Having done my training at a prestigious law firm, I was well versed in research techniques. I went straight to google searching for information and treatments for an autism syndrome. I turned on my laptop and the hunt for solutions began. I found a South African organisation that specialised in autism syndrome following the teaching methodology of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). They supplied a number to call. I spoke to them for about 20 minutes and felt relieved by our conversation. I felt that they had understood the diagnosis of an autism syndrome and ABA made sense to me instantly. They said they would be presenting a course on ABA and on the autism syndrome 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 for autism syndrome was important. The call reassured me that not all hope was lost and I felt soothed by the exchange and promise of help to find a way to treat my son’s autism syndrome.
Starting our ABA journey for Autism syndrome
Three weeks later, at the tender age of 21 months, David embarked on his ABA journey and I was encouraged because the idea of an autism syndrome and facing a lifetime with autism in it frightened me. 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. 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) and I guess this all was part and parcel of the autism syndrome. I had been asked to collect items that were highly motivating for David; and had bought every single Barney video in the shop in preparation for ABA.
David was non-compliant and at the same time hyperactive. This was how his autism syndrome manifested. 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. 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. Treating his autism syndrome was clearly going to take time.
The team 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.
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. There were no words to explain to my friends and family what we were going through trying to recover David from the diagnosis of an autism syndrome. The physical and emotional strain took its toll on us. I longed for my son to speak. I longed to hear his voice and to experience those things that come naturally to other kids. I felt so robbed and so sad. Since we received a diagnosis of an autism syndrome for David everything had changed. There was constantly a dark cloud hanging over us. Following us around as we continued to survive the day to day hardship of our new reality – A life with a diagnosis of autism syndrome which had trapped our boy and held us hostage felt overwhelming. It would only be many years later and after trying many different interventions and treatments that David was able to function and regain some form of independence.
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