AEP Award Winner Profile: Rethink Autism Program Offers Education, Empowerment, Hope

For most parents, teaching children to follow a simple instruction such as “come sit down” is just that—simple. For the parents of an estimated 750,000 children across the United States who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, however, teaching such simple everyday skills can be both challenging and frustrating.

An estimated 1 in 88 children in the United States has an Autism Spectrum Disorder—an increase of 78% from a decade ago, according to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control. Many parents and educators are desperately seeking resources to help them meet the special needs of these children. That’s where Rethink Autism comes in.

With an online lesson library including more than 1,200 video-based exercises, Rethink Autism provides valuable, research-based behavioral intervention tools to parents, schools, and districts across the United States and more than 26 countries. The program is based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which has been endorsed as an effective intervention for autism by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General. Rethink Autism wants to make the medically recommended approach available to any child anywhere, says CEO Daniel Etra.

Founded with a mission to offer “effective and affordable Applied Behavior Analysis-based treatment tools for the growing population affected by autism spectrum disorders,” Rethink Autism goes beyond simply providing information. “There is a tremendous and growing need for intervention, and a dearth of trained professionals to serve the ever-growing number of children on the autism spectrum,” explains Etra. “Our goal is to deliver clinical best treatment tools to every child.”

In recognition of Rethink Autism’s exemplary efforts to meet this growing need, the Association of Educational Publishers presented the Rethink Autism website with a special Judges’ Award in the 2012 AEP awards competition. Judges Awards are presented from time to time to an entry that shows special merit but didn’t win in its given category. The Rethink Autism website was a finalist in the Innovation Awards category, but the award ultimately went to “Snow Leopard Secrets” from National Geographic Society.

The Rethink Autism program revolves around four essential components: 1) individualized assessment, 2) training, 3) curriculum, and 4) data tracking.  A Scientific Board comprised of leading authorities in the field of autism research and treatment provides insight and advice to help guide Rethink Autism’s activities.

The step-by-step videos, each of which is supported by a written lesson plan, cover eight skills categories: pre-academic, academic, social/emotional, daily living, motor skills, play/leisure, expressive language, and receptive language. “For every single lesson depicted, we show the user how to implement and how to teach that skill,” says Etra. The videos show actual therapists working with actual children with autism. Viewers see exactly how trained professionals use detailed instructions, repetition, and praise to help children master specific skills.

“We’re providing a starting point, an individualized plan on what to work on, and a video representation of every single exercise, and the system automatically tracks the progress,” Etra says. “We offer an incredibly broad and deep curriculum dealing with a broad array of skills—all the potential skills the child would need help with.”

Indeed, AEP awards judges complimented Rethink Autism on its thoroughness and its research-based approach to teaching. “The content is awesome,” commented one judge. “It’s an incredibly rich and well-delivered curriculum. The videos are great; the lessons succinct and well delivered. The tools for managing the curriculum and student progress are easy to use and comprehensive, and once inside the site as a teacher or parent, everything’s easy to understand.”

Another judge called Rethink Autism a “very impressive resource for parents and educators to gain knowledge and skills recognized as successful in teaching children identified with needs on the autism spectrum.”

“Parents with children on the autism spectrum will find this website an extremely helpful resource,” concluded a third judge. “There is a wealth of valuable information. The Community section is especially strong.”

Two key benefits of the Rethink Autism program are its accessibility and its dual focus on schools and parents. Because the program is Web-based, it’s accessible anytime, anywhere. “Our program allows team members working with the child to check data at any time and make recommendations remotely, which is one of the unique and important features of our platform,” Etra says.

Furthermore, there is synergy in providing information to both schools and families. The goal is to achieve coordination of services and a holistic way of delivering care. “With this coordination, we can start to get close to the 25 hours of therapy per week that is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Etra says. “Whoever is interacting with the child can and should be using that time to teach the child, and we are equipping them with the tools to do it.”

Receiving the AEP Judges’ Award is “an incredible honor,” Etra says. “We are seeking to help children and organizations serving these children worldwide. We have put a tremendous amount of work into creating a field-leading program, and to be recognized for that is something that’s very rewarding to us.”

But even more rewarding than the plaudits from AEP is the positive feedback from educators and parents, says Etra. One parent featured on the website says the two words that come to mind when he thinks about the effects of the Rethink Autism program are “empowerment and hope.”

So what’s next for Rethink Autism? The program plans to expand its platform to include other cognitive impairments such as ADHD, speech impairments, and other cognitive disabilities. “Our goal is to be a full special needs program that can serve multiple disabilities and assist school districts with the important work they do,” Etra concludes.

To learn more about Rethink Autism, visit the company’s website at www.rethinkautism.com.

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