Children thriving with support of Sunflower autism program

Martin Trejo, 2, works on matching colors with the guidance of Allison Schwartz, ABA direct service provider at Sunflower Early Education Center.

A 2-year-old Ellinwood boy was diagnosed with autism June 17 last year. A couple of months later Martin began receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy at Sunflower Early Education Center (EEC), 1312 Patton Rd.

“Fast forward several months,” said Ashley Trejo, the toddler’s mother. “Martin has learned how to say his ABCs, recognize shapes and colors, how to use sign language and how to focus for longer periods of time. We feel very blessed to have this service.

“All the therapists are wonderful with my son,” she continued. “It is reassuring to know Martin is getting the best care with people you trust.”

Another parent, Jennifer Dickson of Lyons, reported her 4-year-old son also is making great strides in the ABA program.

“ABA has been amazing for Wesley,” she said. “Everyone there is wonderful and he loves it. Wesley asks for it daily and he has thrived. I couldn’t be more thankful because of the progress he has made.”

ABA is designed for children with a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Five children are currently receiving local ABA services; most receive 10 to 20 hours of the specialized therapy per week.

“We hope to expand these services to include up to 10 children,” said Alyson Burkhart, EEC autism specialist. “We are in the process of hiring additional support staff to help us serve more children and families.”

The waiting list includes up to five children.

“In our role as an Autism Diagnostic Team, we refer children to developmental pediatricians,” Burkhart noted. “Since this frequently results in an autism diagnosis, the list continues to grow as more children are identified.”

Since ABA is not easy to come by in many areas of Kansas, Burkhart and her colleagues are “passionate” about offering the therapy locally.

“Access to ABA therapy allows children to receive early intensive behavioral interventions that target their specific needs,” Burkhart said. “It is designed to increase

skills in language and communication, as well as enhance the social skills necessary to improve daily functioning.

“The therapy also focuses on decreasing problem behaviors,” she added. “Research indicates that early access to these services has the greatest impact on the child’s ability to make significant progress.”

If the EEC didn’t offer ABA, local and area children would go without the therapy because of the limited number of providers.

“Some parents may even resort to moving to an area that has access to services,” Burkhart commented. “They also might seek the education and training to provide the therapy themselves.”

Heather Quillin, Sunflower coordinator of children’s services, said “we are excited to see this program taking off. The children’s progress has been nothing short of remarkable.

“We look forward to watching the growth each child makes in the coming years, as well as the impact this program will have on many more children in the years to come.”

ABA at Sunflower is offered to children up to age 5 or when they start kindergarten.

Services are adapted to each child. This may involve one-on-one teaching, group classroom instruction and/or parent training for up to 25 hours a week.

A transition plan, based on ongoing needs, is developed as the child approaches school age. Some insurance policies, including KanCare, cover ABA services.

The EEC autism team, which doesn’t diagnose, has partnerships with the University of Kansas Developmental Pediatricians in Wichita and the Center for Child Health & Development at KU Medical Center to help with timely diagnoses.

“Through these partnerships, we complete paperwork and assessments prior to the evaluation,” Burkhart noted. “This speeds up the process for many families. We can help families see specialists usually within three to six months. The traditional referral process may take a year or longer.”

As part of the Sunflower Diversified Services family, EEC offers three programs. They are Tiny-K Early Intervention Services, Incredible Years Preschool and ABA services. Sunflower, a non-profit agency, serves infants, toddlers and adults with delays and disabilities in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 55th year.

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