A day in the life of Boris
A learner's story in an Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) Therapy Classroom
In the beginning of my career, I worked as an intensive behaviour intervention (IBI) instructor therapist. I worked with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in and provided applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapy. This consisted of teaching kids social skills, communication skills, language skills, math skills, and emotional regulation skills. We also focused on meaningful life skills such as toilet training (so much fun). ABA is structured, effective, and data-driven. I remember playing with kids, teaching them skills, tracking their learning, and graphing their progress at the end of the day. To be a therapist in these classrooms, a teacher, was incredibly rewarding, fun, messy, and also tiring.
This is a story of a client with autism spectrum disorder learning in an IBI classroom written by myself and my fellow ABA therapist colleague. All names and stories are fictitious, to ensure confidentiality of clients we worked with, but they are inspired by our experiences working with these wonderful children. The hope of sharing this story is meant to be a positive one - to capture the perspective of the client: the humor, the joy, the struggles, and the irony of everyday life as a student.
Part 1 - First day|
Boris entered the strange classroom. He saw bright colours, animals on the walls, and tables. There was something spectacular set up in the middle of the classroom. It was red, blue, purple, yellow, green. The light ran through each piece of plastic and invited Boris to play. He inspected it carefully, wondering what this strange structure could possibly be. It was tall and had tubes like a car ramp, but was certainly too small for any car to pass through. A person appeared, “Hi Boris, nice to meet you. My name is Teacher. Do you want to play?”. Teacher took a small blue marble and put it at the top of the structure. She dropped it in and the marble slid, spun, and swirled through the structure faster than any marble he had ever seen in his life. “Ping” as it reached the bottom and stopped. Boris jumped up and down with delight, clapping his hands. The teacher put another marble down and it swirled, spun, slid down a different way through the structure. Boris has never seen anything so magnificent in his life. He continued to jump and clap with delight. They played for awhile until the Teacher stopped dropping the marbles down. She asked Boris, “Want me to drop down a marble?”. Boris looked at her, then at the marble run, and back at Teacher. She didn’t do anything. She held the marble up and waited. How strange, thought Boris. Again, she said, “Want marble?”. Boris looked again. He waited for her to put the marble down, but she did not. “Say marble” said the teacher. Boris waited some more, but she didn’t budge. “MAR-bol”, said Boris and Teacher immediately dropped the marble down the ramp, “Good job asking for marble Boris!” she exclaimed. Boris was trilled as he watched it spun, slid and swirled, until “ping”, it stopped. Teacher held another marble at the top and waited. Boris exclaimed, “MAR-BOL!” and she dropped it down. They both cheered and clapped in delight together as they watched the marble catching rays of light. Boris wasn’t sure why the teacher was so slow with the marble, but it wasn’t too hard to say ‘marble’ every time, and so he did. He learned to use more of his words and ask for what he wanted.
Part 2 - Pomegranate stew
Boris raced back to the table, lunch bag in hand, plopped into his chair, and zipped open his bag with delight. He took out a small container. Removed the lid. Pomegranate.
A grin emerged on his face and he bounced up and down in his seat as if he had opened a chest of rubies.This prize was sweet, tart, and juicy.
He began to pick each pomegranate kernel and pop them in his mouth, one by one. After about a minute of this, he abruptly shot out of his seat.
“Sit down Boris!” exclaimed teacher4. Her words had no effect.
Container in hand, he proceeded towards the sink.
“It’s lunch time Boris, back to your seat!”
Still oblivious to her command, Boris proceeded to turn on the tap and fill the container to the top. He smiled contently as he admired the pomegranate kernels floating at the surface.
He carefully walked back to his seat, being sure not to spill a single drop of his precious concoction.
The teachers looked on in confusion as he sat down and removed the spoon from his bag. He dipped and stirred, dipped and stirred, dipped and stirred, and finally, on his fourth dip, he loaded a spoonful of pomegranate stew into his mouth.
He continued in this fashion until teacher4 had enough, “That’s disgusting Boris! You don’t eat pomegranate in water!”
She rushed over to his seat, snatched the container of pomegranate stew from off the table. Using her fingers as a sieve, she poured the water into the sink, preserving nearly all of the pomegranate seeds.
“Here you go Boris”, she said as she returned his container of pomegranate. She felt as if she was doing him a service. Boris did not feel the same. The boy shrieked and seized in his chair repeatedly.
Part 3 - A sticky situation
Teacher3 wanted to teach Boris everything. She wanted to teach him to sit at his desk and learn. She wanted him to learn all the letters and numbers in the alphabet, play nicely with his peers, and eat his lunch at the table with the rest of the children.
She wanted the very best for Boris and nothing less.
One day, the school’s principal came in with a special treat. Straight from the supermarket freezer, tricoloured rocket popsicle for classmate Olivia’s birthday! What a treat. Everyone got a popsicle and devoured it. Boris took his popsicle and crunched through each color. The red was sweet. The white was refreshing. The blue was the best flavour and well worth the wait. All that was left was a sad, wet popsicle stick. There was a moment of despair, but Boris looked at the principle’s popsicle box and saw 9 more popsicles. He looked around the classroom, there were 6 kids. There was more than enough for everyone to have another one. He ran over to the popsicle box but his journey was interrupted -
Teacher3 had just fed Boris his lunch (oh it was a struggle to encourage him to eat all his broccoli, but she did it!), and now she had just watched him devour an entire sugar-filled popsicle. She wanted to teach him and strengthen self-restraint, the value of temperance, everything in moderation…
“No. You're full”.
Part 4 - Heads up
All the kids were sitting around the lunch table, eating their lunches quietly. The teachers were busy talking amongst themselves as they figured out who was going on their break. Boris saw this precious opportunity and worked hard to cease the moment. He made sure noone was watching him and he grabbed the flashing laptop. He sat at the lunch table and played with this treasure, flashing green, blue, purple, like a glorious rainbow that emerges with the sun, after a long treacherous storm.
Teacher4 reached to snatch the device out of his hands. He HAD to stop her, but what did he have at his disposal in such short notice? He had to be resourceful - his head. He used all the strength he could muster and threw his head towards her, in order to protect this precious entity that he had worked so hard to acquire. His head shot through the classroom like a rocket, and Teacher4 ran out of the way, confused. His plan was a success, Teacher4 was no longer a threat, but when he looked back, it was too late. He was outnumbered. Teacher 2 had already taken the device and put it out of reach. That was it. He would never touch that beautiful flashing device again.
Part 5 - Cause and effect
“What on earth are you doing Boris?!” Teacher exclaimed in dismay. Boris had dumped a basket of magnetic letters onto the floor and proceeded to empty another bin on the floor. It made a satisfying bang when the toys hit the ground and it was interesting to see where each object would land. He ran over to the ball basket and wanted to throw this one too; he wondered how high each ball would bounce, where each one would end up, Boris was intrigued with curiosity and reached for the basket but he was blocked. Teacher3 stood in front of him, “Stop Boris, clean it up”. That was too much work, there were at least 100 toys scattered all over the classroom. Boris knew that it would a long time to clean up and take too much effort. He plopped himself onto the floor and refused. She asked him again, “clean it up” but he remained still and let out a protest scream. She took Boris’s hand and gently guided him to pick up a letter to put back into the bin. Boris looked at her and watched as she continued to guide his hand in cleaning up. It took a long time but eventually, all the toys were back in the bin. “Thanks for cleaning up. Now you can play with the balls” said the teacher, “Let’s play a fun game”. She took out a big rope basket and took a ball and tried to throw it into the basket. She missed and the ball bounced off the side, off the wall, and towards the door. Boris laughed with delight, enjoying the bam, bop, and roll. He took a ball and threw it into the basket. “Good job getting it into the basket Boris!” exclaimed Teacher. They cheered together and continued to play.
A Day in the life of Boris
Part 6 - the teacher with candyfloss hair
Teacher grabbed the sharpest pair of scissors she owned and without hesitation,
snip snip snip.
Long strands of straight black hair fell to the ground.
“How did it happen?!” she thought to herself.
Teacher had a vivid imagination. On the bus ride home, she saw a stranger, reading the newspaper.
Her imagination took over as she created Boris on the bus. He sat beside the stranger. The stranger was reading the newspaper, minding her own business. The stranger was not unlike Teacher, with thick glasses and shiny dark hair. Fear flooded the stranger’s face as she felt her hair being pulled. As her head was thrusted towards the ground, all she managed to see, out of the corner of her eye, were two beady little eyes of what she could only assume was a menacing monster. She pulled her head back to get free from its’ grasp and she felt searing pain on her scalp. The stranger focused her eyes on a little boy standing in front of her, with the most mischievous look on his face, and strands of long dark hair, hanging out of his mouth. Chewing. He was chewing.
The sound of the little boy’s mom apologizing profusely, asking if she was alright, could not be heard. The stranger was only aware of was the temperature of her face as all the blood in her body boiled.
Hair dropped from the boy’s mouth.
“Strangers on a bus - how could it come to this?” she thought to herself, "No, that will never happen I can't reinforce this behaviour. I can't let this continue."
Boris loved working with Teacher. She did everything she could to make learning fun. When he got things right, he would get high-5s. When they completed their assignments, he would get gym time, and if he did really well, he would even get his favourite - piggyback rides! Boris noticed how hair smelled every day. She used a different shampoo with fruity scents: cherries, flowers, vanilla, chocolate. Her hair smelled delicious. Whenever he got a piggyback or hugged her "goodmorning", he grabbed her hair to smell. Sometimes one whiff was not enough. He grabbed her hair to get a better smell. Teacher2 did not mind. He liked her hair, so she let him smell.
But as time passed, it did not stop at smelling. He started to lunge at her hair, pulling it to his nose so he could smell it. Then he started putting her hair in his mouth. “He loves you so much, wants you to be a part of him!” teacher6 joked, laughing.
“This isn’t love”, she replied.
Teacher was not sure what to do. This was certainly a disgusting and odd behaviour, but that was the least of her concerns. She let him be, but she knew she had to do something. No hugs? No piggyback rides? No, that could not be the solution.