(Inside: To the parent who has no choice but to use ABA therapy, you aren’t a bad parent… This is a must-read if you use ABA therapy for your autistic child!)
I recently wrote a post about the big deal about ABA therapy, and I quickly received an email from a reader who was frustrated.
She understood the problematic history of ABA, but it was her only option for therapy for her daughter.
Another reader mentioned how she strictly observed her child’s ABA therapists, and since it was the only therapy available, she wanted to know if it was okay.
I realized that my original post on ABA therapy wasn’t comprehensive enough.
While I explained the problematic history, and the problems with the current practice like compliance training and making autistics act neurotypical, I didn’t address the many parents who are facing ABA therapy as their only option.
So this is for those parents… To the parents with no choice besides ABA therapy…
To the Parent With No Choice Besides ABA Therapy
I’m the first to recommend occupational therapy, speech therapy, and even physical therapy when it’s warranted.
But I realize that comprehensive therapies like this often aren’t an option in all areas, and even when they are they can be cost prohibitive and insurance companies can refuse coverage.
So if your child is currently getting ABA therapy, there are a few things I want you to know.
You Are Not a Bad Parent
Let me say that again… You are not a bad parent.
I know that you are doing everything you can for your autistic child, and I know you love your child.
If you read the original ABA post and it made you feel uncomfortable… You are already loving your child as they are.
It’s the parents who read that post and said ‘so what? I want my kid to act neurotypical!’ that have an issue.
See, I don’t want you to ever think that you’re a bad parent for having your child in a specific therapy… I just want you to know about and understand the problems with that therapy so that you can make informed choices.
And once again for good measure… You are not a bad parent.
Sometimes You Need Any Therapy Possible
Now I want to say, I get it.
There are times where ABA therapy is the only option, and you need any therapy possible.
When your child is struggling and needs specialized help, or you need new strategies to use yourself, sometimes you have to go with the ABA therapist, even knowing the history.
If this is you, I’m going to cover the different things you can do to make the best out of your situation and keep your autistic child safe in a bit… Stay tuned!
Sometimes No Therapy is Better Than Some Therapy
Before I get there, I just have to point out that sometimes no therapy is better than the therapy that’s available.
If your child is in ABA therapy and the therapist tries to discourage stimming, or they expect instant compliance, or the goals they set are to make your child act neurotypical, it might be time to skip therapy altogether.
I know it’s hard, and most of the time you can use the tips in the next section to avoid this, but if you have a traditional therapist set in their ways, you may need to stop therapy until you can find another solution.
How to Protect Your Child During ABA Therapy
Now for the meat and potatoes. How can you make the best out of ABA therapy and make sure your child stays safe and respected?
#1 Observe, Observe, Observe
If your child’s therapist won’t allow you to observe, RUN.
In fact, I highly prefer therapists that involve you in the day to day therapy activities. They are there to assist you and your child, you get to set the rules.
While you’re observing or interacting in the therapy if you see something that makes you uncomfortable, speak up quickly.
#2 Set Autism-Positive Goals
When you set goals with your therapist, make sure that they are focused on helping your autistic child, not making them act mre neurotypical.
Teaching your autistic child to use adaptive communication? Fair game.
Teaching your autistic child to force eye contact even though they’re uncomfortable? No bueno.
The primary goal should always be to help your autistic child, not others around them.
#3 Set Ground Rules Early
“We embrace stimming, we use identity language, we believe in the social model of disability, and we see neurodiversity as a necessary part of society”
That is the first sentence I say to pretty much every new therapist we see for my son.
If any therapist has an issue with any of those principles, they aren’t the right therapist for our family.
We go further than that, covering things like requiring consent before any physical contact and respecting a person’s no. But this is where we start.
Your ground rules may be different than ours, but what’s important is to have them.
Talk to your child’s therapist to make sure they are on the same page, check in regularly, and quickly speak up if they do anything to break one of those ground rules.
Above all, I just want to make sure that you know that I hear you.
I know that sometimes ABA is the only option.
I know sometimes it can feel completely defeating hearing about how terrible it is and thinking ‘our therapist doesn’t do that!’
So know that you’re heard. I know you love your child. I know you’re fighting for them and protecting them every step of the way.
You can understand the problematic history and practices of ABA therapy while getting ‘ABA’ therapy for your child as your only option.
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