According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about:
“1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.”
Recently, the focus of study has been on autism, including the prevalence, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. The prevalence of autism has increased significantly since 2000. As reported by the CDC, “about 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”
Additionally, the CDC reports that “ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189)” and is reported to occur in “all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.”
Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders on Autism:
In 2013, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), released in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association, updated the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the new DSM-5, ASD is characterized as a spectrum disorder allowing clinicians to account for a variety of different symptoms in each individual more accurately. Individuals can be diagnosed in a continuum, some exhibiting mild symptoms, while other individuals exhibit more severe symptoms. According to the American Psychiatric Association:
“People with ASD tend to have communication deficits, such as responding inappropriately in conversations, misreading nonverbal interactions, or having difficulty building friendships appropriate to their age. In addition, people with ASD may be overly dependent on routines, highly sensitive to changes in their environment, or intensely focused on inappropriate items.”
Behavioral Therapy and Autism:
Although current research suggests there is no cure for ASD or other developmental disabilities, there are effective treatments and interventions that result in noticeable, sometimes dramatic, improvement in the symptoms of ASD and other developmental disabilities. According to Mark Bertin, a board certified developmental behavioral pediatrician, behavioral therapy has been proven to be one of the most effective interventions for people diagnosed anywhere on the ASD continuum.
“Children who receive ongoing therapy are more likely to fall into the small number of children who outgrow the diagnosis entirely” (Dr. Mark Bertin, “Understanding Behavioral Therapy for Autism”).
Even for the majority who don’t outgrow the diagnosis of autism, behavior therapy often results in measurable improvement in symptoms and functioning of those diagnosed with ASD or other developmental disabilities.
Applied Behavior Analysis:
Among the various types of behavior therapy, “[p]robably the most studied intervention for autism is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which has been around for more than 50 years” and has “plenty of research showing that it improves outcomes for children with autism.” (Dr. Mark Bertin, “Understanding Behavioral Therapy for Autism”).
ABA “is a highly structured, scientific approach that teaches play, communication, self-care, academic, and social living skills, and can reduce problematic behaviors” (Dr. Mark Bertin, “Understanding Behavioral Therapy for Autism”).
Valley Achievement Center (VAC) in Bakersfield, CA provides services to children and adults diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities utilizing ABA methods. VAC works to ensure that each client’s program plan is individualized to include the specific ABA interventions that will most benefit each client. These interventions are created during a person-centered assessment and implemented and monitored closely by VAC staff, who collect written data on the client’s progress. Program plans are adjusted as skills are mastered and to account for interventions that that have proven through data to not be beneficial for the client.
VAC Family Counseling:
In addition to providing services utilizing ABA methods, VAC has recently implemented a counseling program for clients, staff, and families associated with VAC. The VAC Family Counseling Program focuses on providing counseling services specific to the individual or family to address issues such as:
- Suicide prevention
- Appropriate relationships
- Other mental health issues
The therapists that provide services use a variety of therapeutic theories, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT “can help with concerns common with autism, such as being overly fearful or anxious” and also “can be effective in reducing challenging behaviors, such as obsessing over a specific thing or topic . . . , or frequent meltdowns.” (Dr. Mark Bertin, “Understanding Behavioral Therapy for Autism”).
For clients who can benefit from CBT, VAC believes offering counseling services utilizing CBT, combined with individualized ABA services, will allow VAC to provide the client with a more holistic and comprehensive treatment plan to meet the client’s individual needs. Finally, VAC believes the counseling program will provide an outlet and support for families and staff who experience stress and various challenges.