By Doing What They Love, Kids With Autism Explore Their Futures

Inspired by their own skills and passions, kids with autism and their families are working with ABA therapists at Healing Haven to build skills for productive future lives.

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For parents of a young child with autism, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is a critically important tool for developing appropriate behaviors and socialization skills. But what about the older child who never had access to ABA therapy? What does the future hold for these kids?

While some parents have been told that their child is too old to be supported by ABA therapy, that’s just not the case, says Jamie McGillivary, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and the executive director¬†with Healing Haven, a Madison Heights ABA therapy center for individuals with autism and other developmental needs.

“Early intervention is imperative because it allows us to teach socialization skills before aberrant behaviors have the opportunity to take hold. We believe in and support early learners, but we know that kids who are ages 6 to 10 can still benefit,” McGillivary says. Because therapists at Healing Haven recognize the inherent capabilities of individuals with autism, they work with families to set realistic expectations for incremental growth for their child’s future life.

“Therapy might look different for those who are older, and there may be a higher emphasis on communication and how to get ready for life, but this older population can benefit tremendously from ABA,” McGillivary explains.

Encouraging kids’ natural talents

In Healing Haven’s specialized clinic for older kids, those between ages 8 and 16 begin to explore skills that can prepare them for young adulthood through immersive practice with ABA therapists who help them recognize their natural talents and interests.

“It’s important to make sure we are seeing what kids are good at and the beauty they bring to the world. We don’t pigeonhole them because we know they are capable of doing more than what society tells them that they can, even if they have challenges and struggles,” McGillivary says.

One client at Healing Haven showed talent in building structures with Legos, and therapists recognized that he could turn this unique ability into a marketable skill. “He was nonverbal but smart as a whip and he communicated in other ways,” McGillivary says. “A speech therapist suggested that we teach him how to assemble IKEA furniture. He put together furniture for our clinic and loved every minute of it.”

In full swing prior to COVID disruption, Healing Haven operated an in-clinic cafe where clients could assume the roles of barista, cashier and consumers. “Everyone had the opportunity to practice and we followed a curriculum to teach what it means to be a barista or a cashier.” The cafe opened to staff and families and served coffee and brownies that they made themselves. “They were able to explore what they enjoyed doing, what they are good at, and how those skills can fit into a workplace environment.”

Other clients crafted cards and wreaths for a holiday marketplace at Healing Haven. “They felt very accomplished when others found value in their work. We realized this could be a profession for some of them,” McGillivary says.

A customized approach

With observation and open minds, families can begin to recognize the strengths and preferences of their child and cultivate, incrementally, the skills needed for their future lives, and Healing Haven can help provide support.

“What we are doing is very customized and unique. We are currently creating an assessment that helps us identify client preferences and strengths as it relates to prevocational activities,” McGillivary says. “Autonomy is really important to be successful in the world. We strive to support the behavioral and emotional regulation piece to promote this autonomy. We also recognize the importance of teaching soft skills such as teamwork, communication, and problem solving to better set the children up for long term success.”

In addition to a clinic designed specifically for children ages 2 to 7, Healing Haven’s clinic for kids 8 to 16 supports older students through behavioral, speech and occupational therapy, with robust and practical parent training offerings.

“The whole family is living and experiencing autism and that’s why parent training is so very important. We are the experts in ABA therapy, and parents are the experts in their children,” McGillivary explains. “For older kids to really be successful, they have to have parent involvement.”

Through a supportive community experience, parents are encouraged to set realistic expectations for what the future can hold for their children, rather than underestimate their abilities.

“There is beauty in the journey. Today it might be Legos, tomorrow it might be building furniture, and the day after that, it might be parents helping their child market their business,” McGillivary says. “We take an ABA approach, which focuses on tasks step by step. We support our kids and their parents to live in the moment, but also to constantly be moving toward their goals.”

Healing Haven welcomes kids younger than 16 to explore their skills through ABA and vocational development. Learn about the many supportive services at Healing Haven by visiting www.thehealinghaven.net.

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