From ABC to ABA ; New Center Aids Kids Via Applied Behavior Analysis

Article excerpt

Over the last decade there has been a significant increase in the diagnosis of developmental disabilities, specifically autism. Whether it is caused by environmental or nutritional changes or increased attention and more refined diagnoses, there is a growing population of children with autism or with similar developmental disabilities require new services. The treatment focus today is to offer methods that provide education and interventions to increase their quality of life.

One Evansville woman, inspired by her own children's needs, has increased the choices available to these children locally. Kim Derk, a certified applied behavior analyst who uses the Applied Behavior Analysis theory, or ABA, first learned of the theory she now offers professionally, when several of her own children presented with autistic symptoms.

Derk and her husband, Jim, adopted six children from Hungary over three years, beginning in the late 1990s. It took a year or two to differentiate typical post-adoption issues from more specialized diagnoses such as autism or ADHD.

"We were encouraged to move away from Evansville," Derk says, "because of the complexity of our kids' cases." said Kim Derk, who wanted to help her children. She began to research strategies for helping them with their neuro-behavioral issues. "When the medicine would wear off, we needed something else."

She learned that something else could be Applied Behavior Analysis.

AN EFFECTIVE STRATEGY

Autism research repeatedly points to ABA as the most effective strategy for helping children with neuro-behavioral issues replace maladaptive behaviors with more helpful ones. Studies done by the MIND Institute and the Center for Autism Research and Treatment, both in California, have demonstrated the effectiveness of ABA therapy in increasing communication and decreasing negative behaviors with autistic patients.

Unfortunately for the Derks, ABA was still not widely available in this area, Kim Derk said. Though behavior analysts began to study ABA's effectiveness in autism treatment in the 1960s, Evansville still did not offer ABA options, she said.

As a concerned mother, Kim Derk dedicated herself to learning about the ABA strategies. She received dual certification at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill., and through Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., to earn her master's degree online and through weekend classes. She brought the techniques and strategies she learned home - and it helped her family.

By 2005, Kim Derk began to consider using the strategies she employed at home to help other families. "My kids are the inspiration," she says.

She began Behavior Network in 2005, providing outside therapy to children with neuro-behavioral issues.

With a small office and a plan to work with families in their homes, Kim Derk began Lifesong Academy therapeutic center, an organization that now offers the ABA resources to Evansville area.

Offering a wide range of treatment options, the center caters to children with neuro-behavioral issues such as ADHD, autism, Asperger's, trauma, abuse and mood disorders.

"The whole place is built on evidence-and research-based interventions," Kim Derk says of the methodology. The center is highly ABA-focused because "behavior is really a form of communication."

Negative behaviors, such as a child who throws things in the classroom, is often an indication the child is experiencing a need that is not being met. The children are often unable to communicate their needs. Since poor communication and difficulty with social interaction is common among those with neuro-behavioral conditions, the center focuses on helping children learn and practice communication skills.

A CUSTOMIZED APPROACH

Upon entering Lifesong Academy, every student receives a behavioral assessment.

From this assessment, therapists work with the family and other professionals involved in a child's care to develop a customized treatment plan. …