ABA Jargon: Systematic Desensitization

So today's jargon term is Systematic Desensitization. This is something that we talked about quite a bit on the show. If you were watching yesterday, we brought back an oldie but a goodie. Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh was at the pentagon this week. So in her stead, we played one of the episodes that she did a little over a year ago, Part One of The Anxiety Show. She talked about systematic desensitization.

So what exactly are we talking about? Our actual definition, oh, its a longy but a goodie. A type of counter-conditioning that involves learning to substitute one response, typically muscle relaxation for an unwanted response, fear or anxiety. The client practices relaxation while imagining anxiety producing situations in a sequence from the least fearful to the most fearful until the anxiety reaction extinguishes. Systematic desensitization is sometimes called graduated exposure therapy.

All right, as our actual definitions go, this isn't the worst, it's not the best. If you don't know what counter-conditioning is, you might go, "Oh, what is this going to be?" But it explains itself a little bit more. But still, lets see if we can water it down just a little bit so it's a little bit more accessible for us.

So our working definition, systematic desensitization: gradually exposing someone to increasingly unpleasant or fear-inducing items or circumstances while having them practice relaxation techniques in order to reduce fears or phobias.

You've heard Dr. Granpeesheh talk about this a lot. If you or someone in your life is experiencing a great deal of anxiety around a specific thing, what has been found to be effective and we've been using this a little bit on me in the new building because I'm not so good with elevators, let's just be real about it here.

So prior to us coming to the building, I worked on a little systematic desensitization by helping myself to relax while first looking at pictures of elevators, then eventually imagining getting on the elevator, then coming to the building. And I was in a place where I was good to go right to the 18th floor right away but not everyone would be. So that you can gradually work up to the point where it is less troublesome for you.

I've shared before on the show that I'm certainly somebody who has OCD and a bit of panic disorder. I don't know if you can have a bit of panic disorder, I think you just have panic disorder. And that there was a period of time in my life after my son had had two years of intensive ABA and the stress of getting that all working, that I had a period of time in which I could not leave my home.

We'd had a little incident in the car where I thought both my husband and I were going to die and it it, boy, made everything stopped. I went home and was like, "That's it, we're never leaving home again." And I couldn't drive. And rather than be stuck in that position forever, I got help we did systematic desensitization. So I now am a road warrior and I drive every day, at least two hours in the car.

So know that when I say to you that systematic desensitization works, it works for us as adults and this is something that we can use very gradually, as it says in the name of it, with our kids on the autism spectrum. And it's a much kinder way of doing things. I know it sounds difficult like, "Oh, man we're going to expose them to the thing that makes them uncomfortable." But in the tiniest smallest amount while being mindful of getting them to relax so that they can gradually handle more and more of it.

We can do this with sounds. We can do this with places. We can do this with fears and anxieties including heights, those of you who've written in about heights. Systematic desensitization, it works. But you got to go slow. That's the key to it. All right, that's our jargon for the day...

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