When Lucas was a baby, he was addicted to his pacifier. Since becoming a behavior analyst in 2003 I’ve seen tons of kids who are equally addicted to pacifiers and also kids who have major problems weaning from a bottle. When I see parents with toddlers who have pacifiers in their mouths or drinking out of baby bottle, I want to yell, “get that pacifier out of their mouth—it’s affecting their teeth, their language and their behavior!” But I get it! I was that parent and I didn’t know how to wean Lucas without it being traumatic for both of us.
A few months ago I did a keynote presentation in Australia where I had the privilege of presenting the lessons I’ve learned on my personal and professional journey with autism. At the end of day I also participated in a panel presentation where I was asked a question something like this:
“After spending almost two decades in the autism world what changes have you seen?”
It was a great question that I had never been asked before and here is what I said:
I never had a goal to write a book. It happened mostly by accident. As you may know I fell into the autism world in 1999 when my first-born son, Lucas was diagnosed with autism one day before his third birthday. I then became a Behavior Analyst in 2003 and started focusing most of my work on training teachers and other school staff on ABA through a large State-wide grant called the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project.
Last week I discussed the first step to tackle any problem behavior and that was to fully assess the whole child and accurately describe the problem behavior. If you haven’t watched that video blog, you may want to do that first.
After assessment and a really good description of what the problem behavior looks like when it occurs, we need to determine when and where the problem behavior usually happens. Is it always with mom? Does it usually occur with a particular teacher? Is it usually within an inclusion or community setting or does it occur at home or in the autism classroom?
I did a survey a few years ago as I was creating my first online course and 300 autism professionals and parents responded within a week. They told me that their #1 challenge by far, hands down, was handling problem behavior. As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the doctoral level, I have analyzed a lot of different problem behaviors ranging from severe self-injurious behavior to one student who said “Are you happy?” 48 times in 10 min to another boy who became aggressive if anyone said the word “OK.” At that point, I realized how much I say OK each and every day!
It’s been almost 2 decades since my first-born son, Lucas starting showing signs of autism at the age of 21 months and that’s when my husband, Charles (who is a Emergency Medicine physician) first mentioned the possibility of autism.
I was horrified at the thought of an autism diagnosis and in denial about Lucas’ delays telling my husband, I never, never wanted to hear the word autism again.
My husband (who is a physician) and I were not surprised when Lucas got the diagnosis of autism one day before his 3rd birthday in 1999 but what was shocking to both of us was that the doctor diagnosed him as having moderate to severe autism. We both thought that since Lucas had some language, didn’t exhibit any major problem behaviors, and was able to go to regular preschool by himself for a full year, he would have been diagnosed with mild autism.
Did you know that up to half of children diagnosed with autism can recover if they are treated very aggressively with ABA therapy when they are very young? It was first shown that kids with autism could become indistinguishable from their peers in a classic study done by Dr. Ivar Lovaas published in 1986. That was 30 years ago.
So, just to clarify, three decades ago some researchers knew that recovery from autism was possible using behavioral treatment yet, I bet this may be brand new information for you today.
My weekly video blogs are usually for autism professionals and parents, but I have a little secret. All the techniques I talk about work great for any child even a child without disabilities. You see all of the strategies I recommend are based on the proven science of applied behavior analysis. I discuss the technique I’m talking about today in almost every lecture I present. I’ve given this advice lots of times to parents and grandparents of typically developing toddlers as well as parents and professionals in the autism world.
I’ve been working with children and a few adults with autism for almost 2 decades and I had a revelation several years ago soon after I published my book—The Verbal Behavior Approach.