A therapy provider in Oak Harbor is changing the lives of children with autism.
On any given day at the BlueSprig office on Highway 20, it may look like children are simply playing with toys. In reality, they are working one-on-one with therapists who are trained to help children with autism improve their communication and social skills.
BlueSprig specializes in applied behavior analysis therapy – a systematic approach to behavior change.
The office has been in the community since 2010 as Aptitude Habilitation Services. In 2020, the owner of Aptitude unexpectedly passed away and it merged with BlueSprig, which has locations all over the country.
“We maintained as long as we could,” Operations Manager Stephanie Martin said. “BlueSprig was kind of the saving force that came in and acquired us and we’re still here.”
The office has several registered behavior technicians, meaning they are therapists specifically trained to work with autistic children. There are individual treatment rooms, as well as a common play area where children can work on social skills with their peers.
Kim Kokias is the clinical director of the Oak Harbor location and a board certified behavior analyst. She assesses children when they first come in and writes up an individualized treatment plan with specific goals and criteria to meet those goals.
“They’re kids so everything is play-based,” Kokias said. “We’ll target goals, mostly language or social skills or behavior, but we do it through play.”
Therapists use positive reinforcement to encourage communication. A therapist, for example, will hold marbles and wait for the child to ask for one. Once the child communicates that she does, the therapist reinforces the good behavior with a marble.
BlueSprig currently serves 17 children from ages 3 to 13. The kids come in five days a week and are seen anywhere from six hours a week to 30, depending on their individualized plan. Some clients are seen in their homes.
The office also provides parent training. Parents are taught applied behavior analysis strategies so they can work on goals with their kids outside of sessions with a therapist. Staff meet with the parents about twice a month to assess how things are going at home. Each parent has a goal that staff also collects data on.
The office is currently looking to take on more clients.
“There’s a huge need in this community,” Martin said. “There’s not enough resources, especially for applied behavior analysis.”
Once a child has a diagnosis of autism, services at BlueSprig are referred by a doctor and are provided through insurance. Common signs of autism are lack of eye contact, lack of communication and speech and nonverbal repetitive behaviors. Early intervention is important.
The point of applied behavior analysis is for the child to eventually not need it.
“We want to serve them well and give them skills so they can discharge and function in the world without us,” Kokias said.