Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

Families with children in need of behavioral therapy can now access help that will be covered by insurance, including Medi-Cal.

Deena Garman, of Soulsbyville, and Florencia Baldwin, of Twain Harte, are behavioral analysts and work for Tucci Learning Solutions out of Monterey, which is now accepting referrals for families who need help for their children from toddlers to transitional adults.

In 2012, SB 946 started requiring health care service plan contracts and health insurance policies to provide coverage for behavioral health treatment for people with autism or other pervasive developmental disorders.

Parents can call their insurance companies, Valley Mountain Regional Center at (209) 473-0951 or Tucci at (831) 786-0600 to start the process of getting services for their children approved, then Garman and Baldwin can make appointments with the family. Visits will begin later this summer.

Garman has a master’s degree in behavioral analysis, and Baldwin is in progress on hers. Both have worked with children with autism spectrum disorders and other behavioral issues, and both formerly worked in child welfare services.

They use what’s called ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, for therapy. It’s the only research-based model for autism, Garman said.

Part of the therapy includes play-based activities, where children learn social and communication skills through play and interaction.

The model is based on “play, learn, achieve,” Garman said.

Using things like wooden puzzles, textured balls, string-bead activities and more, children develop motor skills, learn about interacting with others, and develop the language skills needed to socialize with peers, family and teachers.

Garman and Baldwin help the children listen effectively and respond appropriately to various social interactions.

Early motor skills are also taught.

By learning core behaviors, the door is opened up for social opportunities for the children, Garman explained.

For example, a child with limited language skills may throw a tantrum when it’s time to transition from one activity to another at school or home, because they can’t express that they want to do whatever activity they’re doing for another minute, the way a child without those challenges would be able to.

Difficulty transitioning between activities is a common issue among children with ASD.

Before now, in-home support for families affected by autism or other behavioral issues has been limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 68 children have ASD.

Statistically, that’s more than 200 children in Tuolumne County, Garman said.

These services are hoped to fill a service gap. The idea is to help children in their natural home setting, so they can first be successful there, then work outward to be successful in school and community settings.

The pair can also help in school or community settings, like if a transitional adult needs help learning to grocery shop, for example, or if a child has trouble in certain school-based situations, Garman said.

The pair has expertise in behavior issues like communication deficits, self-injurious behavior, eating issues, social-skill deficits and property destruction.

One of the goals of behavioral therapy is to create socially meaningful outcomes for children and families, Garman said.

Behavioral issues can often prevent families from going on social outings, and behavioral therapy can help, Baldwin said.

Like, if you can’t go to the park because the child can’t listen and runs into the road, she said.

The length of treatment depends on the child’s needs, and the behavior analysts send progress reports to insurance providers, who approve length of treatment.

Parent training is also part of the model.