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The Road to ABA: Supporting Families with Autistic Children

This fall, MSP will offer a new Certificate in Applied Behavioral Analysis that will prepare students to become Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA).  Dr. Ruth Anan, PhD, LP, BCBA-D, has created a Behavioral Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®) approved academic program specifically for MSP that will combine the essential skills and training of behavioral analysis with a person centered philosophy.  

In the 1990s, I worked in the department of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at a large Detroit area hospital performing diagnostic evaluations on young children. When assessment findings indicated that a child had an autism spectrum disorder, I was faced with the difficult task of delivering this diagnosis to the child’s parents.

After learning this news, parents often asked me, “What would you do if your child had autism?” Being schooled in the research literature, I would tell parents that I would seek intensive, behavioral intervention as there is ample data demonstrating this can make a world of difference in children’s lives, especially when treatment starts early.

But unfortunately for families in Michigan at the time, behavior analytic treatment was expensive and not covered by insurance. In 2002, in an effort to make this evidence-based treatment more affordable, I worked with my colleagues to design an intensive, but short-term parent-training model of behavior analytic intervention. Teaching parents how to be the agent of change for their children not only made treatment more affordable, but it also gave parents a sense of empowerment as they saw their own efforts produce gains in their children.

I served as first author on a treatment outcome study of the first 72 children who enrolled in this applied behavior analysis (ABA) parent-training program and our finding were published in the journal, Behavioral Intervention (volume 23, pages 165-180).  I’ll never forget one of the mothers in this study who learned the skills to help her son say his first words. This feat was particularly remarkable as he entered treatment with serious aggressive behaviors, hitting his head against walls and other hard surfaces whenever he was frustrated.

But this intensive parent-training model was not a viable option for many parents who could not take time away from their employment or other responsibilities or simply could not feasibly serve as their child’s therapist. Michigan needed insurance coverage for professionally-implemented ABA. Finally, ten years later the Michigan Autism reform legislation went into effect in 2012 ensuring that evidence-based treatments such as ABA would be a covered benefit.

The number of agencies providing this treatment began to climb exponentially. As a result, the current need for Board Certified Behavior Analysts in our state has grown quite high. To help fill this need, MSP recently received approval from the Behavior Analysis Certification Board to offer a sequence of courses in ABA. I am excited to serve as the director of this course sequence beginning September 2017.

Ruth Anan, PhDDr. Anan is both a licensed psychologist and board certified behavior analyst who joined the faculty of MSP in 2017.  Dr. Anan served for 15 years as the Director of the Early Childhood Program at William Beaumont Hospital’s Center for Human Development where she conducted diagnostic assessments for children with a myriad of developmental, behavioral and emotional challenges. In order to offer behavior analytic treatment to children with autism spectrum disorders, Dr. Anan established Beaumont’s HOPE Center. Dr. Anan also provided pediatric psychology services to Beaumont’s cranio-facial and hematology-oncology medical teams. She was on the bio-medical staff at Beaumont, Royal Oak and was appointed Associate Professor at Oakland University-Beaumont Hospital School of Medicine.