By Kelli White
That is how often a child is diagnosed with autism. And that is why Including Kids, Inc., a 501 c(3) nonpro t started its new campaign, “1 in 68 Can’t Wait.” To put that number in perspective, the polio epidemic affected one in 8,000 people in the early 20th Century.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears in the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that a affects the functioning of the brain. Including Kids provides research-based behavioral intervention and instruction for children and young adults ages 2-30 with autism and other related delays, striving to cultivate their learning and social skills, to facilitate their inclusion in the community, and to inspire them to become productive citizens.
In 2003, in Humble, Texas, Including Kids began by serving six children and their families. Today, Including Kids serves more than 150 children per year and spreads awareness for the rising occurrence of autism. The nonpro t has served 665 families to date. Families have relocated from across Texas and other states, and even from oversees and South America to seek treatment from the organization. Jennifer Dantzler, Executive Director, moved to Houston in 1998 after receiving her Master’s in Education in Intensive Special Needs from Simmons College in Boston, Mass. While receiving her Master’s, she was working at The New England Center for Children, where she worked with a child from Houston. That family had relocated to Boston to receive the intensive one-on-one teaching using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. After completing her graduate degree, Dantzler relocated to Houston to start a clinic to help families with autism.
In 2000, she returned to the Northeast and attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a Post Graduate Certi cate in Autism. When Stephen, Dantzler’s husband of 14 years whom she had met shortly before leaving for Johns Hopkins University, asked her to marry him, she returned to the Humble area to begin serving families with autism once again. Dantzler saw a tremendous need for autism treatment in the area.
Dantzler is a Board Certi ed Behavior Analyst and has a Texas Teaching Certi cation in Special Education K-12. She said her desire to enter this eld was somewhat of a spiritual path. She was first introduced to people with autism on a mission trip followed by a high school experience in which she worked with severely handicapped children. These experiences were the catalyst for Dantzler’s higher education training in special education.
“Some say it was fate or faith,” she said.
The goal of Including Kids is to build an inclusive community for people with autism. Right now, only six percent of adults with autism are employed.
“As the statistic one in 68 continues to rise, it won’t be long until our entire com- munity is affected. When these kids are adults, what will we do if we don’t teach them how to succeed in society?” Dantzler said.
Children with autism typically show difficulties in verbal/non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure/ play activities making it extremely hard for a child with autism to t into a typical classroom setting without the right supports. This is why early intervention is so crucial. It could mean the difference between a child growing up to be an independent member of society versus the possibility of being placed into a group home or institutional setting away from their family. While there are common characteristics among autistic children, they all learn differently. It is not realistic for a group to learn at the same pace with traditional teaching methods. Each child has 40 teaching objectives and every treatment plan is different to reach those objectives.
Dantzler said there is an expression in the field, “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism.”
The 60-member staff at Including Kids uses Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to develop customized learning programs for each child. ABA analyzes each child and then takes a skill and breaks it down to smaller, more achievable steps.
“We build on each skill successively and separate each into a learning aspect and a behavioral aspect,” Dantzler explained.
For the learning aspect, a task like brushing teeth, for example, could be broken down into 25 steps. Writing, as another example, doesn’t start with writing a letter, it begins with holding a pencil. The behavioral aspect reinforces appropriate behavior and ignores negative behavior.
“All behavior is maintained by attention. And it is human nature to draw attention to the negative, but positive reinforcement gets better results. Very rarely will you hear us say ‘no’ or ‘stop.’ Instead, redirection to appropriate behavior and praising that appropriate behavior is key,” Dantzler said.
“You might not be affected by autism, but someone you know is. We can’t turn our cheek any longer,” Dantzler said. “Autistic people have the right to be a part of our community.”
And they have the potential to be successful members of our society. Awareness and early intervention are imperative to the Including Kids mission.
Including Kids offers full-time therapeutic programs, multiple inclusion programs including partnerships with Holy Trinity Episcopal School and Northeast Christian Academy, after-school, community outreach and development programs, parent training, sibling support and more. Every person can contribute to developing an inclusive community. From hosting a gathering and adapting the menu and activities for guests with autism to opening business doors for classes and job trainings, there are many community involvement opportunities. Including Kids continues to educate and spread awareness for Autism.
Dantzler is very grateful for the ongoing support of her Board of Directors who help guide, support, and raise funds for the efforts. Her parents, Marilyn and Tony Crossley, were two of the founding board members who had also relocated from the Northeast to help her start the program. “Without my board support, I would feel like I was on an island trying to navigate these rough waters, but with their support the possibilities are endless,” Dantzler said.
For every theory on the cause of Autism, there is a counter theory. “We still don’t know the cause,” Dantzler said. “I can’t change that. But what I can do is ensure that the one in 68 is becoming functioning members of our community.”