“ABA-SkiP” – is Ahead of the Game
“ABA-SkiP” – is Ahead of the Game
SkIP (Applied Behavior Analysis – Skills Intervention Program) is a program of MHMRA (Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority) of Harris County, based in Houston, TX. Launched in 2008, it is an innovative resource for children with Autism ages 3-8, where specially-trained professionals offer support and guidance in academics, correcting problem behaviors and developing basic self-help skills. These children may also have delays in language, motor, academic, play skills and other inappropriate behaviors. The children are usually referred to SkIP through their elementary school, from a pediatrician or other physician, or through another MHMRA department or program.
Made possible by collaboration between MHMRA and the University of Houston-Clear Lake, SkIP is one of the most cutting-edge programs in the Houston area for young children diagnosed with Autism, and it is markedly ahead of the game in offering support to these children and their families. Services for up to seven children per session are supervised by two Behavior Analysts in a classroom setting for four hours, Monday – Thursday; two sessions are held each day. Children are enrolled for 24-weeks at a time, or approximately six months. Every Behavior Analyst is Board Certified with a Master’s-level certification, and is trained to identify unique problems and target goals based on individual needs. A behavior intervention plan is developed for each child within the first week of the program.
HOW It WORKS
Children spend 45 minutes of each hour in a one-to-one (child-to-instructor) setting; the other 15 minutes are designed as group time for art, music or reading. If a child needs more social interaction skills, they might spend more time in a group setting. When several children function at about the same level, staff members have the freedom to work on additional social skills such as taking turns, conversation and play. This schedule is valuable for children with Autism, as they do well in structured environmentsand benefit tremendously from personalized attention received from the specially-trained teachers, which may not be available in public school settings.
What sets SkIP apart is the required parent participation element. The program includes a parent-training curriculum where they come in for at least one hour each week to be trained by Board Certified Behavior Analysts on basic behavior principles while their child is in the classroom. Parents are also asked to observe their child working with an Autism Tech for at least one hour per month, with some sessions conducted in the family’s home, as needed.Parents are active participants in their child’s development. They are asked to choose five treatment goals for their child and learn how to achieve them, as well as collect baseline and treatment data, and complete homework assignments. The goal is to ensure that parents are able to carry over the skills learned in the program to the home/community setting, so that their child continues to learn and develop, even after graduating from SkIP. Typically, parental objectives include decreasing problem behaviors, and increasing self-help, social and language skills for the child.
Children are taught between 12-14 programs, targeting different skill areas daily; eight Autism Technicians are available to help each child develop their skills, based on the industry’s best practices. SkIP program coordinators actively seek out participation from each child’s home campus to ensure that skills learned in the SkIP program carry over to the classroom at the child’s school. Instructors can also work in conjunction with outside treatment modalities, including other therapies the child might participate in, to ensure maximum progress for each individual.
At the end of the program, the director and respective Behavior Analyst meet with each family to review the child’s progress. SkIP wants all of its parents to be comfortable with simple Applied Behavior Analysis framework so they can identify problem behaviors, why they occur, how to make a treatment plan for the child in multiple settings, and how to respond to problem behaviors. SkIP outcomes reinforce the idea that children are a product of their environments. There is a behavior change in the child partially because parents learn how to best respond to good and bad behaviors.
Melinda B. Benjumea, LPA, LPC, MHMRA of Harris County, andProgram Director of ABA-SkIP, said “It is such a joy to direct ABA-SkIP! Our staff has the opportunity to help children who are very impaired and watch them blossom in just a few short weeks. It is absolutely amazing to see the progress that these kids make with the assistance of our Board Certified Behavior Analysts and Autism Techs. We’ve also had great feedback about our parent curriculum that helps with behavior and learning in the home. When each child’s six- month session ends, we see much happier kids and parents – stronger families is a huge benefit of the program. ”
Program outcomes have been impressive; in 2007-2009, services were delivered over 18 months and 123 children and their families were served. Of those surveyed:
· 55% had no language skills upon entry – 68% graduated with functional language skills
· 66% had severe behavior problems that interfered with learning and/or caused injury upon entry – 52% reported that problem behaviors were eliminated at the end of the program
· 40% had no toilet skills upon entry – 63% of children achieved independent toilet skills by the program’s end
· 89% transitioned into or returned to public school after graduating from the program
Results indicate that children who participate in SkIP acquire key developmental skills and exhibit clinically significant progress. You’ll note that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the treatment modality used in the SkIP program, is the only empirically-based therapy that demonstrates a clear improvement in overall outcomes for autistic children.
A Family shares their experience from the program.
“I first heard about the ABA-SkIP program, offered through MHMRA of Harris County, from a friend. Our son, PJ, was already enrolled in a program through the school district for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we decided to try ABA-SkIP too. I was a nervous mom at first, but the staff was very thorough and confident right from the start – I could tell they knew what they were doing.
PJ’s progress in just six months has been incredible and we are so proud of him. One thing we loved about ABA-SkIP was the one-on-one interaction and it was obvious that PJ benefited from the personalized attention. Also, students switch teachers several times a day so that they don’t get comfortable with just one, which helped PJ learn to adapt. The approach was tailored to fit each child’s needs. PJ is high-functioning and the teachers were in tune with his ability level and were able to challenge him.
We saw a dramatic improvement in our son – within one week; there was a huge increase in his communication skills. He has also improved his play skills. PJ has always interacted well with his twin brother, who does not have Autism, but now he’s learned to greet other kids when they come over. In the past, that didn’t happen. He’s also better at expressing his feelings, instead of getting frustrated or starting to cry.
Through the required parental participation requirement, my confidence as the mom of a child with Autism is much higher. Two concepts have been especially helpful for us, and for PJ; reinforcers and prompting. These skills really work, and we learned new ways to communicate with our son. The parent training component helped us learn where PJ was coming from.
PJ just graduated from the ABA-SkIP program in May. There is definitely a need for more services like this for kids who have Autism. I’ve already recommended the program to several people and we’re so grateful for the improvement we see in our son.”
Kristi and Joe Wheeler, Houston, TX
Congratulations to MHMRA and the University of Houston for their innovative SkIP program, we look forward to hearing more on their progress along with other counties that follow suit.