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Lehigh Valley, PA: 'Waitlist after waitlist' before families find ABA help

Aug 29, 2023, Lehigh Valley News: 'We were in the same room, finally': Mom talks about autism services for her son in the Lehigh Valley https://www.lehighvalleynews.com/health-news/we-were-in-the-same-room-finally-mom-talks-about-autism-services-for-her-in-the-lehigh-valley
COOPERSBURG, Pa. — Resources for children with autism are becoming more common in the Lehigh Valley, but parents often have to wait months before getting into a program.

"Waitlist after waitlist," said Logan Zuercher of Emmaus, who with his wife, Alexis, said they had a hard time finding services for their son, Elijah, when he was diagnosed with autism at 2 1/2 years old....

The Zuerchers said they found the resources they needed about a year ago at Helping Hands Family in Center Valley, which just marked two years of assisting those children and their families.

"Before Helping Hands it was like you weren't sure if he heard you. It was like talking to a wall. His eyes didn’t even blink if you called his name, no matter what the tone was, he didn't. We even got his ears checked because we weren't sure if he was deaf."

"Before Helping Hands it was like you weren't sure if he heard you," Alexis Zuercher said of her son. "It was like talking to a wall. His eyes didn’t even blink if you called his name, no matter what the tone was, he didn't….

One in 36 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)….

Although Elijah is non-verbal, his parents said they have seen a difference over the past 12 months as he’s received applied behavioral analysis therapy and occupational therapy through Helping Hands Family.

Christina Bean is the clinical director at the clinic, on the second floor of the Goddard School at the business park next to Saucon Valley Promenade shops.

"Here in the clinic, we're able to work on those important skills to families in that kind of controlled setting."

“We provide one-to-one services for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, and we provide services for kiddos ages 2 to 21 in the clinic, home, and the school or daycare setting," Bean said.

"We provide applied behavioral analysis, or ABA services, and that is a one-to-one setting with a therapist or a board-certified behavior analyst,” or BCBA.

She said sessions can last two to five hours, depending on the recommendation that the BCBA puts in place after the initial assessment.

Each treatment plan is specific to the individual child, she added.

The goal at Helping Hands Family is to increase behaviors that are helpful and decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning, Bean said.

"Here in the clinic, we're able to work on those important skills to families in that kind of controlled setting,” she said.

“Whether it's communication, decreasing problem behavior, increasing some daily living, hygiene skills, play and socialization and then taking those themes, skills and programs to their home or to their school can really help work on generalizing and making sure that those skills can be shown in every setting that they're in.” 'In the same room, finally'

Helping Hands Family has clinics in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Maryland, with most locations in Pennsylvania, and is the largest ABA therapy provider in the state.

"After a year of Helping Hands, we saw a child that came out of his world and a little bit into our world."

"After a year of Helping Hands, we saw a child that came out of his world and a little bit into our world making eye contact, like I started to make eye contact with my child for the first time in his first three years of life,” Alexis Zuercher said.

"We were starting to emotionally connect because you could see that he's noticing me. We were in the same room, finally."

The Zuerchers said Elijah’s therapy has helped him interact with them and his two younger siblings, but they would like to see more covered by insurance to help children like their son improve over time.

ABA services are paid for by insurance or secondary insurance, however, occupational therapy is not always covered. Those at Helping Hands said their care coordination team can walk families through those processes.


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