MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For most parents, having a child diagnosed with autism can be an overwhelming and life changing experience, but the diagnosis is just the first step in a lifetime of obstacles that the family will face. It is not uncommon to accumulate thousands of dollars in bills and sit on slow-moving waiting lists to begin receiving services.

The Center for Excellence in Disabilities (CED) at West Virginia University has received funding to help families receive Parent Implemented Training for Autism through Telemedicine (PITA-T), which teaches families how to perform applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy through video or written instruction. ABA focuses on how changes in the environment can affect behavior.

“There are just not enough trained practitioners in the state to keep up with the demand of families needing services. Currently, West Virginia has about 27 board certified behavior analysts to treat the one in 100 children diagnosed with autism. That number should increase with the recent passage of autism insurance legislation, but, in the meantime, parents are searching for resources that will help their children,” Susannah Poe, Ed.D., associate professor in the WVU Department of Pediatrics, said.

“Families need to be trained in evidence-based treatment, particularly applied behavior analysis, as that is the most researched and recommended treatment for young children with autism. The PITA-T project can help families begin that process.”

The CED is currently recruiting families to participate in the study and receive training on ABA therapy. To be eligible, parents must have a child between the ages of 18 and 48 months who meets the diagnostic criteria for autism and be willing to participate in a year-long research study. Families can live in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia or Kentucky but must be willing to drive to Morgantown or the Charleston area twice over the course of the study.

Parents will be given a video camera to record themselves working with their children and receive individualized feedback on their implementation of the therapy. Parents will conduct ABA sessions in their homes and are only required to travel for pre- and post-training assessments. All training that parents receive is free. This study has been approved by the WVU Institutional Review Board.

According to Claire St. Peter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the WVU Department of Psychology, who is collaborating on the project with Dr. Poe, there is already substantial evidence supporting early, intensive intervention for autism, which is based on applied behavior analysis.

“The research should provide an immediate benefit to families of children with autism in West Virginia because it will increase the availability of treatment resources. Training parents to implement applied behavioral analysis therapy may also help reduce their stress levels,” Dr. St. Peter said. “If using telemedicine is effective, it could greatly increase the access of rural children with autism to observation-based intervention.”

For more information or to enroll in the PITA-T study, visit www.pitat.cedwvu.org or contact Lashanna Brunson at lbrunson@hsc.wvu.edu or 304-293-4692 ext. 1144.

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For more information: Melina Danko, WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities, 304-293-4692 ext. 1110
md: 01-25-12