PEORIA — Parents struggling to get an autistic child on the right path now have another therapy option in Peoria.
A new preschool for autistic children is opening Dec. 6. Owned by Gorbold Behavioral Consulting, Inc., or GBC, a five-year-old company based in Bolingbrook, the school is an expansion of a one-on-one therapy program which opened in Peoria and Bloomington last March.
The company provides applied behavior analysis, or ABA, a type of therapy which helps correct behavioral problems. While ABA therapy can be used to correct behaviors caused by a variety of medical diagnoses, it’s most frequently used to correct difficult behaviors in autistic children.
“We work on skill deficits or excesses, like a child who is 10 but is not toilet trained. That would be a skill deficit that we would work on. Or a child who has excessive running behavior, or hyperactive, that would also be something we could work on, a skill excess,” said Mackenzie Craig, the board certified behavior analyst who is assuming most of the duties at the GBC’s new school.
Craig and Kristin Smith, operations manager for GBC, spoke Monday afternoon in one of the therapy rooms at the center, which is in a strip mall at 8500 N. Knoxville. Overhead fluorescent fixtures were covered with special blue blankets, an adaptation to soften the light in a way that’s calming for autistic children. The walls were painted a soft grey blue, and the only decorations were tree silhouettes adorning several walls. About one-third of the center is under construction, an expansion that will accommodate the school, which already has several children enrolled.
“We’ll still be offering our one-on-one therapy and social skills group, but the school will be a preschool-like setting for us to target 2-6 year-olds,” said Craig. “That will give them the group work that’s traditional with a preschool setting, and the social skills that would be found within that setting.”
Children can attend the school for as long as they need to correct behavioral issues. Children are assessed before beginning therapy at GBC, and each child is given a specialized program to fit their unique needs.
“Some children will have more needs than other children, and we would predict that they would be involved in services longer,” said Craig. “We do ongoing assessments every six months where we evaluate their progress, and what’s going on with the kiddo.”
Even after children are done with intensive services, parents continue to receive support, said Craig.
“If the children have met all their goals, we may fade to a model where we are supporting parents,” she said. “We are keeping in touch with parents, providing parent support, parent training, maybe doing some ongoing collaboration with the child’s school, making sure everything is going well, and then after that we will fade out. And certainly if they have needs that arise, they can call us back up.”
Therapy should be started as early as possible in a child’s life, said Craig.
“Our research shows that early, intensive intervention warrants the best outcomes. The earliest you can — at two years old if you have a diagnosis — start services,” she said.
Therapists can help children with many behavior issues typical for autistic children — toilet training, feeding issues and language.
“Just getting them to talk is a big thing with our younger kids,” said Craig.
Social skills are also addressed in the school. Children interact in play areas, like the gross motor room which is equipped with swings, therapy balls and an inflatable pad called the crash pad.
“This area allows for social interaction so we can target things like sharing, and playing with our peers,” said Craig. “There’s also a lot of fun toys, so kids will work to take breaks in there. A lot of those items are what we call reinforcers, so they are things they work to earn. The swing, especially, is a big hit.”
In the world of autism many parents are used to waiting for services — some wait as long as two years just to get an appointment with a specialist to properly diagnose a child, said Smith. GBC chose to expand into Peoria because there were only two places where children could get the therapeutic services they need, and while the wait times varied, they were too long.
“We will never have a wait list, and if we do, it would be a very short one while we are hiring,” said Smith. “Our company does not believe in wait lists.”
For more information visit www.gbcaba.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (312) 822-1024.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.