The Mississippi Centers for Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities (MCARDD) was founded in June of 2005 by Dr. Alfred D. McNair, Jr. A single mother came to him and told him about her story of raising her children, one of whom was impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Hearing her story and seeing her raise a child with autism to successful adulthood, he accepted the challenge of becoming a student of autism. He began advocating for the ASD community and taking its fight to the state capitol in Jackson as a member and Vice President of the State Board of Health. The goal was to make a difference in the lives of as many children and families impacted by ASD as possible.
On February 23, 2011, The Mississippi Centers for Autism and Related Developmental Disabilities opened its doors to the community. The center has a staff dedicated to providing the best available treatment and services to anyone impacted by ASD. MCARDD is committed to improving the way children are identified, assessed, and diagnosed and providing advanced tools for treating those with ASD. In this vision for Mississippians impacted by autism, early intervention is a key focus in treatment offered by MCARDD. Furthermore, there is a passion and drive to increase awareness of ASD for physicians, educators, health care providers, families and friends. The program currently offered by MCARDD consists of providing clinic-based autism services. As the need for and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program grew for addressing complex behaviors associated with autism or other disorders, services expanded and continue to grow to meet the needs of families.
We Work in ABA Teams
All services include parent training. In order for Centers-based ABA therapy to have lasting effects, parents must assist the child with practicing their skills learned at the Centers at home and in the community. Training may include making changes to the physical environment, changing ways family members interact with the child, practicing and rewarding new skills learned at the Centers. Parents of children receiving services participate in parent education and training related to their child’s individualized programming. Participation by parents and significant family members is an essential part of every child’s program.
We Individualize Programs
MCARDD provides a clinic based program in which basic skills are taught to each child to enhance communication and living skills. Each child has one on one sessions with an ABA therapist based upon his or her individual program created by a BCBA. Once the child masters the prerequisite skills in the clinic-based environment, these skills will be tested for generalization in the home, school, and community. Program requirements include: assessment, program development, implementer services, and consultative services.
Our program is comprised of a variety of teaching methodologies within the field of ABA to enhance the teaching of skills and decreasing problem behavior. The methodology used will be determined by how the child best learns. Methodologies include, but are not limited to, Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT), Incidental Teaching, and Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT). DTT allows us to break the skill down into very small units of learning and provide repetition to increase correct responding and ensure success. DTT is very common in “traditional” ABA approaches to learning. Incidental Teaching allows us to capture and contrive opportunities to learn throughout the day. For example, putting cookies on a shelf where the child cannot reach provides an opportunity to teach the child to request cookies. PRT involves teaching the child “pivotal” behaviors that
create opportunities for the child to learn other more complex behaviors. The Verbal Behavior Approach is also utilized throughout each child’s program to increase functional communication, whether it is vocally, through the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), or Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices.
Data-Based Decision Making
ABA is a field in which data is important in making decisions with each targeted skill. It gives us an objective way to assess progress for each child. It allows us to identify what learning strategies are most effective and those that are not. We can readily track progress to determine rate of learning and when the team may need to make changes to a child’s program. The BCBA will create periodic progress reports and update programming as necessary to best support the child.
Positive reinforcement is used throughout each child’s program to increase appropriate behaviors. Rewards (not bribes) are given to the child when we observe these behaviors. This increases the child’s motivation for learning, as they are more likely to respond correctly with higher motivation. Once the child has mastered a particular skill, we systematically decrease the number of rewards to foster generalization of the skill using natural reinforcement. Additionally, if there are any behavior problems, we teach the child appropriate replacement behaviors to get the specific want or need met instead of using the problem behaviors. These replacement behaviors are then increased through reinforcement and thereby reducing the problem behaviors.
Each program is individualized for each child’s needs and level of learning. This is determined via parent interview and directly testing the child’s skills using assessment tools. Assessment reports are generated by the BCBA to give an explanation of the child’s current skill levels and create goals for increasing socially significant skills.
Each program involves a generalization program to foster independence and ensure that learning is occurring in the natural environment. Once the child has learned a skill in a structured setting, the clinician ensures that the skill is generalizing to different people, materials, instructions, and environments. This may include parent participation in having the child practice skills and behaviors at home and in the community and taking data on the child’s responding.