Autism Case Study: 80% Reduction in Self Injurious Behavior


Parents hopeful for the future as family gains ability to function again

(All names changed for privacy)


Megan and Chris enrolled their daughter Sophia in our ABA therapy program in October of 2018. At the time, Sophia suffered from severe challenges:

  • Primarily non-verbal (She could say words, but did not use them functionally. Her words were not directed towards anyone or anything.)
  • Aggression (biting, scratching, hair pulling)
  • Self-Injury (biting self to the point of calluses and open sores on her hand, throwing herself into animate objects, mouthing)
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Did not sit in a chair for anything more than a short duration of time
  • Crumbled food all over the floor and then ate it off the floor
  • Not toilet trained
  • Could not dress self or assist with dressing routines
  • No motor imitation skills (could not imitate another person’s movements)
  • No joint attention skills  (could not focus on the same thing another person is focusing on)
  • No echoic skills (could not repeat sounds or words said by another person)

As you can imagine, daily life was no simple matter for Megan and Chris. Since Sophia couldn’t express her wants or needs, Megan and Chris had to guess as best they could. If they guessed wrong, Sophia would become aggressive or injure herself. 

The family could not sit down for a meal because Sophia would crumble her food everywhere and eat it off the floor. Someone had to constantly follow Sophia around to ensure she did not seriously hurt herself or break anything. 

The family eventually rearranged the entire house to keep Sophia safe. They removed all carpeting, removed the dining room table and chairs, placed wooden gates in front of all windows, limited what objects could be brought into the home, placed smart alarms throughout the house, locked all cabinets and doors, and replaced any furniture Sophia could hurt herself on.


Two Parents Who Acted on a Glimmer of Hope

Megan and Chris figured that Sophia’s life would stay the way it is for the foreseeable future. They were skeptical about the ability of any sort of therapy to help, but they heard about the results that other parents were seeing with ABA therapy. 

They felt just enough hope to take a chance against all odds and enroll Sophia in our program. What did they have to lose? At least there would be someone else to watch Amelia for part of the day, and insurance would pay for most of it.

Sophia started with 15 hours per week of one-on-one in-home ABA therapy. Melissa Kotarski, BCBA, put together a behavior treatment plan for her including:

  • DRO: Differential Reinforcement of Other Behaviors – Used to decrease problem behaviors by positively reinforcing the absence of the problem behavior.
  • DTT: Discrete Trial Training – A method for teaching new skills that breaks skills down into small steps and builds up to them by teaching each step one at a time.
  • FCT: Functional Communication Training – A method of replacing difficult behavior with more appropriate communication.
  • PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System – A system that teaches children with little to no verbal abilities to communicate using pictures
  • NET: Natural Environment Training – ABA that is provided in a child’s natural environment (i.e. in their home)

Sure enough, Sophia started to make a lot of improvements.


The Results

As of this writing (July 17, 2019), Sophia has shown remarkable progress:

  • Rate of aggression and self-injurious behavior decreased from an average of 13.46 occurrences per hour, to an average of 2.69 occurrences per hour (an 80% reduction)
  • Sophia is learning to use pictures to communicate
  • Names items or actions she wants and uses 2-3 word phrases to ask for things
  • Verbally states “Mom” when asked “Who is that?” (“Dad” currently in progress)
  • Beginning to orient her body when spoken to, or when her name is called
  • Follows 3 basic directions
  • Consistently makes eye contact
  • Can motorically imitate 3 different motor actions
  • Can echo 7 words
  • Can assist in getting herself dressed or undressed
  • Sits in a chair with an attached table for 30+ minutes for all meals and snacks; no longer crumbles food and throws it on the floor

While Sophia still has a lot of progress to make, life has become much easier for the whole family. They can sit down and have a meal, and they were even able to bring the dining room table and chairs back into the house. 

We taught Megan and Chris how to calm Sophia when she gets upset, before it leads to aggression. And, they can communicate effectively with her to understand what she wants and needs.

The Reward for Taking Action and Getting Help from the Pros

While it is no easy job to be Sophia’s parents, Megan and Chris report that the results of therapy with Ascend Behavior Partners has been life changing. They never thought such progress was possible. 

Of course, if they had started therapy for Sophia at an earlier age, she would be doing even better right now.

Megan and Chris contributed greatly to Sophia’s progress by participating fully in the program and working with us to help her make progress.


The Secret to Sophia’s Success

So, what was it that helped Sophia grow so much in two years? How did she end up on a trajectory to live a much fuller and happier life?

One element is seeing each child as a holistic individual with their own strengths, weaknesses, and ways of communicating.

But the most important factor that helped Sophia is the fact that her parents took action and got the help they needed.

They appreciated that the longer you wait to get help, the longer it takes to help your child. They decided that they didn’t want to stall or delay or look into it “someday.”

Now look where Sophia is.


There’s Hope for Every Child

Imagine train tracks that stretch all the way to the horizon. If you alter the course of those train tracks just a couple of degrees, they will end up miles away from where they point now.

ABA therapy is about helping your child change direction now, so they end up at a totally different destination in the future.

By helping children with autism learn the communication, social, and life skills they need, we can help them live more independently for the rest of their lives.

There is hope for every child.


Now It’s Your Turn

Would you like to get help for your child? Our team of highly experienced professionals has many decades of combined experience helping kids with autism. 

We can look at ways to address whatever is on your mind, including:

  • Signs of autism
  • Helping you set up a diagnostic evaluation
  • Toileting issues
  • Temper tantrums
  • Social skills issues
  • Difficulty performing routines
  • Communication deficits
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Eating difficulties
  • Academic challenges

And more…


Here’s What to do Next

Below there is a form you’ll need to fill out, and on the following page you’ll be asked to pick a time to schedule your session:



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