Happy New Year, blog readers!
Yes I know, it’s been 2015 for quite a while now but I haven’t posted since 2014 so I can still say Happy New Year. Did you miss me? :-)
Well, today's post is one I have been sitting on for a while. I wanted to post it some time ago, but kept hesitating. I’m not a lover of controversy and this topic is pretty controversial in certain circles. The topic I am referring to is the divide between people who think Autism should be treated and those who do not. There are passionate arguments on both sides, and valid points on both sides.
I thought about why I was hesitating to talk about this issue, and realized it’s because I don’t want to offend anyone. But just by having a blog about ABA, I am offending someone. So there’s kind of no way around it, even though that isn’t my intention.
If you are unaware or not very informed about this “to treat or not to treat” issue, do me a favor: Go to Netflix, look for the movie “Sounding the Alarm”, and then just sit and read through the comments. That should bring you up to speed.
I watched the documentary (as I try to watch most documentaries about Autism that come out) and yes, there were moments in the film where I cringed or where I thought “wow, that is really some offensive language”. Yes, I agree as others have pointed out that the film was heavily slanted towards one type of Autism, and only briefly showed the variability of Autism.
Autism is a spectrum. There is absolutely nothing monochromatic about Autism. It impacts different people differently, to different degrees. As a professional in this field, I have worked with individuals who are greatly impacted by their Autism, and others who are only mildly impacted. Quite understandably, the way you perceive Autism treatment will vary depending on your experiences with Autism. Or, your point of view gives you a different perspective.
When I think of Autism treatment, I think about:
- A 5 year old girl who when I first met her, she was completely unable to communicate or use a toilet, and would stay up all night repeatedly jumping off of counters, furniture, or anything she could climb. Now she is talking, toilet trained, and doing well in 4th grade.
- A 3 year old boy who when I first met him, tantrummed all day, had cyclic meltdowns that lasted off and on for hours, and would run away from adults any chance he got. Now he is calm, he participates in his classroom setting, and every time I see him he gives me huge bear hugs.
- A 2 year old client who when I first met her, would not keep her clothing on (she immediately took off any clothing that was put on her), did not respond to adult demands (“come here”), and only ate about 3-5 foods. Now she stays dressed throughout the day, responds promptly to demands, and she not only eats her food but will try to eat your food too if you let her.
Basically I think about kids I have helped, or have seen get the help they need. I don’t know what would have happened in the lives of those families if their children didn’t get any services. Yes, I am very aware that for some individuals with Autism they don’t need intensive services, or therapists in their home, or visual schedules, or anything else I post about on this blog. I know that because I have also worked with clients where I discharged them from services because they didn’t need me, some of whom were quite upset about that. The parents wanted services to continue, the child loved therapy time, but I did not see a true need for intensive services based on the functioning of the child.
I am no door- to- door salesman trying to talk someone into buying an encyclopedia set. What I offer as an ABA professional is a service; its treatment. If your child doesn’t need that treatment, okay. Great. I will go work with someone who does. There are families who need treatment, but can’t afford it or can’t access it. There are also families who have treatment or someone else’s expectations of normal “forced” on their child in an unethical manner. Both of those scenarios are unacceptable. So whether your point of view is that ALL individuals with Autism should receive treatment or that NO individuals with Autism should receive treatment, can you see that it’s not that black and white?
As a newbie in this field doing direct therapy, every time I met a new client they opened up my mind to what Autism is. I remember very clearly the first time I worked with a girl with Autism, a child with Autism who could read, a child with Autism who loved hugs, etc. I had to adjust my understanding of Autism to fit the new knowledge. Just like when I started reading books by Temple Grandin, I realized Autism was much bigger than my handful of clients who couldn't communicate. So for that expansion of understanding I think its great when Autistic individuals speak out publicly and say "Hey, I have Autism and I don't need to be fixed or treated". Just please remember that your experience with Autism is not everyone's experience with Autism.
For some individuals with Autism, they have jobs, they are married, they raise children, they open businesses, and they have a high quality of life. Which is amazing, and that’s what we all want is to have a high quality of life. Then you have other individuals with Autism, whose families don’t even dare to dream that maybe, hopefully, one day their child might be able to hold a job, get married, and be a parent. This isn’t an issue where one side is right and one side is wrong, it all depends on your perspective.