One only has to read the story about 12-year-old Kyle and his self-destructive behavior to learn why Kyle’s mother Kathy decided to seek refuge at University of Houston-Clear Lake’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities and the center’s Severe Behavior Disorder Research Clinic. Kyle’s aggressive punches to his own head and, eventually, at those around him left Kathy feeling drained and alone, despite having a family and many close friends.
In 2008, Assistant Professor of Behavior Analysis Jennifer Fritz opened the Severe Behavior Disorders Research Clinic within the center to assist families like Kathy’s and since that time has been able to do just that. The necessity of the clinic within the center is apparent with approximately 26 families being served during fall 2011 and spring 2012. It helps the parents, who are sometimes pushed to their limits, get the training they need to successfully help their children.
“We’ve met parents and caregivers who are emotionally drained and at the end of their rope,” says Fritz. “Our goal is to help the parents/caregivers and the children by providing alternative ways to communicate and interact with each other.”
In 2012, the clinic received $10,000 from the George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation to help with the costs of training materials and a graduate student worker. This funding supplemented a $25,000 grant provided by The Fondren Foundation in 2011 for three much-needed graduate assistants to provide services to the families. CVS Charitable Caremark Charitable Trust also saw the benefit of the center and recently provided a $1,500 grant to strengthen clinic offerings and to purchase items such as padded floor mats, protective gloves, toys and workbooks.
“We rely on the generous support of foundations and businesses to help us provide our services to those who need us most,” says Fritz. “Many times the families of children with behavioral issues related to autism feel they have no place to go for help; we want to provide a place for them.”
UH-Clear Lake Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Director and Professor of Psychology Dorothea Lerman agrees with Fritz about the importance of grants and other contributions. In fact, a grant like one The Simmons Foundation has provided since 2008 helped the center provide an extra family the support they needed.
“As a result of the continued and generous support of the Simmons Foundation, we are able to provide services to an additional child and family in our early intervention program,” says Lerman about the center’s Applied Behavior Analysis Skills Intervention Program or ABA-SkIP. “Children receive 15 hours of behavior therapy each week for up to two years.”
Lerman, who started the center at the university in May 2008, says the Center for Disease Control believes that one in 88 children are affected by an autism spectrum disorder, while the U.S. Department of Education reports a 600 percent increase in schools during the past decade.
In addition to housing the Severe Behavior Disorders Research Clinic, the center provides the Verbal Behavior Clinic that includes assessments, parent training and the development of teaching procedures relating to language skills; and Couples Counseling that allows the university’s graduate Family Therapy Program to conduct couples therapy research with parents and to provide 12 free sessions of therapy.
The updated center, located within the Psychology Services Clinic in the university’s Arbor South Building, also includes a sensory playground that was funded by The Brown Foundation Inc. of Houston. The playground assists the ABA-SkIP program by helping children improve muscle strength development and general coordination. It also augments social development while providing positive reinforcement or “rewards” to the center’s young clients.
In addition, the center holds an Autism Speaker Series that addresses numerous issues confronted by families of children with autism spectrum disorders. The series, which is sponsored by Hegwood & Associates, P.C.; JSC Federal Credit Union; Spectrum of Hope & BASIS; and Susie Bean, includes topics such as “Transitions for Success” and “Fostering Independence.”
“With this series, as well as the other services we offer, our goal is for parents and educators to take with them strategies that they can begin using immediately at home and school to improve their children's lives,” says Lerman. “With support from foundations like The Simmons, The Fondren, Hamman and The Brown Foundations, as well as the sponsors that make our speaker series so strong, we’re able to support at least a few of the families that have children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders like Kyle.”
Please Note - Kyle and Kathy are aliases to protect the privacy of the center’s clients.
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University of Houston-Clear Lake offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a doctoral program, from its four schools, which include the School of Business, School of Education, School of Human Sciences and Humanities, and School of Science and Computer Engineering. For more information about the university, visit http://www.uhcl.edu.