Last week, my kiddo started ABA preschool. 

It wasn’t easy… It was a gigantic step. 

Ever since J was diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum just four months ago, I have been trying to find a program that will help him thrive.  

All of the experts, doctors, and therapists have told me that kids who are on the spectrum benefit most from a specific type of therapy called ABA therapy. 

We have attempted to place him in a preschool setting in the past, before his diagnosis. It did not end well. The staff was not capable of handling a special needs child. We pulled him from the program. 

The state we live in, Idaho, does not have very many options for the ABA therapy. I found this out pretty quickly while trying to find options. 

Through a case worker, I found a center that was just starting their ABA preschool program. 

I met with the director, went over all of the information, and decided that we would give it a try. The director was understanding about J’s needs and did move somethings around to make it work for our entire family. 

Habilitative Interventionist and ABA Preschool 

In this program, each student is assigned their very own Habilitative Interventionist (also known as an HI). This HI stays with J to help him through any activity they have planned, eating, arts & crafts, circle time, and more. 

There were about 6-7 other kiddos in the class that also have special needs. Each of those students also has their own HI. 

J has never played with kids his own age before. I have tried to get him involved with kids at church, the park, and even with our family. He never did take to them. The only kids he has a great relationship with are his two older brothers who are 5 and 10 years older than him. 

Although he has great sibling relationships, we still need to work on him developing relationships with kids his own age. 

When I have made attempts for Jay to play with kids his age, he has never responded in a good way. Basically, he shuts down. He does everything he can to get away from the situation, including running away. If he can’t run away he’ll plug his ears, ball up into a fetal position, shut his eyes and hide. No amount of coaxing, bribing, or distracting has been able to get him to play with kids his own age. 

The only way I can explain his reaction is fear. He truly is scared of what is going on around him. 

To help him get over this anxiety and fear, his therapist, pediatrician, and both my husband and I have come up with a plan. Basically, that plan is to fill his village, or his circle of people, with people that he trusts. To do this I was told to never leave him in a new situation. That we all need to work together to expand his circle of people that he feels safe with. 

This means that I stay with him for every therapy session and preschool times as well. I let him take the lead. If he’s feeling up to it and walks away willingly with the therapist to conduct his session, then he does that session without me. But if he is reluctant in any way to do this on his own, I join him. This shows him that at the end of the session, he’s going to be ok. 

We have been using this technique with J for 9 months through play therapy. J’s therapist has been flexible to his needs. There have been several sessions that have been conducted without me and others have been with me. There were sessions where J would not make eye contact with his PT, and other sessions it was constant. 

It just depends on how J is feeling that day.

He’s always in the lead. We do not force anything on him because he shuts down completely from the fear caused by his anxiety. 

In the past 9 months, J has made huge strides. He’s talking more. Playing more. Following directions. This brings us so much joy. Because these goals are being reached. 

Some days are better than others. But overall, he has not been regressing, he’s been making progress. 

This technique is working for J. 

The one goal that the ABA preschool is focused on is for J to learn how to socialize with kids his own age. 

When we walked up to the door of the preschool, I could feel his hand start to pull me in the opposite direction. He wanted to leave. I looked through the glass and saw a few happy kids in the waiting room. No one was upset, he just didn’t want to be around them. 

I had to stop for a few minutes and talk to him. He was giving me so much resistance I felt that if I lost the grip on his hand, he’d go crashing to the floor. Luckily, I didn’t lose my grip. 

After a minute of explaining to him that everything was going to be okay and we were going to visit with his friends, he still did not want to go inside. I had to pick him up and carry him in. 

The first day, he did okay. Typical behavior, but he also played for a few minutes with a friend, and even said hi and bye when the time came. 

The second day was a lot harder than the first. 

He was not willing to participate in anything. Didn’t want to eat, play, dance, color, or anything else. He kept his head so buried in my chest and he was clenched onto me like he was hanging on for dear life. 

The Tough Spots 

I was sitting at the table with J trying to think of ways to get him involved in the world around him. His HI (who has been great with J) was sitting with us, trying to grab his attention and comfort him as well. He was plugging his ears because one of the students was having a hard time, which resulted in some screaming…. He has not plugged his ears like that in years. I knew to expect behaviors, but it made me a bit discouraged because he was regressing. Something we were told is not a good sign. 

Sitting with us between two child sized tables are the other students, as well as their own individual HIs. 

One of the other HI gals started talking to me. She mentioned how another client of hers did so well with the program when mom left. She continued saying how, “I know it’s hard cuz he’s your baby and all, but….” at that point, I spoke up and asked her what should I do when his pediatrician and therapist told me not to put him in those situations? I explained to her that it will be detrimental to J’s emotional and mental state. I could then see the other HIs glance over at me as I continued to tell her that our goals with J include building a circle of people he can trust, and that won’t be accomplished on the second day of preschool. I started to mention the progress he had made with his own HI, but then I stopped, because I started to get defensive, and I had to prevent it from turning into something else. 

Now, I’m not sure what people say behind my back about how I care for J. And frankly… I don’t want to know. But when you’re a professional, inside of a professional setting … it’s different. 

At first, this really bothered me. I can see getting the unwanted advice in public, while grocery shopping, or while visiting a park, from people who just don’t know better. But the shock value for me came from the fact that this gal is in the trenches of handling kids with special needs. 

What I would expect someone within a professional setting for special needs kids to respond, is support, love, and understanding. Unless you are on a child’s team, it’s probably a good idea to keep your advice out of the conversation. 

After going over the scenario in my head, I’ve come to this conclusion. No one can tell you how to care for your child.

You know your child best. You know what works. You know what doesn’t work. You know that child’s limits. You know when enough is enough.

Every special needs child is different. Each one has their own plan that works just for them. It is our job as parents to find what works for them… so don’t listen to the naysayers. Don’t listen when you get discouraged. Look at your child and know that they depend on you to help them find their own unique path. 

After the first week, the director of the program helped me step back and fade away so he can participate in the program as much as possible. 

It’s been tough. J has had a hard time with the change. 

He didn’t eat much on one of the aba preschool days, but the next day, he ate me out of house and home. 

And then the next day, when I stepped back he ate some of his lunch. 

We really do have to find our own paths for our children. This one has been hard to navigate. 

The one thing I can say for sure about our journey is that as a parent we are the ones who blaze the trail for our kids. They are worth the hunt for a village. So far, we are slowly finding ours. 

It does take time to build the trust. If you find that you need more time, take it. The right village will understand and they’ll be there when you are ready. 

Read more about our journey down Autism Road.

ABA Preschool - Thistle Hill