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What is Autism

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What is Autism?

Autism is a neurologically-based developmental disability that appears within a child’s first three years of life.  The primary symptoms of Autism include extreme deviation from normal child development including disturbances in communication, failure to develop normal social skills and abnormal responses to sensory stimulation and to objects and events.   

Autism is a spectrum disorder that results in individuals presenting with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.  While children with Autism fall along a continuum of severity, most of the children placed in Ascent’s program are among the most severely impaired.  They exhibit limited or no eye contact and appear aloof, disinterested in other children and are profoundly withdrawn.  They are unable to communicate or relate with others or to process vital information from the world around them.   Many do not speak or are echolalic (repeating words/phrases spoken by others).   Some have expressive language, but have problems with intonation, pacing, volume and/or articulation so that what they say may not be understandable to others.   They may be unable to communicate even their most basic needs.  Expressions of hunger, pain, fear or affection may be out of reach.  While many have normal vision or hearing, they do not understand what they see or comprehend what they hear, rendering them isolated and alone, unable to learn, or improve their condition without highly specialized instruction.  

Children with Autism may exhibit ritualistic mannerisms and severe behavior problems (e.g., self-injury, property destruction and aggression).  These challenging behaviors may significantly disrupt the acquisition of new skills. Taken together, the inability to self-direct and the propensity to engage in disruptive behavior necessitates constant supervision from their parents while at home.

The Effectiveness of ABA

Over a span of 30 years, there is a wealth of validated and peer-reviewed studies supporting the efficacy of the ABA methodology to improve and sustain socially significant behaviors in individuals with autism. An effective ABA intervention program for young children with autism requires at least 30 hours per week of intensive, carefully planned learning opportunities in a one-to-one child:teacher format. Comprehensive evaluations documenting the efficacy of ABA-based interventions with persons with autism emerged in the 1970’s., and include studies by Lovaas, 1987; Anderson, et al, 1987; Sheinkopf & Seigel, 1998; Birnbrauer & Leach, 1993; Fenske, et al, 1985. Importantly, results reported include “meaningful” outcomes such as increased social and communication skills, academic performance and over-all cognitive functioning, and report long term retention of gains made.

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Early & Appropriate Educational Intervention

When ABA as a treatment modality is begun early and intensively between ages 2 and 5, it can yield considerable and lasting improvement. The New York State Health Department, in its Clinical Practice Guidelines, states that “It is recommended that principles of applied behavior analysis and behavior intervention strategies be included as an important element of any intervention program for young children with autism.” Currently, intensive education based on the science of applied behavior analysis is the only proven effective intervention for children with autism. Unfortunately, appropriate educational programs that utilize this methodology are not available to all afflicted children. Federal Law under IDEA specifies that every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate education, when in reality, far less is available and provided to those in need. 

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