This is a questions and answers style book (with 101 question unsurprisingly) with advice on how to approach dealing with different behaviours in the teaching style of ABA. The book is divided up in four main sections: ABA in the Home, ABA in the Classroom, ABA in Therapy Sessions, and ABA in the Community. Then there’s some other bits tacked on at the end.
“How do I get my students with autism to be more attentive in the classroom and pay attention to what is relevant?”
Use more visuals in your teaching such as flashcards, charts and photographs. Help your students with autism to tune out irrelevant stimuli by minimizing it; keep your classroom free of clutter…
I didn’t intend to start by reviewing an ABA book but since it was first on my digital library here we are. ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is controversial in the autism community. On the one hand you have studies showing it to be the most effective form of teaching for autistic children (Terdal, P. 2013) and there is seemingly endless anectodal reports of the impact it had on the lives of autistic children from parents, professionals, and some autistic adults. But on the other hand there are many autistic adults who underwent ABA therapy as children and have been left with PTSD, anxiety and self-hatred as a result of the therapy they went through. There is a very well known post on the wordpress blog Unstrange Mind about ABA (you will find it if you Google “ABA therapy PTSD”) which talks about it much more eloquently than I can. I personally have issues with ABA because a lot of the things I have read about ABA sound very similar to dog training, which is more than a little offensive.
So where does that leave me with reviewing this book? Well, as I said in my initial post I read across all subjects in autism, and ABA is no different. I will do my best to be unbiased. And this book? Well, parts of it are actually pretty good, and other parts are not so good. The author does discuss the correct well to deal with transitions in a few questions, advocates the use of visuals, and adapting environments or providing equipment to aid in sensory processing. The author even discusses how stimming is not harmful and is a way for an autistic person to self-regulate in a world that can be pretty chaotic to be a part of.
So far so good.
Unfortunately there are some parts that I didn’t agree quite so much with. There’s advice on encouraging “quiet hands”, “quiet feet”, and “quiet mouth”, even after after discussing how stimming was a functional, self-regulatory practice. There’s some parts of how to get eye contact from autistic children – I don’t see the necessity of eye contact, especially in light of reports from autistic children and adults that eye contact can be painful and invasive. Then there’s a question about how to encourage verbal responses from a child during ABA therapy:
“How do I get my client to imitate words? He is nonverbal, and we are trying to teach him to imitate language. He can imitate actions, just not words.”
This is a common problem. It isn’t unusual for a vocal imitation program to take weeks or even months before the child starts responding. When first teaching this skill reinforce any sound the child makes…a yawn, clucking their tongue, babbling etc..
And it goes on for a bit, then ends with the whole “Don’t give up, use powerful reinforcers, and keep trying”. There’s no discussion over what to do for autistic people who are nonverbal. Some autistic people are nonverbal their entire lives and if you spend all your time trying to teach vocal imitation when it’s just not going to happen, you’re pretty much wasting time that could be spent helping the person develop an alternative means of communication.
You know what though, overall this book wasn’t the worst I’ve read (low bar!) and I know there’s a lot worse ones out there because I’ve read them. If you took out the entire “ABA in the Therapy Sessions” segment then it would be better, as that is where a lot of the iffy content is. There’s consideration and advice beyond the traditional ABA viewpoint. If you ignore all the advice concerning eye contact/quiet hands/speech then there’s quite a few pieces of advice that are basically the same as those given by TEACCH and other methods.
Terdal, P. (2013). Evidence for Effectiveness of ABA as a Treatment for Autism. (https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2013R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/13979)
Unstrange Mind (2014). ABA. (https://unstrangemind.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/aba/)