Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

April 07

Meeting Point: Latest From Lovaas

Searching for Answers
Part 3 of a 4-part series

Read Parts 1 and 2 in previous issues of Meeting Point.

Life can seem like a never-ending series of challenges when your child is diagnosed with autism. For the Bronwyn family, the challenges also lead to an epiphany.

Having started behavioral treatment, Bronwyn's parents sought to overcome some of her deficits, particularly in expressive language and abstract thinking. Some skills were easier than others for Bronwyn to learn. While she excelled at requesting, she demonstrated difficulty with abstract concepts such as an objects size and category. Her behavior consultant, in coordination with her parents and the rest of the therapy team, discussed a number of different strategies to teach her these concepts. Ultimately, an incidental teaching approach was chosen as the most likely to be effective for Bronwyn. "I've seen some children who do really well when an abstract concept is systematically taught in a discrete trial format, particularly if it can be shown visually," says her behavioral consultant. "But Bronwyn is one of those unique kids who actually learn more quickly auditorally than visually. We knew we had to capitalize on her motivation in order to teach abstract concepts because visual strategies were going to be less helpful."

In school, it was a challenge for Bronwyn simply to tolerate being around all the other children. She often became startled if approached from behind by peers and self-stimulatory behaviors were likely to increase as the noise and number of peers increased. With the help of a 1:1 aide, Bronwyn has learned appropriate ways to communicate she needs more space or needs a break from the chaos. At the same time, reinforcement and prompting for success have been used so that she also tolerates many more situations in the regular education classroom and with her peers than she would in the past. Her parents are aware, though, that she faces more social challenges as she grows older.

Meanwhile, her parents also have had their own challenges to face. Getting the school to realize the benefits of ABA proved difficult. "The school was using an eclectic method and wasn't reacting to what had already been shown to work at home," notes Bronwyn's mom. "Over time, the school did change their approach when they saw what Bronwyn was capable of, but there was always a reluctance." When not dealing with the school system, Bronwyn's parents were dealing with their insurance company. "It's essentially a battle with one or the other at all times," says her mom.

More importantly, Bronwyn's family faces the ongoing challenge of what her dad calls a "revision of expectations of our family." He adds, "Before she was born, I just assumed she'd go to high school, college, possibly graduate school. I wondered, 'Will she decide to follow a career path, start her own family, or do both? What sports will she like? What will her favorite subjects be?' Now, I wonder if she'll live independently. Will she get a high school diploma or at least a GED? Will she have a career in any field? It changes your perspectives." There are "no assumptions" says her mom.

But rather than depressing, the mantra of "no assumptions" has been liberating for the Bronwyn family. Her dad gives this example. "If things had been different, I'd probably be a soccer coach now, and possibly pushing my daughter to excel. Now, I'm just happy she's participating." Her mom adds, "It's answering the question 'Do you love your kids for who they are or what they do?' It's not about fulfilling any of your dreams. There may be challenges, but they make me appreciate the milestones and the little things she does more."

Next month, follow Bronwyn's family as they share some of Bronwyn's personal milestones.

The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.



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