One in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of Americans with autism is estimated at more than 3.5 million. What does that mean for South Carolina? According to the latest U.S. Census report, there are approximately one million children in South Carolina under the age of 18, meaning autism may affect as many as 16,000 families throughout the state.

The number of children diagnosed with autism continues to increase each year, impacting more families nationwide and in communities like Greenville and Columbia. April was National Autism Awareness Month, a month dedicated to raising awareness about early diagnosis and intervention, and the need for inclusion and appreciation of people with autism who play important roles in our lives and communities.

Sesame Street is doing its part, as it recently announced its new Muppet character, Julia, a 4-year-old who has autism, as part of its See Amazing in all Children initiative. Julie made her appearance on the classic children’s television show on April 10 portraying common behaviors of children with autism and navigating the world with her friends as they seek to find commonalities.

Early Autism Project (EAP) hopes the introduction of Julia to Sesame Street and ongoing autism advocacy events will help shine a light on the need for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. ABA therapy is widely recognized as an effective, evidence-based treatment for autism. Early diagnosis, coupled with early intervention, can significantly improve children’s development and help them reach their full potential.

This month, EAP will celebrate the passage of Ryan’s Law, legislation that requires insurance to cover treatments for autism in South Carolina. The law provides access to ABA therapy to families who might not have been able to previously afford it. Many insurance providers, government payers such as Medicaid and TRICARE for active duty and retired military personnel, and certain companies pay for all or some ABA therapy for children with autism.

ABA therapy is endorsed by both the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics as the treatment of choice for autism.

ABA therapy fosters basic skills such as looking, listening and imitating, and complex skills such as reading, conversing and understanding another person’s perspective. It also helps reduce behaviors that make it difficult for students to learn. The teaching technique used in ABA therapy involves breaking down a desired behavior into smaller, teachable parts and providing a child with positive reinforcement when he or she engages in the desired, appropriate behavior. Various studies indicate the earlier a child receives ABA therapy, the more gains he or she can make.

EAP provides children between the ages of 20 months and 21 years with the highest quality intensive, research-based behavioral treatment for autism spectrum and related disorders. For more than a decade, EAP has provided customized ABA therapy programs to teach language, social, self-help, academic, daily living and life skills to children with autism. Working in close collaboration with parents and education professionals, EAP employees inspire and guide families with hands-on support, education and training throughout the growth and development of a child with autism. Treatment plans are developed and monitored under the direction of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) or a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA).