ABA and IT: The Best Strategy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Drs. Will Brandon, PhD., president and CEO of Learning ARTS, and Michael Harrington, PhD.

Dr. Will Brandon
Dr. Will Brandon

About one in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.

Though it is still unclear whether the difference is primarily due to increased incidence of such disorders or more accurate screening procedures, ASD has become a national priority. The demand placed on treatment service is outstripping availability. One organization, Learning A.R.T.S., is turning to information technology to meet this soaring demand.

Founded in 1994 and based in California, Learning A.R.T.S. has embraced applied behavior analysis (ABA) and its focus on in-home, one-on-one instruction to improve patients’ social and life skills. It has enjoyed rapid success expanding to 11 regional locations spread across the state.

Learning A.R.T.S. programs help teach patients skills—from tying shoes to writing résumés—and foster an information- and communication-rich environment. Initially, as the organization expanded its services, the challenges were to communicate and coordinate operations across geographically dispersed facilities and client locations using traditional paper and telephone-based communication.

Applied behavioral analysis and treatment programs involve Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA), specialists, and technicians. Coordination between team members is central to success of ABA, placing a premium on the flow of information among them.

Increased demand has doubled the organization’s caseload, however. To meet this demand, Learning A.R.T.S. developed a new case management strategy driven largely by the adoption of an information management technology system by Laserfiche.

Previously, Learning A.R.T.S. dealt with volumes of paper forms and data records that needed to be authenticated, reviewed, duplicated, stored and retrieved. The organization now works with the same records in digital form stored in a central computer repository. This transition required the digitization of hundreds of thousands of existing paper records, and then training staff to work with the information in a new, digital format.

The effort resulted in seemingly endless opportunity to apply new technologies for information management that could not be applied to paper records. More importantly, those opportunities mean many more ASD children and families are getting the timely assistance they need.

For example, Learning A.R.T.S. field workers can now use mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, to gather and file patient information in real time, on location. The data is managed through digital workflow processes that eliminate reams of redundant paperwork, and can be stored in archives and accessed immediately through a central server. This translates into significant efficiencies in HR management of staff, accounting and billing, as well as in faster delivery of client services.

The organization has seen cost savings in terms of staff accounting, new employee onboarding, payroll and billing. But one benefit outweighs any monetary return: better patient care and more positive results.

Learning A.R.T.S. has found that response times are critical to successful treatment. ASD patients frequently act out in frustration, often becoming violent, which also can be emotionally draining for field staff. Treatment response involves not only accurate and timely communications, but also a considerable amount of orientation and training relevant to the technician’s functions.

Previously, the paper communication trail among technicians and analysts, with the required authentications and sign-offs, could take as much as two weeks in turnaround time. Communication between families and technicians could also be similarly delayed. Today, through mobile devices and automated processes, notifications are instantaneous, meaning the treatment program can be quickly adapted to the needs and development of the child. Staff can also use audio and video files stored in Laserfiche to communicate more information quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

For instance, when a child struggles with one area of instruction, analysts can hone in on the causes and customize curriculum. Then, if a child progresses more easily through other learning stages, they can sooner be moved onto more challenging skills. This accelerates the step-by-step learning process. Field workers’ ability to accommodate these needs within hours instead of weeks is a game-changer, allowing immediate care for more children who need it.

The future looks exciting as Learning A.R.T.S. anticipates new applications of technology to aid in operational efficiencies and improved treatment programs. One development is to move the organization’s dataflow to the cloud, making it instantly accessible and updatable to all team members, with the additional ability to share information with client families in a timely way.

The most promising development is the ability to harness data over time. Learning A.R.T.S. plans to create a matrix of treatment program data that can measure, analyze, evaluate and inform program development. Combined with data analytics, this matrix will enable Learning A.R.T.S. to standardize much of its treatment programming, helping increase caseload while delivering more individualized and effective treatment to clients.

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