Empowering People, Launching lives
At 13 years old, Johnny has already faced many hurdles. Each stage in his development brings new risks, to himself and those around him. What it means, for instance, to grow bigger and stronger than his mother. Or how to cope with the onset of adolescence.
Through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Johnny has learned strategies to help him and his family to manage his autism. ABA provides a personalised toolkit that helps him respond to each new phase in his life.
Johnny was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. His diagnosis also included additional learning disabilities, difficulty speaking and a hole in his heart. He was hyperactive, aggressive and self-injuring. He would frequently punch himself in the head and headbutt anything around him, and his ‘stims’ – self-stimulating behaviours – included constant screaming.
“Our family was falling apart,” says his mum, Jane. “We couldn’t take him anywhere. I was in despair. It was very isolating and very tough.” For four years, Jane and her husband couldn’t eat Christmas lunch together as one of them was always watching Johnny.
Jane heard about ABA from a friend, and found a tutor for Johnny before his fourth birthday. He showed rapid improvement, including going for walks with Jane for the first time. Within three weeks, he was saying his first words.
Johnny came to Rainbow School (now BeyondAutism Schools) in 2011, after his autism proved too complex for the combination of ABA tutoring and mainstream school.
“Rainbow School’s teaching is totally tailored to Johnny,” she says. “His targets are set according to where he is at with speech, reading, writing and maths – not where his classmates are. Every child’s autism is different.”
Johnny’s education also includes techniques to cope with his self-injuring, and tools to help him live more independently as he grows into adulthood.
“Johnny is 13 years old now and has gone past me in height and weight,” says Jane. “He is predicted to be 6’5. I need to have control with my voice and my face, to keep him and everyone around him safe.”
ABA has brought Johnny’s self-injuring under control. For Jane, this means not only that Johnny is safer and happier, but that he is able to stay with his family. “Without ABA and the school, now that he is bigger than me he would be headed for an institution, and I would be in hell.”
Johnny faced another dramatic challenge, when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The condition is life-threatening: he needs four finger pricks and four injections a day, and a carb-controlled diet for the rest of his life.
There was a time when Jane would have thought it was impossible to manage. But through ABA, Johnny is learning to live with his diabetes. Rainbow School taught him to tolerate the finger pricks and injections, and then taught him to do these himself – something Jane never thought she would see. He now understands and acts on his levels and is learning to tell someone when he’s feeling hypoglycaemic.
These tools will help Johnny manage his diabetes and be more independent in the years to come. In spite of all the challenges, in his mum’s words, “Johnny is growing into adulthood at his full potential.”
“There needs to be more schools like Rainbow School,” says Jane. “It is a godsend, and I can’t speak highly enough of it. It’s the only long-term, sustainable solution to manage his behaviours.”
Through it all – those behaviours, the pin-pricks and puberty, the mountain he climbs every day – you see a little boy learning to be happy. “Johnny loves school,” says Jane. “His big smile, the way he hugs his tutors – that tells me he’s happy. He comes in beaming every day.”
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