Learning facility specializes in needs of autistic children

Jody Ferguson,mother of 7-year-old Matthew Ferguson, noticed that her son was not developing normally as a baby.

spring-clinic"When Matthew was 18 months old, we noticed that he had no desire to talk. We had his hearing tested, and it tested fine. He seemed to not hear us when we would call to him; he was not processing what we were saying," said Ferguson.

Matthew did not play with toys, even though the family members would show him how. He was not imitating play, and he would not make eye contact. At 15 months, he tried to say two words, but lost that by age 18 months. Matthew was finally diagnosed with autism when he was 30 months old.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. People with autism process and respond to information in unique ways. In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behavior may be present. Ferguson went on to say, "We placed him in private speech therapy twice a week for nine months, which did not help at all. At age three, we entered him in the school district in Tyler. In Te as, Special Education Programs start at three years old. After just one semester, we realized this was not successful. The special education teacher did not have much experience with autistic children."

After that experience, the Fergusons decided to use an at-home Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program. They hired a consultant from Dallas who helped them construct an ABA program. The consultant trained Ferguson in ABA/HBI techniques, then hired college students to assist with the 35-hour per week program. "When we moved to College Station, we continued with the program and with a new toddler, it was overwhelming keeping up with the needs of a baby, and keeping up with the five therapists coming to our home.

"When I found out I was pregnant with our third child, I realized that I needed major help. At age five, we re-entered Matthew into the public school system. His teacher had training and experience in working with autistic children. Since Matthew did not speak, his frustration level was peaking and interfering with acquiring new skills," according to Ferguson. Not knowing what to do next, they searched the Families for Early Autism Treatment(FEAT) Web site at www.FEAThouston.org and found "The Shape of Behavior" listing for the only ABA program school in the area. "We were so exited that we called for an immediate appointment and enrolled Matthew. We also moved from College Station to the Copperfield area just to be close to the school." Ferguson said.

That was last year on April 1, and Matthew has now been at the school for one year.

Ferguson went on to say, "It has been wonderful, and Matthew is now trying to say words, which he has never attempted before. He gets intensive teaching and therapy. I am also encouraged because of his increased receptive responses for understanding and comprehending. Just a few years ago, he was in his own little world. What a difference from the public school. There were no data reports generated for progress in the public school. At The Shape of Behavior, detailed data is generated each day and sent home to show the day's progress."

The data reports that are sent home reflect real progress. Even though the home environment is more relaxed, the Fergusons employ 'natural environment training.' That is getting Matthew to say the names of objects or activities he wants. The Shape of Behavior was founded in 2000 by Domonique Randall, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst with an M.S. degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University Of North Texas.

The organization's mission is to provide individualized and data-based treatment by shaping small successes to improve the quality of life for all individuals, as well as to conduct research designed to support and advance the field of applied behavior analysis. For more information, call 832- 375-0920 or visit the Web site at www.shapeofbehavior.com.