Last week I visited my family. I wanted to surprise Jennifer, my autistic younger sister, who I had not seen in about three months. Unfortunately, she figured out I was coming. My mom had bought lemonade, my favorite drink in the world, and upon seeing it in the fridge Jennifer immediately said, “Jonathan!”
Board Certified Behavioral Analysts, the quarterbacks of our clinical teams, have told me that it is never too late to receive Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), or behavioral therapy. No matter how old you are a person’s brain can change, adapt, and improve. Jennifer, who is now seventeen, has been receiving therapy since an early age. While those years were the most effective in improving behaviors, Jennifer still benefits from her therapy. As soon as I arrived home, Jennifer played hostess for me and poured me some lemonade. I was surprised since she had never poured me a drink before. Even more surprising was the fact that she had not drank any of the lemonade herself until I got home. This was a rare instance of impulse control. While it may not seem like much, these were huge accomplishments for Jennifer.
The next night I walked downstairs to find that Jennifer was reading from one of her childhood books. I didn’t think anything of this at first. Jennifer had learned to sight-read when she was younger. She long ago was able to recognize words and say them, but if there was a word she had never heard of before she would not be able to read it. But then it happened; I heard her sounding out the letters within the words! She had never sounded out words before. I jumped out of my seat and gave her a hug. I was so proud of her. On the contrary, she was quite annoyed at me for interrupting her reading.
When I meet and talk with parents who have teenagers on the spectrum, they often talk about their worry that their teen will make little to no improvement. While pouring me lemonade and displaying some impulse control might not seem like huge improvements, they were to Jennifer and my family. When you add the fact that Jennifer is also sounding out words, she is proof that individuals are never too old to benefit from therapy. I hope other parents heed this lesson. They are not alone.
by Jonathan Slack