A closer look at ABA, a science-based approach to treating autism

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23By all accounts, Michael Ketner was a typical baby.

“His language was coming along. He was playing peek-a-boo and he would hide and toss things off the table and say ‘uh oh!’” said Krystal Ketner, Michael’s mom.

Krystal says that all changed when he was 15-months-old. Suddenly, her little boy stopped talking.

At 2-years-old, doctors diagnosed Michael, with autism – a developmental disability that affects his social and communication skills.

4“It was something I looked up on my own. I was afraid that’s what it was. But you always want to hear something different. Maybe it could be more easily treated. And I’m just being too worrisome,” Krystal said.

Some of the specialists recommended Krystal explore Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for her son, a science-based approach to treating autism.

ABA is an intensive, often one-on-one treatment method that is beneficial for individuals with autism.

Michael, now 17, works with his tutor, Sonia Thomas every day after school, for up to six hours at a time.

Krystal Ketner describes the ABA methodology as breaking down tasks into simple, systematic steps.

“We’ve taught him how to use utensils, how to drink out of a cup, how to sit at the table, how to respond to him name: very, very basic things,” Ketner said.

Charla Hutchinson is assistant director of A Bridge to Learning in Lexington and oversees dozens of children’s progress in using ABA in North Carolina.

“I don`t set out to cure autism, that`s not my purpose,” Hutchinson said. “The research is very clear: It doesn`t promote a cure, it does promote effectiveness.”

Sara and Damian Eastwell got their son, William, involved in ABA as a toddler. Now 10, the couple has seen tremendous growth, especially in William’s ability to connect.

“There was a point where he didn`t even know if we were in the room or not. He was shut off from us,” Eastwell said, describing his son before he started ABA. “We`ve been allowed to connect with our own son, which is the most important thing.”

There is no cure for autism. Both families say they’ll continue using ABA as a treatment as long as it keeps working.

“No matter whether the progress is slow or it comes very quickly, we rejoice in all of the progress that he’s able to make,” Ketner said of Michael.


  • Miranda

    I know children with Autism and one in particular; she is non-vebal and has hypertonia and since has been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy…her parents would never even contemplate sending their child to an institution just because she has this disorder. Sending your children to a home to me seems like a parent who doesn’t want to take care of their child, instead they just send them off to an institution to be drugged.

    • katie

      Miranda, that’s really insensitive of you. Those of us who work with children with autism know every child and every situation is different. Some children with autism have EXTREME issues and behaviors (such as self harming to the point of pulling their own eyes out of the sockets and needing years of surgeries and medical treatment.) I have noticed often times the parents who work the hardest and provide the best treatments for their children will still have children with the most violent or difficult behaviors. No parent wants to institutionalize their child. Your comment leads me to believe you know very little about the varying degrees to which autism affects different people. For some, it can be impossible to keep their children safe at home. Please try to be less judgemental of parents trying to do their very best.

    • Sara

      I am glad, Miranda, that you have the luxury of being totally ignorant of what it is like to care for someone with autism. Those of us who don’t however, have hard decisions to make all of the time. As painful as it is for some 24 hour care in a professional facility is necessary. I hope not to be putting my son in a group home while he is a child, but because autistic people have great problems dealing with change, I know the kindest thing will be to place him in one as an adult because he will need to be able to adjust to a new home because one day will die and he will not need the shock of total separation as well as a new home.

      • Concerned

        Sara I am not ignorant to the struggles of taking care of a child with autism. There are some parent that do however send their children off because they are not willing to take care of them because it doesn’t fit into their daily schedule or fit their lifestyle. You have to admit that. I didn’t say that this mother did that. I am simply saying that there are cases like that.

  • Phyllis

    As they say….if you have met one child with autism you have met ONE child with Autism. Just like the rest of us every child is different. Having been in this field for 27 years most parents I have known do the absolute best they can for their child….whatever that may be. I could not begin to know what is best…it’s different for everyone.

  • Tammy

    I would like to know where in the article is says that any of these parents institutionalized their child. REALLY lady read the article.

  • Concerned

    I know it can be very hard for a parent to send their child off, and yes I did read the article Tammy. I didn’t say that this particular parent sent their child to an institution, however there have been many that have. There is more than one article regarding autism and not only the effect it has on the child but the family as well. There are so many different levels of autism and yes some are self harming. There are so many different support and outreach groups that will come in and provide care for the child and work on development without having to institutionalize your child. My friend refuses to give her daughter the medication the doctor prescribed to keep her in cognitive, so they can sleep. Everyone cant handle the stress of having a child with a disability and others can…its as simple as that. As I stated she is non-verbal and has one of the most severe cases of autism but they have managed to teach her sign language to communicate, use the bathroom etc…she is now 12 yrs. old and my friends have had to make decisions, work opposite schedules in order for her to be cared for, some don’t have that advantage; this is true. My intention was not to insult anyone. I do apologize to parent in this article if I offended her. I do understand that it can be a struggle but their are some parent who don’t do any type of research to prevent institutionalizing. I should have started off by commending the parent who looked for another resource. I get angry when I read some articles because autism is very close to my heart and down syndrome is as well. I was asked when I was pregnant if I wanted to abort my daughter because of down syndrome, my answer was NO. If God has given you this, he obviously thinks you were chosen to do this job as a parent…God makes no mistakes.

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