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Autism 911: The Aftermath

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


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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