August 11, 2015

Hong Kong — As home to the most established and one of the largest applied behavior analysis (ABA) service provider in the world, Hong Kong has slowly become the go-to place for families caring for children with autism in Asia, where many countries lack the resources to fulfill the special needs of children on the spectrum.

Among these families is Etash’s, who was born and diagnosed with autism while his family was in India. Shortly after his diagnosis, his mother, Jai, decided she wanted to give Etash all the best that he can get to realize his full potential. Having found out that early intervention was crucial for children like Etash, and knowing that the services she wanted for him were not being offered in India, Jai decided to move back to Hong Kong where she previously spent seven years working.

The day after they arrived, Etash was registered at Autism Partnership where he has been receiving ABA therapies for the past two years.

In the 10 years she’s spent with Autism Partnership, Catherine Tam — an ABA practitioner who has been overseeing Etash’s program — said that Etash’s is one of the most successful cases she’s ever had.

The Children’s Institute of Hong Kong, another ABA service provider in the Chinese territory, has Dr Jeremy Greenberg as its director. Dr Greenberg, who has a PhD in applied behavior analysis, is one of the firsts to hold a board certificate for behavioral analysis in Hong Kong. He is a firm believer of the positive effects of ABA for children with autism, saying that the therapy has worked for all of his patients, with some “even faster than others”.

Dr. Greenberg explained:

“Behavioral analysts make decisions based on what they see the learner is able to do, not on what they think the learner is able to do.

“Each time the student responds, the teacher records if the answer is correct or incorrect. At the end of the day, the teacher looks at the data and plots the results on a graph. Over time, the graph will show a trend if the child understands or not.”

But Catherine Tam cautions that the effect of ABA can vary. She told:

“Like autism, ABA is on a spectrum. It can be rigid – table tasks and using food as reinforcement – or flexible and contemporary, like what we do, with natural instructions and incidental learning.”

Dr. Greenberg added:

“There are some general rules that ABA practitioners are supposed to follow, but there are different interpretations of the rules. Frankly it’s not monitored as well as it should be and I think that’s an issue.”

Apart from the varied application of the therapy, another underlying problem about ABA is the cost that comes with it. In Hong Kong, ABA therapy costs can climb to over HK$600 per hour, and all these therapy sessions will not add up to anything without family support and involvement.

But for mothers like Jai, the cost and sacrifices that come with it are all worth it, just seeing how her son, Etash, dramatically improved over the years.

Source:  Jeanette Wang: Therapy that gives Hong Kong’s autistic children a fighting chance

About the author 

Althea Violeta

Althea is a journalist from the Philippines. She has been writing articles, journals, reviews, and Op-Eds for nearly two decades. She is also a contributor for Poptard Magazine.

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