Autism spectrum disorder is estimated to affect approximately one percent of the world’s 7.5 billion global population according to the World Health Organization. Estimates in the U.S. indicate 1 in 59 individuals to fall somewhere on the autism spectrum; elsewhere the global impact of this disorder on the world population is slowly breaching the horizon. Increased awareness and diagnosis is raising concerns around the world about severe workforce shortage of certified clinicians properly equipped to tackle an epidemic of this size and scale.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been deemed by leading health experts as the most effective treatment to help youth develop skills that have been hindered as a results of autism. Within the United States, there have been just over 80,000 individuals trained and certified to deliver ABA therapy for autism, with only around 30,000 Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) approved to provide such care independently.

In China, with a total population of 1.4 billion people, there are only 16 BCBAs. Estimates released earlier in April 2018 from the China Association of Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (CARD) estimated upwards of 3 million Chinese children ages 14 and under to be on the autism spectrum. With only 16 certified providers in the country, educational institutions are hoping that advancing new technology will help put effective treatment into the hands of more individuals as they work to build the BCBA workforce.

Doris Duan-Young, BCBA, a co-founder of China Media in Beijing, is hoping to bring Western methodologies and combine it with China’s rapid technological innovation.

“In China, we have very few programs that train people in ABA therapy or how to support individuals with autism,” said Duan-Young. “My company is partnering with a local university in Beijing to create teaching opportunities at our clinics that provide care for children with autism and also train new professionals in effective autism therapies. Unfortunately, the demand is too great and we need a way to mass distribute these therapies while we build the professional workforce.”

Duan-Young reached out to Southern Illinois University, where she received a master’s degree in behavior analysis therapy in 1995, to explore partnership options. She was connected with Dr. Mark R. Dixon, who published an ABA-based language training system in 2014. The new system—Promoting the Emergence of Advanced Knowledge, better known as PEAK—is one of 19 published curricula and assessments that is approved for use in ABA therapy. However, PEAK is unique in its identification of a child’s understanding of derived relational processes, or an understanding of how two things relate to one another based on learned experiences. PEAK also has some of the best clinical research evidence on its effectiveness in helping children with autism. The therapeutic style of PEAK met the criteria Duan-Young was looking for in its ability to be easily used by individuals who are already working with children on the spectrum, such as special education teachers, parents and caregivers.

Before agreeing to the partnership, Dr. Dixon encouraged Duan-Young to see the PEAK Relational Training System at work to gain immersive training and a better understanding of PEAK. Duan-Young was referred to Canopy Children’s Solutions in Jackson, Mississippi. Canopy’s Early Intervention Autism Clinic performs more PEAK assessments and intervention programs than any other clinic in the world.

(L to R) BreAnna Newborne, Dr. JIm Moore, Doris Duan-Young, Laura Katherine Barker, Robyn Brewer, Dr. Chris Furlow- Several of Canopy’s Autism Solutions staff pose with Duan-Young at a BCBA reception in early November.

“I was thrilled that Canopy was so welcoming to have me come and be part of their autism clinic,” said Duan-Young. “My time at Canopy not only gave me valuable exposure to the PEAK assessment and program modules but also the type of environment to model that helps foster success in the kids it serves.”

“Since we have adopted the use of the PEAK assessment last year, our kids in the autism clinic have seen a 300 percent progression in their individual assessments,” said Dr. Jim Moore, BCBA-D, Director of Autism Solutions for Canopy. “We use PEAK intervention programs to help children develop speech, fine and gross motor function, language comprehension, emotional regulation, social skills and relational processes and it was exciting to have the creator of the system recommend our program as a prime clinic in which to have Doris observe and train. It was a privilege to have her join us and a great learning opportunity for our therapists as much as it was for her.”

Duan-Young spent November with Canopy working alongside clinic staff helping to run programs, interact with the children, perform assessments and gain valuable knowledge she will take back to China. In addition to clinics in China, Duan-Young co-owns and manages autism clinics in Dubai, where she also hopes to implement the PEAK Training System.

“My goal is to work with my partners in China and Southern Illinois University and combine it with what I have learned at Canopy to development telehealth therapy utilizing the PEAK program for children who need it,” said Duan-Young. “We are hoping with strong partnerships with organizations in the U.S. who are well-established in autism therapies and assessments that we can utilize the BCBAs to distribute programs to schools. Our special education teachers would then implement these programs with their students under the direction of the BCBA. Working with Southern Illinois, we will also be able to create a collaborative distance learning program to train more professionals across the globe in ABA therapy.”

(L to R) Canopy CEO Dr.  John Damon, Doris Duan-Young, Canopy Director of Autism Solutions Dr. Jim Moore

“No parent should ever have to give up hope that their child with autism can lead a fulfilled life because of an inability to access effective treatment options,” said John D. Damon, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer for Canopy. “That is why we are so passionate about delivering world-class autism solutions and creating intentional partnerships that will benefit not only kids in Mississippi, but everywhere. Canopy is pleased to be a small part of this opportunity with Ms. Duan-Young helping to make an impact around the world.”