Last year, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed House Bill 885 into law.
The bill, championed by Secretary of State Delbert Houseman and USM President Rodney Bennett, sought to “provide for the licensure and regulation of the practice of applied behavior analysis” and “require health insurance policies to provide coverage for autism-related treatment.”
Applied Behavior Analysis, according to Autism Speaks, is widely recognized as a safe, potent treatment for autism, with endorsements from a number of state and federal agencies that include the U.S. Surgeon General and the New York State Department of Health.
ABA principles and techniques can help foster basic skills that include looking, listening and imitating. It can also help foster complex skills like reading, conversing and understanding multiple perspectives.
Several studies involving age groups ranging from preschoolers to adults demonstrate the potency and overall effectiveness ABA therapy can have. The treatment produced improvements in communication, social relationships, play, self-care, school and employment.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that about one in 68 children in the United States had been identified with autism spectrum disorder in 2010 – a jump from 2000 – when one in 150 were estimated to have the disorder.
With the prevalence of ASD so massive and unrelenting, the need for safe and effective treatment is crucial. Bryant and Bennett, who launched an emphasis area in Applied Behavior Analysis in USM’s psychology master’s degree program last spring, saw ABA therapy as the most viable option.
“Applied Behavior Analysis is the scientific approach to solving social problems such as children who have difficulty communicating,” said director of training James Moore in a press release. “In Mississippi, we have around 11,000 children with autism, and right now we have about 40 qualified professionals to work with these children.”
According to the press release, the new program is comprised of a 48-hour curriculum focused on teaching students different techniques in practical settings that include play-based learning and clinical experiences in local schools.
It began last fall and is the state’s first and only ABA therapy training program that offers a curriculum sequence and practicum experience approved by the national Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Consequently, graduates will immediately meet eligibility requirements to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst certification exam. Once certified, graduates will also become eligible to become licensed behavior analysts in Mississippi.
“The ABA program at The University of Southern Mississippi is a tremendous learning asset for students and is serving a long overdue need in our State,” Hosemann said. ”We want our people to be educated in Mississippi, get jobs here and stay here. The future of our children depends on it.”
“The University of Southern Mississippi looks forward to continuing our legacy of providing high-quality psychology education and research programs through the master’s program emphasis area in Applied Behavior Analysis,” Bennett said. “As the demand for ABA therapy grows, we will work as hard as we can to train a new generation of students in this critical area of autism treatment.”