Let’s talk about the two front running methods used with children and adults with Autism; Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and DIR Floortime.
According to Autism Speaks, “Behavior analysis focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior”.
It appeared to us, ABA was the preferred and most common treatment used across the board (home, therapists and school) for children and adults with autism. We signed Maci up with an ABA specialist to get started. I quickly learned the system is about compliance. Do the work/task a number of time then get a reward. Sounds very good in theory and is very easy to measure or track results, however it does not recognize or understand the Sensory Motor Planning disability of the children/adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Motor planning is the sensory process that enables a child to adapt to an unfamiliar task and to learn how to do that task automatically. The key to motor planning is having a body percept with accurate tactile, visual, auditory, proprioceptive and vestibular (our senses) information. If a child does not have a good internal map of his body, he cannot direct unfamiliar movements and takes a long time to learn them. Making the execution of very simple everyday tasks very difficult.
We noticed ABA was not working for Maci because her motor planning and internal map was so off and lost. She could not perform on demand and the constant prompting became very stressful. We saw her refusing to participate, shutting down, emotional out bursts and an inability to focus/stay engaged (sound familiar?).
We decided to change direction, upon recommendation from our new and current Developmental Pediatrician and switched over to DIR Floortime Therapy. DIR is the Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model that has become the foundation for understanding child development and providing support and intervention that helps children reach their fullest potential. DIRFloortime has become most widely known as an approach to support children with ASD.
Upon switching to the DIR methods at home and school we instantly saw tremendous improvement in Maci’s behavior, confidence, ability to motor plan, verbal communication, self regulation and focus/engagement. It seemed as if the weight of the world was lifted off her shoulders.
ABA is controlled and compliant vs. DIR is natural and organic allowing for ability to be developed from within.
You can read more about DIR and ASD in many books including “Engaging Autism” and “The Child with Special Needs” by Drs Greenspan and Wieder.
The video I have included is a moment when Maci is in her natural and safe place. Not being prompted or cued to verbalize words using flash cards. She was free to be spontaneous in the moment using words and stringing sentences not common for her to say.