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What is Autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It encompasses children on a spectrum of mild to severe disability, affecting each child’s language and social development, behavior, and sensory processing differently. Untreated, most children will not lead independent lives. But with early, intensive therapy and programs like ours, there is now hope. 

The global prevalence of the disorder has increased between 20 and 30 times since the late 1960s and early 1970s, CDC researchers wrote in the new report, published March 27, 2015 in the CDC’s journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Currently 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder according to the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

Do You Think Your Child Might Have Autism?

If you have concerns that your child may have autism, speak with your child’s doctor regarding your concerns. The CDC recommends both a Developmental Screening and Comprehensive Diagnostic Evaluation to diagnose autism. Your doctor may administer a developmental screening test and/or refer you to a Developmental Pediatrician, a Child Psychologist or Child Psychiatrist for further evaluation. Be aware that wait times for these professionals may be quite long and it is important to get on that list (or even multiple lists) as soon as possible. Early intervention is critical! 

For additional information on these screenings, please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/hcp-screening.html

In the Houston area, the Krist Samaritan Counseling Center offers screening for autism at some locations. More information can be found at http://www.samaritanhouston.org/ or by calling 281-480-7554. 

If your child is aged birth to three years old, you can contact your state’s Early Childhood Intervention program. In Texas, this is provided through the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Division for Early Childhood Intervention (ECI). More information can be found at: http://www.dars.state.tx.us/ecis/index.shtml#eci or through the DARS inquiry line at 1-800-628-5115.

If your child is ages 3 through 21, services may be available through the local school district. You should contact the director of special education for your school district to receive a referral for assessment.

Autism Speaks provides a free kit titled ‘100 Day Kit for Newly Diagnosed Families of Young Children’ that can be downloaded from their website at: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/100-day-kit.

What is ABA Therapy?

We have a number of different programs within our organization designed to help the whole child and based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). With our full-time programming option, we make individualized plans for each child based on his or her needs. Then, we implement intensive one-to-one instruction using various research-based techniques including discrete trial, natural environment training, shaping, reinforcement, and task analysis. We focus on skills necessary for the child to be as independent in life as possible. Including Kids’ support, however, does not stop at full time programming.

Including Kids provides programs for children and youth with autism and related delays ages 2 and up. Including Kids is unique in the Houston area because it both serves young adults with autism and helps children and young adults with autism who exhibit aggressive behaviors.

We use Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which is considered the Gold Standard for the treatment of autism. ABA is widely researched and empirically validated in a large body of scientific evidence. We use this research-based behavioral intervention and instruction program to educate children in their areas of delay, which may include, but are not limited to: language, social and executive functioning skills, behavior management, academics/school readiness, self-help, domestic skills, and vocational skills.

By witnessing daily successes over the years, we have learned what works. Competently delivered research-based behavioral intervention can help children and young adults with autism curb unhealthy behaviors, set and reach goals and make meaningful improvements in their daily lives. However, it is true that most learners require a great deal of carefully planned instruction and practice with skills, so these changes do not occur in a set time frame. Quality programs like ours address a wide range of skill areas, but the focus remains on the individual child, so goals necessarily vary from learner to learner, depending on age, level of functioning, family needs and interests, and a variety of other factors we must consider. An individual learner may make rapid progress in one skill area such as reading but need more instruction and practice to master another, such as interacting with peers.

In our programming, we make an individualized plan for each child and young adult based on his or her needs. We provide intensive one-to-one instruction using ABA, focusing on the skills needed for the highest level of independence possible for individual. As the child or young adult is ready, we have many opportunities for inclusion with typical peers, and we act as the bridge for them to be an integral part of their community.

At Including Kids we envision a world where all children and young adults are given the chance to be included. By fostering an environment built on the mantra ‘Instruct, Inspire, Include’ the goal of our dedicated staff and supportive community is to create a truly inclusive society where involvement and awareness act as that last puzzle piece in our completed picture: a welcoming world where every child is given the opportunity to succeed.

– We provide one BCBA to oversee every 5-7 cases

– We are a Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved facility

– We work on generalizing skills within the community through inclusion and having our young adults get hands-on experience at work sites.

– We are a Wraparound Program – we offer services to the whole family, not just the child with autism

– We work on generalizing medical treatments, haircuts, blood draws and any other necessary activities to help the families we serve

– We serve all functioning levels, including children and young adults that exhibit aggressive behaviors

– We provide services from childhood through young adulthood

Done correctly, ABA intervention for autism is not a “one size fits all” approach consisting of a “canned” set of programs or drills. On the contrary, every aspect of intervention is customized to each learner’s skills, needs, interests, preferences, and family situation. For those reasons, an intervention program for one learner might look somewhat different than a program for another learner. But genuine, quality, comprehensive research based behavioral intervention and instruction programs for learners with autism have certain things in common:

– Intervention designed and overseen directly by qualified, well-trained professional Board

– Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs)

– Caseloads per BCBA of 5-10 learners

– Direct care provided by a Registered Behavioral Technician

– Detailed assessment of each learner’s skills as well as learner and family preferences to determine initial treatment goals

– Selection of goals that are meaningful for the learner and the family

– Ongoing objective measurement of learner progress

– Frequent review of progress data by the behavior analyst so that goals and procedures can be “fine tuned” as needed

– Instruction on developmentally appropriate goals in all skill areas (e.g., communication, social, self-care, play and leisure, motor and academic skills)

– Skills broken down into small parts or steps that are manageable for the learner, and taught from simple (such as imitating single sounds) to complex (e.g., carrying on conversations)

– An emphasis on skills that will enable learners to be independent and successful in both the short and the long run

– Use of multiple behavior analytic procedures – both adult directed and learner-initiated – to promote learning in a variety of ways

– Many opportunities, specifically planned and naturally occurring – for each learner to acquire and practice skills every day, in structured and unstructured situations

– Intervention provided consistently for many hours each week based on the needs of the individual

– Abundant positive reinforcement for useful skills and socially appropriate behaviors

– An emphasis on positive social interactions, and on making learning fun

– No reinforcement for behaviors that are harmful or prevent learning

– Use of techniques to help trained skills carry over to various places, people and times and to enable learners to acquire new skills in a variety of settings

– Parent training so family members can teach and support skills during typical family activities

– Regular meetings between family members and program

Because of the huge demand for behavior intervention and instruction for autism, many individuals and programs now claim to “do ABA”. Some are private practitioners or agencies that offer to provide services by periodically coming into a family’s home; others operate private schools, and still others provide consultation services to public schools. Not all of them have the education and practical experience that the field of behavior analysis considers minimum requirements for practicing ABA. Family members and concerned professionals are urged to be cautious when enlisting anyone to “do ABA” with a child, youth, or adult with autism.

A guide for identifying quality ABA programs called “Consumer Guidelines for Identifying, Selecting, and Evaluating Behavior Analysts Working with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders” can be found at http://www.apbahome.net/downloads/AutGuidelines.pdf.

Endorsed by the Surgeon General

David Satcher, MD, PhD, United States Surgeon General from 1998-2002, endorsed intensive behavioral intervention for individuals with autism. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General states, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.”

The report is available on the world wide web at: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter3/sec6.html#autism

The specific report can be found at: http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBBHS.pdf