Sebastien was diagnosed with autism at age 3 in the late 1990s. Back then, applied behavioural analysis (ABA) in the treatment of ASD wasn’t popular like it is today; but his parents decided it was the only therapy that made sense for their son, as he continued to deteriorate and life became more unbearable. The choice was good: Sebastien, now 21, has achieved many milestones because of ABA.
How ABA has helped
Growing up, Sebastien’s therapy schedule was intense. “He had someone with him all day at school and then our night sessions would be about 2.5 hours,” says Jen, a former ABA therapist who started working with Sebastien when he was 8. “There was really never a time when he could be independent and he was highly dependent on reinforcers after every drill.”
All the hard work has paid off. He’s learned most things through ABA including toilet training, personal hygiene, how to shop independently and how not to stare at pretty women, says his mother, Suzanne. Step by step, ABA has helped him gain the knowledge and confidence he needs to participate in life and to achieve major successes such as graduating high school. “It has been wonderful to watch Sebastien grow from a boy who was literally locked inside his own body full of self-stimulatory behaviour and limited language skills into an independent young adult who attends college, is gainfully employed and tries to initiate conversation with his family members,” says Shayna Gaunt, who has developed and overseen his ABA programs for the last 7 years.
Everything in Sebastien’s life has been touched by ABA. “The power of ABA is not that it has recovered him – he has a full dose of autism – it’s that it lets Sebastien be part of the world and keep his inner demons in check,” says Suzanne. Sebastien still has plenty of challenges and needs a lot of assistance, but he is fully integrated into society and he’s happy. “ABA lets his true self break through all that mess that is autism, at least for a good part of the time,” says Suzanne.
Sebastien’s life today
Since the summer of 2012, Sebastien has worked part-time stamping and labelling bags of coffee at a local coffee house in Ottawa. “He’s far above everyone in terms of efficiency and quality,” says Jen, who is now his boss. “There are about five other guys on the roasting team; they’ve all had competitions to see if anyone can beat his time and no one can do it!” Sebastien is an employer’s dream: He’s always on time, excellent at his job and doesn’t waste time goofing around. What’s more, he works independently. “He does ABA programs at work but they’re self-monitored and they’re in place just to keep him focused,” explains Jen.
What’s equally impressive is that Sebastien walks to work by himself. Initially, that was nerve-wracking for Jen, his parents and therapists simply because of the unknown. “Thank goodness for Shayna really pushing us because we can hold on to his strings a little too tight at times,” says Jen. “Ottawa is a great city and it’s a 15 -minute walk between work and home, so it’s super easy.” To foster his independence while keeping an eye on him, Sebastien’s team used to follow him to work “by riding bicycles slowly down parallel side streets and then peeking in behind him every so often,” says Shayna. Now, his parents and Jen use a GPS tracking system app called Find My Friends so they always know where he is. Sebastien relishes his solo jaunts – he picks walking over otherwise reinforcing car rides – “because it’s that moment of independence and he realizes that he’s responsible for himself,” says Jen.
When he’s not at work, Sebastien studies carpentry at Algonquin College and, once a week, volunteers at a carpentry workshop with a support worker . Learning this trade seemed like a logical next step after high school, because Sebastien adores building, has incredible motor skills and is extremely detail-oriented. He loves it, says Jen, and is proud of the things that he’s creating and accomplishing.
“I would say that he’s never been happier in his life than right now,” says Jen. “He feels that independence is attainable. For so long, it wasn’t talked about but now we’re talking about the possibility of him moving out in four years. He’s really excited about that! Independence is his ultimate reinforcer.”
Photo courtesy of Suzanne