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Study finds shortage of therapists for children with autism

child autistic in blue hat and blue jacket playing with wilted leaves in autumn Park

The supply of certified applied behavior analysis (ABA) providers is insufficient to meet the needs of children with autism in nearly every U.S. state, according to a study published in Psychiatric Services this week.

The rising prevalence of Autism underscores the importance of access to evidence-based interventions such as ABA. An estimated one in 59 children had autism in 2014, up from one in 125 a decade earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ABA uses behavioral learning principles to help children with autism increase positive behaviors and social interactions and decrease problematic behaviors. It is the recommended treatment for children with autism and is supported by more than 30 years of research. ABA is most effective when it is started in early childhood and the therapy is provided between 20 and 40 hours per week.

Study authors Yidan Xue Zhang, M.C., and Janet R. Cummings, Ph.D., with the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, used 2018 data and compared the per capita supply of certified ABA providers in each state with a benchmark established using the board’s guidelines. They found that the per capita supply of certified ABA providers fell below the benchmark in 49 states.

In addition, the study found that states with higher public education spending had significantly more certified ABA providers per capita than states with lower spending. Similarly, states with higher median household income had more certified ABA providers per capita.

This study provides the first known examination of the supply and geographic variation in certified ABA providers. The authors conclude that new workforce policies are needed to increase the supply of certified ABA providers to ensure that youth with autism have access to evidence-based interventions.

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