By Sarah M. Peters
MADISON – ABA Lifeline Interactive aims to make autism treatment more effective and accessible to people of all socio-economic backgrounds by offering teaching methods in a convenient, easy-to-use online format.
Autism is a brain development disorder, usually diagnosed in children before age three that impairs social interaction and communication, and causes restricted and repetitive behavior.
One out of every 150 children will be diagnosed with autism in the United States. That is a diagnosis of one child every 20 minutes. In Wisconsin alone, autism is detected in 12 children each week.
“Autism is becoming more problematic,” said Jean Muckian, founder of ABA Lifeline interactive. “The funding is drying up and more children are in need of assistance.”
The problem was compounded in 2003 after autism aid was initially eliminated from the state budget, leaving many families of autistic children in a state of crisis. Outcries from autism coalitions led the Legislature to reinstate funding, but distribution methods have changed.
The new funding alternative is distributed through community based waivers, which limit enrollment through criteria requirements. There are currently more than 300 families on a waiting list for service, and they expect to remain for more than two years.
“For the family of a two year old, waiting two years to begin treatment is entirely too long and really too late,” said Muckian.
Wisconsin families pay an average of $1,200 a week per child to receive in-home interactive applied behavior analysis (ABA.) Using the current model, in-home care individuals spent about 40 hours a week with autistic children and their families in an effort to increase basic levels of social function in the autistic child.
More than $38 billion is spent nationally on autism each year, most of which goes to supplying families with in-home care.
The ABA Lifeline Interactive tool teaches parents to function without the added cost of an in-home care individual, while allowing for constant positive reinforcement of their teachings.
“ABA Lifeline Interactive can be used at any time and unlike in-home methods doesn’t stop once the care individual leaves,” said Muckian. “This can be loaded onto a computer or iPod and used anytime — day or night, weekday or weekend — far more than just 40 hours a week.”
Prior to beginning the interactive tool parents complete a child assessment to ensure proper program placement. Then each day they progress through a series of teaching methods, scripts and videos.
They work with their children and report successes and failures, which are monitored and recorded using the computer program. The inputted information is then tracked and used to inform the user when their child is ready to move onto the next level of instruction.
“Research shows, and most professionals can’t disagree, that family based treatment is often more successful than clinic based treatment, because of the constant intervention, support and repetition,” said Muckian. “Everyone supports the child and teaches them to interact with the world.”
The current target cost of the ABA Lifeline Interactive tool would be a fraction of the cost of an in-home care provider. Muckian hopes to offer the interactive tool to families for $500 a month.
“At this point we aren’t certain if Medicaid reimbursements will be available, so we wanted to ensure a reasonable out of pocket expense,” said Muckian. “We’ll work with the Autism Council and the Department of Health and Family Services, but there’s government red tape that needs to be addressed before coverage can be guaranteed.”
There are currently no other interactive web-based ABA programs available. There are other teaching modules, however none that offer ABA in an online form.
ABA Lifeline Interactive will be distributed through autism providers and has the potential to expand into markets far beyond Wisconsin. Many states don’t offer autism assistance and less expensive ABA alternatives would be welcomed my many families across the United States.
The U.S. Department of Defense also interested in a system like ABA Lifeline Interactive, and recently allocated $6.4 million for 2008 to aid military families with autistic children.
“ABA Lifeline Interactive has the potential to be both lucrative and beneficial,” said Muckian. “If you do the math there are a lot of children being diagnosed with autism, so there is money to be made, while at the same time helping families help their children.”
Peters is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.