MT. PLEASANT (WWJ) — The Michigan Department of Community Health has awarded $500,000 to psychology professors to increase the number of professionals trained to serve individuals in Michigan with autism spectrum disorders.
CMU faculty members Carl Merle Johnson, Sharon Bradley-Johnson, Michael Hixson, Mark Reilly and Katrina Rhymer will train students in applied behavior analysis, which focuses on improving social behaviors of individuals with autism using intervention practices to modify actions and teach new skills.
“Behavior analysis is considered the best treatment of choice for autism because of the results it provides,” Johnson said. “Every individual who receives treatment experiences some improvement. That’s why it’s so important for us to train more people to be able to provide the service. The need is great and growing, particularly here in central and northern Michigan.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, a neurological condition that affects normal brain function and impacts communication and interaction skills. The U.S. Department of Education estimates the number of individuals diagnosed with ASD is growing nationally at a rate of 10 to 17 percent a year.
The one-year grant began Oct. 1 and will certify 25 undergraduate students as Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and eight graduate students as Board Certified Behavior Analysts. The grant is part of a statewide effort to improve services for people with autism. CMU’s program is designed to serve those in central and northern Michigan.
Later this semester, students can submit applications to CMU’s psychology department to participate in the program. Training of the first group of students will begin in January.
The use of applied behavior analysis techniques as treatment for individuals with autism has been effective in reducing inappropriate behavior and improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment. Studies indicate applied behavior analysis, when implemented intensively and early in life, may produce significant gains in development and a reduction in the need for special services.
“Applied behavior analysis may not decrease the number of cases of autism,” said Bradley-Johnson, “but it can certainly improve the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families.”