My son started ABA preschool at a therapy center after recently receiving an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. The diagnosing doctor recommended 40 hours of ABA therapy a week. My first thought was that’s way TOO much! It takes a ton of energy and effort for an adult to get through a 40 hour work week, how in the world was my 4-year-old going to handle it? Well, it didn’t take long before he stopped ABA preschool.

The class had several students, along with a Habilitative Interventionist for each student.

ABA preschool did not go well. 

Although he had a great HI, he would just cringe at everything they tried to do. I prayed and hoped at the beginning of each day it would get better…. it didn’t. 

While getting ready to leave the house one day for ABA preschool, he fought with every muscle, cried, screaming no over and over, with a look of absolute terror. Physically, I knew I would not be able to manhandle him, nor did I even want to take that road. 

Even though he is non-verbal, J does communicate. One way he does this is through crying, screaming, and throwing himself on the floor from frustration. These were just some of the challenges that ABA preschool was supposed to address. But how can we achieve this goal when J is adamant on having nothing to do with the program? 

I reached out to the center. But I found that support at the center was spotty. One day there would be fantastic communication, other days I would get zero, even if I reached out to them. 

There were days I would stay to help him transition. That is a huge hurdle for J, any type of change crumbles his world. There were times the staff was supportive while I was there and other times they would give me unwanted advice. One time, while J was close to a meltdown one of the employees told me that the reason he behaves the way he does at ABA preschool is that I never leave him with others. Of course…. that was one of his goals, to learn to trust others and integrate into a classroom setting.

But, there’s something to be said about his behavior. To me, it was an indication that this program was not working for him. The resistance I felt from staff, the judgemental looks about my decisions, the inconsistency of communication, combined with J’s reactions started to give me major doubts about the path we were headed down.

As I was handling J’s kicking and screaming meltdown. I remembered what his play therapist had told me many months ago, it’s okay to stop ANY type of therapy or plan for J, that I didn’t owe anyone an explanation on my decisions for J. At that moment, I realized, the choice was mine, and since J had clearly stated his opinion, I pulled him out of ABA preschool at that very moment. The plan was not working, and it was time to start finding a new one.

We stopped ABA preschool and now he is thriving!

There were several things we did for J. First, we found a new center that would address J’s unique position in a kind and loving way. Our goal was to create a relationship and build a team of people who Jay could trust. I reached out to a local Autistic Adults Allies group on Facebook that was full of Autistic adults members. They help give an inside scoop on what has helped and hasn’t helped them throughout their life. This was the best move I made after the diagnosis. These folks are the true voice of Autism and everyone (doctors, medical staff, therapists, non-profit organizations, the public) should listen to their words. 

The help J receives is play based. He also has an occupational and speech therapist that work on specific skills, such as communication and using scissors. 

Nothing is ever forced. There’s no forced eye contact, hand over hand, and we do not stop self-soothing actions, such as stimming. And we don’t force him to stay with any of his therapists if he doesn’t want to. Yes, that took some time to build up the relationship, but it was worth every minute.  Our rule of thumb is that if he’s isn’t in danger, or hurting anyone else, and he’s happy, there’s no need for intervention from us. 

We just want to help J where he has hurdles. We want to give him the tools he needs to work through those obstacles… just like we do with our other children. It’s just that simple.  

One last note… always listen to that mom (or dad!) gut feeling. It was strong for me, and if I chose not to listen to that small voice, it would have caused damage. 

Share your experiences with ABA preschool? What works for your little gem?