Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs
Indiana's autism insurance mandate, passed in 2001, put much-needed and often expensive therapies within reach for many families. The mandate, in turn, opened doors for providers as well. The number of behavior analysts and other professionals, in turn, has increased, offering services to families who can now more readily afford the help they seek.
While this is a good thing, Michele Trivedi, manager of The Arc Insurance Project, recommends families do some extensive research before committing to a particular center or home-based program. "It's really buyer beware. Because there is no state oversight of practitioners it falls to parents or caregivers to do their homework, but that can be very challenging," she said. Currently there is little regulation of the industry in Indiana. There is no state licensure process for behavior analysts and no government agency to monitor practitioners of applied behavior analysis to ensure they are meeting minimal ethical standards.
Dr. Carl Sundberg, executive director of BACA, agrees that not all practitioners are created equal. "I know a lot of BCBAs (board certified behavior analysts) and have come across many who I would recommend in an instant. I also see a lot of people who have slipped through the cracks," he said. There is a significant difference between therapists who took a few classes on behavior analysis and those with advanced degrees from behavioral schools, he says.
How then are parents to know if the center or individual therapist they are considering is qualified?
Get educated. Dana Renay, chief executive ally with the Autism Society of Indiana, suggests browsing the Behavior Analyst Certification Board website, www.bacb.com. There families can learn what it takes to become a BCBA, how to find one and what reasonable expectations are for a BCBA who oversees their child's program. Other resources include the Association for Behavior Analysts (www.abainternational.org), the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (http://www.iidc.indiana.edu) and Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org).
Look beyond location. There is much at stake when it comes to selecting a therapist and the one around the corner may not be your best choice. Look throughout the greater Indianapolis area when you are researching potential providers.
Seek references. Talk with parents who have traveled a similar path. Learn what they like and don't like about their center or in-home program. Discuss how their kids are progressing and how progress is measured.
Discuss cost. There can be a great disparity in costs between ABA providers. Trivedi says providers should be able to share a fee schedule.
Beware of promises. Be leery of therapists who promise outcomes that seem difficult to achieve. Dr. Cathy Pratt, director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, advises families to look for measurable outcomes that lead to improved functioning.
Meet the frontline. "You need to find someone who is totally committed to the cause and is willing to work hard to become the best therapist," said Sundberg of practitioners who work with a BCBA. The person should thoroughly enjoy teaching and get excited when the child does something for the first time. He or she should be inquisitive, patient and trustworthy.
Ask about core focus. Pratt says good intensive behavioral interventions should have a heavy focus on teaching pro-social behaviors. "Simply focusing on getting rid of behavior doesn't work," she said.
Mine their data. "Regardless of credentials, find out their experience. What can they show you that demonstrates their success? You want pretty hard data on that," said Pratt.
Seek your child's response. Kids with autism have a good sense of people, according to Pratt. When your child meets the therapist, what is his or her response?
"The major point is to really do your homework and interview more than one or two providers so you can make an informed choice on who is best for your family and particular child. Doing that homework is really important," said Trivedi.
For more information, connect with resources like the Autism Society of Indiana and The Arc of Indiana. Both organizations are able and interested in helping guide parents to make an informed decision regarding the care of their child.