89ºF

ABA therapy for autism can be life-changing for families

ORLANDO, Florida – One in 59 children in the United States has autism, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls.

There is no one standard treatment, with medication, occupational therapy and nutritional therapy among the options.

These days, some parents are turning to an individualized approach, known as applied behavioral analysis.

David Gulacsy and his wife have a busy household with three children, including twins Evan and William.

As the twins grew, they began to do things out of the ordinary, like hoarding their toys and throwing food. That's when Gulacsy and his wife took them for an evaluation.

"And immediately when we went there, it was like black and white to them. It was, 'Yep, your kids are both on the spectrum.' Your emotions are everywhere. It's hard. It was very tough," Gulacsy said.

But Gulacsy and his wife were committed to find help for their twins. They found a therapist who practiced applied behavior analysis, or ABA, a structured intervention that helps kids learn new behaviors and skills by repetition.

"I think ABA provides a good step-by-step approach to teaching all of those skills that you might find overwhelming at first," said Jaslin Goicoechea, a board-certified assistant behavior analyst.

Gulacsy said ABA helped with negative behaviors. Forty-minute-long temper tantrums were dramatically reduced to two minutes. The benefits of ABA also showed outside of home.

"Going to the grocery store, if I said, 'William stop, or Evan stop,' they stopped. Whereas before they never would have done that," Gulacsy said.

ABA therapy also helps the twins with skills they need for academic success and provides structure that helps Gulacsy and his wife put all the pieces together.

The amount of weekly therapy varies, but by some accounts, children do best when they have more than 20 hours of ABA weekly.

Insurance coverage varies, not only by state, but by insurance company. Parents should look for therapists who are board-certified behavior analysts. In most cases, they will have at least a master’s degree, and the letters BCBA after their names.