Therapy helps ease autism

By Tara Bannow
Published Jan 31, 2014 at 11:27AM / Updated Feb 16, 2014 at 04:44PM

Autism in America

• About 1 in 88 children in the U.S. has been identified as having autism, according to 2008 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s up from 1 in 150 when the CDC performed

the same research in 2000.

• Autism occurs among all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

• Autism is almost five times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).

• A growing number of children are being diagnosed at increasingly earlier ages — 18 percent are diagnosed by age 3.

• The medical expenses of autistic individuals exceeded that of those without autism by $4,110 to $6,200 per year.

• In 2005, the average annual medical costs for autistic children on Medicaid was $10,709 per child — about six times that of children without autism.

What causes autism?

• Researchers still do not know exactly . Science has, however, identified environmental, biologic and genetic factors that may make some more prone to autism than others.

• Research has shown that parents who have one child with autism have an increased risk of having a second child with autism. Studies have also found that both identical twins in a pair are more likely to have autism than both nonidentical twins.

• Autism also tends to show up in people with other genetic conditions , such as Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis. Also, children born prematurely or with low birth weight are at greater risk.

• A 2008 study linked states with higher precipitation, including Oregon, California and Washington, with higher autism rates. Researchers theorized the connections could include more time in front of TVs, less vitamin D or more exposure to household cleaners, or the rain itself could contain chemicals such as pesticides.

• If taken during pregnancy, prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked to higher autism risk.

• Many studies have investigated a link between autism and vaccines. The research continues to show that vaccines do not cause autism.

Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

­Graphic: Tara Bannow, David Wray

Pressure is on for more providers

Oregon will likely need significantly more applied behavior analysis providers to meet the demand for the therapy once the law takes effect in 2015 for public insurance plans and 2016 for private plans.

Jenny Fischer said she is the only board-certified behavioral analyst in Central Oregon, and she estimates there are about 30 in the state of Oregon, although not all of them are practicing.

“We do have fairly low numbers compared to other states,” she said. “That will be an issue. We really have to focus on building capacity over the next couple of years as this law rolls out.”

There are currently about 15,000 ABA providers certified through the Behavior Analysts Certification Board in the world, said Eric Larsson, executive director of clinical services for the Lovaas Institute Midwest in Minneapolis. That’s a “very small bump on the horizon” compared with other health professions, he said.

“It’s just a very brand-new, cutting-edge practice,” said Larsson, who serves on an international behavior analysis certification board.

The Oregon Institute of Technology announced in September 2013 it would ramp up its ABA course offerings to help meet the anticipated demand for providers in Oregon. The University of Oregon also offers ABA courses.

Rob Kerr / The Bulletin “What you’re trying to do is rewire the brain. You know how stroke victims will need to learn to walk and talk again? (Applied behavior analysis) works similar to that in that it reprograms the mind to do things,” said Bob Sauter, pictured with his wife, Jill, while watching son Derek playing piano at home.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Jill and Bob Sauter, of Bend, maintain a box full of paperwork that details nearly two decades of dealing with their son's autism therapy. It contains letters to and from the family's insurance company, newspaper articles and information about autism.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Derek Sauter, 21, has received a form of autism therapy called applied behavior analysis since he was 3 years old. His parents say the therapy has improved his communication skills and eliminated violent outbursts.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Jenny Fischer, a board-certified behavior analyst, conducts applied behavior analysis therapy with a preschool-age client in December at the School of Enrichment in Bend.
Rob Kerr / The Bulletin Jenny Fischer, a behavior analyst, works with a preschool-age child at the School of Enrichment in Bend. The behavioral therapy she practices can take place at a preschool or day care, at home or anywhere the child can observe how other children interact.