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Community Access Unlimited Celebrates Union Members with Autism for Autism Awareness Month

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Daniel Sheppard is an 8-year-old with regressive autism.
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Aiden Chetram is a 10-year-old diagnosed with ASD and ADHD.
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Community Access Unlimited is celebrating the progress of its members who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum in timing with National Autism Awareness Month in April.

Community Access Unlimited (CAU) is a statewide nonprofit providing support programs and services to adults with disabilities as well as youth served under the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to enable them to live independently in the community, providing supports in areas including housing, vocational skills and life-skills training, education, advocacy and recreation.

Two younger members are representative of how CAU supports youth and adults with autism.

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Daniel Jack (DJ) Sheppard of Union is an 8-year-old with regressive autism. Early in life he met all his milestones – he had an extensive vocabulary and enjoyed playing. Then one day he stopped talking and playing and shut down.

While DJ's mother, Sarah Sheppard, wanted him to receive treatment, his father refused and even became abusive. Sarah left with DJ and was referred to CAU by Perform Care, a behavioral health managed care company. Schlier Langhorn, a CAU behavior technician, began working with him last July.

"Since Schlier has been working with him he is speaking in sentences and can sit still for a dentist," Sheppard said. "The change is amazing. She calls it generalizing his behavior so he can apply what she does with him when she's not here. It's entirely because of the work she does with him that he can do the things he does now. We can take him to a restaurant and events and not be afraid he's going to have a meltdown. It's been such a change."

Aidan Chetram  of Union is 10 and has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  For some time he struggled to learn in school, resorted to self biting when frustrated and grabbed others when he wanted attention. Aidan also has issues with acid reflux, which worsened his behavior.  

Aidan's parents, Julie and Aneil Chetram, were referred to CAU by Perform Care and in October several CAU behavior technicians began working with him. While focusing on self-biting and grabbing, they also included a plan to address his reflux issues. Once his dietary issues were under control, there was a significant decrease in his self-biting, according to Julie Chetram.

Additionally, Aidan "really wanted to interact with other kids and didn't know how to go about it," she said.

Langhorn and Roodlee Gaudin, another CAU behavior technician, created a series of videos that reflected positive social interactions that Aiden could mimic.

"They said let's try the technique of video modeling," Chetram said. "Now Aidan's behavior has improved dramatically. He thinks about how he approaches others. I feel positively that our son will be able to interact with other children appropriately."

The Chetrams both noted how knowledgeable and flexible are the CAU team members.

"There is great continuity between the three of them," Aneil Chetram said. "And they work with us and incorporate our ideas. They know that we know Aidan best and they listen."

According to the Autism Society, the prevalence of autism in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births and increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, making autism the fastest growing developmental disability in the nation. More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by two-thirds with early diagnosis and intervention.

CAU supports dozens of members with autism, both children and adults, according to Tracy Honig, managing director of behavioral supports. Members are supported either in their own homes or in CAU housing.

For families seeking in-home support for their child under the age of 21, services begin with a meet and greet with the member and his or her family, followed by an assessment completed by a Board Certified

 Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A support plan is created and then reviewed and modified to reflect goals set by the member and their family. Behavior technicians implement the plan with oversight from a BCBA, with reinforcement from family members.

Members with autism who live in a residential program at CAU receive support from members of the behavioral team at CAU and assessment by a BCBA or a masters-level clinician. Members work with their designated behaviorist to set goals and support staff is given guidelines on how to best help the member they support achieve the milestones set in their plan.

"At CAU we have been supporting people with disabilities for more than 38 years so we are ideally situated to help families with loved ones living on the autistic spectrum," said Honig. "We are one of the larger behavioral departments in the state and our staff is highly credentialed, more so than other agencies. In addition, we are very family-oriented. We will work with them to fulfill their needs."

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