing delays’ are often just me translating your language into mine and then back into yours so you can understand. ABA forces non-autistic social behaviours on Autistic people. It is conversion therapy which is why we do not need any alternatives to ABA.
Building confidence & Self belief: look for activities that your child enjoys and will thrive at. Drama, music, art, dance, lego, horse riding ….the list is endless. Autistic kids can do activities too, everything doesn’t have to be a therapy!
Peers: find other Autistic people , we tend to get on with each other. Also some of us can enjoy the company of older or younger kids. I’m 42. My friends range from 22 to 65 …. why do 8 year old kids have to only be friends with other 8 year olds?
Acceptance is the key. We do not need alternatives to ABA. We need to be given the opportunity to blossom and develop along our own Autistic path.