FOCUS Therapy evaluations

Why FOCUS Asks Parents to Stay in the Waiting Room During Evals, Sessions

FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers conducts a range of in-depth evaluations for children who have been referred for speech, occupational, physical, or ABA therapies as well as ADOS testing. During our evaluations and therapy sessions, we rarely allow families to directly participate – but we have evidence-based reasons for our position.

During evaluations, we want to ensure every child receives an assessment that is as accurate as possible because that is what is going to allow us to:

  • Determine whether the child needs therapy.
  • Calculate the frequency/level of therapy that might be recommended.
  • Make a strong case to the relevant insurer(s) about the medical necessity of the therapy.

Parents, when present in the room during FOCUS evaluations, can unwittingly stand in the way of those goals. Why? Mainly because children rely on their caregivers when things get tough – to help them, to comfort them, to make it better. When a child is struggling in a certain area, such as communication or independence with self-care skills, our clinicians need to independently observe the particulars.

Parent input is a key aspect of our evaluations, but we need to see for ourselves, too. Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, MS-CCC/SLP and FOCUS Therapy Owner/Founder, explained that when a child is accompanied by a parent during the direct observation portion of the assessment, parents often interfere without intending to do so or even realizing it.FOCUS Therapy

“For example, in speech evaluations, parents might talk to the child or give clues to help their child ‘get the right answer’,” Voltz-Ronco explained. “We might ask the child to point to an object out of an array of 3-4 items by saying, ‘Show me the cup.’ Standardized testing requires that we be very specific in how we present these items – and with the requirement that we wait. And while we wait, we’re looking to see how long it takes them to process the directive and what they do. Will they look at us to see if we’re looking at the object? Will they point to it or make a face if they’re unsure? They might associate a cup to mealtime and instead point to a cookie. If the child looks to our face to get a clue, that would indicate social awareness and joint attention – key pre-linguistic communication skills. If there is a delay in their response, there may be an auditory processing issue. If they grab the first thing in reach, they may have impulsivity issues. Watching a child while they’re thinking tells us so much. But parents in the room might think the evaluator presumes the child doesn’t know the answer, so they interject. They say to the child, ‘You know what a cup is, like the blue sippie cup you have at home.’ Unfortunately, what that does is give the child numerous opportunities to hear the word, ‘cup,’ and in many standardized tests, we aren’t allowed to repeat the word or give a description or synonym. So with that, we lose the opportunity to see what we needed to see, and must in turn score the response incorrectly – which impacts the overall results.”

She went on to explain that often the key responses FOCUS therapists are looking for aren’t necessarily what an untrained observer may presume.

What’s more, some children can become what we call “prompt dependent.” That means the child looks to the parent to prompt them (to take an action, answer a question, etc.) – even if they don’t necessarily need the prompt. Many of our team members are parents ourselves, so we wholeheartedly understand how difficult it is to wait for your child to “do it themselves.” It is actually instinctual to intervene when we see or sense our child needs help. But during these evaluations, this intervention – however slight – can actually prove more of a hindrance when what we’re seeking are accurate results.

We DO Want Parents Involved in Their Child’s Therapy Journey

Although it is important for parents to remain outside the room during evaluations, this does not mean we lack transparency or that we don’t want parents involved at all in the therapy process. In fact, we get the best results from therapy when parents are fully engaged!

But we discourage direct engagement during the evaluation process and therapy sessions because we want to ensure our findings are accurate and that your child gets the true level of support they need.

While we want parents to be involved in consultation, goal-setting, education, and carryover, we strongly advise parents against sitting in during therapy sessions for the following reasons:

ABA Therapy

Top 4 Benefits of In-Clinic ABA Therapy

There’s more than one way to do ABA. Also known as Applied Behavior Analysis or behavior therapy, ABA therapy involves the study of behavior and the use of positive reinforcements to fade out unexpected/unhelpful behaviors and promote expected/helpful behaviors.

At FOCUS Therapy, we’re strong proponents of in-clinic ABA. There are many reasons for this, but it really boils down to the fact that: It works.

In fact, as we reported previously on our blog, a study published by the National Institute of Health revealed that when controlling for individual differences by analyzing the progress of the same kids but in different settings, those who received ABA therapy in-clinic demonstrated far higher rates of learning during treatment compared to in-home therapy services. The kids who received ABA therapy in-clinic mastered 100 percent more skills per hour than those who received home-based treatments.

Contact us online or by calling (239) 313-5049. FOCUS offers ABA therapy to kids at two clinics in Fort Myers, Florida.

Fort Myers ABA therapy

How ABA Therapy Can Help Fort Myers Kids

ABA therapy (short for applied behavioral analysis) is an evidence-based therapy that focuses on studying the “ABCs” of behavior to learn the function of it. From there, we can use positive reinforcement to create an environment that helps promote expected behaviors and minimize unexpected behaviors,  We start with A, the antecedent, (what comes before the behavior), then B, the behavior itself, and then C, the consequence (what comes right after the behavior).

All behavior has a function. At its core, behavior is a means of communication. We work to understand what the child is gleaning from the behavior (avoidance? sensory input? a reaction?). We also find out what really interests or motivates them. We then use scientifically-proven strategies that will help us tailor a unique treatment plan to promote helpful behaviors and fade/extinct unhelpful behaviors.

When ABA therapy is successful, it can help with skills key to independent function. Learn more about FOCUS Fort Myers ABA Therapy services here.

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

Additional Resources:

What is Applied Behavior Analysis? Autism Speaks

More Blog Entries:

FOCUS Therapy ABA Talks: Hosted by Our ABA Team! July 31, 2021, Fort Myers Behavior Therapy Blog

ABA therapy Fort Myers kids

The Importance of Pairing in ABA Therapy

Those trained to provide ABA Therapy will understand well the concept of “pairing.” Play and pairing is the foundation of instructional control in any behavioral therapy session. Simply put, pairing is a way for ABA therapists and technicians to help build a rapport with a child by finding out what interests them and then linking whoever is working with the child to that interest/activity/object so that we can facilitate positive reinforcements in each session. It’s a means of letting the child guide us to what motivates them. When we know what that is, we use it as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.

So for example, a child who is new to ABA therapy will begin with a few “pairing” sessions with their ABA therapist/RBT (registered behavior technician). This is a time when we simply play together, we’ll let the child lead, allowing free access to toys, games, songs, and other stimuli. It may look like we’re just “playing,” but remember two things:

  • Play is how kids learn.
  • By discovering what they love to play with, we can help motivate them to learn important skills and promote helpful behaviors.

Let’s say the child falls in love with a toy train set. We then restrict play with that train set to only our sessions. The child earns play with the trains as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.

Speech therapy uses a similar technique in motivating kids to talk. Such toys are so-called “communication temptations,” something we’ve written about extensively in prior speech therapy blog posts.

Pairing is also important because it lets the child and therapist establish a positive, trusting relationship where they come to understand that even when learning can be challenging at times, it’s also fun and ultimately benefits them (by giving them what they want). Parent input during pairing is very important too! We will spend time interviewing caregivers about what their child is really into, and we can then build on those ideas.

From there, we’ll work on trying to teach mands/requests. (Think of a mand as short for “demand.” It’s how a person requests something. For example, we may hold a piece of that toy trainset or car until he/she asks for it or a turn with it.

Fort Myers ABA therapists

Why Our Fort Myers ABA Therapists Use Countdowns for Transitions

Change is an inevitable part of life. But for children on the autism spectrum, transitions can be TOUGH. Our Fort Myers ABA therapists have strategies to help make this easier. One of those is a countdown.

But first, it’s important to understand the why of transition triggers.

What makes transitions so difficult? For a lot of kids, it’s because transitioning from one activity or focus to another can seem sudden. It can also mean leaving an activity that is preferred for one less preferred. Plus, many kids on the spectrum have an inherent need for predictability. Not knowing what is coming next can also set off one’s anxiety, elicit big emotions, and trigger a seemingly outsized response.

As ABA therapists, we are always studying the ABC’s of behavior. That is Antecedent (what comes before the behavior), Behavior (what exactly is the behavior) and Consequence (how is the behavior reinforced). In altering big reactions to transitions, we can alter the antecedent, teach replacement behaviors and reinforce with positive consequences when kids transition calmly.

The idea is to prepare the individual before the transition occurs and support them during the transition.

FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

FOCUS Therapy Opening Second Fort Myers Location Near Gulf Coast

Big news, FOCUS Family: FOCUS Therapy is opening a second location in Fort Myers!

Our new FOCUS Therapy location, conveniently situated near FGCU, Gulf Coast Town Center and Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), will allow us to expand our vital services (speech, occupational, physical & ABA therapies and ADOS testing) to hundreds more children in one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

The new FOCUS Gulf Coast Office, located at 9961 Interstate Commerce Dr., Unit 150 & 160, will officially open its doors Aug. 9, 2021. This new facility will allow us the capacity to ultimately onboard an additional 20 therapists and treat 200 more children than our existing patient list. We’ve hired 10 new therapists to start, and will bring on more as we grow throughout the next year.

“Opening this new site is both extremely exciting and deeply humbling,” said FOCUS Owner/Founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “I set out to fill a critical need in this community 10 years ago, at a time when there weren’t enough clinics providing pediatric therapy in Southwest Florida. There still aren’t. As the population in our area continues to grow at a rapid speed, the demand for quality therapy has expanded at an even faster clip. This brings us one step closer to ensuring all children in Southwest Florida have access to the therapy services they need to succeed.”FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

At our existing location on Royal Gulf Circle off Colonial Boulevard, we have a waitlist of 160 children. Similar waitlists are reported at other pediatric therapy clinics throughout Southwest Florida.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 9 percent of kids in the U.S. have a speech sound disorder. Further, about 5 percent of kids have a noticeable speech disorder by 1st grade. Now consider that in 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That’s 1 in 34 boys and 1 in 144 girls, with diagnoses being reliably made as early as 18 months. There is a mountain of clinical evidence showing these kids can thrive – but only with access to intensive, early intervention therapies (speech therapy, occupational therapy and applied behavior analysis).

Whether we’re talking about a speech delay, down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, brain injury or other condition, the more assistance a child receives early on, the better their odds of school readiness, social engagement, academic success and long-term independence. That’s because neuropathways for young children are still developing, and young minds are little sponges for new knowledge. This ability of the brain to change, rewire, relearn and strengthen key connections is called neuroplasticity. It’s especially agile during early childhood, and that’s why we’re so adamant in preaching early intervention. It’s also why we couldn’t delay any longer in opening a second FOCUS Therapy clinic location.

“Children cannot wait for services this important,” Voltz-Ronco said. “This new Gulf Coast location of FOCUS Therapy is going to allow us to reach more kids in this community – and faster – benefiting not just themselves, but their families, the schools and our entire community as a whole.”FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers

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

More Blog Entries:

Therapy Isn’t a Quick-Fix – Why You Should Still Follow Our Course Until Successful, May 7, 2020, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog

Why FOCUS Therapy Celebrates With “Therapy Graduation” Ceremonies, Sept. 5, 2020, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Blog

Fort Myers ABA therapy

Finding the Function of Behavior: ABA Therapy Insight

In the field of behavior science, we commonly use the phrase “function of behavior.” As behavior analysts at the Fort Myers ABA therapy team at FOCUS, figuring out the “function” of a child’s behavior is hands-down one of the most mission critical parts of the job.

As parents or caretakers, it will be so helpful for you and your child too if you’re able to determine why a behavior occurs. When we don’t know what truly causes a behavior and respond reactively, we may be unintentionally reinforcing that behavior. Why is my child facedown on the floor screaming when I told him we were eating tacos tonight? Why is he nonstop kicking the back of his sister’s car seat even though I’ve begged, cajoled and yelled at him to stop?

All behavior has a reason. A function. If you’re looking for a different outcome or response, it’s imperative to find out why it’s happening in the first place. And understand that, for example, if the answer is attention (a common incentive), yelling or having an otherwise big response to it may be having the opposite effect.

ABA therapy

Benefits of Clinic-Based ABA Therapy vs. In-Home Treatment

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) is considered the most effective, early-intervention treatment for kids on the autism spectrum. It can take place in several settings: Clinic, home or some combination of the two. At FOCUS, we have chosen the clinic-based model for a number of reasons that benefit our patients.

One of the primary reasons is that we believe children benefit from being in a multi-disciplinary setting. It’s not just that it’s convenient for parents of children who need multiple therapies to have a single, physical location for all of them. (Families in Southwest Florida may find it very difficult to arrange all of the therapies their child needs in a home-based setting.) It’s the fact that in a clinic-based setting, supervisors are more available to provide additional direct observation and guidance compared to in-home services.

This point was underscored in a recent study published by the National Institute of Health. In that analysis, researchers controlled for individual differences by comparing and contrasting at-home and clinic-based ABA therapy treatment for the same kids. What they found was that kids demonstrated far higher rates of learning during treatment provided in-clinic compared to in the patient’s home. In fact, they mastered 100 percent more skills per hour while receiving in-clinic treatment compared to home-based treatment.

FOCUS Offers ABA Therapy at Our Fort Myers Clinic

Our clinic-based ABA therapy at FOCUS is designed to optimize your child’s growth in numerous areas of development, including:

  • Social interactions.
  • Play skills.
  • Adaptive skills.
  • Communication.
FOCUS Therapy

FOCUS Therapy Cancellation Policy Update

Dear FOCUS Therapy Families,

If ever a year could be described as a rollercoaster, it was 2020. FOCUS Therapy is beyond grateful for the families, therapists and staff who stuck with us through whirlwind months of office closures (in accordance with CDC guidelines), rapidly-expanded teletherapy services, scheduling upheavals and enhanced safety protocols. Our services are vital to patients’ health and development, and we’re committed to delivering no matter the obstacles. Still, our success has always hinged heavily on the dedication of our FOCUS families.

As a token of our thanks, this new year we’re gifting each patient a clean slate on their appointment cancellation record. Starting Jan. 1, 2021, cancellations for the prior calendar year will not count against you or adversely impact your child’s standing as a FOCUS patient.

Fort Myers ABA Therapy

Study: Social Skills Genes Heritable, But Influence Shifts as Children Age

A new study has found that some social behaviors and reciprocal social skills associated with autism are inherited. But as children get older, their environment takes on a growing influence in how the child develops, researchers concluded.

This reinforces something our Fort Myers ABA therapy team has known for some time: The minds of children are incredibly resilient, and with appropriate early intervention, new neuropathways can be forged to help them overcome many of the deficits they face.