Applying ABA Therapy Beyond Autism

Janine Shapiro, CCC-SLP, BCBA

Those of us trained in Applied Behavior Analysis know how this therapy method can help all kids with disabilities — as well as those without a disability. Unfortunately, most of the funding and press for ABA only focuses on autism when so many more children would benefit from integrating ABA into their therapy regimen.

That’s why, every once in a while, we at Access like to offer our services to a child outside the autism diagnosis to experience two weeks of ABA therapy for free. These pro bono mini-camps are a way to make ABA therapy accessible to a family who might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive intensive ABA.

Over the summer, the Access Behavior Analysis staff had the privilege to work with a 2-year-old boy named Matthew who has Down Syndrome. He came every day for two weeks and had an absolute ball!

His mother, Micayla McElvain, is a stay-at-home mom, while his father works as a nonprofit IT manager. Matthew is their only child. “I certainly don’t want to advance any stereotypes, but he certainly has both the joyful personality and persistence (some might says stubbornness) that people frequently associate with an extra 21st chromosome,” Micayla says.

Micayla found out about our camp through their church’s special needs pastor and says the family waited to move to Nebraska just so Matthew could attend Access. While the family was fortunate to receive quality therapy through various state-funded programs when living in Indiana, they had never tried ABA therapy.

“He absolutely loved Access. He was so excited to arrive each day!” says Micayla, who admits she was hesitant at first to drop off her son since he’d never attended daycare or been left with therapists. “But he loved it so much and was obviously so well cared for while he was there. His progress was amazing, and I’m quite sure he didn’t even realize he was in therapy!”

That’s probably because Matthew got several romps in our ball pit for demonstrating positively targeted behavior. “One of the things that was huge was learning to leave on socks and shoes — something we’d had very little success with through other methods. He really loved the reward of playing in the ball pit.”

We also worked with Matthew on requesting specific snacks via sign language. “It’s so great for him to have that ‘voice’ of his own,” his mother says. “I think ABA is important because it works where other methods may not. Like I said, it was huge for him to leave socks and shoes on. Those social things are so important when it comes to inclusion. Kids with special needs just want to fit in — like everyone else. Those social details help them do that.”

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