Valdosta Daily Times

March 16, 2014

Compass works to find a way for autistic children

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Compass Behavioral and Developmental Consultants started slowly and then all at once.

Its six founders — Allen Davis, Rod Smith, Amila Smith, Peter Del Rosario, Jenelle Ray and Paran Davis — all knew each other and had worked with each other in the past.

Individually, they had considered opening a company that worked with children on the autistic spectrum and their parents.

When they all got to talking, they discovered they shared a similar vision: Number one, the child always comes first. Number two, always be analytical, follow the data and extend services to adults. Number three, raise the reputation and increase the knowledge of the citizens of Georgia as to what applied behavior analysis is.

While on the front porch of Joe’s Crab Shack, they developed the name, and from there it all came together fast.

“We’re all from different walks of life, different backgrounds,” said Ray. “That’s what makes us so strong. We’ll all bring something completely different to the table.”

Ray comes from a psychology background, with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in progress; Del Rosario is a board certified associate behavioral analyst. Paran has a master’s in science focusing on human behavior; her husband, Allen, has a business background.

Rod is a retired airman; his wife, Amila, has a psychology and paralegal background; together, they are raising son Jory, who is 7 and on the autistic spectrum. He’s non-verbal, but he’s made a lot of strides.

Compass opened in August and started taking its first clients in September.

“Our whole goal is to get these kids help, to help these families out and let them know what options are available,” said Allen Davis.

Here’s how it works: After receiving a diagnosis from a doctor, clients bring a child to Compass, and a behavioral analyst does an assessment, talking with the parent, finding out what results they want, the history of the child and the family, getting an overall view of what the situation is and what the concerns are.

From there, they develop a plan for what needs to be done. Family sits down with a supervisor and one of Compass’ trained behavioral technicians to discuss their goals, which can be as simple as getting a child to hold a parent’s or caregiver’s hand.

“That can seem like a small thing, but when you think about it, if you’re at a park and your child won’t hold your hand, he’s a runner and there’s a four-lane highway next to it ... getting a child to hold a parent’s or caregiver’s hand could be something that saves their lives,” said Allen.

The techs and analysts work with the kids in their homes. It’s a setting where the kids are comfortable, and it allows the analysts to watch them in the home environment.

“It allows you to see how the parents are going in and out, how the child is reacting to things,” said Paran.

It starts with the tech and the child building a rapport, getting to know each other. From there, the tech works to extinguish maladaptive behaviors and/or to develop the behavior and skills.

“We take a behavior that’s incongruent with living a full social life. And we take something that the child loves, a preferred item,” said Allen. “Then we request the behavior and supply the preferred item.”

Building and changing behaviors in autistic children can be a long process, something that slowly builds over time.

Along with working with kids to build and change behaviors, Compass educates parents and educators about autism and the kids affected by it.

To accomplish this, Compass opens its technicians’ training classes to parents and teachers, allowing them to get the same training for free.

The class spans more than a two-week period and is open to all parents and educators, not just to clients.

“We have parents who come and they learn what to do and make progress in their homes all by themselves,” said Davis.

“If they say, ‘I can’t afford the services, but I want to learn and help my child,’ that service is always going to be open for them, no matter what,” said Amila.

Far from being wary of competition, Compass wants to see more businesses in the field, going so far as to offer consulting services for companies wanting to get into the ABA field.

“My personal goal as a parent is that one day in this area, I’ll be able to pick up the phone and besides us, they’ll be 20 providers of choice.”

“There’s no way we’re going to be able to raise  the standards of the field in the state if we don’t open up competition,” said Allen.

Though the central office is in Valdosta, Compass does have behavioral analysts and behavioral technicians in Macon, Warner Robbins and Jacksonville, Fla.

The Center for Disease Control’s most recent data on autism shows that, on average, one out of 110 kids are somewhere on the autism spectrum.

“We don’t know what it is, but they’re here,” said Amila. “They’re going to become adults and we’re going to have to get ready for that.”