Monday, 15 August 2011

Allowing for Mood

As an ABA Therapist and proponent of a very systematic curriculum, it is important to me that my therapists and myself engage in daily analysis of the variables involved in teaching our students. If we get too rigid about how things are supposed to go, we miss the signs that help us indicate how to best meet our kids needs. Though we rely heavily on predetermined programming, we make plenty of choices day to day, accounting for anything that may impact the acquisition of skills in that moment (from interests to mood). The choices we make provide momentum to our sessions and quite often mean the difference between a good therapist, and a great therapist. All children, including those with Autism, display various emotions from elated to upset, from anxious to overtired; as therapists and arguably as parents, we should become skilled at recognizing each state in our kids.

The ability to tap into the child, and "pull him out" as it was once described to me, is something I require of my therapists daily, especially in working with children on the spectrum. Of course, a successful rapport between student and therapist propels learning, but equally as important is the ability to assess your client's most preferred domain, in any given moment. Being able to pull upon the right task at the right time, and in the right order to ensure focused completion, is something which provides behavioural momentum to learning. In a moment where the therapist really nails it, the completion of the task itself serves as the reinforcer. By structuring sessions this way or that, a therapist can ensure that sensory and sensory motor needs are met, among other variables impacting skill acquisition.

It's like how math, when you get it right, is really satisfying in itself; or that feeling that comes after completing the last piece of a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. That is called intrinsic reinforcement; reinforcement built-in to the actual activity.

A successful therapist or teacher is able to appreciate each of the child's moods, and understands how it impacts skill acquisition; this takes practice, and getting to know each client individually. Flexibility is something many ABA programs lack; flexibility is something many children on the Autism spectrum desperately need in order to thrive.

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