Tammy Cline-Soza’s passion for her work is evident when she describes the new Behavior Exchange center she opened in Frisco in June and the families and children whose lives are impacted by it. The center offers Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Cline-Soza is a board-certified behavior analyst, and she works alongside her husband, Walter – who handles The Behavior Exchange’s graphics and marketing – and her brother, Adam – who is also a behavior analyst and is clinical director for the business. Cline-Soza has two children – River is 5, and Sierra is almost 3. River loves dinos, reptiles and has helped with The Behavior Exchange’s tadpole tank. Sierra is active and outgoing and calls the shots at home.
How long have you been interested in behavior therapy?
As an undergrad I did in-home therapy through the North Texas Autism Project and was struck by the number of families who were in need and the lack of resources available to help them. I worked with a particular little boy who changed my life. Seeing his progress through ABA set me on my journey - and to that family, I am forever grateful. That is when I decided to major in Behavior Analysis and commit myself to helping as many children and families as I could.
How common is ABA in the autism community?
Applied Behavior Analysis is the scientific study of behavior - it creates an understanding of behaviors and the way they are affected by environmental changes, people, time of day, skills, deficits and other variables. ABA is the application of the principles of learning and reinforcement and it is scientifically proven and recommended to be the treatment of choice for children with autism. It is intended to reduce harmful or distracting behaviors while increasing positive behaviors that promote productive learning. Techniques such as discrete trial, natural environment training and positive reinforcement are often utilized within ABA to achieve the personalized goals of each child.
Why did you think it was important to provide a resource for families of children with autism?
With one in 68 children diagnosed on the spectrum, autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder. Through my over 20 years of providing behavior therapy, I see time and time again how ABA helps children with autism spectrum disorders, behavioral issues, developmental delays, and other special needs – and early intervention is critical. That is why The Behavior Exchange focuses efforts on children 2 to 12 years of age.
Why is The Behavior Exchange expanding to Frisco now?
We’ve offered therapy in our ever-expanding Plano location for 13 years, but our services are in high demand. Many of our families live in Frisco and we know that we can help many more families there. We were very excited to open our new 7,500 sq. foot facility in Frisco in June. It is state of the art and custom designed to meet the specific needs of our clients in what we consider an ideal environment for them and our staff. It is more than just another facility, it is a place where children and staff can be the best they can be. Frisco is the epicenter of technology and innovation and we have integrated these into our facility and program for our clients and the families we serve.
What types of services do you provide?
The Behavior Exchange utilizes the science of Applied Behavior Analysis and database decision-making to ensure clients are making progress and problem behavior is decreasing. We have a propriety curriculum which provides us with a very robust library of programs to teach academics and other vital skills, from motor and communication skills to daily living and social skills.
Our treatment programs offer individualized, early-start therapy, and education programs for children of all abilities and ages. Treatments are personalized to fit each child's unique needs and can include one-on-one sessions, group therapy, or real-life training situations.
Children under 5 years old take part in our school readiness program known as B.E.E.S. (Behavior Exchange Early Start). It is designed to help them develop socially appropriate behaviors for interaction with peers. School-aged children (up to 12 years old), who have difficulty interacting with peers and making friends, are involved in social skills groups which focus on improving social skills in an engaging, active, low pressure and FUN environment.
To support what the child is doing and learning at The Behavior Exchange, we offer parent training which may include group and individual training on specific topics, training on fundamentals of behavior interventions, communicating with their child and provide them tools to teach social skills at home.
We also help parents select a school, or placements within a school, as well as help them navigate school ARD meetings and recommend plans to ensure their child’s needs are met.
How can these help families?
Autism can significantly impact a child’s success in social settings and academic environments. The early intervention we undertake is important as it allows children and families the opportunity to model social skills, personal skills and learning skills which need to be obtained to enter kindergarten and which set the child up for success throughout childhood.
“What could be, can be.” We know what we do is life changing for children and families. So, we strive to be a shining beacon of hope for the community and all those we serve.
In your experience, what are some common challenges parents have?
Parents of children with autism have high levels of stress as well as divorce rates. The challenges of raising a child with special needs includes uncertainty about the future, inconsistency in parenting techniques, feelings of guilt related to siblings due to attention being so focused on the child with special needs, financial difficulty due to the costs of therapy, having to bring a child to and from therapy and appointments with different providers that can make having a job difficult, lack of childcare options that the family has confidence in, feelings of isolation and not being understood.
We work hard to provide a place where the parents can find answers to these challenges and know that their child is in the best environment and care possible. We make it FUN and hopeful yet challenging for the child. We communicate techniques to allow the parents to be consistent with our program and with each other. We offer Stay and Play for siblings to come and join in the fun. We work with families to achieve a schedule that works for them and customize according to their needs. We offer full-day programming for working parents. We offer Parent’s Night Out so parents can go on a date night or get a massage or just relax for an evening.
When do parents know when to speak to their doctor about early signs of autism?
Parents should speak to their doctor if they have concerns about their child. Trust your instincts. If your child is not making eye contact, is not speaking or able to communicate by pointing, if your child has repetitive or stereotypical behaviors, if your child is engaging in severe problem behavior, it is best to have your child evaluated. Years ago, families hesitated to get a diagnosis. However, currently it is advised as it allows your child to access additional supports and protections in the school system as well as allows for insurance coverage for therapy services. You don’t have to have a diagnosis to begin therapy, but you often do for insurance to fund therapy.
What advice do you have for parents who are just receiving a diagnosis for their kids?
Begin therapy as soon as possible. Educate yourself on behavioral interventions and know that there is very effective help available. Find a provider you trust and have confidence in. Know that you can learn techniques and strategies that will empower you and your child. Celebrate the small successes. Take it one day at a time. Know that many parents have walked this journey. Find a support network and lean on them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take care of yourself. Know that we are here to help support you however we can. Be an advocate for your child but always appreciate the great efforts people go to for your family. Focus on communication skills with your child. Communication abilities prevent problem behavior and are the stepping stone for all other skills. Pace yourself and know that some days will be challenging…have a plan of how you can care for yourself on those days. Have high expectations for your child and provide reasonable challenges for them to keep them improving.
What type of volunteer work do you do?
I am excited that we will be working with Hatching Hope, a non-profit serving the African American autism community in South Dallas. South Dallas has virtually no resources available to help children with autism. As Medicaid does not yet fund ABA services, the founder of Hatching Hope, Sabrina Vaughn (love her!) and I are looking for creative ways to bring ABA to her families. We are working to provide a robust parent training program to the community as a starting point and will work from there. I am very committed to helping families who otherwise can’t access ABA service and look for ways to make systemic and sustainable supports available to them.