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UTSA establishes partnership project for children with autism

by Jesus Chavez, University Communications    |    July 28, 2016

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Researchers at UTSA have partnered with The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and the Autism Treatment Center (ATC) – San Antonio to form the San Antonio Applied Behavior Analysis (SAABA) Project. The project aims to provide easy access to top-tier applied behavior analysis (ABA) services to individuals with autism and developmental disabilities in the San Antonio area. 

“UTSA has already established itself as a leader in providing ABA access to the San Antonio community,” said Leslie Neely, assistant professor of educational psychology, who leads the project on behalf of UTSA. “Through this partnership with the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio and the Autism Treatment Center, we are taking another important step toward ensuring that children in need and their families receive the top-tier services that can change their lives for the better.” 

The SAABA Project’s first major initiative will be establishing a new Autism Treatment Center clinic on-site at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. The site will provide direct ABA services to children with autism and developmental disorders, serve as a training ground for UTSA students, and help educate parents and practitioners. 


For many, ABA is considered one of the most effective treatment services for creating positive outcomes in children with autism and developmental disabilities. 

“ABA is a method prove to effectively help children with autism and developmental disabilities,” said Dr. Melissa Svoboda, M.D., pediatric neurologist and medical director of the Autism Program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. "We conducted a pilot program with the Autism Treatment Center last summer that had some remarkable outcomes. We are excited to be part of this new partnership and look forward to seeing more children receive the treatment they need.” 

The ABA approach involves understanding a child’s behavior and modifying their environment to encourage socially appropriate behaviors and reduce challenging behaviors. According to Neely, researchers have demonstrated that ABA services is particularly helpful for finding out why a challenging behavior is happening so we can provide responsive individualized interventions for children with disabilities. These interventions have proven effective at mitigating the challenging behavior, increasing social and communication skills, and improving academic performance. 

The barrier for service remains high, however. ABA services are often too expensive for the average family and costs are not always covered by the average health insurance. Compounding the issues, those who do qualify for ABA programs are often placed on long waiting lists due to a shortage of trained providers. 

“A child with autism who receives ABA therapy before entering school has a greater chance of not needing specialized education, saving families and public schools thousands of dollars per year,” said Ivy Zwicker, director of the Autism Treatment Center – San Antonio. “This partnership is geared toward combining resources and services so we can decrease wait times to access ABA services. We hope to ensure increased access for all as the partnership grows in coming years." 

The SAABA Project, through its ATC Clinic and future initiatives, aims to mitigate these issues by focusing on training parents and future practitioners in ABA services and focusing on underserved and culturally diverse populations. 

In addition to providing ABA services to help children with autism, the clinic will serve as a training ground for graduate students in UTSA’s ABA program. The program, geared towards professionals working in clinical or school settings, provides UTSA students with the knowledge and skills to develop proficiency in the application of applied behavior analysis to the treatment of challenging behavior and experience working with collaborative medical and educational teams to provide top tier services. 

The SAABA Project was made possible through funding from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) Autism Program, and a grant from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation Fund of the San Antonio Area Foundation.

Photo courtesy of University Communications

View the original story on the UTSA Today website:

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