When David was diagnosed with autism I was led to believe that there was no treatment. ‘Not much you can do unfortunately’, is how the doctor dismissed us from her office. There was no mention of autism treatment, neither were we given much hope. Take him home and make him comfortable. You can do a little bit of therapies but there is no treatment. This is how she dismissed us from her office.
Leaving the doctor’s office I was determined to find the right autism treatment for David. I refused to believe that there was simply nothing that could be done. Looking back 17 years later I’m grateful that I had the intuition to follow my instincts and search for autism treatment. The first solution and treatment I found was Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) as an autism treatment
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 treatment began. I found a South African organisation that specialised in ABA and supplied a number to call. I spoke to them for about 20 minutes and felt relieved by our conversation. There was no doubt that ABA could be the autism treatment I was hoping for. ABA made sense to me instantly. 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. The presentation would explain how ABA can be an autism treatment and why it would be a preferred intervention for David. David was only 20 months old and they explained that early intervention was important. The call reassured me that not all hope was lost and I felt soothed by the exchange and promise of help. Now I had hope that we could improve David’s quality of life, and ours, and that there was autism treatment that could make things much better.
Three weeks later, at the tender age of 21 months, David embarked on his ABA journey, as an autism treatment. 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). Finally, we’d found an autism treatment that could turn this around. 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. It was heart breaking to witness and I looked forward to the results ABA as an autism treatment could provide to his skill set. If he were to learn and develop he needed the ability to sustain attention and he needed compliance. He walked into his new ABA room and made no eye contact with his ABA team. Clearly, he was in need of intensive autism treatment and ABA seemed like the right solution. Instead of co-operating with the team, 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. Our autism treatment had begun. I never thought it would be this challenging to help David but I was determined to follow the procedures in ABA as an autism treatment for David. I desperately wanted my son to learn how to communicate and how to function. Autism treatment was essential to achieve this outcome.
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. This made sense and as much as the first few days of David’s ABA program proved challenging I was pleased with my decision of ABA as an autism treatment for David.
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.
Biomedical Intervention as an autism treatment
David’s health was compromised. He was a picky eater and refused food. It became increasingly more difficult to feed him and I began to investigate the biomedical treatment protocol as an autism treatment for David. I had to look beyond ABA for more autism treatment. The first book I read was by Dr Jacquelyn McCandless, “Children with Starving Brains”. This book detailed the autism treatment I could consider for David including supplementing nutritional deficiencies, reducing inflammation, supporting the immune system and detoxification. After reading her book, I felt empowered and knowledgeable on how to treat David’s inflamed gut. Dr McCandless guided our autism treatment for David. Her recommendations and experience in autism treatment, proved invaluable in helping David restore health and functionality.
We’d need to follow her protocol and instruction for many years to come. Autism treatment takes time. Healing takes time. There were many times that we deliberated the autism treatment protocols for hours on end before deciding on the right course of action for David. Conversations in my kitchen weren’t about soccer games or which friend could come over to play but revolved around treatment for David.
Biomedical treatment and ABA, both proved to be the right treatment and David made gains in his functionality over many years of autism treatment. There were many challenging days when we’d doubt our decisions on the autism treatment we’d decided to embark on for David. It was on days like these that we had to hold on to faith and be courageous and strong in our belief that we’d taken the right decisions and followed the best treatment for David.