If you are familiar with the world of autism spectrum disorders, then you more than likely are familiar with Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA Therapy. ABA services are provided to individuals with a diagnosis of autism across the spectrum. Services can be provided in a variety of settings including in-home, clinic, school, and the community. Working in the field for many years, I have definitely seen and had my fair share of experiences in the field. One of the most common things I have seen working in the field is one of the first questions from a new client or an individual who is unaware of the field is, “So, you’re going to fix my child? When are they going to be better?”
Trying to field this question is one of the biggest challenges I have faced working in the field. There is no real easy way to answer this. On one hand you know it is unethical to say, “Absolutely, I’ll have him/her fixed up and cured right away!” But on the other hand, you want to give the family hope and allow them to trust and have faith in the process of ABA and the services we can provide to help the individual be more independent and successful. The truth of the matter is that each case is different, every individual has a different prognosis and makes progress in a unique way. There is no cookie cutter answer for “fixing” a child with autism, even though we know we can make progress with implementing our principles and techniques from behavior analysis.
“Fixing” children with autism is just not even an easy thing for me to say. The basis of our field is to not “fix” anyone. Applied behavior analysis is using behavior techniques, such as reinforcement, to support and improve the functioning of these individuals. At the end of the day they are still going to have autism. When they are discharged from services they are still going to have autism. Our services are tailored to each individual to help them become more independent in their environments, not to cure them from autism. So when this question is being asked, the most important thing we can do in the field is help the family come to terms with their loved ones diagnosis and explain the goals of our treatment plan and what that looks like in general.
One of the most exciting things in the field of ABA is that it is constantly growing and changing. Research is always being done in the field so that we know the best, most effective ways to provide interventions for these individuals. The principles of our field hold us true to constantly be questioning research and most importantly ensuring that the goals we set are client-centered and socially valid. Client and family involvement are the foundational blocks that the treatment programs are designed upon. Each individual receives unique and specialized treatment plans that respect their dignity, target relevant features of their lives, and honor their individual goals. We know there is no cookie-cutter treatment and there is no way to “cure” each individual, but the highly specialized treatment plans that involve all stakeholders for each decision along the way allows us to improve the lives of every individual and their family.