Autism treatment offerings expand in Madison

An increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, and a state mandate for insurance coverage of autism treatment, has led to an expansion of autism treatment services in the Madison area.

UW-Madison’s Waisman Center, which has long had a clinic that can diagnose children with autism, started offering behavioral treatment for the condition in May.

Integrated Development Services and the Wisconsin Early Autism Project, two of the main autism treatment organizations in Madison, started offering treatment at their centers, instead of only in children’s homes, in recent years.

And Family Path Autism Services opened in Madison last year, focusing on therapy for young children.

Molly Murphy, PhD, BCBA-D
Molly Murphy, PhD, BCBA-D

“As the numbers have increased, there has been an increase in the need for services,” said Molly Murphy, the Waisman Center’s autism treatment services manager.

The new offerings at centers, instead of homes, can be especially helpful for working parents because at-home treatment requires an adult to be home, said Tamlynn Graupner, co-founder and CEO of the Wisconsin Early Autism Project.

“Either the couple had to hire a nanny or one of the two of them had to quit work,” Graupner said. “I felt like that was really unfortunate.”

There is no cure for autism, a developmental disability that can cause social and behavioral challenges. But early intervention treatment can improve a child’s outcome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, 1 in 68 school-age children are identified as having autism spectrum disorder, the CDC reported in March. That is unchanged from 2014 but up from 1 in 88 two years earlier and 1 in 110 two years before that.

The national rate is based on surveys in parts of 11 states — including Wisconsin, where Dane County and nine other southern counties take part.

In the most recent report, Wisconsin’s rate is 1 in 92, which is lower than the national rate. But the state’s rate is up from two years ago, when it was 1 in 102.

The state started requiring insurers to cover autism treatment in 2009.

The Waisman Center, in connection with UW Health, now has three treatment programs for autism: Starting Together, which includes intensive therapy for children ages 2 to 6; Growing Together, for school-age children and their parents; and Transitioning Together, for teenagers or young adults and their parents.

The early childhood program is available daily for one-on-one treatment involving applied behavioral analysis and a curriculum called the Early Start Denver Model, along with group activities.

The program focuses on helping children verbalize, interact with others and learn non-verbal cues, Murphy said.

The school-age program emphasizes skills such as calming strategies after emotional outbursts, she said.

The transitioning program helps teenagers or young adults develop reflective thinking and covers issues for parents such as planning future care for children through wills and trusts.

Those programs are offered weekly for two or three months.

Integrated Development Services added center-based treatment to its at-home services in 2011, regional director Becky Burns said.

It has an early childhood program for children ages 2 to 6 and an after-school program for older children and adults.

The Wisconsin Early Autism Project opened Friendship Tree, a preschool for children with autism, in 2013.

With individual rooms equipped as bedrooms, the preschool offers behavioral therapy and helps children learn to be safe in their bedrooms at home, Graupner said.

Jamie Soper, of Madison, enrolled Emily, her 3-year-old daughter with autism, at Friendship Tree more than a year ago. She said she was glad to find an alternative to at-home treatment.

“The idea of her being with other kids all day and getting social interaction as well as her therapy seemed really important to us,” Soper said.

Family Path Autism Services, which opened in January 2015, focuses on early intervention for children ages 18 to 72 months, said Brian Garlock, co-founder and chief operating officer. Its services are offered in homes, he said.

This story originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal and can be accessed at

By David Wahlberg, via the Wisconsin State Journal