Virtual fall schooling increases demand for in-home behavior analysts

Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-26 14:08:00-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — As the fall approaches, families are trying to figure out how virtual learning will work best for their child. In some cases, like the Vascos, it means potentially hiring a private behavioral therapist to supplement the online curriculum.

"He’s spending a 6th of the time a day learning and he’s more frustrated doing it than he is at school," said Megan Vasco.

That's the unfortunate reality for Megan and Pete Vasco’s middle son Ronnie, who has autism. Since the start of virtual learning in march, they’ve seen him regress in his education and his behavior.

"He's 7 and this is the first time he’s actually gotten physically frustrated, where he would get very upset and act out, push," said Pete.

He’s starting second grade in the fall and they know something needs to change.

"He can’t get by with virtual learning. He needs someone in the house that’s not his parent that he looks to as a different role and focus him therefore give me the opportunity to have some time to work with the other two kids as well," said Megan.

Approved yesterday, Carroll County Public Schools will be starting the school year fully virtual, with the opportunity to move to a hybrid model as soon as it’s safe to do so. The superintendent said in this virtual model, he wants to find opportunities to bring in some special education students and is planning some small group in-person instruction in August that he wants to see continue into the fall.

The Vascos want to see Ronnie in school, but since nothing is set in stone, they have been trying to get him an in-home therapist and it’s proving very difficult.

"There’s not a huge amount of behavior analysts but there’s a huge need," said Erin Stern.

She is the president of STEPS Behavioral Health in Baltimore. Their Board Certified Behavior Analysts, or BCBA, service mainly children with autism in home, in clinic and in schools. She said they have seen an increase in demand since the pandemic and are working to help as many families as possible.

"We did have a waitlist. Our waitlist is dwindling because we have been able to hire and get people moving because we do see the need. We are also seeing out current clients asking for more therapy," said Stern.

When the pandemic started, they moved completely virtual, which allowed them to be able to reach more families with telehealth and start webinars to helps parents.

"To just provide them with 'How to help my kid while we are in this pandemic life' and how to meet all their needs," said Stern.

Now they are transitioning back to in-person therapy so their kids can be as successful as possible in the fall.

"We are setting up programs where we can work on sitting at the table for longer and engaging in activities that aren’t referred tasks or independently logging onto a computer," said Stern. "Our kids are on whole making gains. We have seen some families and some children there is an increase in aggressive behavior."

It’s that in home support that the Vascos hope they can secure for Ronnie.

"To see this regression and then the ominous future of if this keeps going he’s going to keep regressing and regressing, that’s what keeps me up at night and that’s why we’re gonna do everything we can. If the schools don’t provide in home care, we’re gonna have to do it somehow," said Pete.

STEPS Behavioral Health has another webinar coming up in early August about how to support the school process.
That’s free for families. You just have to sign up online.

Professional family photos in this story courtesy of Brooke Reid Photography