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
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
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
A CUSTOMIZED APPROACH
Upon entering Lifesong Academy, every student receives a
From this assessment, therapists work with the family and other
professionals involved in a child's care to develop a customized
treatment plan. …