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Changing the landscape of behavioral and mental health

| | 5 mins.
Written By: Kelsey Thompson | Posted On: 05/03/2022

For his whole life, Adam* feared the doctor. He especially dreaded having his blood pressure taken. Every trip to the doctor was an ordeal for Adam and those around him. While no one liked to see him struggle, the blood pressure readings were necessary. 

Adam is a person with autism, which made helping him manage his discomfort and fear at the doctor’s office difficult. In fact, Adam’s autism made much of his day-to-day life difficult – the world around him didn’t accommodate his needs. Then, Adam and his family found Firefly. 

Firefly is a nonprofit organization that uses the principles of assent-based and values-based practices to ensure a person-centered approach to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for individuals on the autism spectrum. With collaboration from families and other providers, Firefly delivers services through individualized behavior plans and instructional goals that meet their client’s interests, values and support needs. 

From early intervention programs, school-age programs, home and community based programs, and weekly social skills groups, Firefly serves everyone from children as young as 18 months to adults over 70 years. The organization’s ultimate goal is a world where individuals on the autism spectrum, their families and communities have access to the support and solutions needed to maximize learning potential and individual success. 

Firefly’s person-centered approach gave Adam the reins in his own treatment. 

Empowered, Adam was able to work closely with his behavioral technicians to navigate discomfort and ultimately reach success, allowing the doctor to take his blood pressure for the first time in years. Firefly helped him to gain control over his own life.

Adam is not an isolated case. Firefly has similar stories from hundreds of individuals and families who are not only able to better manage, but also celebrate, living with autism in a world that doesn’t often make it easy.

“Autism has no boundaries, so we knew we had to attach to an organization with a history of disrupting and dismantling stigmas while providing life changing support. We found this and more with Firefly and now our son is armed with skills to break barriers and ignite his own path,” said Firefly parent Nicole Taylor.

There are two main factors to Firefly’s proven success. The first is their focus on training their staff and ABA therapists across the country. Firefly’s training program is groundbreaking and data-driven. The second factor is their approach; Firefly is not a typical ABA organization. Their therapy is driven by the family and the patient rather than the provider. By putting consent and values first, Firefly has seen incredible results.

A transformative approach to training and education

Registered Behavioral Technicians are an integral part of the team and are the backbone of the various Firefly programs. 

Starting in 2020, MFF made a $1 million commitment over three years to create the Morgridge Family Fellowship. The in-house, state-of-the-art program allows Firefly to train Registered Behavioral Technicians (RBTs) and Board Certified Behavioral Analysts (BCBAs) on their assent-based and values-based approach to ABA therapy. The program fulfills the required 40 hours of training for free and prepares candidates for a competency assessment and exam by the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board to obtain credentials.

Many RBT courses often lack depth and practical application, with little to no actual engagement with individuals during training. The Firefly program, on the other hand, is designed, built and executed by experienced practitioners in the field. Their real world experience and expertise are built into the program, helping to best educate and prepare individuals entering the field. As a result, Firefly’s program places an emphasis on hands-on experience and offers a path to employment after certification.

Other critical members of Firefly’s team are the BCBAs, who bring vital expertise and mentorship to Firefly and ensure successful implementation of programs through supervision of the RBTs. 

Firefly provides free individual and group supervision for staff members to become BCBAs. The staff members complete a master’s level degree in Applied Behavioral Analysis, 2,000 hours of supervision and pass a board exam. In the last year alone, 12 staff members have obtained, or are on their way to obtaining, their BCBA credentials. 

These credentialing programs all serve to further Firefly’s overarching approach, which prioritizes building relationships with individuals, families and communities. 

The impact of consent and values-driven practice

“Meeting everyone where they are at, celebrating individuality and differences and encouraging meaningful growth is at the heart of what the Firefly team does every day,” said Dr. Amanda Kelly, Executive Director and CEO of Firefly Autism. 

Today, Firefly serves over 150 individuals between center-based and home-based services. They celebrate and nurture each individual journey – no two individuals on the autism spectrum are the same and their care should reflect that.

Like Adam, the individuals and families who work with Firefly experience victories big and small every single day. 

A five-year-old telehealth client, with limited language, has displayed phenomenal progress. By welcoming Firefly staff into their home, the boy, his family and his behavioral technician have broken down barriers and set him up for success.

Until a year ago, another young patient was dependent on prompts and assistive technology to speak. Recently, he independently used his talker to communicate a request with his parents – a huge win for the family.

Without Firefly’s person-centered approach, this progress may not have been possible. The Firefly team continues to expand their impact to reach more individuals and families, while changing perceptions of autism in the larger community and providing accurate resources and information on a national and international scale. 

To learn more about Firefly and to donate, visit fireflyautism.org

*Names and personally identifiable information have been changed to maintain anonymity where requested.