What an ABA session looks like

As I’ve already posted, I had Applied Behavioural Analysis when I was 17, and this is a continuation of a post in which I talked about it generally – this is a write up I did on the day of the first session.

They spoke solely to my mother. They handed her a questionnaire with my health details and things on it, not me, they asked her questions such as “and has the patient eaten today?” and “how is the child with physical contact?” “how is he with eye contact?” “what is his language like?”

This is despite the fact that when we walked in, I started aimlessly chatting with an autistic 12 or 13 year old sitting beside us, and the person interviewing mother could clearly hear that my language was good. They agreed the behaviour plan thing with her, not with me, behaviour to be eradicated and such.

After these preliminary questions, we were taken through into one of the therapy rooms. They sat us down and asked in depth questions about my interests and habits. They mostly directed these at mum, things like “how many times a day does he do [thing]?” when mum said I’m at boarding school so they’d be better off asking me, they started talking to me a little more. They asked what my favourite TV shows were, what I liked to do with my free time, what my fave foods, candies, drinks, etc were.

They asked me about school, what I was studying, and whether I was applying to uni, etc. They quickly ascertained that I love to read, and found out that my biggest special interest is 20th century poetry. Mum had told them this before. I explained that I have to read a lot for my uni application, and that I needed to know a lot about an area of literature and that 20th C poetry is the area I love the most so am researching.

They then set up the reinforcers they would use. They took from me my phone. They instructed mum to bring to the next session every single one of my poetry books and not buy me any more. They told mum I wasn’t allowed magic stars (i’m addicted..) outside sessions, took my harry potter books, told mum I wasn’t allowed to watch Hannibal outside of a context as a reinforcer, they tried to take my music but I said that was impossible because it’s all in the cloud so I’d be able to access it no matter what.

When they said that I wouldn’t be allowed to read poetry, I freaked the fuck out. I said I have to for uni applications, and they said “well you better behave then” and sent my mum out of the room so they could work with me. At this point, two other therapists came in, so there were 4 of them and 1 of me. They took from me the books mum had made me bring, the ones I had at my dads house for the holidays. This included my collection of Auden’s poetry, which is my heart and soul, my Larkin, and my Ginsberg. My favourite poets.

At this point I panicked. I started stimming like mad, rubbing my hands on the sides of my head to try to calm down and stop the buzzing in my mind that was coming from the panic of being separated from my sense of self. Mistake number 1. They told me to stop, and I didn’t acknowledge them. Mistake no 2. They then took my hands, physically.

This hurt, because I do not like physical contact with people I’m not comfortable with at the best of times so when I was having a meltdown, it felt like electric shocks. I screamed and started crying and shouting to not touch me, desperately trying to get my hands out of their grip. Mistake no 3. At this point, two of them had hold of me, one on each arm. When I tried to get away, the other two essentially wrestled me to the ground, forcing me to kneel then lie on my back. They restrained me like this, while I was crying and screaming and trying to get away.

Three men and one woman, who was holding my head down so I couldn’t throw it from side to side or bang in on the (slightly padded, children’s play area style) floor. I don’t know how long they held my like that, but it was until I had cried and struggled so much I flopped, exhausted, and just sort of…withdrew, still crying, still in pain, but unable to do anything about it because my muscles just weren’t responding anymore. It was at least twenty minutes.

At this point, they got off me, and one of the men pulled me up. I felt like a zombie. They walked me over to a table with a chair on either side, and I sat down in one of them. They gave me a cup of water (children’s sippy cup) and honestly i was so frazzled i didn’t even care and drank from the goddamn sippy cup. The woman who was leading the session sat down opposite me and started talking, really patronisingly, about how they don’t tolerate temper tantrums. I couldn’t really hear, it was like I was at the bottom of a swimming pool. I think i nodded along.

They then brought out some index cards with images on them and made me say what they were, which was fine, my language is fine. I could barely hear myself speak, swimming pool syndrome and all, but i know i was responding. Once they realised i’d got that down, they brought over storyboards of images and made me narrate them. Also fine. They gave me 15 minutes with my phone after that.

Then they started training me to hold eye contact on the command “eyes”. They tried to do this with food as a reward, which didnt work, because i’d rather not have some chocolate than hold eye contact for more than an instant. So the woman took hold of my chin and forced me to look her in the eye.

I started uncontrollably drumming my hands on my knees at this, so they said “quiet hands!” and held my hands, palms flat, against the desk for a long count of three. I left them there as long as i could. They tried various reward systems to get me to meet their eyes, none worked. I kept stimming with my hands, and after the third “quiet hands!” and hold ritual, they strapped them to the arms of the chair i was sitting in. It had straps for this purpose attached.

They achieved the eye contact by saying that if i could hold it for 3 minutes they’d give me 9 minutes with the auden they’d taken from me, 4 minutes of eyes = 12 minutes of poetry, and so on. I held eye contact until i cried, hanging my head, squeezing my eyes shut, hands strapped to the chair. They left me like this until I stopped crying, gave me the book (i’d managed to wheedle myself 15 minutes). Then we did it again. And again. And again.

After that, they did physical contact training. Handshakes first, i could handle 3 before i started stimming with the other hand at the time. They said “quiet hands!” and held my hands to my sides for a count of three each time. Once I’d managed three hand shake and eye contact in a row, they moved onto hugs. Which were horrific. Cue meltdown. Cue restraining.

They kept pushing the hugs until the end of the 4 hour session (inc interest assessment), and then i left.

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