The ABA way


It’s been a busy week. Dylan follows an individualised ABA programme which we meet once a month with his consultant to discuss, review progress and plan further steps. It’s always a busy week, cramming a months’ worth of work, goals, problem solving and achievements into a 3 hour meeting is always going to be a tough feat. It’s lovely to see his consultant and discuss Dylan for 3 hours but the work it generates afterwards is huge. We make our own learning resources, source our own equipment and manage all our own documentation so for a mid-week meeting the ‘jobs to do’ list often continues into the following week!


ABA is a method of teaching which is not without its controversy and for that reason I am keen to stress that we use elements of ABA methodology, we break things into manageable tasks to be built on one another. We use positive reinforcement to encourage Dylan and we reward him for his efforts. We use extinction to ignore undesirable behaviours and focus on praising the good behaviours. There is no punishment, no ‘drills’ as may have been in the 1960s or reported of in the media. Our own Local Authority refuse to fund Dylan’s ABA programme as it is deemed worthless as it ‘doesn’t generalise learning.’ It is true that the stages of learning taught are tiny and with many, many components but the skills that are learned can be generalised and can continue to be generalised within lifelong learning. And that’s the thing with education authorities, they can’t see past a person being 16-18 years old. By then the educations authorities job is done and if it’s been done to a good standard then great; welcome to Adulthood. If it’s not done to a good standard then great, it’s not their problem; welcome to Adult services – you’re somebody else’s problem.


Dylan is approaching 13. He is able to write his name, he can add and subtract and so it’s time to progress with some life skills. Dylan takes a long time to learn things, mostly because of his incredible anxiety around things that are unfamiliar. Dylan not knowing what he should be doing or what’s expected of him makes his unfocused and can even make him self-harm. Dylan works hard to learn and succeed and the mastered skills he has encourages him to become more confident and focused. Then the learning changes, we move the goal posts set a new task and he is left feeling confused and anxious; that’s Dylan learning. It’s stressful for him! By using ABA methods he is positive in his learning:


He hasn’t got something wrong; he just hasn’t learnt it yet,


It’s not a mistake, it’s just a correction


It’s not us giving him the answers but enables him to see the right way of doing something.


It’s not cheating!


Throughout Dylan’s time previously in the special needs education system those from his Special Needs teachers to Educational Psychologists gave Dylan tasks that he can’t do, that he hadn’t been taught yet as a benchmark for how capable he is or may become. Until we met Dylan’s ABA consultant we hadn’t met anyone with the understanding that testing him like that is just setting him up to fail. That’s why ABA works for Dylan.


Dylan enjoys his life skills; he likes to learn to cook, is getting to grips with laundry and has growing experience of tools and DIY. For one of this month’s tasks he is learning to make a shopping list. He can already push a trolley, pay for selected items with a chip and pin card and pack his own shopping bags – all skills which had to be taught as previously Dylan had no idea when it came to shopping. Each element was broken down, practiced at home in his classroom, moved into practicing in the house, used in the shop with supervision and now he can do this independently with an adult present.





It’s taken 6 months but he can use those skills forever.


He will be okay



Everyone’s out in the garden, the little ones are making up a dance routine and Dylan goes over and discreetly knees his sister in the side. It’s not an aggressive move, don’t get me wrong it could knock over a small child but it’s not as violent as it could be. His sister carries on playing – turning a blind eye to her brother’s bad behaviour. Not me.

‘Dylan, come here. Why did you push your sister? Get your Ipad, what’s wrong?’

Dylan gets his Ipad, whining and groaning, obviously not happy and at risk of spiralling, spiralling up and out, up and boiling over into fury, grabbing at himself, the pitch of his whine becoming higher and higher, more strained at his at his inadequate attempt to suppress his feeling, to supress whatever it is that he needs to say, to shout about, whatever it is that’s swimming around in his head causing a whirlwind in his mind with no opening or outlet to be released so it continues to swim and swirl, continuing the confusion, the upset, the fury.

He uses all of his focus for a couple of seconds to block out the confusion of emotions and tenderly pressed the buttons.


‘Sad? You feel sad Dylan?’ Dylan has never told us how he’s feeling before. We often ask him how he is feeling but he just doesn’t have the words to tell us.

pic2he gently pushes the buttons. Then againpic3

‘You feel angry?’

His little face looks at me, almost studying for a second – Did she? Did she understand me? He looks back at the Ipad and continues to press the buttons


I feel my throat tighten, choking me ‘What hurts Dylan? Tell me, please?’

He beings to swipe through the buttons, looking intently for the next option that he needs. He glides through the array of pictures that I have clumsily placed on the screens for him. No pattern or purpose to them, just words that Dylan has been exposed to previously and we have feverishly hoped that he would retain and use if he ever needed to. He begins to select more buttons.



‘Your head hurts?’ I ask and Dylan looks up at me with pain in his eyes, sad eyes and then he find the buttons to continue.


And there it is. He feels excluded, he wants to play. His aggression towards his sister was because he wanted to play with his brother. I’m astounded but also saddened. Standing there at the back door holding the Ipad. A simple tablet which has just shown me a chink of insight into the personality of my beautiful boy, his feeling, his isolation, his sadness but has also shown me the ability for him to emerge out of it. My eyes prick as his sibling hear Dylans requests and take turns in kicking the football to each other, gently encouraging Dylan to play and share with them. And for the first time ever I feel a sense of calm. He talked; with intent, with purpose and he made things better for himself. I realised then; He will be okay.