John is in day five of his summer ABA program and, well…Wow.
“J, J, J is jump, jump, jump” he says, as he skips around the house during his break between sessions. Here he is pressing his nose to mine: “a pig, a pig, a pig,” he says and laughs. Nonsense for sure, but repeated with such mischief, such engagement, that I wonder whose child this is.
I wasn’t sure if we should do this, I had doubts. His ABA therapists are not strangers to us — they came to our house for eight full months, after all, before he and Sam turned three. But at our summer kick-off meeting last week, John was defiant and angry. He was so eager for us to leave that he called me Mommy (that’s the third time ever for those of you who count these things) as he flung his little body into my arms. I tried to interpret what he was feeling: was it boredom? exhaustion? sadness? I imagined he wanted to say, Please don’t make me do this again mommy.
I watched as trials were practiced at the table: “Do this!” “Match!” “Come here!” and saw how he used his arm like a weapon to send everything flying to the floor in protest. I thought of how some regard ABA as robotic and cold. I thought about what a miserable mother I was to force my child to repeatedly drop a block into a cup — especially since he had mastered this task long ago.
“Isn’t this a bit boring for him?” I asked. What I thought was, How is this helping him? How is this making him want to engage in our world? How can this make a difference?
I know it’s about interspersing achievable goals into his program, to give him tasks that he can complete amid ones that he is learning. And then I heard myself admit to his ABA team that John has only become more interested in being left alone to stim, not less. It is something to hear aloud thoughts you’ve sidestepped just to get through the day. That’s when I realized that dropping blocks into a cup is hardly the point at all.
Anything that pulls him back into our world, to look into my eyes and laugh, is the prize — whether he joins kicking and screaming or willingly into my arms. A Mommy here and there doesn’t hurt either.
Five days in and already I see a change. A calm, a contentment even. Today, he actually said his therapist’s name as she arrived. Huge things, folks.