After 10 years receiving ABA services, where my son is now

After 10 years receiving ABA services, where my son is now

Saturday 30th April 2022
Written by Veronica Dunning, BCBA and mother of an autistic young person

One of the reasons (and the main reason) why I got into the field of ABA was because I was after efficient strategies to support my autistic son Sammy in learning meaningful skills. His dad and I needed support for him more immediately but we also dreamed he'd live a good and fulfilling life in future.

We started ABA when he was around 4.5 years. He's now nearly 15 and we're there, in the time zone we called 'future'.

It was a long way from 2012 to where we are now when we started, and we don't take learning and 'quality of life' for granted. Sammy has needed a lot of planning, and breaking down to learn self care, play, and other skills, and he was much happier once we started facilitating his learning and helping him open up his world to new possibilities.

Time has flown by. We can say his life is definitely better now. He can say that too, as he shows it to us in his own beautiful way. And because his life is better, our life as a family is better too.

Getting here has taken us parents many tears, many sleepless nights but not because of Sammy. He's always been a joy to be around. Our tears and desperation were because we had to go after services that weren't necessarily working together or Sammy shaped, and his provision has needed us parents to organise it all. We learned a lot from it, which we also value.
Sammy has had bespoke services from the start because we were determined to have
Sammy in the centre of his services as his parents. That's why I'm here today providing services to other families alongside our team. It's much harder to do it on our own as parents but our children's voices and our voices need to be strong as part of any multidisciplinary team. It shouldn't take a parent this much effort to build a bespoke provision for their child but in our case, it did.

And this has been my experience with families we serve too. This is why this job is a passion to me, more than a job, and I do my best to support families in achieving just that. A service is only bespoke when the people on the receiving end can actually give us that feedback, and the young person needs to be in the centre of it. Their voice matter.

We have had a very good couple of weeks during the holiday and Sammy is here to show that a person can thrive when their support matches their own values and what they feel is important for them to achieve.

Sammy spent the first week of the holiday going out on a day trip with his support worker, who is also trained in ABA principles. He loves going clothes shopping and eating out! He had a few hours with his support workers that week but he spent most of that week with the family at home and out and about with us. He has been keen to help with chores around the house, he has been able to chill whilst watching movies and playing games on his own and with us too.

I always tell our families that if we support young people and families to have a better quality of life and an enjoyable time when we aren't there, ABA is being applied in a meaningful way.

We have been spending our second week on a narrow boat trip along Wiltshire canal. Sammy was a bit cautious around the locks on the first day but we could see he has really enjoyed spending time on the boat, helping us with the chores around the boat, playing with our dog in the park, going through the locks or staying up on land opening and closing lock gates. After a day packed with physical activities and fresh air, he has also enjoyed chilling out.

We have also explored different villages and went to local cafes and supermarkets to buy his snacks which are valuable activities for him. He has waited for his food to arrive, told the waiter his choices, carried shopping, walked and played with the dog. At times when he appeared uncomfortable we also explored that with him, and observed how some subtle changes affected him when he hasn't been able to tell us.

ABA based strategies have helped Sammy learn language and functional skills that have contributed to him participating and enjoying his holidays. He's always enjoyed being around people but he has really truly engaged with us over the years, and our bond gets stronger as he continues growing into this amazing human he is.

If you think about happiness and overall wellbeing, he trusts us as his family and that's helped him get through the unknown this holiday, with prerequisite skills to also participate fully in what we have done as a family. The increase in his language skills over the years with support from teaching procedures based on ABA also meant he understands what's happening a bit more and this has helped with his mental health in general.

It's important for us to be open to listen to him, give him time to show us how he is feeling and what he he needs, especially as he can't always tell us. His perspective is where his support starts and we want to always value and seek his views first.
We wanted a slow pace, fresh air and dog friendly holiday and I highly recommend a canal boat holiday if your family is ready.

The canal boat community is amazing and we felt the positive energy around us wherever we went. There are always people watching you, offering to help, ready for a chit chat and for guiding you along the way.
There were volunteers teaching us how to operate the locks at the start too.
We all need a bit of guidance in our journey and it's good when it's offered and not imposed. That's how we want Sammy to feel in his life, that he is free to make his choices with guidance when he needs it.

As a family we wanted to work together and we had time to connect and just be with each other this week. We met so many people along the way, but it was wonderful to come back to each other. It's an experience we definitely want to repeat.

I've attached some pictures of Sammy enjoying his holidays. The smile on Sammy's face says everything ❤️

Veronica Dunning, BCBA, Annie and Sammy's mum