It’s been a while! My last post was more on the informative side of things. Therefore, I think it’s time for a more personal update. On that note, Augustus is absolutely THRIVING right now. It’s more than amazing. He is doing things we didn’t know if he’d ever do. One of his therapists even commented “I never thought I’d see the day…” I attribute most of his success to his applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy. He has absolutely flourished since starting.

It is very common with autism to have extreme interest in certain things or objects. They say that an autistic child’s interests are often lifelong. Gus has taken a real interest in animals, especially jungle animals. In ABA therapy, he has a place mat with jungle animals on it and a bin of toy animals. Since those were introduced, the words have been coming. It’s also not unusual for interests or preferred objects to come and go, but animals, music, and vehicles of all kinds seem to be a stronghold for Gus.

At first, he was just saying the name of animals. I hate to say ‘JUST’ because that in itself was huge. He said “tiger”, “kangaroo”, “froggy” (see video at end of post), “ducky”, “elephant” (his version), “giraffe” (his version), “bear”, fish (or shhhhh), and probably more I’m not remembering off the top of my head. What’s adorable about Gus is that he tends to whisper when he’s trying out a new word or sound, so it can be easy to miss. Once he is more confident, he will say the word or sound out loud. For instance, he was playing alone at home with his animals and I heard him whisper “turkey” clear as day. He has never said “turkey” when playing with me or in therapy, but I caught him in the act.

He then jumped from just saying the names of animals to actually labeling them! As in on his jungle animal place mat, they could ask him “Where’s the tiger?” and he would point to it.

It’s also important for me and everyone else to understand and remember that just because he develops new skills, words, sounds, etc. it doesn’t mean he will use them on any kind of regular basis. For instance, he may say a word and we won’t hear it again for months…or even longer. What is amazing though, is that you can see him thinking and recalling just by the look on his face. The other thing to keep in mind is processing time. It takes Gus longer to process things. We need to be sure to give him time and help to instill the confidence that he can come up with and say things on his own, even if it takes a little longer. I was told that there have been cases where processing time has been up to 7 minutes. I just love to see him thinking and studying and trying. It absolutely breaks my heart sometimes when I see him working so hard and I see his little lips moving, but he just can’t quite come up with what he’s trying to label/say etc. His brain and his body just aren’t communicating correctly.

Along with processing time, we also have to keep in mind that Gus is VERY stubborn. Seriously, who would have thought Dane and I would have a stubborn child? (HAHA!) We have figured out over time that there a lot of things he can do, especially physically, that we just have to wait him out on and make him do himself. Because he struggles with some things, it’s just easier for him to let others help him, but in order for him to get stronger and learn to do things on his own, we have to wait him out. It’s a tricky prospect. For instance, in the Sensory Gym at LifeScape where he receives therapy, there is a ladder leading up to a platform then to a slide. He had been working on the ladder for a while in Physical Therapy (PT) and always required help. Well, one day he was super motivated in ABA and we watched him go up the ladder almost completely by himself. Then we knew he was physically capable. So, from then on, in ABA therapy, we would put him on the ladder and just wait him out and encourage him because we now knew he could do it himself. We’ve waited several minutes before, but he will eventually do it. The other tricky thing is his sensory needs and lack of safety awareness. If someone stands behind him while he is on the ladder he will lean backwards and pretty much completely just trust fall backwards seeking pressure. So, we figured out that we have to stand at an angle and not too closely behind him so he knows the only direction is up. This is just one example. We’ve figured out a lot in the last month or so.

Speaking of sensory needs, one thing that has revolutionized his learning and attention span is a specific kind of chair, a Rifton chair I believe is what they call it (see photo below). It is a chair that has a part that comes up in the middle between his legs and almost like foot pedal looking things on the floor at an angle that Gus can put his feet on. The chair also has a straight back and high straight sides that keep him a little more tucked in giving him that sense of pressure he craves and needs to better concentrate. He loves to put pressure on things with his feet, so the foot pedal type attachment on the chair allows him to push down when he feels the need. We went from not being able to keep Gus’ attention for more than 30 seconds TOPS (usually less) to up to several minutes now. IT’S HUGE!! Who would have thought a chair could make such a difference. Oh, the things I’m learning.

Rifton Toddler Chair with Adaptive Positioning. (This is the exact chair Gus uses, except his has a bar thing on the seat that goes between his legs.)

I am starting to feel more confident in my parenting all the time. I am starting to figure out what Gus wants and needs. In fact, I was even able to bring him back down from a sensory meltdown at church a few weeks ago. I was so proud of that! I took him to the cry room for a while and got him calmed down. We were then able to go back out and sit in our pew for the rest of the sermon. I wasn’t even completely horrified that he had ripped a page out of a hymnal causing an older lady to audibly gasp as if someone had passed out or something. (Haha!) Nobody knows him like his mama. I’m doing the best I can to understand what he needs from me and his surroundings in general.

I have a lot more to share. I got busy and behind; more later.

Signing off for now.

-AMom’sFaithUnbroken

OF NOTE: One of Augustus’ speech therapists said he could now probably be considered MINIMALLY VERBAL as opposed to nonverbal. We hope to progress to mostly verbal.

Welcome to the Jungle

Applied Behavior Analysis

What is it?

A therapy with a scientific approach to understanding and improving or changing behaviors. AKA Change the environment to change the behavior.

Wait…

What is behavior?

Seems simple enough, but before I go on, let me first express that often the word behavior is associated with “bad behavior”, but there is big importance in that little adjective before the word behavior.

Behavior is simply what we do and how we act.

The dead man’s test…

To better understand what a behavior is, we were taught to use “the dead man’s test”. Can a dead man do it? If he can, then it is not a behavior. I know, a bit confusing, but once you think about it and kind of test yourself it all starts to make sense.

How does ABA therapy work?

ABA therapy is not based on figuring out how and why one behaves, but replacing any given behavior with a more appropriate or beneficial behavior.

How is this carried out?

A lot of positive reinforcement and repetition.

The therapists chart everything, and I mean everything. Therefore, there is data to back up what behaviors are being improved upon or changed.

When & Who?

You most often hear about ABA therapy used for persons with autism BUT ABA therapy is also used for people in relationships and for elderly to help them better cope with memory loss and loss of certain abilities as they age.

It is important that children begin ABA therapy before the age of 4 to see the best results, especially in those with autism.

It is an extensive therapy with best results being carried out 20 hours a week.

ABA therapists are licensed psychologists that have completed a training program and obtained certification through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Based on what the U.S. Beareau of Labor Statistics reports, licensed psychologists must complete at least a bachelor’s degree. Psychology Today states that to obtain the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, the ABA therapist must complete at least a master’s degree and a specific number of hours of clinical education and experience.

ABA therapy is becoming more and more recognized as an effective therapy for anyone needing changes in behavior.

I was told by Gus’ first psychologist he saw when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder that ABA therapy was seen as the “gold standard” for children with Gus’ diagnoses.

The Controversy

ABA therapy is a very controversial subject among those with autism and parents of children with autism. As I do with everything in life, I extensively researched, studied, and consulted. Per my findings, I decided ABA therapy would be beneficial for my son. I read the horror stories from those that received the therapy in the past, and those who are vehemently against it. Thankfully, things have changed in the medical field and things aren’t as they used to be. There is still some controversy even with ABA therapy today, but I stand by my decision and am glad I did because at three weeks in we are already seeing amazing things.

Also, nothing is addressed or worked on in therapy without MY consent. I am 100% welcome to attend Gus’ therapy sessions, and I do.

Gus’ ABA therapist has and is working hard to build a relationship with him. She will be a big part of his life for a long time. He adores her and that will make things that much easier.

During this journey with my son, I have seen him with a lot of therapists. Some go through the motions, but then there are some that go the extra mile.

ABA THERAPY & GUS

What is Gus working on in ABA therapy? A little bit of everything. We set specific goals, and he is already nearing completion of some of them. He is working on eating with utensils and keeping his hands out of his mouth while eating. He is working on following verbal commands. He is working on using his voice to request things. He is working on communication in many aspects. He is working on conquering his fear of public restrooms. He is working on generalizing things. He is working on joint attention. He is working on appropriate play with others. He is working on so much more. All of his goals are broke down into steps, and as he masters one step we move on to the next until he has conquered the task and goal. He is thriving!

ABA Therapy & The Family

My husband and I also attend sessions with Gus’ ABA therapist to be educated in ABA therapy itself, as well as what we need to do at home to apply what he is doing in therapy at home. Gus is very smart. If we don’t have the same expectations of him at home as are expected of him in therapy he will figure out that he just has to work in therapy and home will be a free for all. ABA therapy also works with all of his other therapies and therapists to be sure everyone is on the same page and that he is shown consistency in all aspects. It sounds like we will also have meetings with all therapists at once here and there to go over things.

Applying things at home takes a whole lot of patience and a whole lot of time. While I am not perfect and sometimes let things slide, I try to remember that all of this hard work now while he is young will more than pay off as he gets older.

Our Schedule

Gus has been receiving ABA therapy for 3 weeks now. We started at 1 hour a day 3 days a week and quickly moved to 1.5 hours 4 days a week. This coming week, we plan to do 2 hours 3 days a week moving to 3 hours a day 4 days a week in July and going from there.

Gus also receives speech therapy and occupational therapy at home on Mondays and Thursdays in the morning before we leave for Rapid City. He also still receives occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy once a week at LifeScape.

Yep, that means we travel 83+ miles (166 miles round trip) up to 4 days a week. It’s been a spendy venture, but once we get going insurance will reimburse mileage; it just takes a while. I also had to quit my job, as there was just no way to schedule work around therapy and therapy around work. I still fill in when I can, though.

I take Ada (Gus’ older sister) with us 1-2 days a week. She attends part of therapy with him and eats lunch with him and the therapist and then works on joint play with him. Then, Ada and I go play outside, as she understandably has a very hard time keeping quiet and allowing Gus to focus. The other days of the week, Ada attends daycare.

It’s hard on me…and all of us, really. BUT what’s important to me is how Gus is handling it. As long as it isn’t too much for him it’s not too much for me. We are allowed to back off on therapy at any time we feel we need to. Gus is thriving right now. I keep in mind that a few years of this very intense schedule and intensive therapy will pay big later.

I also failed to mention earlier that Gus is the very first ABA therapy patient to be accepted at LifeScape in Rapid City, SD. Until now, ABA therapy was not offered at LifeScape’s Rapid City location. For a long time, we were adjusting to the fact that we would have to move to Sioux Falls, SD part time for an undetermined amount of time. Talk about STRESSFUL, but we were ready and willing to do what we thought best for our family, and kept moving forward, which is why Gus was accepted as the first patient; we already had everything done and ready to start at LifeScape in Sioux Falls, SD, so they were able to just transfer all of that information to their Rapid City campus.

I’ll keep this shorter by just sticking to the topic of ABA therapy in this blog post. We have a lot going on, and I have lots I’d love to share, but will do so at a later date.

Thank you for reading and taking the time to learn a little more about a life a bit different.

I’m learning all the time, and am always happy to share.

Signing off now.

– AMomsFaithUnbroken

ABA Therapy