FORT WORTH -- When Ethan Groblebe started receiving treatment at the
Child Study Center 11 months ago, he wouldn't eat anything but cookies
"That was breakfast, lunch and dinner -- seven days a
week," said Duy Le, co-director of autism services at the center. "Now,
we're able to get him to eat fruit. Yesterday, he had a sandwich."
who is autistic, also no longer resists getting his hair cut or putting
on sunscreen. The 7-year-old boy doesn't scream as often, is
potty-trained and can say three-word sentences.
Five days a week,
several hours a day, Ethan undergoes an intensive type of therapy at the
Child Study Center near downtown Fort Worth called applied behavior
analysis, or ABA.
The therapy is a recognized treatment for autism
-- a developmental brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to
communicate and interact socially. Experts say ABA is an evidence-based
science that uses repetitive commands and positive reinforcement to
rewire the way an autistic child thinks and behaves.
On a recent morning, Melinda Lopez, a behavior analysis lead tutor at the center, was patiently putting Ethan through his paces.
"Ethan, arms up," she said, raising her arms in the air.
"Arms up," Ethan replied, imitating her.
"Very good," Lopez said. "Put your arms up, arms up."
Ethan imitated her again.
"Good, you get a penny for following instructions," Lopez said.
the next 30 minutes, Ethan and Lopez worked together on simple tasks
such as clapping, waving and sitting. When he responded appropriately,
he received a gummy bear, a high-five or a penny. When he received a
predetermined number of pennies, he was allowed to briefly play with a
toy of his choice -- a video game.
Each day from 9 a.m. to 3:45
p.m., Ethan and more than two dozen other autistic children work
one-on-one in this manner, learning skills that most children easily
pick up as babies or toddlers. Each child's behavior is documented,
charted on a graph, and analyzed to determine progress and what changes
should be made.
On this day, behavior analysis lead tutor Hannah
Fisher was working with German O'Campo, 5, whose language skills were
severely delayed when he came to the center 14 months ago. Since then,
he has made great strides in identifying everyday objects.
"What's this?" she asked, showing him a picture.
"Chair," German replied.
"What's this?" she asked, showing him another picture.
"Microwave," he responded.
"Very good, give yourself a penny," Fisher said
Later, he was wearing a Star Wars costume -- his reward for earning enough pennies.
there is no cure for autism, experts say children who receive ABA early
are capable of making substantial gains in IQ, language and behavior.
the therapy is not cheap. It costs about $260 a day at the Child Study
Center, where children attend from one to five days a week, depending on
their needs and resources.
For many families, the cost is offset
by a program offered by the Texas Department of Assistive and
Rehabilitative Services, which contracts with six autism centers
statewide, subsidizing the cost of ABA for autistic children ages 3 to
8. But the waiting list is long.
And many insurance companies
don't cover ABA. The state mandates fully funded insurance agencies to
cover it, but self-funded insurance plans aren't subject to state law
and often don't cover it on the grounds that it is "experimental" or
"I disagree with that," said Dr. Joyce Elizabeth
Mauk, CEO of the Child Study Center. "Even the state Legislature has
identified it as a medical treatment. It's probably the most studied and
most scientifically validated form of treatment for autism."
Ethan's case, ABA has worked wonders. He no longer just points at what
he wants and says "Ma" but now uses words to communicate.
And for parents of autistic children, Le said, those kinds of milestones are priceless.