• Frequently Asked Questions

    What is AUTISM?

    Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). The other pervasive developmental disorders are PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders. You may also hear the terms Classic Autism or Kanner’s Autism (named after the first psychiatrist to describe autism) used to describe the most severe form of the disorder.

    The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the main diagnostic reference used by mental health professionals and insurance providers in the United States. The current (fourth) edition, which was published in 1994, is commonly referred to as the “DSM-IV.” The diagnosis of autism requires that at least six developmental and behavioral characteristics are observed, that problems are present before the age of three, and that there is no evidence for certain other conditions that are similar. The DSM-IV is currently being revised. The DSM-V will group together the subtypes of autistic disorder, PDD-NOS, and Asperger Syndrome under the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” because research has not shown these categories to be distinct. Rather, they are part of a broad continuum of disorders that involve difficulties in social and communication skills.

    What is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

    Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has been endorsed by a number of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Surgeon General. It is an evidence-based treatment approach that is data driven; it uses techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive changes in behavior. Data is collected on target behaviors, analyzed by the BCBA and behavior therapists, and therapy decisions are made based on trends in data. Since the early 1960’s, ABA, has been used by hundreds of therapists to help children with autism by teaching communication, play, social, academic, self-care, work and community living skills and by reducing problem behaviors in learners with autism.

    There is a great deal of research literature that has demonstrated that ABA is effective for improving children’s outcomes, especially their cognitive and language abilities. Over the past several decades, different models using ABA have emerged, all of which use behavioral teaching. They all use strategies that are based on Skinner’s work. The principles and methods of behavior analysis have been applied effectively in many circumstances to develop a wide range of skills in learners with and without disabilities.

    As ABA is often difficult to understand until you see it in action it may be helpful to start by describing what all of the different methods of ABA have in common. ABA methods use the following three step process to teach:

    · An antecedent, which is a verbal or physical stimulus such as a command or request. This may come from the environment or from another person, or be internal to the subject;

    · A resulting behavior, which is the subject’s (or in this case, the child’s) response or lack of response to the antecedent;

    · A consequence, which depends on the behavior. The consequence can include positive reinforcement of the desired behavior or no reaction for incorrect responses.

    ABA targets the learning of skills and the reduction of challenging behaviors. Most ABA programs are highly-structured. Targeted skills and behaviors are based on an established curriculum. Each skill is broken down into small steps, and taught using prompts, which are gradually eliminated as the steps are mastered. The child is given repeated opportunities to learn and practice each step in a variety of settings. Each time the child achieves the desired result, he receives positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise, or something else that the child finds to be highly motivating, like a small piece of candy. ABA programs often include support for the child in a school setting with a one-on-one aide to target the systemic transfer of skills to a typical school environment. Skills are broken down into manageable pieces and built upon so that a child learns how to learn in a natural environment. Facilitated play with peers is often part of the intervention. Success is measured by direct observation and data collection and analysis – all critical components of ABA. If the child isn’t making satisfactory progress, adjustments are made.

    Is ABA right for my child?

    Absolutely! ABA is an approach to therapy, not a one-size-fits-all method. It focuses on introducing and building skills and positive behaviors, changing existing behaviors, and eliminating inappropriate behaviors. ABA is highly individualized and can be tailored for children with a wide range of weaknesses, strengths, skills, and needs.

    Is there an age limit for ABA?

    Research has shown that ABA is more effective with early intervention, but there are no age limits. It can be more difficult it might be to change established patterns and behaviors in older children, but even adults can still benefit from ABA therapy.

    How is ABA paid for?

    Our organization accepts insurance and private (out-of-pocket) payment. ABA therapy is not covered by all insurance, though, so we provide a complimentary insurance eligibility determination for all prospective clients.

    Where is ABA done?

    We provide ABA in your home as well as in community settings. These locations may include swimming pools, gyms, supermarkets, restaurants, houses of worship and friends’ homes. Our aim is to teach each child skills and behaviors that can be applied in the “real world”. As your child progresses, we show them how to use their new skills and behaviors in other settings and situations.

    How is Autism Diagnosed?

    There is no medical test for diagnosing autism. A diagnosis is based on observed behavior and educational and psychological testing. As the symptoms of autism vary, so do the routes to obtaining a diagnosis.

    Some children are identified as having developmental delays before obtaining a diagnosis of autism and may already receive some services or therapy. Because many of the behaviors associated with autism are shared by other disorders, various medical tests may be ordered to rule out or identify other possible causes of the symptoms being exhibited.

    At first glance, some persons with autism may appear to have intellectual disability, a behavior disorder, problems with hearing, or even odd and eccentric behavior. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism.

    However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate diagnosis and early identification can provide the basis for building an appropriate and effective educational and treatment program.

    Some Signs to look for in children with autism include:

    · Lack of or delay in spoken language

    · Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)

    · Little or no eye contact

    · Lack of interest in peer relationships

    · Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play

    · Persistent fixation on parts of objects

    Because the cause of autism is unknown, autism diagnoses are based purely on observations or reports of behaviors. Unlike many medical syndromes, autism is not a disease. It is not contagious and are not yet treatable through medication (though medicine can help some symptoms).

    ASDs are developmental disorders that reflect differences in the way children develop from very early on and that continue to affect developmental into adulthood.

    Whether you or your child’s pediatrician is the first to suspect autism, your child will need to be referred to someone who specializes in diagnosing ASD. This may be a developmental pediatrician, a psychiatrist or psychologist, and other professionals that are better able to observe and test your child in specific areas.

    Often, the time immediately after the diagnosis is a difficult one for families, filled with confusion, anger and despair. These are normal feelings. But there is life after a diagnosis of autism. Life can be rewarding for an individual with an autism spectrum disorder and all the people who have the privilege of knowing that individual. While it isn’t always easy, you can learn to help your child find the world an interesting and loving place.

    Is Autism Treatable?

    Yes! Autism is treatable. Primary treatments are educational (teaching those with autism ways to do things that may not come as easily for them) and compensatory (helping individuals use their strengths to make up for areas that are more difficult), as well as behavioral (assisting individuals to minimize behaviors that interfere with daily living, such as tantrums or self-injury).

    Children do not “outgrow” autism, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes. Treatment is a very intensive, comprehensive undertaking that involves the child’s entire family and a team of professionals. Some programs may take place in the child’s home with professionals and trained therapists and may include Parent Training for the child under supervision of a professional.

    Some programs are delivered in a specialized center, classroom or preschool. Most families use one type of intensive intervention that best meets the needs of their child and their parenting style.

    No single therapy works for every child. What works for one child may not work for another. What works for one child for a period of time may stop working. Some therapies are supported by research showing their efficacy, while others are not.

    The skill, experience and style of the therapist are critical to the effectiveness of the intervention. Before a family chooses an intervention, they will need to investigate the claims of each therapy so that they understand the possible risks and benefits for a child.

    Have more questions?

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