Lee University program helps Autistic children

Print This Post Print This Post Jul 25th, 2008 | By admin | Category: Education

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — As director of LUDIC, a school for autistic children, Dr. Tammy Johnson worries over paperwork and personnel issues, but she’s still a hands-on teacher.

On a recent day, Dr. Johnson stepped in to sit with a 6-year-old boy left behind during lunch because of a rosy red rash on his cheeks.

The child likes to pinch his food with his fingers, so Dr. Johnson put a marshmallow cookie in his hand, guiding it to his mouth.

“Bite your food,” she tells him, arm around him, holding his hands.

Turning to a visitor, she explained that keeping her arm around him and holding his hands is called “applied behavior analysis.”

“It’s not giving him a chance to make a mistake. It’s arranging circumstances to provide reinforcement,” Dr. Johnson said.

LUDIC is the Lee University Developmental Inclusion Classroom. Applied behavior analysis has been scientifically tested and proven to work with children with autism, according to information provided by Autism Speaks, an international organization that funds research and education programs on autism.

Dr. Johnson is attending the Florida Institute of Technology through distance learning to become an ABA specialist.

She has the equivalent experience, but the formal certification may help parents with the costs of providing services for their children, she said.

“In Tennessee, there are laws that require some insurance companies to cover the costs of therapy for autistic children,” Dr. Johnson said. “But the insurance companies require a board-certified ABA analyst.”

The need to provide services and interventions for autistic children is growing.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one child in 150 is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Autism is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined, according to the CDC.

Dee Cogdill, a Polk County mother whose son attends the LUDIC school, said parents struggle to get appropriate treatment for their autistic children.

“Tennessee laws are not very good,” Ms. Cogdill said.

“The law says if insurance companies cover neurological disorders, they must cover services for autism. But insurance companies can get around it. And it only goes to age 12. Evidently, they are magically cured at 12.”

Early intervention is key to helping children become functional, the experts said. But getting a diagnosis is often difficult, they said.

And sometimes it’s a challenge to work with public schools, which are required by federal law to provide services for children with disabilities from age 3 three until they are 21. Services are expensive, and schools are strapped for money, parents said.

Ms. Cogdill said some public schools that cannot provide services for autistic children may subsidize costs of LUDIC. But some services cost extra, she said.

LUDIC supporters hope to gain more recognition and possibly raise funds to expand the program.

“It’s a 24-hour-a day-effort,” Ms. Cogdill said. “You need extra services and then you get in a battle with insurance. And there is no government funding that offers services free or at cost.

“You have to pick and choose and then you feel guilty because you are not getting kids what they need because it comes down to the almighty dollar and you can’t afford it.”

By: Beverly Carroll for the Chattanooga Times Free Press

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