Monday, August 17, 2015

ABA for Minority Families

You know, almost 40% of the families I see now are families with minority status:  families of color, LGBT families, multiracial families, families shaped by adoption or foster care, poor families of any color...  and this is no surprise to me.  Out there in the non-behavioral world, families like this - which is a family like my own - face horrible prejudice trying to find services.  White, heterosexual, middle-class  parents with blue-eyed kids, and you get behavioral services for autism.  Anyone else?  The non-behavioral therapy world offers lots of medicines, lots of judgements ("maybe you should spank him more..."), lots of service denials.

The one thing that really appealed to me about behavioral therapies for my son when he was diagnosed was the very prejudicial crap I kept hearing from evaluators and potential future therapists.  The counselor and psychologist who suggested therapy with a man (because of course single mothers or lesbian-headed families can't rear boys properly), or the white therapists who said he just needed Ritalin (because don't all African-descent boys need Ritalin?), and the Black therapist who said my son was tribal and needed to run and hunt.  I have no idea if the BCBA therapists who came into my home approved of or liked me and my family (they didn't all support homeschooling, for sure), but as long as they were measuring my son's objective behaviors, it DID NOT MATTER.  I could see my son was learning to turn his head, listen to directions, pick up pencils, unfasten his seat belt.  And no therapist - counselor - physical therapist - occupational therapist - had ever been able to help him learn these things.

And he was HAVING FUN.  One of the things I tell EVERYONE is that therapy for kids on the autism spectrum should be FUN.  My son loved searching for pokemon cards while he practiced learning how to listen to directions, and then he loved playing pokemon with his therapist, Chelsey (who was not a BCBA but was in training to be...).  And my son loved finally being able to hold a pencil, get into the car without pain, and he even enjoyed learning to look at people and turn his head and follow conversations.  My son learned to enter the world.  It did not matter one whit whether or not he was Black, blue or purple.  It only mattered that week by week he learned how to do simple tasks that built up skills to move and interact with his environment.

ABA is not the only behavioral therapy.  So the real issue is finding OBJECTIVE goals and measurements for your children if you are searching for therapies and you are a minority family.  Every good teacher I've ever met uses the laws of behaviorism to teach, so that is what matters most.  But if you do work with an ABA therapist, they shouldn't be talking about your child's emotional state or problems with being a child of color.  They should be helping your child learn behavior/skills/abilities that increase your child's capacity to participate in the world of childhood.

Now I do hear the horror stories out there.  ABA therapists can truly suck.  I highly advise against those programs that sit your child at a table for hours at a time.  That is not FUN, and it isn't learning skills.  So get rid of any therapist, ABA or not, that wants your kid to sit.  I also hear horror stories about floortime therapists and music therapists and plenty of other professionals who rely on their prejudices and not objective fact.  (One of my families had a speech pathologist imply that due to speaking Arabic at home, their child could not learn English properly....)

Objectivity means this:  a therapist should be able to show you the behavior you need to teach.  Perhaps your child needs to practice using more words.  A therapist should be talking about fun, playful ways to help your child speak more, and the therapist should be counting how many words your child is using week to week.  You should be able to tell just as much as the therapist if the suggestions he or she makes are working.  Your kid should be talking more.

And counting words (Arabic or otherwise) does not depend on the therapist's prejudices, beliefs, opinions.  Behavioral interventions should be that:  See-able.  Measure-able.  Clear.  Precise.

And that means minority families like mine can finally get services that do not depend on therapists having done their anti-prejudice work (mostly they haven't!).  But behavioral means measurable and countable, so you as a parent know if your child is learning.

And learning is what family is all about.

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