My son is now in his second year of Intensive Behaviour Intervention (IBI), the most common form of theapy for autistic children based on the principles of ABA, or Applied Behaviour Analysis. In Ontario it is the only form of ABA therapy that is funded by the province.
It’s not only the second year for Daniel in IBI, it is the second service provider because he has recently moved back to this region.
I keep a notebook that I am sure would look familiar to any parent of specials needs children. I log the date and time of every conversation, meeting, phone message, email and report connected to Daniel’s therapy. I keep notes of who said what, who was there, if I was there in person or via teleconference and what the next steps are to be.
In the time he has been in IBI, I have spent an hour at a time in meetings with his therapists discussing how he is progressing in IBI. I have seen him do some tasks for several minutes at a time. The actual practice of the therapy was abstract and mostly theoretical to me.
Rather, it was until last week.
Last week I took the supervising therapist up on an offer to shadow Daniel during an afternoon of therapy.
My expectation was that we would watch Daniel behind a two-way mirror like in police shows or on the Mad Men episode where the female workers try lipstick samples.
It didn’t occur to me that I would be sitting in his room on a child-sized chair for two hours hoping the whole time I wasn’t messing up his therapy.
But that’s what happened.
Well, most of the time was spent on a little chair. Sometimes we would get up and walk to another room where Daniel could use the computer.
On a previous tour of the centre, I had seen where he does his work, so it’s not like I didn’t know he is in a class all by himself for therapy. For some reason this time, I imagined that he was going to be in a small classroom with a cubby of his own. The old centre and his current school classroom where he goes one day a week are set up like that.
On top of my surprise at being in his class with his therapist, the supervising therapist and Daniel, I was even more surprised at being invited to participate in work with him. Didn’t the therapist know I wasn’t a trained professional in this? Didn’t the therapist know I spend a lot of time wondering if I am doing tasks properly with Daniel? Didn’t the therapist know that I wanted to put all the letters on the floor into a bin and sing the tidy up song with Daniel?
After realizing that the four of us were going to sit iin this room together, that’s when I noticed the foam, plastic and magnetic letters on the floor. I couldn’t help but think that’s the way Daniel’s bedroom looks most of the time.
After asking a million times if I was doing something wrong or right or if this was the way they wanted to do something, I started asking why the therapist was doing things in a certain way.
The therapist was using a visual schedule with 3 pictures on it: play, table and computer.
What struck me most about the table time was how quickly the therapist worked with Daniel. He would have to do four to six different things successfully. The tasks included copying the therapist, pick out matching items, picking things that were different, selecting something that was a particular colour, use a word to describe an action in a picture, say what number was written on a card and answer a question with “yes.” There were other tasks, but these seemed to be most common activities. At the end of the series, Daniel would get a skittle or, later on, get a few minutes of a Baby Einstein video.
Not only did it all seem to be lightening fast, but it was persistent. And the whole time the therapist was writing notes and using verbal reinforcers. I have never heard anyone who was sober say “my friend” in my life.
Play time was often spent with letters. As the afternoon progressed, Daniel was asked often if he needed a certain letter and had to answer yes to get it or had to say “I want an e” or whatever letter he was seeking.
At the computer, Daniel searched for some of the videos he often plays at home. There was one that he requested that I don’t let Daniel watch. I thought it might be reinforcing a challenging behaviour. The therapist explained why they thought the video was fine. In fact, they pointed out the only time they don’t see the particular behaviour is when Daniel is on the computer. I didn’t make that connection before.
Another surprise at the computer was hearing him say “Google” when he wanted to find his video. Yes, I got a little teary-eyed.
The most amazing part of the afternoon was hearing Daniel speak more loudly than he usually does. He has a quiet voice, but that afternoon he was varying his volume.
The therapist explained this to me as patiently as she explained everything. I saw examples of many things I hard about in meetings or discussions, like generalization or maintenance. I learned more about fading his reinforcers. While I knew about these things before going into Daniel’s class, I now understand them better.
I feel more comfortable with how I am supporting Daniel after seeing him in action. I also understand more about how to integrate some of the activities Daniel enjoys into reinforcement.
Daniel is working so hard at IBI. And in the amount of time an average movie lasts I was given a very special look at just how much he is achieving.
My notebook just got fuller.
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