Understanding ABA therapy for children with autism
Six-year-old Crosby Scadding jumps up and down with self-accomplishment after he identifies a “chair” on a flash card.
He attends Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) at Atlas Behaviour Consultation in Oakville. Crosby was diagnosed with severe autism in June 2015 when he was two-and-a-half years old.
Before Scadding started ABA, his father, Joel Scadding, said he was non-verbal, could not recognize his own name, and experienced regular tantrums.
“About 30 hours of therapy (per week) for Crosby and that’s when he really just started to blossom from melting down and scratching our faces and clawing and crying everyday to developing communication and articulating what he wanted,” said Joel .
The therapy is a lot for this family of four to juggle as Crosby attends sessions full-time Mondays and Thrusdays and part-time on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Kelley and Joel Scadding have had to negotiate working from home with their employer and using up vacation time in order to accommodate their son’s various therapies.
After sitting on the wait list for the Ontario Autism Program for more than a year, the family was finally approved in 2017 and they say all of their sacrifices are worth it because the benefits of ABA are too many to list.
“He can take direction. He knows his name. He can do his colours. He counts to twenty. He can sort and match… he’s developing his language as far as identifying and labeling. He understands being able to play and share,” said Kelley.
But ABA can cost thousands per month — especially during a child’s earlier years — when experts say ABA or IBI (Intensive Behavioural Intervention) will lead to better treatment outcomes.
“There’s lots of research that looks at ABA across different ages. Some of the importance in intensity when they are really young is that we can really catch their development when they are young and teach them a lot in a short amount of time,” said Jessica Cauchi, director at Atlas Behaviour Consultation.
“We have a really good chance of changing developmental outcomes.”
The Scaddings said the cost of Crosby’s therapy runs between $4,500 and $6,000 a month. It’s money they are reimbursed for under the former Liberal government’s autism program.
But the family then pays out of pocket for additional therapies to the tune of another $860 per month. That personal expense amount could likely skyrocket after April 1 when the new funding program is set to start.
“We’re not going to have access to any funding really. We make more than fifty thousand dollars a year combined and he (Crosby) is turning seven in September, which means we are going to be busting our humps to raise as much money as possible,” said Kelley.
“We can’t afford the $5,000 per month.”
Many autism advocates believe maintaining funding for ABA during childhood will mean spending less tax dollars when children with autism become adults.
“It’s really important to invest in good ABA for kids now. ABA is correlated to all kinds of great outcomes for some kids. This means they’re moving on to a less restrictive school setting which is obviously much cheaper,” said Cauchi.
“This might mean that you’re moving into a less restrictive adult living environment, a greater chance at living independently, a greater chance of learning job readiness skills and having a job where you’re contributing to our tax situation as opposed using tax money.”
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