Mastering the essential skills of waiting, communicating effectively and accepting “no” for an answer are critical for a cooperative and successful life. For some children, these skills come easily. But for kids with autism or other developmental challenges, these skills can be more difficult to achieve. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Cindy Mrotek, CEO and founder of a.c.e. Therapies, a therapy center for individuals with autism, disabilities and behavior issues with locations in Merrionette Park and Lockport.
“There are many fundamental skills that we all need to be successful in our lives and in our work, and to have access to resources and other individuals in our communities,” Mrotek says. “This is true for neurotypical individuals as well as those with autism and other disabilities.”
While many ABA therapy centers can help a child with autism successfully sort blocks by colors, name the days of the week and match pictures of shapes, the most impactful skills don’t necessarily come from a typical skill-acquisition curriculum. At a.c.e. Therapies, kids learn the most important life skills for their health and safety and community success through contextual ABA therapy.
“When kids learn in a contextual ABA setting, they gain experience and the skills in the physical place where they will need them, rather than in a theoretical setting,” Mrotek explains. “If we are teaching a child how to wait in a parking lot for their sibling to get out of the car — rather than running wild through the parking lot — the best place to teach this skill is right in a parking lot.”
Essential living skills
In some cases, children who are successful in typical skill-acquisition ABA therapy spend more time doing what they do well, rather than working on essential skills, Mrotek says. “Then, they are trying to catch up. We know how important it is to teach essential skills in the long run, so we work with every client to build the most important skillsets contextually from day one,” she says.
“Kids transfer to a.c.e. Therapies from more traditional ABA therapy programs that focus on skill acquisition because these programs haven’t created meaningful change,” Mrotek says. “Their ABA programs have failed them.”
At a.c.e. Therapies, each client is assessed by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst on a number of essential abilities, and then works with a therapist according to their own individualized plan to build skills important for a successful life. The most critical skills include asking for what they want, waiting when necessary, making transitions, sharing and taking turns, accepting “no,” and following directions and tolerating situations that will keep them safe and healthy.
Success in school, success in life
Kids who build these lifelong skills early are more likely to succeed in public school situations because they have the flexibility to participate in routines and group activities necessary for a school setting.
“My staff and I have all worked in public schools where we have seen firsthand that the kids who have the most problem behavior are those who can’t transition from one activity to another, who are not flexible, who can’t share and can’t wait when they need to,” Mrotek says. “These are the kids who exhibit maladaptive behaviors when their teachers make typical demands on them. They’re less successful in public school overall and typically can’t stay there.”
Fortunately for families, a child’s behavior can change with the right therapeutic approach. When contextual ABA therapists are able to help a child stop maladaptive behaviors, the child is able to devote more energy to mastering essential life skills, Mrotek says.
“The triggers that keep kids from being able to wait, to be flexible and share with others can be removed,” she says. “And it takes a skilled therapist to recognize that until these behaviors are addressed and are under control, the child isn’t available for learning. We help get them to that point where they can learn again.”
Learn more about ABA therapy at a.c.e. Therapies and schedule a free consultation. Visit ace-therapies.com or call an a.c.e. Therapies clinic in Lockport: 708-792-0162, or Merrionette Park: 708-792-0715.