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Autism 911: The Aftermath

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Behavior modification techniques helped autistic teen Marissa Bilson control her outbursts.

Marissa

Earlier today, we told you about a type of "Autism 911" -- a behavior modification program for kids with autism. CNN followed 13-year-old Marissa as she had a week of intensive one-on-one therapy. Did it work?

Today, the Bilsons' family life is a lot calmer and quieter. That's because Marissa and her parents, John and Mary, are following the rules that were made during a five-day intervention. The intervention was provided to them free by the group Autism Partnership, or AP.

Marissa -- who before the therapy was, in Schroeder's words, "out of control" -- now has rules to follow, something she didn't have before.

Marissa's mother also learned some lessons about her daughter that week. "I learned that Marissa is smart," Mary Bilson said. "Smarter than I thought."

These days inside the Bilsons' cozy house, there is a lot less screaming and more boundaries are in place. The balance of power is tipping back into the hands of the parents and away from Marissa and her tantrums.

But there is still work to be done; the only difference is that now the Bilsons -- not Schroeder -- will be in charge.

The theory remains the same: "It's all about the teaching," Schroeder explains. "With a child like Marissa, we can't sit down and discuss it with her -- she's just not going to get that. So we have to take it in small steps. Make them understandable and move on, one step at a time."

That's just what the Bilsons are doing: One step at a time. They have increased the amount of time that Marissa has to practice her new behavior, from a starting time of 20 minutes a day toward a goal of 60 minutes.

In a recent e-mail, Mary Bilson wrote that the initial rewards that Schroeder had used with Marissa have lost their appeal, and Marissa wasn't interested in working for them anymore. However, Bilson added, she has discovered other rewards the teen is eager to work toward.

As a result, said Mary Bilson, her once unruly teen has continued to follow the rules that were put in place during that weeklong intervention: Marissa no longer goes into sister Brittany's room, she no longer monopolizes the family computer, and her once-frequent screaming fits have all but stopped.

Possibly best of all, Marissa can now go out in public without creating a scene -- a goal Mary Bilson was eager to achieve, because before, the Bilsons "could never go out together as a normal family."

In other words, one week of intervention therapy has done more than simply give Marissa some rules to follow and the household some much needed quiet. It has brought this once-divided family back together.


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304 comments so far | Post a comment now
Maddy February 4, 2009, 6:10 PM

We all have a lot to learn, both children and their parents.
Best wishes

Anonymous February 5, 2009, 12:05 PM

$20,000 per week for this therapy. These people are making taking advantage of desperate parents. The day insurance starts covering this, the price will go down, because there is No Justification for charging parents this amount of money!!

malachy February 5, 2009, 3:22 PM

i agree about the cost - just ridiculous. and as the father of a four year old boy with autism, i believe the therapy was not worth the stress it surely caused this young woman - this seemed like a happy, healthy family - no need to put a family member through hours and hours of intensive “therapy” just so she doesn’t fuss with her sister’s stuff or yell out when frustrated.

Carrie February 5, 2009, 7:58 PM

The $20,000 price was a misquote from CNN. The cost is 2500 per-day. This is not the cost for their typical ABA intervention, however. It is the cost of their crisis intervention program.

Malachy, I completely disagree with the idea that this intervention wasn’t warranted. Walk a mile in the Bilsons’ shoes. Their daughter, at 13, is almost the same size as her mother. She is self-injurious (as is evidenced by the few clips where she is shown biting her hand) and her parents were unable to go into public because of her tantrums. In the clip shown, she is in the midst of a huge melt-down because the store doesn’t have the candy she wants. Her mother also states that she feels uncomfortable taking her into public because she tantrums, becoming physical, when she doesn’t get what she wants or she simply shoplifts. I have a feeling that if your son were to exhibit these same behaviors in ten years’ time, you’d have a different opinion.

KP February 5, 2009, 7:59 PM

Malachy, I feel like your comment is crazy, especially coming from a father of a child with autism. This child and family desperately needed help and more importantly the therapists are now giving her the opportunity at a life of some normalcy, she needs to learn boundries and respect to live in society, you can’t go screaming at people and keep a job.
I do have to say I am very sad that the family had to resort to having it put on film to get this help, ABA is extremely costly and insurance companies should have to cover this.
We have a child with aspergers and are about to begin ABA and I feel EXTREMELY fortunate that our insurance does cover all of it.

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