LOS LUNAS—Francine Detzner’s son is eating and sleeping better, is on his way to being potty trained and his meltdowns are nearly a thing of the past.
“He’s learned words that have meaning, learned how to talk,” Detzner said. “I feel like the year he’s been here, he’s blossomed a lot. He’s not afraid to be around anyone, to go to the store. He’s a much happier kid.”
Every day, Detzner drives down from Albuquerque to Los Lunas to bring Alexander, who will be 6 on Halloween, to Prism Autism Services, the only agency providing applied behavior analysis services in Valencia County.
With a waiting list of two years for most Albuquerque agencies, Detzner began looking for other options for Alexander, who is on the autism spectrum.
“I didn’t know what to do. He has insomnia and ADHD,” she said. “The insomnia is almost gone. He will sleep through the night three out of five days. He’s grown so much here. Now he has friends.”
Progress like Alexander’s is what motivates Prism owner Andrea Montoya.
“We really found our niche working with kids with autism and saw their potential. They can be taught anything, just like every other kid,” Montoya said. “They can be as independent and functional as any of their peers.”
Autism is a complex neurological/biological condition, not a psychological or emotional condition. According to information on the Autism Society’s website, one in 59 children born in the U.S. has autism, and more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.
Prism is one of only five agencies in the state that provides center-based applied behavior analysis services. It also provides home-based and community-based services on a case-by-case basis.
ABA is used for other conditions in addition to autism, but currently, autism programs are what’s covered by insurance companies, Montoya said.
“ABA uses behavioral prompts to model and teach new skills,” she said. “Everything we do is research based and data driven.”
Clinic director Angelica Gonzales said ABA is used to teach children on the spectrum new behaviors to replace old ones. This method can be used for children of any age.
Prism provides services from 18 months to 21 years old, and the length of service time is based on the individual child’s needs.
“They learn, for instance, instead of hitting someone to get their attention, to use words or other positive forms of communication,” Montoya said. “We break down the skills into smaller units, smaller steps and goals and use positive reinforcement, which is a core component of ABA.”
That positive reinforcement varies from child to child, said Gonzales.
“Some kids might live for a high five. ABA is highly individualized for each kid,” Gonzales said. “It’s a matter of finding what do they want to work for?”
At Prism, Gonzales and Montoya, along with a staff of 12 registered behavior technicians, who provide one-on-one instruction of the individualized treatment plans to the children, use ABA as well as an array of other therapies, including speech and occupational, and techniques to teach skills, such as communication, labeling, back-and-forth conversation and independent living skills.
“Kids have struggles at every level,” Montoya said. “In middle school, trying to make friends and be more social; in high school, preparing for college and after.”
Both Montoya and Gonzales are speech-language pathologists and have done their undergraduate and graduate work together. They write the treatment plan for every child and oversee the RBTs. The technicians must complete 40 hours of course work and pass a national competency exam.
Prism provides a one-to-one ratio of technicians and students, which creates consistency for the children, and gives them the opportunity to experience a group educational setting.
“There is a lot of home-based ABA but by using a clinic setting, we help the kids get ready for school,” Montoya. “That comes from our experiences in the schools. I’ve worked with students from preschool to high school.”
Gonzales worked for Belen Consolidated Schools for many years, and Montoya worked in the Los Lunas and Albuquerque Public school districts.
Working in a clinic setting doesn’t mean cookie-cutter, generalized instruction, Montoya said.
“These instructional services are to help them reach their maximum potential,” she said. “Everyone has their own individual goals — every student, every family.”
Sometimes a goal is as simple as helping a child learn to use the toilet. Gonzales and Montoya recently celebrated a success with a student who was at Prism for about a year.
Initially, the little girl was scared of the bathroom — she wouldn’t even enter the room. Working in small steps and using positive reinforcement, they eventually got her into the room and using the toilet.
“Then we had to broaden it and get her to apply the behavior to all toilets. She would only use the one here, not at home,” Montoya said. “So we had to get her to use the one in our break room, the one at home, public toilets.
“She just entered kindergarten this year and is in a fully-inclusive class. If she had not been toilet trained, that wouldn’t have happened.”
Montoya said the progress and successes the children have wouldn’t happen without the dedicated staff at Prism.
“This isn’t an easy job and our RBTs come in every day and they have such dedication not only to the kids but now to the field,” she said.
Montoya started Prism in Albuquerque in June 2017, and opened the Los Lunas clinic this past May at Mondal Plaza, which they quickly outgrew, before moving to their current location.
The Los Lunas clinic, at about 3,200-square feet, has increased it’s client load from four to 12, and the Albuquerque clinic has 29 clients. They recently expanded into a 6,000-square foot facility.
“The need is here and growing,” Montoya said. “Doing this, starting this business, was a risk but every risk I’ve taken has paid off. Not necessarily financially, but for the community.”
Prism Autism Services is in the south side of the building at 475 Courthouse Road, across from the intersection of Fernandez Road and Amber Circle. Entry gates are kept closed for security purposes so potential clients need to call ahead for an appointment.
For more information or a tour of the clinic, call 508-3503 or visit prismincnm.com.