Girl with autism has breakthrough with ABA therapy

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Katie Clements is 7 and she's got plenty to smile about. Therapy has changed her world.

She's a part of applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, through the Henry Ford Health System. Katie's mom takes us back 3 years, when she first learned her daughter was on the autism spectrum. She didn't know what to do. 

"I remember feeling this was our last shot, that if we didn’t' do something and we didn't do something soon she was going to fall behind, and she was going to face a lifetime of struggles. It was very, very heartbreaking as a parent to sit there and look at this little girl that you can't help," she says. 

Katie had delayed speech, delayed potty training, would hardly eat anything except a blueberry muffin and really struggled socially. Then she started ABA therapy. 

"We saw this funny little girl emerging out of the hitting and the screaming and then I knew it was worth it. And then it was, 'Okay. What can I do? Let me do this at home,'' her mother says.

Autism is a neuro developmental disorder that affects a child's communication and social skills. ABA therapy works by figuring out how to break through to a child. 

"The primary goal is to help the child reduce any disruptive behaviors - behaviors of tantruming, self-aggression, any repetitive behaviors really interfering with their ability to learn -  while building on those skills of communication and social interaction," says Dr. Tisa Johnson-Hooper, medical director of the Henry Ford Health System Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

Katie's mom now takes the lessons learned at therapy and continues it at home and, even though the progress comes slowly, it's so satisfying. 

"But now three years later the tears come to my eyes because she's made so much progress and because she's grown so much. Now I know it was worth it. Now I know that all the fighting, all the tears, all the struggles, she's going to be just fine," says Mom. 

There is an event to find resources and to find other families in the area living with autism. It's the 11th Annual Living with Autism Workshop. It's sponsored by Metro Parent Magazine and Henry Ford Health System. It's Friday May 4 at Detroit Marriott on Big Beaver Road in Troy. Tickets may be purchased at