By Faith Kirchhoff, Registered Behavior Technician (RBT)
Growing up in Avon, I have experienced the energy of Friday night football games and I’ve watched the fireworks from Rib fest. I’ve heard the noise from the band practicing all summer, and I have met many of the people in this town who make it such a strong community.
I also experienced working alongside children with autism and other disabilities. At the YMCA, I was able to oversee and organize the swim lesson program. Through this program, I witnessed children discovering their love of the water and playing without labels. When children with autism came onto the pool deck, they were much more than their diagnosis. The children in swim lessons could swim laps, tread water, and play with the other swim lesson kids until they were tired. It was amazing to see the water bring children of all backgrounds together!
Working at the YMCA inspired me to make more of an impact in the lives of these amazing children. When Cornerstone Autism Center opened their Avon location this past February 2021, I was so excited to share my newfound love of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy with the town I have grown up in. I try to help educate others and learn more about autism to better myself as an ABA therapist.
I began educating my family, friends, and fellow residents of Avon about my job, the type of therapy we do, and the amazing kids who receive services from Cornerstone. I’ve met and worked with the most intelligent and sweetest kids. While there are challenges and speed bumps along the way, it is worth it to hear the laughter of kids playing and see clients working hard at their programs. April is Autism Awareness Month. We can all learn more about the amazing individuals with autism while crushing false stereotypes and incorrect language of the diagnosis. Below is a list of five false stereotypes I have noticed.
Five False Stereotypes of Autism
We should remember they are a person with autism rather than an autistic person. It is important to be aware the language used is not an identifier; it is a diagnosis. The individual always comes before the diagnosis.
Spread the Word campaigns globally, as well as in Avon schools locally, to help stop the spread of harsher language, such as the use of the “R” word. The Spread the Word to End the Word initiative helps people come together to stop harsh words and jokes about disabilities. They now have taken it a step further–we want to Spread the Word: INCLUSION! You can learn more here.
It is important to know the difference between nonverbal versus non-vocal in people with disabilities. Nonverbal means having no means of communication. The majority of kids that receive services from Cornerstone are non-vocal, meaning an inability to use their voice, but they have another way to communicate to others. They might be using sign language, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECs) board, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device, or vocals. Cornerstone Autism Center caters to the needs of clients using their form of communication when implementing programs. I educate my friends and family about the different forms of communication our clients use along with the types of programs that are implemented to aid in learning. I talk about the big milestones that happen in sessions such as independently asking for desired objects, saying their first words, or identifying their feelings in a desired way.
When you’ve met an individual with autism, it might make you feel you know everything about behaviors of the disorder. However, everyone with autism is different. There is a famous quote that states, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Each one is uniquely different.” This is a reminder that although some behaviors are common, the definition of those behaviors or why they are happening can be totally different from person to person.
There are some individuals who have autism that go on to obtain a job, attend schools, and live normal lives. The diagnosis doesn’t mean individuals cannot function in society. Although some individuals with autism will need help throughout life, that is not the case for all.
Working for Cornerstone Autism Center has brought me new awareness and understanding of children with autism. It is an honor that I have the opportunity to share my knowledge and love with the town where I grew up — Avon, Indiana. View the virtual tour of this location here, or schedule your in-person tour at this link.
April 1, 2021, Faith Kirchhoff, RBT