I entered the field of ABA and was introduced to the world of autism nearly 15 years ago. The biggest lesson I have learned came about 6 years into my work with clients on the spectrum from a 6-year-old with ASD. He reminded me that sometimes the characteristics that lead to a diagnosis of autism are the very traits that make that individual unique and interesting. This individual enjoyed maps. We would say he perseverated on them. But studying maps brought him so much joy. He could name capitals and countries, rivers, and mountains. It was sometimes tiring for me to sit and listen, and it made me feel silly that he knew so much more than I did about geography, which, admittedly is not my strongest subject.
One day, he told me that he was sad that people wanted to “change” him, so he didn’t like maps as much anymore. He was afraid that if he didn’t like maps, he wouldn’t like anything. It turns out, he had overheard some adults talking about the desire to “cure” his autism and knew that his intense interest in maps stemmed from his diagnosis. This one conversation led me to the biggest epiphany in my career.
Our goal should be to help our clients to function in society in a way that will bring them the most success and happiness. We should strive to alleviate some of the major challenges they have in their lives due to their diagnosis. Our focus should not be on how to “cure” autism, but on how to help our clients to navigate a world that was not created with them in mind. Perhaps, our focus should also be on helping the world to change a little bit so that our clients and their many amazing characteristics can be embraced.
Tara Schmehr, M.S., BCBA, LABA