As most of my regular readers know, my little girl is autistic. It has been some time since I gave an update, since she has reached the 6 month point in ABA therapy (applied behavior analysis) and will be five years old in a few moths, this seemed like a good milestone for a progress report.
M. has been receiving 30 hours per week of in-home ABA Therapy, to help her overcome the limitations autism has caused her. While she has had other therapies in the past, and there was a set-up process, which did include some therapy, it has been roughly 6 months since we started the intensive 30 hour/week program. While M is still not saying more than a rare blurt of a word, she has made great progress in many areas.
The ABA program was an adjustment for both of us. M. gets frustrated at times, being asked to repetitively do tasks for hours a day (wouldn’t anyone), but she adores her therapists and they work hard to make things enjoyable for her. At this point, I would say she is in good spirits for more than 80% of her therapy, and whines or seems annoyed with the process less than 20% of the time. That seems like a pretty typical mood ratio for a preschool age kid, especially one who struggles to express her wants. Due to the intensity of her in-home program, her teachers at preschool are now focusing more on social skills, handling school routines, and getting her to use the bathroom at school. She also gets Occupational and Speech Therapy while she is there. Between school and therapy, we are pretty much booked 8:30am to 6pm M-F, plus Sat. mornings. Sometimes I think M handles the schedule better than I do.
Since starting the ABA therapy, my daughter seems to have better focus. It is easier to get her attention, and she seems to “get” what others are saying more. Although verbal words still escape her for the most part, and her fine motor delays hinder signing, she has been getting pretty good at picture exchange. This teamed with her improved ability to point out individual pictures, has prepared her to start using an iPad to assist in communication, which I am working on getting her now.
In addition to better focus and communication, M has been working on her colors, letters and a few sight words. The card exchange technique her therapists use with her allows us to better see how much M understands. It creates a simple repetitive scenario, where all she has to do is hand the picture of the item/color/letter/word to the therapist (or match it), out of a field of 3-12 cards. Initially, this brought a great deal of protest from M, but once she figured out what was expected of her, she has excelled in the part of the program. I’m sure it helps that she is a little ham & loves the extra praise and attention that comes along with it.
The ABA therapists are also working with M on imitation skills, something that can be tough for autistic kids to do. Starting out, M struggled in this area, more than with the card tasks, but has been making great progress in both object and physical imitation. They are also helping her to be able to carry out simple commands (ie. bring 1 object from a field of three, from a specified location). This is still something she struggles with, but it is starting to help with daily life. For example, I may have to ask M several times to bring her snack bowl for a re-fill, and wait her out a bit, she may protest, I may have to assist her to get it, but more and more she is doing better with these types of tasks.
There are small victories each day. Like most parents with autistic kids, you learn to focus on the progress your child is making, not what typical peers their age are doing. This is not to say you don’t fight to keep them from falling behind, but more to fight the limitations autism is causing them. If they can overcome those difficulties, they are stronger than most.