15:45 PM

Initiative helps people with severe autism, caregivers free of charge

It's estimated that one in 54 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, yet this diagnosis and its implications are still widely misunderstood. And despite the fact that Houston has the largest medical center in the world, it has few programs designed to treat severe behaviors in people with neurodevelopmental disabilities that don't involve a locked psychiatric unit and heavy medication.

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders is offering another option with the new Intensive Outpatient Behavior Disorders Clinic at University of Houston-Clear Lake at Pearland. The new clinic offers behavioral intervention and caregiver training, with no age restrictions.

In order to receive services, a client must have a diagnosis of autism, but due to grant funding provided by the Masonic Children and Family Services of Texas, all services are free.

Associate Professor of Behavior Analysis Jennifer Fritz, who is also director of this initiative, said that wait lists for services are often very long for individuals who need support with problem behavior. "Families can't afford this level of care without insurance if they're on ABA or Medicaid," she said. "This clinic will offer a place for families to receive high quality, compassionate care for both the individual and the family."

Program Manager Tori Fletcher said the clinic's services included an assessment, followed by a treatment plan for severe problem behavior. "This encompasses aggression, self-injury, property destruction, or similar behaviors," she said. "A referral is not necessary."

She added that each individual and their caregivers would have two weeks of intensive, focused time, from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. "During this time, we are working with the individual, teaching them the tools and helping the caregiver implement our intervention plan," she said. "We are also reaching out to other service providers, like occupational therapists, teachers, and other therapists the individual might be seeing."

Fritz said that graduate students in UH-Clear Lake's Behavior Analysis program are becoming trained in providing services to caregivers and clients. "They will put in 2,000 hours of supervised experience before taking their certification exam," she said. "After passing the exam, they become Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and they're trained to oversee programs like this within clinics."

Professor of Psychology and Director of CADD Dorothea Lerman said this new initiative would fill a huge need in the community. "We are one of the very few programs in Texas that offers these service free of charge," she said. "No one else that we're aware of was even considered to receive the funding we have. That is because of the state recognition our program is getting."

For more information about the Intensive Outpatient Behavior Disorders Clinic, go online.