Amy Brooks, the mother of a child with Autism, says, "you know one person with Autism, you can't say you know Autism; you know one person with Autism". As individualized as Autism is, so are the therapies used to treat it. The number one treatment for Autism tends to be Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, because it is evidence based. Erin Faulkner is a board certified behavior analyst. She explains, "Applied Behavior Analysis is a group of interventions that are evidence based that will help a child to gain skills, could be academic skills, or gain some behaviors they don't have in order to decrease behaviors that we don't want".
The latest Montana's Children's Autism Waiver, or CAW, report shows that 84% of participants reached a best outcome and just over 80% were verbal by the time they exited the program. Early intervention is crucial for maximum effectiveness in this therapy. Faulkner says, "from 18 months - 8 years old is the prime time to do this kind of intervention".
Jacey receives ABA therapy 3 times a week for a few hours at a time. Jacey's Child Autism Trainer, Lynn Yahraus, says, "we work on learning how to talk and behaviors". At first glance, it may appear that Jacey is just playing, but the therapy is actually very structured with a number of concrete goals and a focus on school readiness. Yahraus says, "to make it fun makes it easier to work". Faulkner adds they work on task demands, in other words, "tell them to do something, we want them to be able to follow that direction. Those are things they're going to need when they get to school".
Since every child with Autism is different, each child has their own individualized therapy plan with specific goals. Faulkner says, "I may have a program that I use repeatedly, but I don't necessarily use it in the same way with each child".
ABA is often used in conjunction with Speech and Occupational Therapy when treating a child with Autism. Elizabeth Shipstead, an Occupational Therapist, says, "you get more of a well rounded picture of the child and then you're serving them as a whole rather than a piece of a child".
Julie Borgreen, a Speech/Language Pathologist, says, "because they are wired differently, they need to be taught how to socially interact with folks". Speech therapy involves much more than merely getting a child to talk. Borgreen says, "you can have a child that actually talks a lot, but they could still have Autism because they don't use their language to socially interact and communicate with other folks".
One of the goals in Speech Therapy is to show that communication involves interaction and that interaction can be fun. Borgreen says, "use your facial expressions and body language to help them hear the language and make it meaningful to them".
Communication is an important part of our daily lives that some of us may take for granted. Borgreen says, "it's how we live. everything we do is social from going to the grocery store to playing with your friends on the playground. when your an adult is having relationships with your spouse and your own children".
Occupational Therapy focuses on a wide range of areas from fine motor skills to sensory processing. Shipstead says, "they struggle with their ability to tolerate sensory information such as touch or smell".
Children with Autism often seek more input than typically developing children. Brooks says, "Jacey seeks that deep pressure for sensory reasons. It's a calming effect for her to get a deep pressure hug". So one of the goals of Occupational Therapy may be how to behavior appropriately in different environments. Shipstead says, "helping kids to figure out what is an appropriate way to get the input they need or what's the appropriate way to avoid it sometimes". It may be an academic skill. Buhler says, "Jacey has a hard time holding her pencil, so we have to keep reminding her to hold her pencil the proper way and that aggravates her sometimes".
Jacey is making amazing progress in her therapy. She's already working on goals for after high school graduation. Brooks says, "it's not like you can wash your hands of Autism. She's always going to have idiosyncrasies about her, but who of us don't have some"?
Jacey is well on her way to being an independent productive citizen thanks to her intense therapy. When her waiver expires, her school will pick up most of her treatment needs. The CAW report estimates that the lifetime cost for an individual with autism is $3.2 million, but treatment can reduce these costs.