The Autism Blog

A Journey Through the ABA Early Intervention Program at the Autism Center

April 3, 2024

The Autism Center’s Early Intervention Applied Behavior Analysis Program offers a short-term burst of therapy to children under the age of 6 who are on Medicaid, while they are waiting to find long-term services. Also known as “Day Treatment,” this 12-week intensive program runs 3 hours every Monday-Thursday in person at the Autism Center, with both a morning and an afternoon session.

I began supporting the ABA EI Program as a Family Advocate and Case Manager almost 9 years ago. For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed working with children, and my first job out of college was as a preschool teacher in a small suburb of California. I soon noticed that many of the children I was working with had needs that extended outside of the classroom. My curiosity about how to better support students with various needs and diverse learners led me to pursue my Master’s in Teaching and then a certificate with a focus on Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. I found a passion for working with individuals with autism and with their families as I began my career working in Early Head Start and Head Start as an educator, home visitor, peer mentor and Family Advocate. Here at the Autism Center, in addition to the ABA Program, I am the Lead for the Family Resource Team who supports the patients and families seen in our outpatient clinic.

My background and my understanding that a child’s needs are best met when their family is well supported is why I feel such excitement about our ABA EI Program. We provide a robust set of services not only to the child, but also to the family. We want to ensure they receive support while in the program, and are also equipped to move forward when the 12 weeks are over. We offer parent education, parent observation, and regular 1:1 meetings to discuss individual questions, concerns and goals. We also provide intensive case management so families can navigate the resources and recommendations that have been outlined for their child.

Our goal is to meet each family where they are, and help them in their journey to understanding autism in a way that is helpful to them. Many children start our program soon after receiving a diagnosis, so this can be a fragile time for parents as they work to understand what autism means for their child and to process their own thoughts and feelings around the diagnosis. We always tell families that once they are a part of our program they are part of our family, and it truly feels like our program is unique in that way.

Since the ABA EI program started nearly nine (!) years ago thanks to the hard work and dedication of our Program Director, Mendy Minjarez, PhD, we have grown so much. Our team consists of our Program Director, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Behavior Technicians, a Speech and Language Pathologist and myself as the Family Advocate. Over the past eight and a half years we have served nearly one hundred families, sometimes supporting families with more than one child attending our program. We’ve also been a place where students and providers in multiple fields have had the opportunity to work alongside our staff for training and professional development. We have developed a parent education manual that allows families to engage in their own learning outside of meetings, and to have access to resources and autism information after the program ends. This is personal to each family and is something they can keep for reference after our program ends. I am proud to work alongside such a dedicated group of providers, and feel so lucky to be able to work with such amazing families who let us into their lives during these 12 weeks.

Given the intensity of our program, we often get to know our families very well. The most exciting part of my job as the Family Advocate for the ABA EI Program is that I get to meet with families regularly and be a part of their journey. Seeing families come into our program uncertain about next steps, and leaving with goals and feeling empowered is truly a gift. I have had the pleasure of working with so many amazing families; I feel lucky to still be in touch with many of them, receiving holiday cards, videos and photos and email updates about their child and the successes they’ve had since leaving our program.

There is a lot of parent growth that happens during the 12 weeks in our program and I have been so amazed at the dedication, resiliency and stamina our parents show. Many families start in the program feeling unsure about how or when to advocate for their child, and leave feeling empowered with a better understanding of their child’s rights. For many families in our program, their language of care is not English and they often need interpreters for meetings. It never fails to amaze me how many parents leave our program no longer needing an interpreter and becoming involved in the community, for example becoming a parent support partner or a community advocate for other children and families impacted by autism. This is a wonderful community to be a part of and I am honored to work at the Autism Center and with families who teach me something new every day.

For families who are interested in participating in the ABA EI Program, their child needs to have a diagnosis of autism, ABA orders, and a referral from their child’s provider. Additionally, families must be able to come to the Autism Center to participate in therapy. For any questions please visit the ABA EI Program web page or call 206-987-8080, or send a message through your child’s MyChart.

— Jaimie Sigesmund, MAT