Storyteller Newsletter

Celebrating 15 Years of Service!

WWAIn, December of 1997, I created Working With Autism (WWA) which began as a small and unassuming agency. Initially WWA originated as simply an idea of supporting the growing number of families challenged by autism. Although uncertain of the company’s impending growth, my intention was clear; to provide ample, high quality and reliable support for families affected by autism.

15 years later, WWA has evolved into a reputable clinic, providing a variety of services to many Southern California families, with funding sources including regional centers, school districts, and multiple insurance carriers. WWA has transitioned from traditional discrete trial training methodology to a developmentally based and empirically driven, client centered approach, utilizing applied behavioral analysis and constantly striving to remain up to date with effective research based interventions. Our programs have become increasingly diverse, in order to meet the varied levels of the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now, in 2012, I am proud to acknowledge my WWA team and the increasing number of services that we provide. Our current team consists of a diverse range of expertise and credentials, including licensed psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and multiple board certified behavior analysts. WWA has grown to accommodate in home and school direct services, professional training, parent training, adaptive skills, and the PEERS social skills group. Looking forward, I am passionate about fulfilling my original intentions; and will continue to appreciate, support and foster the continuous growth of my team, while maintaining the superior standards of WWA services within the community.

Jennifer Sabin, M.A, BCBA
Executive Director

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WWA Implements the PEERS Program

doggyAs a professional working with children on the autism spectrum since 2003, I have always been astounded by the impact that social deficits and poor friendship quality has on youths with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). As children enter adolescence, social communication becomes increasingly complex. Many parents that I have worked with in the past were happy with their child’s progress in areas such as academics, behavior management and receptive and expressive language. Despite these wonderful gains, parents remained concerned about their child’s ability to function in the social world due to lingering social deficits. Some specific social deficits that may impact individuals with ASD include: poor social communication, impaired social cognition and the lack of understanding of social cues. These deficits commonly result in peer rejection, poor social support and isolation; consequently, adolescents with ASD report higher levels of loneliness and poor quality of friendships than same aged typically developing peers. Not surprisingly, social skills training has become an increasingly popular method for helping adolescents with ASD adapt to their social environment.

Over the years there have been many studies on this subject, but there remain significant gaps in the research, such as few evidence-based interventions that were specifically aimed at improving the friendships of adolescents with ASD. Most of the relevant studies have not been formally tested in their efficacy in improving social competence or the development of close friendships, nor do they examine the long-term treatment gains after intervention has ended. Much of the literature on social skills training with children and adolescents with ASD focused on the younger population and children who were severely impacted. There was consequently a gap in the treatment intervention research among adolescents that are less cognitively impaired, such as teens with high-functioning autism, Asperger’s disorder or PDD-NOS. Few research studies have examined improvement in social competence or the development of close friendships beyond the treatment setting. There was limited examination of the trajectory of improvement in social competency over time and no research into a parent assisted model of social skills instruction.

As a certified UCLA PEERS (Program for the Evaluation and Enrichment of relational Skills) Program instructor, I am excited when research pertaining to the efficacy of the program is released to the public. The study reviewed here is entitled “Evidence-Based Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program”, conducted by Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Fred Frankel, Alexander Gantman, Ashley R. Dillon, and Catherine Mogil. The PEERS Program is a parent assisted social skills group intervention for high-functioning adolescents with ASD. The present study focused on the durability of treatment gains after a 14 week follow up period. The findings of the current study are as follows: Teens completing the PEERS Program have significantly improved their social skills knowledge, social responsiveness, and overall social skills in the areas of social communication, social cognition, social awareness, social motivation, assertion, cooperation and responsibility while decreasing autistic mannerisms and increasing the frequency of peer interactions. Many of the improvements were maintained at the 14-week follow up assessment while some improved even further.

These results are very exciting for anyone who is interested in the development of social skills for adolescents with ASD. Improving social skills among adolescents with ASD is particularly important due to the impact social skills have on social functioning. It has been reported that having one or two close friends positively impacts later adjustment and buffers the impact of stressful, life events while improving self-esteem and decreasing anxious and depressive symptomology.

Although the current study was successful in improving and maintaining overall social skills and social responsiveness in teens with high functioning ASD, there are limitations to the study. Some of the limitations are as follows: Each study participant came into the study with a previous diagnosis of an ASD from a reliable mental health professional but there was no way (due to financial constraints) to corroborate the diagnosis. The study used parent rating scales that are susceptible to bias, and the generalizability of the treatment gains is questionable due to small sample size.

Article Review by Jamie DeWitt, Case Supervisor and PEERS Program Facilitator Evidence-Based Social Skills Training for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The UCLA PEERS Program by Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Fred Frankel, Alexander Gantman, Ashley R. Dillon, and Catherine Mogil. Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Volume 42, Number 6 (2012).

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How to Prepare for the BCBA Exam

BACB By: John-Paul Prakash MA., BCBA, MFTI
WWA BCBA Program Coordinator

Preparation for the BCBA exam requires one to think critically and analytically. It is not just a written test, but a test that evaluates the application of behavioral principles. In the field, BCBAs are practitioners using Applied Behavior Analysis (a science, evidenced based practice) to help teach socially significant skills and reduce maladaptive behaviors for consumers. As Autism Disorder is a spectrum, it is crucial that a behavior analyst conceptualize the consumer as an individual by developing a treatment plan specifically created, that is systematic, rational and easy to implement.

WWA is proud to announce a 75% passing rate for the recent May 2012 BCBA exam. To facilitate a successful exam experience by conceptualization, analytic thinking and application of ABA, WWA held weekly group BCBA supervision for staff in addition to individual BCBA supervision on an as needed basis. Group supervision focused on presenting information in different formats (e.g. power point lectures, visual presentations, and actual recorded video), practicing "behavior speak," participating in discussions on scenarios, reading and reviewing articles and literature, case presentations, and repeated practice of hypothetical test questions. Individual supervision emphasized making evidenced based decisions utilizing data collection, development of behavior intervention plans and execution of the plan in the field.

There are many different ways to study for this exam. Anyone can read a book on how to swim, drive a car, or achieve mastery of a skill, however, reading alone may not prepare the person to demonstrate the skill in a real world situation. Given the importance of being able to apply your knowledge on the BCBA exam, memorization of the terminology is not enough! What has proven to be effective is supervision, application of ABA in the field, receiving feedback from other BCBAs, and gaining experience. Most importantly, it requires the natural desire to want to uphold the integrity of the field of ABA and to do your best!

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WWA Participates in Stephanie's Day

WWA at Stephanie's DayBy Paul Craig
Director, Human Resources and Administration

Working With Autism was invited and happy to participate in the very successful 2nd Annual Stephanie’s Day Celebration on July 14th, 2012; a resource fair hosted by CBS in Burbank for families with children impacted by autism and other special needs. More than 50 organizations attended this event, which aims to bring together families along with some of the best intervention services available. Participants included nutrition, mentorship programs, and job training for teens and adults. WWA’S Executive Director Jennifer Sabin, along with Staff members met with hundreds of individuals and families, answering questions, and providing resources and professional references concerning their individual needs. The event provided a valuable opportunity for families to connect, enjoy fun activities, and gather relevant information. Stephanie’s Day turned out to be a very special experience and WWA is looking forward to ongoing participation in this event for years to come.

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Optimistic Parenting:
Hope and Help for You and Your Challenging Child

Book Review
By Hilya Delband, Psy.D., BCBA-D
WWA Clinical Director

 Optimistic Parenting, book coverIn his book Optimistic Parenting: Hope and Help for You and Your Challenging Child, author, V. Mark Durand, Ph.D, sheds light on the importance of addressing the thoughts and feelings of a caregiver when targeting a child’s challenging behaviors. The book is an eye opening look at how promoting a parent’s sense of confidence in their own abilities, and turning their pessimistic thoughts into optimistic ones, can have a significant impact on the child’s growth. Durand’s research has identified that the best predictor of successful outcomes for children is parental optimism.

The book is two-fold one in that it asks parents to examine their own way of thinking and how changing cognitions can in turn impact child outcome. It also provides research supporting positive behavior change procedures such as how to determine why a child misbehaves, set goals that take into account the entire family, rule out issues that may lead to challenging behaviors, and support children through difficulties with transitions and sleep issues.

The message of positivity is a consistent one throughout this book and parents are told, “stop feeling guilty if you are not a ‘perfect parent’. Instead, strive to get better and better at being a parent. The good news is that children are not irreparably harmed by a few mistakes… Do not forget that parenting is a voyage, and try to enjoy the trip!”

Some of the tips Dr. Durand provides for Optimistic Parenting include:

  1. Explore your thoughts and feelings before, during and after meltdowns. Practice noticing these experiences so you can see later if they help or hurt your parenting skills.
  2. If your spouse or partner doesn’t help – ask why? Your spouse may also be experiencing self-doubts and doubts about your child and effective communication is the based way to confront these difficult issues.
  3. Believe you are a good parent. When you add you all you do for your child, the positives far outweigh any occasional lapses you may experience.
  4. Believe your child can change. All of our experience tells us any child can improve his or her challenging behavior.
  5. Take care of yourself. You can’t help your child if you are hurting. Give yourself permission to occasionally be “selfish.”
  6. Leverage – don’t multi-task. Doing two things at once means you may be doing two things poorly.
  7. Parent in the moment. Keep reminding yourself to focus on what is happening right now with your child (for example, having a good bath) rather than other things (such as what to make for dinner while bathing your child).
  8. List three good things that happen each day.
  9. Express gratitude toward those who help you.
  10. Sometimes bad is ok. Feeling bad is sometimes inevitable for everyone.

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WWA Events

discussing SB946Staff Appreciation Event
Thank you to all WWA Staff who attended our Back-to-School Staff Appreciation luncheon, on August 8th. It was a wonderful opportunity for staff to get to know each other and prepare for the transition back to school. Everyone seemed to enjoy the fun and laid back atmosphere of the get together, which also included raffling off prizes and playing a game to get to know each other. Showing support and appreciation for our staff, who demonstrate dedication to our clients each and every day, continues to be a top priority for WWA. We hope that you all continue to turn out in large numbers for future events!

Family Resource Nights
WWA continues to host monthly Family Resource nights, with the goal of connecting families and disseminating useful information that may significantly impact parents. The focus of our summer workshops has been SB946, the Insurance Mandate that took effect on July 1, 2012. This mandate requires health insurers to cover behavioral health treatment for autism and is a new avenue for families to obtain behavior intervention services. WWA is contracted with Aetna, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Magellan, Cigna, and UBH to provide ABA services to all families who qualify. If you or anyone you know has a question regarding obtaining behavioral services insurance funding, contact our WWA Insurance Administrator, Sabrina Acatrinei.

The next Family Resource Night is scheduled for September 11th, at 7:00 pm, at the Pacific Palisades Women's Club. We will be discussing meaningful and research supported interventions to facilitate social skills in adolescents. Families can RSVP by going to the “Events” section of our Facebook page, or by calling our office at 818-501-4240.


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Working With Autism
16530 Ventura Blvd, Suite 510
Encino, CA 91436

tel: 818.501.4240

discussing SB946 discussing SB946

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