A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that roughly one in 40 children in the United States has autism, an increase from the previous estimate of one in 59 children.
To meet the needs of the growing population, Gersh Applied Behavior Analysis Services is opening five ABA centers in Nassau and Suffolk counties, including one in West Hempstead, which opened in November. ABA is a systematic approach that focuses on improving behavioral skills for people on the spectrum.
“There’s nothing like this on Long Island right now,” said Joseph Laudadio, regional operations manager at Gersh ABA Services. “The numbers from that study are quite astonishing, so this is something that’s desperately needed for our families.”
The new centers will feature clinic-based facilities where Gersh professionals will provide opportunities for people on the spectrum to socialize, gain independence and improve life skills. In addition, the program will provide a combination of one-on-one therapy and social groups to improve peer interaction and social relationships.
The centers will also offer access to structured breaks to reduce boredom, which Laudadio said occurs often in a home setting. “Motivation is the key for autism,” said Laudadio, who joined The Gersh Organization in September. “One of the missing pieces that often occur in a home is that you don’t have a lot of children around you,” he said. “You don’t have that ability to generalize skills that we’re teaching at our facilities. We have that opportunity now to do that in a center-based facility where they can go out on a playground, go through the hallways.”
The other centers — based in Glen Cove, Glen Head, Hauppauge and West Hills — will open in January, but are currently accepting applications.
“There are not enough services available to help treat children with autism despite the fact that the number of diagnoses continues to increase,” said Kevin Gersh, founder of The Gersh Organization, in a news release. “Our centers are intended to address this significant problem by providing individuals on the spectrum as well as their families with a unique resource that is currently missing from the area.”
Laudadio said that the centers in Glen Cove and Glen Head would be designed as classroom settings. “In terms of the environment, it’s all geared towards our children,” he said. “It’s geared towards play and everything that our children need.”
He added that while the West Hempstead center emphasizes serving preschool-aged children, all of the centers accept people 26 or younger who are eligible for health insurance reimbursement with ABA therapy. The other centers also do early intervention.
For Laudadio, the most exciting part of this initiative is seeing the reaction of the parents, he said. “Many of our parents oftentimes need a break, and that’s the God’s honest truth,” Laudadio said. “On top of that, they understand the benefits of these centers, and when they find out about this opportunity, the joy that they show is unbelievable.”
For more information, visit The Gersh Organization’s website at www.gershabaservices.com.