Parents of children with autism have long sought Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy to help their child learn and acquire important skills. ABA therapy takes commitment and it also takes time. But what if — despite everyone’s best efforts — ABA therapy just isn’t working? What if you aren’t seeing the results you want from your child’s therapy?
“If ABA therapy doesn’t seem to be working for your child, it’s not the fault of your child. It could be that the ABA therapy method, curriculum or assessment doesn’t match your child’s needs,” says Cindy Mrotek, CEO and founder of ace Therapies, a therapy center for individuals with autism, disabilities and behavior issues with locations in Merrionette Park and Lockport.
“But hope is here. You don’t have to be stuck where you are right now,” Mrotek says.
How ace Therapies is different
Most ABA therapies focus on teaching children with autism and other developmental delays how to carry out basic skills. The therapist breaks down, to the granular level, each step in the process, often using pictures and flashcards of common, everyday objects, sometimes rewarding clients with treats or toys when they accurately perform a skill or demonstrate a behavior. Therapists and technicians collect data on how well the child is progressing on mastering programs, oftentimes in contrived settings.
Yet this theoretical approach doesn’t necessarily work for all children, Mrotek says. A therapist may provide data showing high levels of success at a child’s recognition of a picture of a fork, yet that could translate to low levels of fluency related to a real fork. At ace Therapies, Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) work with children in real-life settings so they learn naturally, from their own environment.
“We teach skills in a context or environment that has a long-lasting impact for our clients. For instance, to teach a child what a fork is, we don’t use flashcards. We go into the kitchen and get the real-life object,” Mrotek explains.
This context-based approach builds fluency in children because it doesn’t require them to generalize — or translate the abstract flashcard of a fork — into the actual object. Instead, they work within the contexts and environments they are expected to succeed.
“This is very important because this is how we learn, and we know children with autism need direct teaching of skills because they may not pick up concepts naturally,” Mrotek says. “So, instead of transferring concepts from a flashcard to an object, we go straight to it right away.” The result is a child who more readily adopts the skill of understanding what an actual fork is — not just a picture of a fork on a flashcard.
Can ace Therapies help your child?
Contextual ABA therapy isn’t just successful with teaching kids how to identify everyday items. It’s highly effective in teaching essential skills for lifetime success for individuals with autism, Mrotek says. “In the long run, it doesn’t matter if a child can read and do math, if they can’t use the toilet, tolerate having their teeth cleaned or wait next to the car instead of running into traffic, they won’t have the most important basic life skills.”
The therapists at ace Therapies are highly skilled at working with clients whose former ABA programs failed. “The kids who are coming to us are those who just haven’t found success with traditional skill-acquisition ABA programs,” Mrotek says. “The programs aren’t creating meaningful change and these kids aren’t communicating, are not toilet trained, can’t participate in family activities like making a snack together or going to church.”
Mrotek’s extensive background in building appropriate individualized education programs for kids with special needs in public school systems provides her with an understanding of how important contextual-based skills are to children who go on to learn in school environments. She advises families to consider a variety of ABA methodologies and select the plan that best fits the needs of their child and their family.