Having done my training at a prestigious law firm, I was well versed in research techniques. I turned on my laptop and the hunt for solutions and options for autism therapy began. I found a South African organisation that specialised in ABA and autism therapy and who’d supplied a number to call. I spoke to them for about 20 minutes and felt relieved by our conversation around which autism therapy I could consider for David. ABA made sense to me instantly as an autism therapy. They said they would be presenting a course on ABA the following week in Johannesburg and invited me to attend, after which they would start David on an ABA programme. David was only 20 months old and they explained that early intervention was important when embarking on autism therapy. The call reassured me that not all hope was lost and I felt soothed by the exchange and promise of hope.
Three weeks later, at the tender age of 21 months, David embarked on his ABA journey and his first autism therapy. A team of three girls trained in ABA methodology arrived at my house to set up his programme. I received a long list of items we’d need and prepared his ABA room getting ready to start his autism therapy. I bought him a purple wooden table and chairs, and arranged all his toys in order. Up to this point everything we had asked of David or tried to get him to do had been on his terms. He wasn’t pointing, which is a prerequisite to language acquisition, and his ability to imitate others’ behaviours was non-existent. He wasn’t making the normal baby talk sounds (such as b and c for ball and car). I had been asked to collect items that were highly motivating for David to prepare for his autism therapy; and had bought every single Barney video in the shop in preparation for ABA and autism treatment and therapy.
David was non-compliant and at the same time hyperactive. He walked into his new ABA room and made no eye contact with his ABA team. Instead, he started spinning in circles. The three girls assigned to David – Candy, Jacqui and Janine – tried to engage with him on the floor. Candy took David by the hand and sat him down opposite her on the chair, holding her legs around his to prevent him running away. Our autism therapy had begun. She placed a tray on her lap so they had a hard surface to work on. His first target was to imitate placing a block in a bucket.
They explained that their first step would be to teach David to imitate; and that we’d move on to more complicated imitation targets such as gross and fine motor imitation once David had mastered a sufficient number of object imitations. We’d build to vocal imitation, but before we got there we had to make sure that other developmental milestones were in place. ABA seemed like a good autism therapy to embark on.
Candy gave David a yellow bucket and a red block. She turned his face to hers, waited for him to make some eye contact, and followed this up with the standard instruction for imitative behaviour: ‘Do this.’ She then performed the action – which David was supposed to imitate – of placing the block in the bucket.
David was given one second in which to respond. He didn’t, and so Candy prompted him to imitate what she’d just done by placing her hand on his while she guided him in placing the block in the bucket. This was the beginning of our autism therapy and ABA journey.
Read more about ABA and the autism therapy we embarked on in Saving My Sons – A Journey With Autism. Book available on amazon and at all local bookstores.