Rethink Autism Offers Innovative Learning Opportunities

Published December 19, 2009

Families who can’t afford or don’t have access to professional help for their autistic children now have an online tool available at their fingertips.

Rethink Autism, launched in June 2009, is a Web-based system to which parents and organizations can subscribe to get help in teaching children with autism. It offers assessment tools, videos, tutorials, and teaching materials.

“For years,” says Rethink Executive Vice President Jamie Pagliaro, “parents and organizations have had to rely on either very expensive autism professionals or on books and videos, but this is the first time they can come to one place that puts all the tools at their fingertips.”

Pagliaro, who has spent the last 15 years working with autistic children in different capacities is clearly excited about the opportunities Rethink offers for families and communities working with autistic children.

“I’ve seen families who need resources and just don’t have access to them,” he says. “This offers them an exciting and innovative way to help their children.”

Rethink’s Numbers are Growing

So how many people have signed up for Rethink since June?

“Currently Rethink has individual families signed on in about 28 states and 12 countries outside of the United States. We also have organizational subscribers in about 10 states. About half of subscribers are schools or organizations such as public school districts, early intervention providers, and non-profits,” says Pagliaro. “Rethink has tools for children with all levels of autism from those who sufferer from severe autism to those who are what’s sometimes referred to as ‘high functioning.'”

New System, Established Model

While Rethink’s delivery method is innovative and new, Pagliaro says, its content and educational methodology is backed by over 50 years of research of applied behavior analysis, which is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, New York State Department of Health, and the United States Surgeon General.

“Research has shown that parents can be trained to implement these programs. Whenever possible parents should use professional support to fine-tune the process,” he says. “But the bottom line is the majority of families cannot afford professional support or simply do not have access to it. Furthermore, the tools are teaching social skills, language, and daily living skills. The worse possible scenario is that parents do it wrong and the child does not learn. In that case there has been no loss.

“Just because you cannot afford or access professional services should not mean you cannot get access to resources.”

Lori Drummer, Rethink’s director of government and community affairs, agrees.

“This is really such a great service to families who would otherwise have no access to due to financial or geographic constraints,” she says.

How it Works

Rethink is geared towards walking individuals through the program.

“There is an initial assessment tool that helps identify what level the child is at and provides tracking tools as well as planning tools,” Pagliaro explains. “It walks them through the program and is an interactive tool. It recommends curriculum based on the progress and the abilities of the child.”

The number of families affected by autism is rising, Pagliaro says: Though only one in 10,000 people suffered from autism 15 years ago, the number jumped to one in 450 by the late 1990s. By 2001, it was one in 166, and in 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the numbers at one in 150. Over the last six months, it jumped to one in 91—meaning more than 1 percent of the U.S. population is now considered autistic.

“What’s more,” Pagliaro adds, “we are already seeing a shortage of professionals trained to help autistic children. Schools are struggling to keep up and Medicaid waiver programs are trying to keep up. The system is already failing and the numbers of autistic children are climbing.”

The Costs

“For less than $100 a month parents can subscribe to Rethink. To put that in perspective, that would probably pay for about one hour a month of professional service,” Pagliaro explains, “There are a lot of resources for kids which are ‘nice-to-have’ resources, but this is a ‘have-to-have’ system if you want quality autism training.

“It’s a dream come true because never has he seen this level of resource being offered to autism and bring in talent from different areas.”

Sarah McIntosh ([email protected]) teaches constitutional law and American politics at Wichita State University in Kansas.