Editor’s Note: This is the first of two stories about a Sunflower Early Education Center service designed for children diagnosed with autism. The second will focus on one family’s experience.
While surprise may be a parent’s first reaction to learning about a service now offered at Sunflower Early Education Center (EEC), a sense of relief may soon follow.
The service is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is designed for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And it is not easy to come by in many areas of Kansas.
“ABA is very limited in the state,” said Alyson Burkhart, EEC autism specialist. “Even in Wichita and farther east, many agencies that offer it have waiting lists. Families may wait a year or more.
“This is one reason why we are so passionate about providing ABA here. One other area agency offers it and we work closely with them.”
ABA officially started here early this year but then the pandemic came along; services were somewhat limited for several months.
“However, we are now back on track,” Burkhart said. “Currently, we support four families, with one more to start soon. We also have started a waiting list in our service area.”
The Sunflower Diversified Services area includes Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is a non-profit agency.
Current data indicate one in 54 children has ASD. Many are diagnosed as early as age 2.
“The most recommended treatment is ABA, which entails behavioral intervention,” Burkhart noted. “It is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. The goal is to increase helpful behaviors and decrease those that are harmful and affect learning.”
Intensive behavioral intervention at Sunflower is offered to children up to age 5 or when they start kindergarten. ABA is for children with a medical diagnosis of ASD and/or a doctor’s referral.
EEC staff members do not diagnose.
Services are adapted to the unique needs of each child. This may involve one-on-one teaching, group classroom instruction and/or parent training for up to 25 hours per week.
A transition plan, based on ongoing needs, is developed as the child approaches school age. Children are eligible for ABA as long as it is deemed medically necessary.
Some insurance policies, including KanCare, cover ABA services.
Burkhart earned a master’s degree in ABA and is working toward board certification in behavior analysis. She will sit for the exam early next year. Burkhart also is an early childhood special education teacher with a decade of ABA experience.
One of Burkhart’s EEC colleagues is Allison Schwartz, an intensive individual support (IIS) provider.
“Allison works directly with children to implement programs and teaching skills based on our treatment plan,” Burkhart said. “She has worked with children with autism for four years and is a great asset to our EEC families.”
In addition, three members of the Incredible Years Preschool staff recently earned their IIS designation.
They are: Shari Schneider, preschool director; Jessica Kraisinger, early childhood special education teacher; and Alli Adams; preschool teacher.
“This great team is here for children receiving ABA and attending Incredible Years,” Burkhart said. “Specialized instruction addresses specific goals in the classroom setting.”
Sunflower owns and operates Incredible Years.
The EEC autism team has partnerships with the University of Kansas Developmental Pediatricians in Wichita and the Center for Child Health & Development at KU Medical Center to help with the timely diagnoses of ASD.
“Through these partnerships, we complete paperwork and assessments prior to the evaluation,” Burkhart noted. “This speeds up the process for many families. We can help families see specialists usually within three to six months. The traditional referral process may take a year or more.”
Heather Quillin, Sunflower children’s services coordinator and speech/language pathologist, said “we are excited to get this new program up and running. For more than five years, Sunflower has had an autism team gathering necessary paperwork and assessments prior to an appointment with a developmental pediatrician.
“However, children who received a diagnosis returned to our local communities and couldn’t access recommended ABA services. We are happy to fill that gap.”
Now Sunflower has a “highly qualified team working together to provide the best service possible to our families,” Quillin added. “We look forward to the growth of this program to offer additional services to more children and their families. The future is bright.”
For more information, call 620-792-4087.