Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Capilano College ABA For Autism And Related Disorders Program

Capilano psychology instructor, Ellen Domm, was motivated by her seven-year-old son, Levi, to start a bachelor's degree program at the college that will teach professionals to treat children with autism and related developmental disorders, such as Asperger's syndrome. (CNW Group/Capilano College)

Parents of newly diagnosed autistic children will face tremendous challenges as they strive to help their children. They will receive a bewildering range of advice when responding to the reality of their child's autism. They will read essays by some, not all, but some, high functioning autistic persons and persons with Aspergers telling them that they should not try to cure or treat their autistic children. Even some parents of autistic children will advise them to surrender, to accept their child's autism as a blessing; they will be counseled to find the joy of autism.

For those who move past such side alleys and try to help their children through treatment and cure they will be confronted with a further bewildering array of quack treatments from NAET to swimming with dolphins. If they are lucky they will be pointed in the direction of the only substantially evidence backed treatment option currently available - Applied Behavior Analysis. In Canada though our federal governments have shown no serious interest in ensuring that funding for ABA treatment be made available to all autistic Canadian children regardless of which province they live in. But even then, if they live in a province that makes at least some contribution towards the cost of autism treatment and even if they have the independent finances to obtain treatment they find a shortage of capable ABA practitioners.

In New Brunswick local autism advocacy groups worked with the University of New Brunswick to establish an autism intervention training program to provide interventions to pre-school autistic children and in recent years we have enjoyed some success in pushing the program and the training into the school system with teacher aides and resource teachers receiving autism intervention training through the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. We are far short of the levels of trained personnel we need in these areas but we have made significant progress.

In British Columbia a mother has taken a similar route. The attached CNW news release, and photo above, tell the story of Ellen Domm a psychology instructor and mother of a seven year old boy diagnosed with autism at the age of three and the applied behavior analysis (ABA) bachelor's degree program that will commence in 2009 and which she helped establish:

Instructor's experience inspires new autism therapy degree program at Capilano College

NORTH VANCOUVER, Jan. 10 /CNW/ - Ellen Domm knows intimately how thousands of families in B.C. suffer due to a scarcity of qualified professionals to treat children with autism and related developmental disorders such as Asperger's syndrome. And the Capilano psychology instructor hopes a unique applied behavior analysis (ABA) bachelor's degree program inspired by her family's experience, which the college is launching in 2009, will help alleviate what she says is clearly a staffing crisis. When Domm's seven-year-old son, Levi, was diagnosed at age three with autism, a condition affecting the brain's normal development of social and communication skills, she and her husband Perri immediately decided on an ABA
treatment program.

Although the scientifically validated therapy would be expensive - as much as three times the province's $20,000 annual subsidy for autistic children up to age six, after which it drops to $6,000 - it was their son's best hope for improvement. But when they tried to assemble a behaviour interventionist team to implement the program, Domm said they quickly found out how difficult that was.

"Even though we had a pool of Capilano students to draw from and train, the turnover rate is quite high," she said, "and we went through 14 therapists in two years." Autism is now the most common childhood developmental or neurological disorder in the country, affecting more than 4,300 children in B.C."But we have only a handful of board certified behaviour analysts," said Domm, "and they have lengthy waiting lists." So, she thought, why not offer an ABA course at Capilano with a practical component so families can count on steady pool of motivated students to work with their kids.

She pursued the idea with fellow Capilano psychologist Cara Zaskow and with her help, and input from autism families and professionals, the course has mushroomed into Canada's first ABA bachelor's degree program. Scheduled to begin next January, it will operate as a cohort program, accepting about 20 students with associate degrees in psychology to train for work with autism cases, among others.

"They'll be qualified to become board certified associate behavior analysts, earning at least $40 an hour to start," said Domm. "Or they can pursue a master's degree in ABA, special education or psychology." Thanks in large part to his therapy, Levi, a high-functioning autistic, is now an attentive, affectionate boy. He attends a mainstream Grade 2 class and receives 12 hours a week of academic and behavioral therapy at home. "I still worry about his future," Domm said, "but what mother doesn't? And I'm pleased that Capilano will soon be producing the professionals the autism community so desperately needs so other families won't be left in the lurch like we were."

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