In 2016, the Indian government recognised "autism" as a disability, with the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2016. With this came the guarantee of rights, reservation and protection for those suffering with it.
Before this landmark bill, the behavioral disorder for the longest time has remained a misnomer as mental retardation. Notions are changing and awareness about the disorder is on the rise, but in our country, we are yet far behind in basics.
The first basic, being the lack of official figures to corroborate, on how wide and vast the problem is? The numbers are an important aspect to understand how wide is the problem spread and to bring in the right kind of intervention.
Moving further to the second basic and the most important one, is the essential intervention and treatment, where our country is lagging.
In simple terms, Autism is a neurological disorder, which can be detected as early as 18 months of age, when the child fails to establish eye contact, does not respond to human touch and is engaged in repetitive behaviors.
Once this is known the important aspect is intervention, which the child requires to lead a normal life. In India, intervention for autism is directed towards speech, occupational therapy and special education.
But this isn't all, this is where we are attenuated by our counterparts in the west. In the west, autism intervention comes in the form of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In India, the pool of this professional and the awareness of it is at bare minimum.
ABA was started in the US in late 1970's and since then it has been growing. Being an ABA professional and practicing it for the past six years, creating awareness on this intervention, I consider it to be my responsibility.
Talking about the intervention at present, speech therapy for instance helps the child with the mechanics of speech and use of it. The occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps the child with self-help skills. While special education focusses on the reading and writing skills.
But, will this be of much value if the child is incompetent to understand the language or perform activities without knowing the need for it?
It is here, the intervention of the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), through Behavior Analysts come into play. Since ABA, along with teaching other daily life activities, it will most importantly impart to the child the need to communicate and understand the nuances of language.
As an introductory article on the subject, ABA is a branch of psychology, which helps an individual with autism, Asperger's syndrome, and other developmental disorders. It focusses on teaching behaviors, important in the social and personal realms. For, children with autism there is no concept of the other and they are focused on certain recurrent behavior or activity, due to which they fail to communicate within their social surroundings.
Behavior Analysts would assess deficiencies in behaviors- speech and language, social and academic skills and use scientifically proven methods for teaching.
The Behavior Analyst works on the child using the principles of behavior, which have been scientifically studied and found to be effective. Behavior is largely a product of its environment and is strengthened or weakened by its consequences. For example, Behaviors which are rewarded are more likely to increase, this is one such principle of behavior. Using this and others principles of behavior, a Behavior Analyst makes the whole process of learning more simpler and fun.
Having worked with children of different levels, ABA has managed to change lives. It was in my second year of practicing, a four-year-old boy, suffering from severe autism, with a tendency of hyperactivity (incessant running) eating disorder and not having any form of communication came for ABA intervention. He had been taking other therapies for over a year, yet showed no progress.
But ABA through its in-depth assessment found out that the boy was experiencing hyperactivity, due to his inability to communicate and to divert his energy towards other activities like playing, a child his age usually indulges in. For him running around was a way to escape the demands of his environment.
The ABA's intervention came in the form of teaching him to communicate non-verbally (using signs) and made him compliant in completing simple daily tasks. This was accomplished by using visual cues (visual schedules), of which the task and reward were an integral part. Through the system of reward, he was motivated to complete the task and eventually learned appropriate behaviors.
After three months of intense session, he had learned to eat by himself. Then as he learned how to communicate, he understood the other and grew calmer. This was a progress just made within a year. When he turned six-years-old he had also uttered his first sound.
This is how ABA therapy has an upper edge over other therapies as it uses the principles of learning, motivation and reward, which then ultimately helps the child to learn behaviors of social significance, learn life skills and communicate --- important for one's living.
Note of the Author: