By Kelly Rayl
The Yuma Pioneer
A majority of people can take a trip to the grocery store without incident. Hopefully you remember your list, you shop, pay your bill and head home.
Mitch Armstrong, a 6-year-old kindergarten student at Morris Elementary, found the grocery shopping experience extremely overwhelming; so much so that he would pull his hood over his head covering his face and place his hands over his ears.
Mitch has ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restrict/repetitive behaviors. Mitch was diagnosed at Children’s Hospital with stage three (severe) autism.
It was suggested to start Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy (ABA Therapy) as soon as possible. ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving specific behaviors. The ABA approach breaks down larger skills into small manageable steps. Then, using the power of reinforcement, the child masters each of those steps. ABA therapy is data driven and Mitch has experienced continued success with the therapy.
Jeremy and Megan Armstrong (Mitch’s parents) looked at a few different programs to enroll their son, the closest programs were in Denver and Fort Collins. They made some tough decisions for their family and moved Mom and Mitch to Fort Collins to enroll into the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD). ABA therapy was not available in the Yuma area.
ABA therapy is provided by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and is a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Professionals certified at the BCBA level are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytical services. BCBAs, may supervise the work of a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), and other professionals who implement behavior-analytic interventions. RBT must complete coursework and successfully pass the certification process.
Although faced with a devastating diagnosis, the Armstrong family feel grateful they were able to provide Mitch with an opportunity to live a better life. Mitch has made some great improvements doing ABA therapy and the Armstrong family wanted to share their success with others facing the same problems.
The Jeff Armstrong Memorial Foundation was first established in memorial to build baseball fields in Yuma. It is now tasked to build a Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Yuma. The Center is near completion and features many classrooms for one-on-one therapy, sensory, living skills, lunch, and a small gym that will open to a playground area. The bathrooms are handicap accessible.
The CARD center provides services from age 18 months to adulthood and it’s possible to provide our community and surrounding areas with early intervention therapy, parent trainings, jobs, community activities, and after-school help.
BCBA trained therapist will provide instruction/therapy and can also evaluate students to determine if they need to take further steps for diagnosis of ASD.
There is a bill before the Colorado legislature, HB22-1260: Access to Medically Necessary Services for Students, represented by Meg Froelich (D), Colorado Representative from the 3rd District and Cleave Simpson (R), Colorado Senator from District 35.
HB22-1260 will allow children reasonable accommodations for prescribed therapy and treatment for medical conditions, (ASD is one common example of a diagnosis) to access third-party-funded healthcare to get the care they need in schools and ensure healthcare insurers, including Medicaid, cover the costs of ameliorating medical symptomatology rather than the schools.
Since children spend approximately one third of their time at school, collaboration between school services and health care professionals can ensure timely access to the necessary care that is required to improve outcomes for children.
HB22-1260 has been introduced to the House Education Committee.
Mitch Armstrong, the boy that wore a hood down over his face and covered his ears at the grocery store, can now go to school, loves his teacher, enjoys time with friends, and recess. He hopes to visit Japan, the place Godzilla came from, and Hawaii to see and learn about volcanos.
Mitch Armstrong is moving forward and others may now have that opportunity as well.