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FOCUS Therapy Now Offers Behavior Consulting for Southwest Florida Kids

FOCUS Therapy is now offering a new service called behavior consulting to families and kids in Southwest Florida. We recognize that ABA therapy is not available to every family – either because their child doesn’t have a qualifying diagnosis like autism or because the services are too expensive or intensive. But behavior consulting can be offered to kids of all ages – diagnosis or not – to

Behavior consulting isn’t a substitute for ABA therapy. But it can be a lifeline to parents struggling to help their children overcome issues with aggression, defiance, tantrums, routine changes, or social/communication issues. We may be able to offer these services as a stop-gap while you’re waiting on all the professional assessments and referrals required to begin ABA therapy. Or we can serve as helpful guides for you and your child as you navigate through a particularly rough or puzzling patch of behavior problems.

Behavior consulting involves assessment, action planning, and 1:1 parent coaching and follow-up. Our team of BCBAs (board certified behavior analysts) work to understand the why of your child’s behavior. We then formulate an evidence-based plan to help effectively address the underlying issues. It’s tailored and workable for you.

Unlike ABA therapy, which we offer strictly in-clinic, behavior consulting can be done in-clinic, at-home, or virtually (by phone or video conferencing). Services are paid out-of-pocket, but are affordable – and you have the option to tailor it to a schedule that fits your needs, availability, and budget. Our level of involvement can range anywhere from a 30-minute phone call once a month to a more intensive initial assessment followed by bi-weekly, hourlong home visits and coaching.

We understand that not all Southwest Florida kids and families have the same needs. Our outreach and treatment services should reflect that. Behavior consulting does not require a diagnosis or doctor’s referral. That said, because we are specifically trained in the science of behavior and work daily with children who have a broad range of neurological, developmental, and psychological delays and disabilities, pediatric doctors and specialists often find our reports and opinions valuable when considering potential diagnoses.

During our parent coaching sessions, children may or may not be present. The primary goal is to empower YOU!

If you have additional questions about Behavior Consulting services, we’d be happy to hear from you and offer any insight or help we can.

FOCUS Therapy offers ABA therapy and ADOS testing to children in Lee County, Florida.

Additional Resources:

When to Seek Professional Help for Child Behavior Problems, Dec. 13, 2022, Carly Snyder, MD, VeryWellFamily

More Blog Entries:

How Meds & Pediatric Therapies Together Can Help Kids With Attention/Behavior Issues Reach Maximum Potential, Feb. 7, 2023, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

FOCUS Therapy ABA therapy Christie Lawrence

Congratulations to Our Newest Therapist Grad!

πŸ™ŒπŸŽ‰Big shout out to Christie Lawrence!! πŸ€©πŸ‘πŸ™ŒπŸ—£πŸ«‚πŸŽ“βœ¨πŸ§©πŸŽŠπŸŽ‰

A much-loved πŸ₯° RBT (registered behavior technician) in the ABA therapy department at FOCUS since 2019, Christie just earned her bachelor’s degree in Public Health, with a minor in ABA (BCaBA), from the University of West Florida.

BCaBA stands for Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst, which is an undergraduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Public Health is a comprehensive, rigorous major, and graduates of these programs work across numerous disciplines to improve health outcomes for the populations they serve.

“Christie is incredibly compassionate, sharp, and creative – a truly wonderful therapist,” said FOCUS Owner Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “We feel especially fortunate to have her as part of our FOCUS family, and we’re so proud of her and all the hard work she put in to reach this milestone achievement!” πŸ’š

Check out her bio here: https://focusflorida.com/our-team/christie-lawrence-rbt/

Fort Myers ABA therapy

New Early Autism Testing May Help Kids Get ABA Therapy Sooner

It’s well-established that the sooner a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the earlier they can begin interventions like ABA therapy – and thus the more positive their long-term prognosis. It’s the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all kids 18 to 30 months be screened for autism. A diagnosis before the age of 2.5 is linked to considerable improvement in social symptoms – most likely because the younger the child, the greater the brain’s plasticity and behavioral flexibility.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports the rate of autism prevalence has more than tripled in recent years – from 1 in 150 in 2000 to 1 in 54 in 2021. Much of this likely has to do with better diagnostic tools. We’re getting better at catching it – and there is less stigma with a diagnosis, so parents are more open to beginning early interventions, such as ABA therapy.

FOCUS Therapy provides Fort Myers ADOS testing for autism. This is a well-established, effective assessment for determining autism risk. (It’s not a matter of “pass” or “fail,” but rather a tool pediatric neurologists, developmental specialists, and psychiatrists rely on when deciding whether an autism diagnosis is appropriate.) We can conduct ADOS testing on kids as young as 12 months, though most are issued somewhere between 18 months and 4 years.

“By the time we get to age 4, so much brain development has already happened,” explained FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder Jen Voltz-Ronco, also a speech therapist. “Our goal is always to catch it as early as humanly possible.”

Now, there is new – potentially ground-breaking – research indicating other screening tools might have the ability to flag autism risk factors even sooner.

One of those is in the early stages of development – a first-of-its-kind analysis that purports to identify autism risk markers from a single strand of hair – just one centimeter in length. This is exciting because if it proves effective, it could help identify autism in children while they’re still just a few months old – before they even miss any developmental milestones.

Created by a company called LinusBio, it doesn’t yet have federal approval. And like the ADOS test, it wouldn’t be the final word on a diagnosis. Rather, it could be used to aid physicians in diagnostics It would flag exposure to certain metals and other substances (usually during the third trimester of pregnancy) that have been associated with higher autism risk.

Research recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Medicine showed that it accurately predicted autism in 81 percent of the babies it tested. Researchers say they’re hoping this technology could be fine-tuned to allow for even greater accuracy so that kids can begin early intervention treatments like ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy even sooner.

A second promising study by researchers at Duke University revealed an algorithm created from children’s health records could flag autism risk as early as a baby’s first month of life. Study authors say infants who are diagnosed with autism often have very different early health care patterns than neurotypical children. The condition is characterized by difficulties with communication and behaviors, but babies who are later diagnosed with autism often have much higher rates of issues with gastrointestinal systems, gross motor development, sleep, and vision. These patterns – which were analyzed in the medical records of some 45,000 children over the course of five years – were assessed by this new algorithm to identify autism risk very early with astonishing accuracy. That doesn’t necessarily mean a 1-month-old will be diagnosed, but it will give parents and physicians an idea of that child’s relative risk – so that the ball can get rolling on the earliest interventions possible.

If you think your child may have autism, it is best not to wait-and-see. Early intervention is essential – and we can help! FOCUS provides ADOS testing for autism, as well as ABA therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

FOCUS Therapy offers ABA therapy and ADOS testing to children in Lee County, Florida.

Additional Resources:

A new test for autism hopes to help doctors diagnose before symptoms show, Jan. 5, 2023, By Evan Bush, NBC News

More Blog Entries:

How ABA Therapy Can Help Kids, Feb. 6, 2023, Fort Myers ABA therapy Blog

Fort Myers speech therapist child speech delays

Risk Factors for Child Speech Delays – Fort Myers Speech Therapist Insight

Child speech delays are very common. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an estimated 1 in 10 children has delayed speech or language development. As any Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, the earlier such delays are diagnosed, the faster they can be treated – and the better the long-term prognosis. This is why increasingly, practitioners do NOT recommend a “wait-and-see” approach if a child speech delay is suspected.

Beyond that, research shows that certain children may be at higher risk than others.

One recently-published, peer-reviewed cross-sectional study on child speech delay risk factors, researchers identified the following markers:

  • Males
  • Long-term sucking habits
  • Pre-term birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Problems during pregnancy or complications during birth (including hypertension, preeclampsia, etc.)
  • Hearing problems
  • Frequent middle ear infections
  • Oropharyngeal deformity (occurring in the middle of the throat)
  • Family history of speech and language delay (65 percent of those in the study had a first-degree relative with a similar condition)
  • Being first-born
  • Earlier introduction to screen time
  • Maternal illiteracy

Fort Myers Speech Therapist Can Treat Speech Delays Regardless of Cause

Of course, there’s no single risk factor that guarantees a child will have speech delays. Obviously, not all first-born children are going to be late in talking. But these findings do underscore something any Fort Myers speech therapist is likely to tell you as well: There’s an element of both nature and nurture at play. Some of it involves genetics, but the risk can be further elevated by environmental factors (like earlier screen time, less face-to-face interactions, less time spent reading to a child, etc.).

Of course, this is just one study, and it’s limited by the fact that the pool of those studied are only those who received care at a single hospital over a period of time. But there is a great deal of additional research that backs these findings – and identifies other risk factors as well.

Child speech delays can have MANY underlying causes, often overlapping. Some of these include:

  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Autism
  • Receptive aphasia
  • Psychosocial deprivation
  • Expressive language disorder
  • Premature birth
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome

Sometimes, there’s no obvious cause – and that’s Ok! A Fort Myers speech therapist can treat the symptoms and focus on helping the child catch up to where they need to be for their developmental age – regardless of whether we ever zero in on the “why.”

Although it’s true that children develop at varying rates and a singular red flag isn’t cause for alarm, missed milestones shouldn’t be ignored. A physician’s referral is typically required for a child to undergo a speech-language evaluation by a Fort Myers speech therapist. If you aren’t sure whether to raise your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, FOCUS offers free initial screenings. This will provide you with something beyond your own concern to bring to the doctor when requesting a more in-depth assessment.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Speech and language delay in children: Prevalence and risk factors, May 2019, Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care

More Blog Entries:

Break Those Bad Screen Time Habits With These Tips From FOCUS Therapy, March 17, 2023, Fort Myers Speech Therapist Blog

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Florida

Break Those Bad Screen Time Habits With These Tips From FOCUS Therapy

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS Phone & Internet Down

Our main clinic internet & phones are down at the moment. We apologize for the inconvenience, we’re working to resolve the issue as expeditiously as possible.

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How Meds & Pediatric Therapies Together Can Help Kids With Attention/Behavior Issues Reach Maximum Potential

As experienced providers of pediatric therapies in Southwest Florida (specifically, speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and physical therapy), our team at FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers is sometimes asked whether kids receiving these services might still benefit from medication – or whether kids on medication truly need pediatric therapies.

Short answer? It depends.

Every child, every condition is different. The primary voice of authority, of course, is your child’s pediatrician and specialists. But don’t discount input from the pediatric therapists who are providing intervention services to your child.

As experienced practitioners who each work with dozens of kids daily: We generally do not recommend medication as the first treatment option for a lot of children diagnosed with conditions like speech-language delay, developmental disabilities, certain neurological/neurodevelopmental conditions, and behavioral health issues. BUT – sometimes, for certain kids – pediatric therapies in combination with medications can do wonders in helping the child reach their maximum potential.

We encourage parents to keep an open mind, ask questions, and maintain an ongoing dialogue with their kids’ doctors and pediatric therapists.

What Type of Medications Are We Talking?

Obviously, if a child has a health condition like epilepsy or congenital heart disease or diabetes – the medications they take are typically far less of a controversy/up for debate.

What we’re mainly referring to here are medications prescribed for conditions related to lack of attention/focus/behavioral regulation. These include prescriptions like Adderall, Dexadrine, Focalin, Ritalin, etc. It might also include antipsychotic medications recommended for behavioral issues, such as Risperdal.

There isn’t a black-and-white answer that’s going to work for every child, every condition, or every age. The reality is choosing the right treatment for your child can be complicated. We fully understand that. Parents of kids with co-morbidities (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD/ADD], Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, etc.) – they often have to make tough choices about the best combination of care needed to help their kids thrive.

Where to Start: Therapy vs. Medication

Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS/CCC-SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner & Founder, has nearly two decades of experience in pediatrics. She’s also a parent and has herself been diagnosed with ADD (for which she receives medication). She generally advises parents to start with the least invasive treatment, and then go from there.

“Medicine generally isn’t what I would consider the first ‘go-to’ for small kids,” Voltz-Ronco says. “When it comes to young bodies and developing minds, It’s best to begin with therapy because not only is it often extremely effective, it’s usually the least invasive. So my recommendation is: Let’s start there. Let’s see how much progress is possible before we move on to the next level – if needed.”

Providers of pediatric therapies will be carefully watching every child’s progress at each phase. They’re going to be closely observing the mental/physical/behavioral/emotional barriers to progress. Parents are going to get daily reports on the successes – and ongoing challenges – to goals for communication, socialization, independent function, academics, etc. If they notice an issue: You’re going to know about it.

Some key phrases Voltz-Ronco says to watch for from your child’s pediatric therapists, teachers, and caregivers:

  • Lack of focus
  • Significantly decreased attention
  • Constant distraction by others
  • Routine distraction by sounds, items, etc.

“You start hearing phrases like this, then it’s time to have a discussion with your child’s physician,” she said.

“In general, I would avoid going full-tilt with medications before kindergarten. You want to give their brain a chance to develop for a few years before diving in. See how formal education plays a role. Maybe the child just needs more movement in the day? Maybe they just need differently-structured instruction? Maybe we can successfully adjust the way they’re taught, rather than demanding they conform to every element of a ‘typical’ classroom.

“But, if you’ve tried all these alternatives and the child STILL struggles with attention issues (with or without hyperactivity), then maybe you start to discuss medication.”

Tips for Parents Considering Medication

Medication isn’t a one-and-done solution, either. There are likely to be adjustments in doses, alternatives, etc.

Some general thoughts for parents:

  • Keep an open mind. Be willing to consider new information from experienced professionals.
  • Ask lots of questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you or you have concerns: Ask. Speak up. Be an advocate for your child. Trust the experience of your child’s doctor/psychiatrists – but don’t ever allow someone to make you feel like your confusion is invalid or your concerns are unworthy of addressing.
  • Keep your child’s pediatric therapists in the loop. We want to help. We’re not “pro-medication” or “anti-medication.” We’re Pro-YOUR CHILD. Our speech, occupational, ABA, and physical therapists at FOCUS – along with your child’s doctors, teachers, caregivers, etc. – we’re on the same team. We also trust that YOU know your child best. We’re here to support you. If you aren’t ready to start your child on medication: We have your back, and will provide additional supports as needed. If it’s something you’re considering, we’ll offer our honest, frank insight and support.

If you have questions, we’re happy to offer our insight.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Children and the Use of Complementary Health Approaches, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

More Blog Entries:

ABA Therapy: Is It Right for Your Child? Jan. 11, 2022, Fort Myers Pediatric Therapy Blog