Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is scientific approach that involves using modern behavioral learning theories to modify overt behaviors. As an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, this is a theory that I find useful to practice in my own life. It is extremely challenging to self-reinforce my own behavior plan. I apply ABA to social situations so I can learn adaptive skills and function better in those areas.
I often run into people, some of whom are in the Autism community, who say ABA is not applicable to people with high functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. I respectfully disagree with this opinion and have personal experience to back it up.
I tend to exhibit some classic Asperger’s Syndrome traits such as coming on too strong with people and being overbearing. I do this by texting or communicating with an individual too often. This behavior is not readily accepted in our society; there are unwritten boundaries set in getting to know someone. This behavior can cause people to be uncomfortable around me; therefore it is a behavior that I have to change.
Let me share an example of how I created and enforce my own behavior plan:
My Problematic Behavior: Calling and texting people too often, in excess of 25 times per day, 150 times per week.
The Effect of the Behavior: Others shy away from this type of social interaction and tend to avoid being around me.
Behavior Plan Outline: When I want to text an individual, I choose to blog instead. By blogging about my feelings, I am able to connect with others on a social level. Sometimes I even access the desired social interaction via comments and discussion about the blog. Now I am getting social interaction without being overbearing.
Positive Reinforcement: I self-reinforce with chocolate milk. Every night before bed I enjoy having a glass of chocolate milk. If I meet my goal of not texting someone that day I reward myself with a glass of chocolate milk that night.
Without access to services as an adult I have had to be creative and come up with some of my own ideas for intervention. I’m not a therapist but I do have the knowledge of understanding how my mind thinks and works. This has allowed me to come up with strategies for changing my own behavior. I know neurotypicals (people who are not on the Autism Spectrum) who use the science of ABA on themselves every day.
When applying ABA principles, I have to remember a quote from Dr. Peter Gerhardt, which states “Context is king.” It is not possible to just sit in an office and work on one social skill for an hour or two and expect to be able to walk into any social situation and use the skill correctly.
It’s extremely important to teach a social skill in as many different contexts as possible. In the past, I have been in a therapist’s office, spending on hour or two talking about certain social skills. Then, as soon as I left the office my environment changed. There are too many factors that come into play, which make it necessary to practice a newly acquired skill in as many social environments as possible. While a therapist can’t be with me at all times, I like the idea of training a friend or relative to go out with me and practice the skill in different settings such as a book store, library, museum, or club.
Typically, when a child is receiving ABA services, the therapist is not only working with the child but they are training the parents, or caregivers of the child, to put ABA methods into practice. The child is not able to provide his own reinforcement at this stage in his life. The parents can then leave the therapy session knowing how to apply ABA therapy on their child in day to day life situations. The child is then able to practice the new skill every day, increasing the opportunity for it to become automatic.
Positive reinforcement is very important. As I previously stated, I make it a point to reinforce skills I use daily. However, being my own reinforcement is a challenge. I find relief when I write. For another person, positive reinforcement should be something that person finds pleasant. It is viewed as a reward for doing something positive.
I analyze things differently than most people do. I live in my own world and see things in the unique way that I see them. My mind is blocked to other viewpoints and opinions. Sometimes I become very frustrated when my thoughts become negative. At times, life is hard for me. In these moments of negativity, I have to reshape my thoughts into something positive to avoid becoming very depressed.
I think ABA therapy provides an amazing gift to people with high functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. We have the ability to communicate and work with our therapists. We can share with them how we analyze a situation and they, in turn, are able to share their opinions on how they would see it. The ability to bring the two schools of thought together is priceless and something that everyone on the spectrum should be able to access.
One of the greater frustrations for some adults on the spectrum is that access to ABA services is typically not available. The process of accessing treatment services is more difficult for someone who was not diagnosed until adulthood. When a child is diagnosed, some insurance companies allow a period of time for the child to receive services from a certified ABA therapist. However, as we age out of the education system at age 22, all services are pulled.
I used to be very upset and sad over this. But recently I’ve begun to accept the reality of the situation and embrace it. Yes, I have some extra hurdles in life but I am still a human being worthy of love and acceptance. I have learned that loving myself is all that really matters. If I don’t love and respect who I am, then nothing else in life will ever fall into place. Enforcing my behavior plan has actually become easier since I came to terms with this. This also allows me to educate others about my challenges and help them interact with me in a positive way.
Travis Breeding is an author and speaker on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Born in March of 1985, Travis grew up knowing he was different and always struggled to make friends and fit in.
At age 22 Travis was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, finally providing him with answers to all of those unanswered questions. After years of pain and frustration Travis has now begun the healing process and wants to share his story with others in hopes of helping people to better understand and relate to Autism.
Travis is the author of two books. I want to be like you: Life with Asperger’s Syndrome and I am a child: Just Like You. Travis is currently working on his third book and presenting as often as possible. To read more about Travis, visit www.travisbreedingautism.com. To contact Travis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.