When Stephanie Minica accidentally spilled a bag of Goldfish crackers recently, her son James responded, “Uh oh, mess.” That was the first time three-year-old James had spoken more than one syllable without prompting. Diagnosed with autism in January, that moment came after James had spent two weeks in a 10-week-long summer program held at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio in partnership with the Autism Treatment Center.
James is one of 14 San Antonio-area children newly diagnosed with autism who are benefiting from a breakthrough treatment program this summer. The program was made possible through funding from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Autism Program. Minica has also noticed James is using more words, pronouncing words better, and putting more three-word sentences together. As a result of James’ improved vocabulary, he is experiencing less frustration by communicating what he wants. For children with autism, this frustration often leads to tantrums. He is also interacting better with other children during the five-hours-a-day, four-days-a-week program. Social awkwardness is another problem associated with autism. For instance, instead of pushing another child out of the way, he now says, “Move, please.”
“We are wrapping up the 10-week program and we have seen some amazing results among the children,” said Dr. Melissa Svoboda, Director of the Autism Program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, specializing in pediatric neurology and neurodevelopment and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with Baylor College of Medicine. “Intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based, safe treatment for children with autism. Some preschoolers who participate in early ABA for at least two years, acquire sufficient skills to participate in regular classrooms with little or no additional support. Getting this treatment early is of utmost importance. The problem though is getting access to this amazing treatment because most insurances won’t cover it.” Dr. Svoboda is the physician who diagnosed James in January after testing was done in the Autism Clinic at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio.
ABA is a scientifically-validated treatment for autism that uses principles of learning and motivation to improve social skills, communication, academic success and adaptive living skills. Intensive ABA therapy (25-40 hours a week, one-on-one interaction with a therapist) is recommended as soon as a child is diagnosed with autism. Unfortunately, most private insurance companies and Medicaid do not cover this therapy, making it difficult to sustain comprehensive interventional services for newly diagnosed children.
"The Autism Treatment Center is growing to meet the needs in our community. We are thrilled to partner withThe Children’s Hospital of San Antonio to provide coordinated and seamless care to children from diagnosis to treatment, which can have a life-changing impact on children with autism and their families,”
said Ivy Zwicker, Program Director, Autism Treatment Center.
The Autism Treatment Center’s Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Autism Program is led by Rachel Pantermuehl, a board-certified Behavior Analyst. Pantermuehl leads a team that includes two additional board-certified behavior analysts, registered behavior technicians. They work together to provide one-on-one therapies as well as supervise parallel playtime (playing side by side), mealtime, and group interactions such as a wagon ride around the Hospital campus, stopping to blow bubbles along the way.
The DARS funding comes at a time when these San Antonio children can benefit the most. If you need more information about resources for children with autism, please contact the Autism Treatment Center at 210-590-2107.
About The Autism Treatment Center
The Autism Treatment Center (ATC) San Antonio was founded in 1978 as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization to provide individualized services for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and related disorders throughout their life. ATC offers diagnostics, evaluations, speech therapy, occupational therapy, applied behavior analysis (ABA), individualized education in ATC's TEA nonpublic school, day habilitation, residenial services, research and consultations. ATC's therapeutic, educational, and 7 community based residential homes are located on the northeast part of San Antonio. The center's mission is to assist people with autism and related disorders throughout their lives as they learn, play, work and live in the community. For more information, please visit www.atcoftexas.org.
About The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is the first free-standing hospital in San Antonio solely dedicated to the care of children. The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is owned by CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System. Founded in 1869 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa is a Catholic, faith-based, nonprofit health and wellness ministry dedicated to extending the healing ministry of Jesus Christ and providing the highest quality medical care and services available. As one of the top health care organizations in South-Central Texas, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa has five hospital campuses. The Children’s Hospital is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. We also have hospitals located in the South Texas Medical Center, New Braunfels, Westover Hills, and a surgical hospital in Alamo Heights. CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System also owns a majority interest in CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Physicians Ambulatory Surgery Centers – San Antonio, LLC, a joint venture physician partnership which is comprised of two outpatient surgery centers in San Antonio with facilities in Stone Oak, and the Medical Center. Additionally, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System owns a majority interest in the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Physicians Ambulatory Surgery Center in New Braunfels, a joint venture physician partnership. CHRISTUS Santa Rosa is the preferred health system of the San Antonio SPURS. For additional information on the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, visit www.chofsa.org or for more information on CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, visit www.christussantarosa.org. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/christussantarosa and follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CSRHS.
About the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Autism Program
The DARS Autism Program was developed as a pilot project in Fiscal Year 2008 and was intended to extend treatment services, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to children ages 3-8 with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. Today the program is available to children ages 3-15 in Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and Corpus Christi. The DARS Autism Program champions excellence in the delivery of services for families of children with autism. Services are provided through grant contracts with local community agencies and organizations that provide applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and other positive behavior support strategies. The program helps improve the quality of life for children on the autism spectrum and their families.