I know that there are a lot of pieces out there that say the same thing. And I'm not defending ABA therapy in it's entirety because I have found that treatments and therapies should be evaluated for their worth on a case by case basis... and the only experience that I have is the experience of our family, limited though it is.
When Mae was first diagnosed, I plunged into the world of all things Autism head first. I read everything I could get my hands on. Soon after Mae started ABA I was pointed in the direction of the horror stories of the Lovaas model of ABA and I'll admit, I wouldn't defend what was done in the name of "helping" many on the spectrum if I could.
So, for those starting out on this same journey, or those who are just curious why I think we're doing the right thing for our daughter, I'll offer this simple explanation.
I feel that we're doing the right thing for our girl because she waits by the door for her therapists to arrive. On days when therapy is cancelled because we have a morning doctor's appointment or something else pressing that we need to do, she'll go into the middle of the room and stand there and look around and then take my hand and lead me to the table or on the floor, depending on her mood and wait to start her favorite part of the day. And she's seldom satisfied with the Mommy version of her sessions.
Right now she's sitting in the playroom about ten feet away from me with one of therapists, hard at work playing.
I've heard people say that the therapy I have her in is similar to "training a dog" but in Mae's case I can only agree with that if you also think that teaching Sadie to read is the equivalent of "training a dog" (which I guess is to say that in our case, I don't agree with that statement in the least).
Mae works with letters and numbers, sings songs like "twinkle, twinkle, little star," engages in play, does sensory activities and she goes on walks (or roller skates) where she learns things like to look both ways before she crosses the street and not to run into traffic. And other than the fact that she eagerly anticipates her sessions and smiles and giggles through them, I can tell that she's proud of what she's learning. She'll hold up her hands to tell me she's four or show us the letter M and say "mermaid! mermaid!" in an excited voice (she's also a huge fan of telling us that I is for ice cream). We've seen her take the skills she's learning and use them in her everyday life and she's proud of herself. We're giving her the tools that she needs to be more independent, but more than that, she's using these tools to express herself, and she's doing it (from her proud mom's point of view) quite brilliantly.
I guess that means that the advice I would give a parent who's starting this journey and reading about the highs and lows of various therapies is to be as present as you can be, to know your child and to see how your child, as an individual who's different from everyone else in the world responds to those therapies for themselves. Then take a deep breath and take it one day at a time, doing the best you can to love and support your child as the uniquely wonderful person that they are.