What Causes Autism? Understanding the Latest Research

Hanna Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D, chief clinical officer

What does science say about what causes autism? The latest research indicates that a combination of genetic and environmental factors likely causes it.

There’s no simple answer, and scientists are still trying to develop better ones. “What caused my child’s autism? Was I to blame?” As David G. Amaral, Ph.D., a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at the University of California Davis wrote in 2017 in the journal Cerebrum, “Autism research has made tremendous progress over the last 20 years, but yet we still can’t provide definitive answers to most of these questions.”

What We Know for Sure

What we know for sure is that autism is a complex condition. It’s not caused by one single factor. The exact cause is still not fully understood, making it a subject of ongoing research.

Much of that research involves two main categories:

  1. Genetic factors: Scientists have found that certain gene changes, unusual gene combinations, and other genetic conditions can make a person more likely to have autism.
  2. Environmental factors: Since genetic factors don’t always lead to autism, that suggests that environmental factors could play a role. That could include factors, such as prenatal exposure to certain drugs or chemicals, complications during birth, or advanced parental age at the time of conception.

What Myths about Autism Science Has Debunked

Science has debunked several myths about autism, most notably the claim that vaccines cause autism. Large-scale studies have proven this theory to be false. Other debunked myths include the idea that autism is caused by parenting style or that it’s a mental health disorder. Autism is actually a neurological disorder resulting from differences in brain development.

It’s also worth noting that the prevalence of autism is rising, but this doesn’t necessarily mean more people are becoming autistic. An article in Scientific American explains that the bulk of the increase in autism rates stems from growing awareness of autism and better diagnostic methods.

Where Research Is Headed

The latest research in autism focuses on understanding the genetic and neurological aspects of the condition. Studies are further examining the perceptions of counselors in treating children with autism, which could help improve therapeutic approaches.

Other research is debunking more myths about vaccination risks related to autism. Still other researchers are looking into the intersection of autism in adulthood and the LGBTQ+ community. And some new research is looking into how certain proteins associated with autism interact with other molecules, shaping synaptic plasticity.

Our Understanding of Autism Is Evolving

Yet the most basic question — “What caused my child’s autism?” — may have no simple answer. Little by little, our understanding of what causes autism is evolving.

It’s becoming clearer that the causes of autism are multifaceted. While we might not have all the answers now, we are continuing to unravel the complexities of autism.

The Autism Diagnosis Process: What to Expect

When it comes to parenting, the unknown can be one of the hardest parts. Worries creep in if you suspect something’s wrong with your child’s development. If you think your child may be showing signs of autism, there’s no guidebook to tell you what to do next.

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed. The process gets easier when you know what to expect.

If you’ve found your way to this post, you’ve likely taken the first step: questioning whether your child shows signs of autism.

Recognizing this possibility is a significant and sometimes challenging move. Rest assured, you’re not alone. This guide is here to provide you with valuable insights and support as you navigate through this process.

Understanding Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects how a person interacts, learns, and behaves. Everyone on the spectrum is different. Signs of autism usually start showing up when a child is very young.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Autism symptoms can be different for everyone. If your child is not growing or learning like other kids their age, or if they have any of the following signs, you might want to talk to your pediatrician:

  • Not smiling at others by six months
  • Not gesturing or pointing to communicate by 12 months
  • Not babbling by 12 months
  • Not using single words like “no,” “mama,” “dada” by 16 months
  • Not using two-word phrases like “want cup,” “go play” by 24 months
  • Not responding to sounds, voices, or their own name by three years
  • Poor eye contact by three years
  • Little interest in other children or caretakers by three years
  • Losing skills they once had at any point by three years

The Diagnosis Process

Getting a diagnosis of autism starts with an evaluation. Experts will examine how a child behaves and will look at their past development. If your child’s pediatrician thinks it might be autism, they’ll send your child to an expert for a closer look. This process includes:

  • A parent interview
  • Review of medical, psychological, and school records
  • Assessment of cognitive, developmental, and adaptive functioning skills
  • Observation of your child during play

What Happens Next?

After an autism evaluation, our team of specialists will review and interpret the results. If your child is diagnosed with autism, our team will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan. This plan includes therapies to help improve communication, social skills, and behavior.

At LEARN, we work with families on a plan tailored to your family’s needs. We will adjust the treatment plan as needed. We’ll also provide you with resources and support.

Whether you’re just noticing signs or you’re already deep into the diagnosis process, our team is here to help. We know that recognizing and diagnosing autism can be challenging. But with the right support and guidance, you can navigate it confidently.

Shaping the Future: Influential Women in Autism and ABA Therapy

March is Women’s History Month. It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women in all walks of life.

In the area of autism and contemporary applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, many women have made a lasting mark. They’ve broken barriers. They’ve conducted significant research, and they’ve paved the way for better understanding and treatment of autism.

Today, we spotlight seven women who have shown us what it means to lead with passion, dedication, and commitment. They are making a difference, and their work continues to inspire future generations of women in the field.

1. Temple Grandin: The Trailblazing Voice in Autism Advocacy

Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a name synonymous with autism advocacy. Born in 1947, she was diagnosed with autism in early childhood. Despite the challenges, she went on to become an esteemed academic and animal behaviorist. She has gained recognition for writing books and delivering speeches on autism and animal behavior. Today, she is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.

2. Greta Thunberg: Championing Climate Action and Autism Acceptance

Greta Thunberg is a Swedish environmental activist. She has gained global recognition for her efforts to fight climate change. She’s also known for being openly autistic. She has referred to her autism as her “superpower,” and has discussed how it has helped her in her activism by allowing her to focus intensely on topics that interest her. Greta has used her platform to advocate for acceptance and understanding of autism. On her Facebook page, she identifies herself as an “Autistic climate justice activist.”

3. Breanna Clark: Shattering World Records and Autism Stereotypes

Breanna Clark is an American Paralympic athlete who was diagnosed with autism at age 4. She competes in T20 category races, a classification for athletes with intellectual impairments. She has represented athletes with autism on an international stage. Off the track, she’s been an advocate and role model for people with autism.

4. Ronit Molko: A Powerful Force in Autism Therapy and Entrepreneurship

Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is another luminary in the field. She is a thought leader and subject matter expert in autism spectrum disorder, developmental disabilities, and behavioral healthcare. She co-founded Autism Spectrum Therapies (acquired by Learn It Systems) and is a LEARN Behavioral board member. In this All Autism Talk podcast, she talks about how ongoing research is helping us better understand the unique challenges girls with autism face.

5. Devon Sundberg: Shaping the Future of ABA Therapy and Autism Awareness

Devon Sundberg, MS, BCBA, co-founded the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA). She has made significant contributions to the field of behavior analysis, both through her work at BACA and as the founder of the Women in Behavior Analysis conference. In this All Autism Talk podcast, she shares how raising three daughters helped open her eyes to how gendered life can be — and about the need for more women in the autism field.

6. Hanna Rue: Pioneering Innovations in Autism Treatment and Research

Hanna Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is chief clinical officer for LEARN Behavioral. Her research interests are broad and include the identification of evidence-based practices for the treatment of autism. Her influence in the field of autism is evident in her wide-ranging work that spans clinical care, research, and advocacy. She has made significant contributions to STEM fields, sharing her insights through various platforms, including top-performing podcast episodes about autism, and extending her influence and reach in the autism community.

7. Sabrina Daneshvar: Revolutionizing the Field with Innovation and Compassion

Sabrina Daneshvar, Ph.D., BCBA-D, serves as the senior vice president of clinical services at LEARN Behavioral. Her research interests include video modeling and teaching social skills. This work has contributed to developing innovative strategies for improving social skills in children with autism. Sabrina has also taught, mentored, and trained many graduate students pursuing their degrees.

These are just a few women who have helped to shape the field of autism and ABA therapy. Their work underscores the importance of early intervention, peer support, and recognizing the diverse signs and symptoms of autism in girls and women.

We celebrate these women and everyone who has made contributions to advance our understanding of autism. They provide hope and inspiration to countless families across the world affected by it.

The Benefits of Summer Social Skills Programs for Kids with Autism

Even though the school year is still in full swing, it’s not too early to think about how you’re going to fill your summer schedule.

For parents of children on the autism spectrum, planning for summer involves more than just vacations and relaxation. You want your child to continue to make progress even during a school break.

When regular routines and structured learning environments pause for the summer, children with autism can be at risk of not maintaining skills. They might lose social skills, behavior improvements, and communication. This loss can mean that skills learned over the school year may diminish, leading to a challenging start when school resumes.

Summer Can Provide Continuous Learning Opportunities

Experts at LEARN say consistency is key for reinforcing learned skills. A disruption in routine can be unsettling for children with autism. They often thrive on predictability. Summer programs can provide a framework where they can thrive.

Consider enrolling your child in a social skills program this summer. Here’s why:

  • LEARN’s summer social skills programs are structured activities. They are designed specifically for children with autism.
  • Our summer social skills programs take place during the school break. They focus on improving social interaction, communication, and behavioral skills.
  • Our programs can include group activities, one-on-one sessions, and a range of therapies. We tailor them to each child’s unique needs.

What Will Kids Learn in a Summer Social Skills Program?

A summer social skills program can continue the momentum of what your child learns over the school year. These are some of the skills we work on:

  • Communication skills: Children with autism often find it hard to advocate for their needs to be met or express their preferences. They also might have trouble using language effectively and maintaining conversations. Our program gives kids a chance to practice these skills through guided activities, role-playing, and peer interactions.
  • Building confidence and self-esteem: Our summer programs can also have a tremendous impact on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. By mastering new skills and successfully interacting and forming friendships with peers, children with autism can gain a greater sense of self-worth. This boost in confidence can positively influence other areas of their life, from academic performance to relationships with family and friends.
  • Learning to interact with peers and make friends: Children with autism sometimes have difficulties making friends and maintaining relationships. Summer social skills programs specifically address these issues by providing opportunities for children to interact with others in a supervised, safe, and nurturing environment. This can help them understand the nuances of social interaction, learn to cooperate with others, and even form lasting friendships.
  • Fostering independence: Another key benefit of these programs is that they foster independence. By participating in new activities and routines, children can gradually become more comfortable with change and learn to adapt to different situations.

Keeping Skills Sharp During the Summer

Sometimes, educators talk about the “summer slide.” That refers to an educational phenomenon where students experience a loss of learning gains that they made during the previous school year over the course of the summer vacation.

If you want to prevent that kind of regression for your child, a summer social skills program can reinforce what they’ve learned over the school year and help them continue their growth and development.

Summer social skills programs for children with autism are more than just a way to keep kids occupied during the break. It’s another tool for keeping them engaged in learning. So, as we approach the summer season, consider enrolling your child in a social skills program. It could be just the thing to make the transition to next school year easier.

Learn more about building social skills during the summer in this LEARN blog post.

Advancing Autism Services: Our Commitment to Public Policy

Written by Dr. Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, Vice President

National Social Justice Day is a time to reflect on the progress made in creating a more equitable and inclusive society. At LEARN Behavioral, this commitment goes beyond the confines of our therapy rooms; it extends into the heart of public policy advocacy. Our dedication to social justice is evident through our active involvement in various organizations and our continuous efforts to champion policies that support the autism community.

1. Advocating for Autism Services Nationwide

LEARN Behavioral is proud to be an active member of the Council for Autism Service Providers (CASP). Our leadership team actively participates as CASP Special Advocacy Group Leaders in 11 states where LEARN Behavioral operates. This engagement allows us to contribute firsthand to the shaping of policies that impact individuals with autism and their families. Additionally, our membership in the National Coalition for Access to Autism Services (NCAAS) underscores our commitment to addressing state and federal barriers to autism services. By collaborating with like-minded organizations, we strive to create a unified voice advocating for positive change on a broader scale.

2. Advancing Autism Equity Through State Organizations

At LEARN Behavioral, we understand the importance of grassroots efforts in promoting social justice. Our active involvement in local trade and professional organizations, including CalABA, BABAT, WAPA, ORABA, MAC, MIBAP, reflects our dedication to the larger behavior analytic community. Through volunteering and membership in these organizations, we aim to contribute to the development of equitable services for the diverse communities we serve. We believe that fostering connections within the behavioral community is crucial to creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all.

3. Leading National Advocacy Efforts for Autism Policy Reform

LEARN Behavioral is fortunate to have resident experts in public policy who actively contribute to the
advancement of the autism community. LEARN leaders have published peer-reviewed journal articles on
public policy, presented at local and national conferences, and provided numerous testimonies
advocating for access to care. Our chief clinical officer, Dr. Hanna Rue, is a beacon of leadership in this
regard. Her participation in NCAAS’s “day on the hill” in Washington, D.C., exemplifies our commitment
to effecting change at the highest levels. By engaging with House and Senate offices, we strive to
influence initiatives that positively impact the autism community on a national scale.

4. LEARN Advocacy Network

The LEARN Advocacy Network, led by Dr. Rebecca Thompson, is a vital part of LEARN Behavioral’s public policy efforts, providing a monthly meeting ground for leaders from each state. Driving our advocacy initiatives, this collaborative team engages in meaningful discussions, sharing insights, and staying abreast of the latest developments in public policy. The network serves as a platform where LEARN Behavioral leaders exchange information, ensuring a well-coordinated and informed approach to navigating the complex landscape of policy initiatives.

As we observe National Social Justice Day, it is imperative to recognize the multifaceted approach LEARN Behavioral takes to contribute to a more just and equitable society. Through active participation in national and state organizations, as well as championing public policy initiatives, we are dedicated to making a lasting impact. Our commitment to social justice extends beyond our therapeutic interventions, reflecting our belief in the power of advocacy and policy to create positive change for individuals with autism and their families.

Milestone Moments: Celebrating Elisha Villanueva’s Career Journey with AST

Elisha Villanueva, board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and assistant clinical director of California’s San Gabriel Valley region, just reached 20 incredible years with AST. Her two-decade journey stands as a testament to LEARN’s commitment to fostering professional development and creating a culture of mentorship and community.

From starting out as a behavior technician to now serving as an assistant clinical director, Elisha shows how employees can grow in their careers with LEARN. In our new blog series, “Milestone Moments,” we shine a spotlight on dedicated employees like Elisha who have achieved significant milestones, showcasing their growth and contributions to the organization and the greater field of applied behavior analysis (ABA).

As she celebrates this great achievement, LEARN had the opportunity to speak with her about her experience working at AST and what keeps her inspired to grow as a clinician.

How did you discover the job as a BT with AST? 

I attended graduate school at Cal State LA and was enrolled in the psych program with an emphasis on applied behavior analysis (ABA). While in school, I worked as a behavior technician (BT) with another ABA company. At the time, I was only working with one family, but I wanted to grow and work with more families. I reached out to one of my graduate professors, William Frea, Ph.D., co-founder of AST, and asked if he knew of any opportunities. He helped get me an interview at AST, and I started working at the Culver City office at the end of 2003. At the time, the Culver City office only had 30 employees, including the CEO, president, clinical supervisors, etc.

How does working as a BT now differ from when you started? 

When I started in the early 2000s, training was only three days long, and we had opportunities to shadow staff. Once in the field, supervision was provided, but I may have benefitted from seeing more of my supervisor. Today, training has evolved and is now more comprehensive. After the 2-3 week new hire training, regional orientation, and staff shadowing, clinical supervisors provide ongoing support to new BTs in the field. Employees, especially those new to ABA, now receive more training and supervision.

What was your motivation to become a BCBA? 

Prior to working at AST, I worked as a BT with the same family for over three years. I saw the value of ABA and the impact it made on the family, particularly the 8-year-old client. I wanted to learn more about ABA and looked into grad school programs with an emphasis on ABA. While in school, I branched out and began working with AST to grow and service more families. My end goal was to earn my BCBA credentials. 

Why is mentoring important to you as a clinician? 

I started in the field with little supervision before working at AST. There wasn’t much thought put into growth and the potential for BTs to become future BCBAs. After seeing the type of support that AST offered, I wanted to do the same and help employees grow. I’m proud to say that a handful of the BTs I’ve supervised have gone on to become BCBAs. Some have even grown into managing behavior analysts (MBAs).

I’m also part of the emerging behavior analyst (EBA) program, which mentors BTs, lead technicians (LTs), and managing technicians (MTs) who are enrolled in master’s programs. Seniors BCBAs and MBAs help those in the EBA program increase their supervision hours to sit for the BCBA exam and understand the expectations of being a BCBA.

Can you share a story about a particular supervisee/student you have mentored? 

It’s motivating to watch employees grow in their careers at AST. I began supervising Angela Parker when she became an advanced technician. Angela was incredibly organized and eager to accrue her hours. At the time, she was also enrolled in an ABA master’s program. She was one of my first supervisees who became a BCBA. She started with AST completely new to the field of ABA and now serves as an MBA. She’s helped countless clients and families. She also mentors EBAs and supervises several behavior analysts. She’s been with AST for about 12 years now. I’m so proud of Angela’s growth and contributions to our region.

What piece of advice would you give new Behavior Technicians entering the field? 

This is not an easy field. We work with clients and families who are going through a lot. My best advice is to be patient and compassionate to your clients and families. There will be tough days, but we have extremely motivated supervisors who will help you work through them. You won’t see results right away, but I promise it’s worth seeing your clients make progress and meet their goals. You might not be changing the world, but you’re changing the world for them.

What about AST has kept you here for 20 incredible years? 

The people I work with are what’s kept me at AST. I’ve been fortunate to work with the San Gabriel Clinical Director Teresa Suen for many years. She’s mentored me, and I deeply admire her and her compassion. I feel great pride for our SGV team. Almost all of our behavior analysts in this region started out as BTs. Watching them grow and creating a positive work culture keeps me motivated and encouraged to stay where I am. We call our region the “SGV family” because of the support we have for one another. It’s comforting to know that we have the same mission to help our clients and families achieve success.

What does the next chapter look like for you? 

After being here for 20 years, AST is all I know—and that’s a good thing. I’ve stayed here for this long because of the wonderful clients and staff that I am fortunate to work with daily. I’m excited for continued growth within AST and LEARN and look forward to helping more clients and families and mentoring staff who want to grow in ABA.

To learn more about working at AST and to search for openings near you, visit our careers page.

7 Versatile Skills You’ll Gain as a Behavior Technician

Starting your career as a behavior technician can help you build valuable skills that transcend the field of autism.

It can serve as a springboard for launching a successful career in any industry, like human services or education, because it gives you a solid foundation.

Behavior technicians and behavior therapists — what we commonly refer to as BTs — develop “transferable” skills. These competencies can make you versatile and adaptable. Cultivating these talents as a BT can help you gain the expertise to excel in the field of autism. At the same time, you’ll position yourself as a well-rounded professional.

Here are seven of the top skills you’ll learn working as a BT.

1. Adaptability

As a BT, you’ll learn to adapt to different situations and environments. Autism is a complex spectrum, and each person you care for requires a unique approach. You can use this aptitude in other areas that require flexibility and quick thinking. Your ability to adjust to changing trends, new technologies, and unexpected challenges will make you stand out in the crowd.

2. Effective Communication

Communication is at the heart of behavioral therapy. As a BT, you’ll learn to communicate well with people on the autism spectrum, their loved ones, and your colleagues. You’ll cultivate the ability to share ideas, give instructions, and offer support effectively. This is essential in any field that involves working with others. Clear and concise communication fosters positive relationships. This skill prevents misunderstandings and allows for collaborative problem-solving.

3. Empathy

Working closely with people on the autism spectrum requires empathy and compassion. As a BT, you’ll learn about their challenges and truly care about their well-being. These qualities are universally valued and can benefit you in any field. Empathy and compassion create a supportive work environment. This skill also improves customer service and builds strong connections with colleagues and clients.

4. Analytical Thinking

BTs use analytical thinking to understand behaviors, identify patterns, and develop effective strategies. Knowing how to analyze data and find important information is valuable in many jobs. Whether you work in business, education, healthcare, or research, thinking analytically helps you make good choices and achieve positive outcomes.

5. Problem-Solving Abilities

Problem-solving is a fundamental skill where BTs excel. You’ll learn how to spot problems, find out why they happen, and come up with new ideas to fix them. This skill is transferable and valuable in many professions. Employers appreciate people who can face challenges directly and come up with solutions.

6. Collaboration and Teamwork

BTs work with families, other therapists, and educators as part of a team. This collaboration fosters excellent teamwork skills, which are sought-after in any field. To succeed in many jobs, it’s important to work well with others. This means sharing ideas, respecting different perspectives, and contributing effectively to group efforts.

7. Organizational Skills

As a BT, you’ll learn to manage schedules, paperwork, and resources effectively. In any job where you need to manage time and tasks, being organized is crucial. This skill helps you finish tasks on time, stay organized, and work efficiently.

Becoming a BT equips you with a diverse set of talents that can open doors to various career paths. The skills you’ll gain are highly valued in today’s job market.

To succeed in any job, it’s helpful to be adaptable, a good communicator, empathetic, analytical, a problem solver, collaborative, and organized. Cultivating these skills as a BT can propel you toward success and open doors that will get you there.

Upholding Clinical Integrity: A Cornerstone for Leadership and Clinical Practice at LEARN Behavioral

Written by Dr. Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, Vice President

In the realm of healthcare and behavioral sciences, integrity stands as an unwavering pillar that supports both the practitioners and the individuals seeking assistance. Within LEARN Behavioral, a leading organization dedicated to enhancing lives through applied behavior analysis (ABA), the significance of clinical integrity resonates deeply, shaping not only the quality of services provided but also how we lead our teams.

The Essence of Clinical Integrity

Clinical integrity encompasses more than just adhering to ethical guidelines; it embodies a commitment to honesty, transparency, and a genuine dedication to the clients’ well-being. In the context of ABA, clinical integrity means adhering to evidence-based practices, valuing the principles of behavior analysis, and consistently providing high-quality services. As a leader at LEARN, integrity is my core value, and choosing to lead with integrity is a choice and commitment that I make each day to guide every decision I make.

Leadership and Clinical Integrity

As leaders, we understand that we serve as role models for our teams. We recognize that upholding clinical integrity isn’t just a checkbox but a responsibility that influences the organization’s culture and outcomes. When leaders prioritize integrity, it creates a ripple effect. Employees witness the importance of their work and feel empowered to maintain the same level of commitment. The leaders’ commitment to clinical integrity sets the tone for the team, fostering an environment of trust, professionalism, and continuous learning.

Impact on Employees

For employees, working within a culture of clinical integrity brings a profound sense of purpose, pride, and trust. When team members see their leaders consistently making ethical decisions and prioritizing evidence-based practices, it enhances their job satisfaction and motivation. They feel secure in the knowledge that they contribute to meaningful change in clients’ lives. This sense of fulfillment, in turn, translates into increased productivity, better teamwork, and reduced burnout.

Impact on Clients

Clients receiving ABA services from LEARN benefit from an organization rooted in clinical integrity. They can trust that their well-being is the top priority and that the interventions and strategies suggested are backed by contemporary, evidence-based behavior analysis. This trust is vital in fostering a strong therapist-client relationship, a cornerstone of successful behavior intervention. Clients experience progress that is not only effective but ethical, ensuring their dignity and respect are upheld throughout their journey.

What does clinical integrity look like each day? Here are a few examples:

  • Commitment to Neurodiversity: LEARN’s commitment to contemporary ABA and supporting neurodivergence goes hand-in-hand with clinical integrity by promoting the dignity and respect of all of our clients in all settings and at all times.
  • Continuous Professional Development: LEARN offers a monthly Speaker Series and a library of recorded trainings for our clinicians, allowing both behavior technicians (BTs) and behavior analysts access to continuing education on an ongoing basis.
  • Adherence to the Ethical Code: The Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Ethics Code and relevant state licensure requirements, as applicable, serve to guide our clinical practice.
  • Honesty in Reporting Data: As behavior analysts, we are responsible for maintaining data accurately and honestly.
  • Clinical Assessments and Evaluations: Regular assessments and evaluations ensure that practices remain aligned with the latest research and ethical standards. Our clinicians choose from a battery of assessments that includes norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tools that help inform their clinical practice.


A commitment to clinical integrity is at the heart of our practice at LEARN. As we see the field of behavior analysis evolve and as our company continues to grow and change, our support of clinical integrity is our constant. My hope as a leader is for all clinicians to make a renewed commitment to leading with integrity every day. Collectively, a shared commitment to honesty, transparency, and respect will profoundly impact the clients we serve and build trust in the autism community.

Ashley Williams is a Vice President at LEARN Behavioral.

5 Benefits of Early Intervention for Autism

Reviewed by Jocelyn Thompson, LCSW, BCBA
Vice President, Clinical Services, LEARN Behavioral

Discovering that your child has been diagnosed with autism can be an incredibly challenging and emotional experience for parents and caregivers. It can make you feel uncertain, overwhelmed, and worried about what to do next.

It’s important to know that early detection and intervention can not only make a significant difference in your child’s development — but also offer a sense of reassurance and ease for you as a parent.

What Is Early Intervention?

“Early intervention” for children with autism refers to the process of identifying and addressing developmental domains — including social, communication, and behavioral skills — as early as possible in a child’s life. It involves providing specialized support, therapies, and services designed to meet the unique needs of each child with autism.

The age range for early intervention is most effective when started as early as possible, ideally before the age of 3. Research has shown that the earlier a child with autism receives intervention, the better their outcomes are likely to be in terms of improved skills, reduced behaviors that interfere with development and learning, and overall quality of life.

The positive impact of early intervention for children with autism is undeniable. It paves the way for their growth and progress.

Here are five compelling reasons why embracing early intervention can put your mind at ease and set your child on a path toward fulfilling their potential:

1. Early Intervention Can Improve Your Child’s Socialization Skills

Children with autism often struggle with social interaction and communication, which can lead to isolation and difficulties in making friends. Early intervention can help children develop socialization skills by providing opportunities for them to interact with others in a structured and supportive environment. This can include teaching them how to initiate conversations, understand social cues, and form friendships.

2. Early Intervention Helps Improve Your Child’s Communication Skills

Many children with autism struggle with communication — whether it’s speaking, processing language, or using non-verbal cues. Early intervention through applied behavior analysis (ABA) can help children express themselves and better understand others, which can lead to improved socialization and overall quality of life.

3. Early Intervention Helps Your Child Learn Appropriate Behaviors

Sometimes life with autism can be challenging. There can be a fair share of meltdowns and tantrums. Early intervention through ABA addresses these often difficult moments and helps children learn appropriate behaviors and how to strengthen ways to learn and interact with others.

4. Early Intervention Sets Your Child Up for Academic Success

Children with autism can struggle academically, which can lead to frustration and low self-esteem. With the help of early intervention, though, children and families can prepare for future academic success. During early intervention, young learners develop social and communication skills that will benefit them not only in their daily lives but also in the classroom once they enroll in school.

5. Early Intervention Can Improve Family Dynamics

Autism can be challenging not just for the child, but for your entire family. Early intervention supports your family by providing resources and tools to help you better understand and support your child. It can also help reduce stress and improve overall family dynamics between you and your child, as well as your child and their siblings.

These are just a few of the many reasons why early intervention for kids with autism is beneficial. By starting treatment early, children with autism can develop the skills and abilities they need to lead fulfilling and successful lives.

Jocelyn Thompson, LCSW, BCBA, is the vice president of clinical services at LEARN Behavioral. During undergrad, she studied under the direction of Dr. Ivar Lovaas and completed an internship at the Lovaas Institute for Early Intervention. Jocelyn has worked with diverse populations as a behavior analyst and social worker for the past 15 years.

For more resources on early intervention, listen to our podcast episode featuring Dr. Geraldine Dawson, co-creator of the Early Start Denver Model, and read our blog on brain plasticity and early intervention written by Ronit Molko, Ph.D., BCBA-D and Dr. Evian Gordon, Chairman and CEO of Brain Resource.

The Importance of Sticking to Consistent ABA Therapy

By Ashley Williams, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D

Schedule Transitions Make Sticking to ABA Therapy Even More Important

Anyone in charge of the family calendar knows how important it is to stick to a schedule. It helps keep life on track.

For children on the autism spectrum, a steady schedule is even more important. A daily routine can create a sense of structure and predictability. It can reinforce a sense of stability and allow them to focus better on learning and interacting with others.

When family schedules change — like the transition from summer to back-to-school — it can be anxiety-provoking. The sudden shift from a relaxed summer schedule to a structured school routine can be overwhelming. However, maintaining a consistent daily routine during this transition can help alleviate some of this stress and anxiety.

Back to School and Back to ABA Therapy Services

For children with autism, continuing with applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy when going back to school gives them a big advantage.

It helps to improve social, communication, and learning skills through reinforcement strategies. It also provides them with a set of tools to navigate the complexities of the school environment, helping them to learn how to interact with their peers, follow instructions, and interact in a classroom setting—all of which should be fun.

ABA therapy can be tailored to meet each child’s unique needs and goals, making it an effective way to support their overall development and learning. By incorporating play-based activities and strategies, children not only enjoy themselves but also experience the joy of learning through play.

5 Reasons Why Consistent ABA Services Are Essential

  1. Skill Maintenance: Consistency in ABA services helps children maintain the skills they have already learned. Without ongoing practice and reinforcement, they may experience skill regression, which can impede their progress. Consistent ABA services reinforce learned skills across different settings.
  2. Generalization of Skills: ABA services can provide opportunities to practice and generalize their skills in different environments. By working on skills outside the traditional school setting — such as in community settings or during recreational activities — your child can learn to adapt to skills across various real-life situations.
  3. Individualized Support: Consistent ABA services allow for ongoing individualized support tailored to the specific needs of your child. ABA programs are highly individualized, focusing on the unique goals and interests of each child. Continuity of services allows you and your team to monitor your child’s progress, adjust goals as necessary, and introduce new skills based on your child’s development and needs.
  4. Behavior Management: Summer break may have introduced changes in routine and increased leisure time, which can sometimes lead to challenging behaviors. As your child goes back to school, consistent ABA services provide behavioral strategies and interventions to address and manage these behaviors effectively. ABA professionals can work closely with you and your child to develop behavior support plans and provide guidance on how to address challenging behaviors as they arise.
  5. Transition Preparation: For those transitioning to a new school or educational setting in the upcoming academic year, consistent ABA services can facilitate a smoother transition. ABA professionals can focus on specific skills that will support your child’s adjustment to the new environment. That focus can include social skills, communication, and self-help skills. By addressing these areas during times of transition, your child can feel more prepared and confident when starting their new educational journey.

For children with autism, transitioning back to school requires a careful balance between preventing skill regression and having fun. At LEARN, our goal is both. A collaborative relationship between your family and your behavior analyst can help you create a steady schedule that works during this time of transition and sets your child up for ongoing success in school and life.

Ashley Williams is a senior clinical director at LEARN Behavioral.

For more resources about ABA consistency, watch our video “How ABA Therapy Helped Our Children Succeed: Insights from Two BCBA Moms.”