Different Approaches to Autism Treatment, Same Goal


Iowa — Drew Foster has worked with children on the autism spectrum for many years. As a special education teacher, he found that challenging behavior was a hindrance to learning.

“I wanted to get rid of that behavior so it wouldn’t get in the way, but I wasn’t sure what it was like.”


What he eventually found was ABA therapy or “applied behavior analysis.” This is a science-based approach that uses positive reinforcement to build skills.

“We’ve seen the most amazing growth in social interaction,” Drew said. “Children who are learning to enjoy their daily lives and play skills.”

ABA has been around for over 50 years and is one of the most commonly recommended treatments for children with autism. Although it has evolved over the past 50 years, it is not without criticism.

“I’m not saying all ABA is inherently bad, but the principles behind ABA are a concern,” Kari Ebert said. “The idea that autism is a behavioral disorder. It’s not a behavioral disorder.”

Ebert is a pediatric speech pathologist who is passionate about his job but has concerns about ABA therapy.

“In general, one of the problems with any type of behaviorist approach is that we find what you love most, don’t give it to you, make us strive for it, and make it better or better. It’s about whether you can motivate them to do routine behavior, and that’s the goal,” she insisted. “What we should really try to understand is what this behavior is trying to convey. Because when you are doing action, action is communication.”

Ebert stresses that children with autism are not naughty, but they are often mislabeled as “bad kids” and placed in special programs for children with behavioral problems. That’s exactly what happened to Drew Foster. He was diagnosed with autism when he was in second grade.

“I was mostly proficient academically, but needed help with my social skills,” he explained. “Then I was expelled in seventh grade because I had some pretty serious behavioral problems.”

Drew knows what it’s like to live with autism. That’s why he wanted to help kids on the spectrum, and he knows behavioral therapy made mistakes in the process.

“As the field has evolved, we have taken a serious look at what is best for our children. and help them succeed.”

That approach is something Cari would love to see more of. Not only is she a therapist herself, but she is also her mother.

“We don’t wish we had another son, and we don’t view autism as some sort of tragic diagnosis.”

Her son Aaron is a high school graduate. When he was three years old, he was speechless. His life changed the way his mother worked.

“What we used to do as therapists was try to get them to behave more normally, or neurotypically. , we know that we learn differently, play differently, communicate differently, process sensory input differently, and experience the world differently.”

Although these two different therapists have different approaches, their goals are very similar.

Drew explains it with a smile.

“It’s the most amazing thing to see. Every day, I see children who identify with my diagnosis learn new skills and reduce their disruptive behaviors. Seeing each person grow.” I am very happy to be able to do it.”



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