How ABA Technicians Changed My Child's Life
It's Not a Job; It's a Mission
By Pamela Najor
This blog is written by Centria Autism's Senior Healthcare Writer and mom of 2, including an 8-year-old son with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
When a child is diagnosed with Autism and prescribed Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, the person who implements the therapy one-on-one is going to become one of the most important people in your child's life. That person is called a Behavior Technician, and at Centria Autism they take that responsibility to heart and mind.
What do Behavior Technicians do?
To know what a Behavior Technician does is to know what is behind ABA therapy training. Once I got over the shock of receiving a prescription for as much as 40 hours per week of ABA therapy when my barely 4-year-old son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I had to learn more about how ABA works.
In the case of a child with autism, the Behavior Technicians start by "pairing" with the child. Pairing is an ABA therapy technique that helps establish a relationship of trust between an ABA Behavior Technician and child, which gives the technician insight into what the child would best respond to in practice. Pairing also allows the child with autism feel connected to the behavior technician through the use of something that interests the child.
Though it uses pairing to find positive reinforcers, ABA at times, can feel like challenging work. After repeated 6-hour ABA sessions, I felt like therapy was triggering synapses in my son's brain that were previously dormant and as a result, windows into his full personality had been opened. While all of this can be challenging for the child and for the tech, the stick-to-itiveness is essential to reach positive long-term goals.
"As long as you have that passion and drive to make a difference in the world, this is the place for you," Brad, a behavior technician for Centria, said.
ABA therapy was described to me as a life-changing journey. Though I didn't know what that meant at the time of diagnosis, I knew I wanted it to be true. My son, though high functioning and loving, was having multiple meltdowns per day ranging from 10 to 90 minutes each. Generally speaking, he couldn't get his point across and didn't understand the message being conveyed to him. Within weeks of beginning therapy, I saw signs the "life-changing" label could truly apply. And progress continued along that path for four more years, with fewer and fewer hours per week as more and more progress was reached. I saw my son express his feelings and thoughts in ways he couldn't before therapy, or in ways I ever imagined were inside him.
"There's hope and there's life past this diagnosis so that's what's really important." Stephanie Swain, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
Overcoming Once-unreachable Hurdles
I saw the technicians he worked with light up every day he arrived, and after many sessions, he and they seemed ready to burst at their seams wanting to tell me about the tasks he mastered.
"You are working with them to overcome hurdles" that they themselves, or parents, or teachers, or perhaps broader society may have thought "were previously insurmountable" Centria Behavior Technician, Jonathan, said.
In my son's case, his technician observed how he responded differently when working on a task and adjusted the program according to his interactions in different social settings. This allows the therapy to be applied in every aspect of his life. It sank in better and faster this way. His treatment plan was adjusted regularly as his skills and needs changed. "Every day is something new. It's never the same. It makes you think outside the box about what you can do to help this client today." Centria Behavior Technician, Eleanor, said.
We all learn from the effects of our behavior. Behavior that is positively reinforced tends to rewire our defaults to become our new standard behaviors. We all learn our most basic life skills through repetitive praise or another reinforcement.
For example, rewarding a child with cheers when taking the first step teaches that child that the fear and awkwardness of committing to those first steps will be worth the risk in the future until the action becomes its own reward and reinforcement is no longer needed. Intensive ABA therapy for autism expands this training until each child reaches life-skill milestones—set by parents and their ABA therapy team—towards their full potential. The best thing about being a Behavior Technician is "not the present. It's the future of knowing the impact that I actually have," Centria Behavior Technician, Brad, said.
Magic in Little Moments
Because every small achievement is a major breakthrough, personalized ABA therapy starts with the small things like blowing a kiss, or functioning skills like brushing teeth or tying shoes. Sometimes the skills taught are later used as reinforcement like, in my son's case, giving a traditional hug when appropriate, even when not prompted. He used to approach hugging everyone, even me, with his shoulder or back first. His hesitation expressed his uncertainty.
But now, with the confidence he's gained and social skills he's learned, hugs are his go-to connection mechanism. When he's having a moment of confidence or pride in accomplishing something, he says, as almost a warning to loved ones nearby, "I'm getting that jittery feeling," as he smiles and adds, "I think I need a hug."
"They are going to fall in love with you and you are going to fall in love with them," said Centria Behavior Technician Jonathan J.