The Ascension Sacred Heart Autism Center at the Studer Family Children's Hospital is the region's leading expert on diagnosis and treatment for children on the autism spectrum and their families.
Our mission is to provide early diagnosis and early intervention service to children under the age of 12 on the autism spectrum and to train their caregivers to implement behavior intervention in the home, in the school and in their community settings.
At the Autism Center, our multi-disciplinary team provides a range of services for children on the autism spectrum, including:
- Diagnosis and medical management
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Feeding therapy
- Parent instruction and hands-on training
- Social skills groups for various ages
- Group training for families and professional
The Autism Center includes:
- Six private treatment rooms
- A large open space to be used for treatment, as well as caregiver-education classes
- "Calm," low-sensory room equipped with a Vecta Mobile Sensory Station, which is designed to calm autistic children using a stereo, interactive bubble column, projector and colorful fiber-optic "tails" for children to braid or comb with their fingers.
For more information, please call the Autism Center at 850-416-4933.
Focusing on Family-Centered Care
At The Children's Hospital, we understand that each family has unique needs, and we strongly encourage you to be an active participant in your child's therapy sessions, since family involvement makes an enormous impact on the effectiveness of a child's treatment. You are a valued member of your child's care team, and your input regarding your child's goals and treatment is a valued and necessary component of our services.
We also understand families need help and support in order to improve their child's behavior, communication and social skills. To help your child succeed and to support you along this journey, we offer parent-training classes, individual consultation and hands-on instruction to maximize progress and achieve more significant gains.
Parent Education Classes
Our team offers the following classes to help you along your child's journey with autism. Space is limited, and pre-registration is required for all classes. Classes are open to all families facing autism in the community, no matter where you are receiving treatment. For more information and to see a complete list of class dates, please click on the links below:
- What to Do While You Wait - If your child has recently been diagnosed with autism – or if you are currently awaiting an evaluation – the future may seem overwhelming! This free class will help connect you with community resources and provide tips for addressing your child's behaviors. Learn more and register here.
- ABCs of ABA - This free class is designed to help parents of children with autism learn more about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), how this therapy can benefit your child and what to look for when choosing an ABA-based autism center for your child's care. Our instructors will provide tips for parenting an autistic child, such as how to handle tantrums and manage mealtime meltdowns. Learn more and register. Learn more and register here.
- Parent Empowerment Program- This 12-hour multi-session class is a hands-on learning opportunity to explore the basics of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and how to apply these techniques in working with children who struggle with problem behaviors, language deficits, and/or social impairments. PEP is taught by a board-certified behavior analyst and costs $120/person or $180/couple. Onsite child care is available during this class series by contacting Autism Pensacola at 850-434-7171. Learn more and register here.
Partnering with Local Resources
Collaboration is important to us. We coordinate with your child's teachers, physicians, therapists and additional family members in order to help your child achieve maximum progress. We also partner with the University of West Florida, CARD, Autism Pensacola, Inc., Early Steps and the local school districts.
As an official practicum site for interns in the University of West Florida's Master's-Level ABA program, we are academically focused and leading our field using the latest research and best practices for our patients. Students conduct research, connect the latest research to practice and gain hands-on feedback from our experienced board-certified Behavior Analysts. Individualized data is monitored regularly by our leaders, and changes and adjustments are made according to specific protocols and feedback.
Setting the Standard for Autism Intervention
Our mission is to be recognized as a center of excellence, so our team sets standards far above those required by both insurance companies and the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Our strategies are based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA uses scientifically validated principles, such as motivation, reinforcement and prompting to improve important behaviors. That means increasing skills we want to see while eliminating or decreasing those that interfere with learning and the ability to develop new skills. Every member of our staff receives extensive training on these techniques. We have expertise in Verbal Behavior, a specialized type of ABA that focuses on the use of language and communication skills.<
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services
Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
Ages 18 months to 5 years
The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a research-based assessment, curriculum and intervention program for children ages 18 months to 5 years who have been diagnosed with autism or who exhibit characteristics of autism. In this model, a parent and child meet with a board-certified behavior analyst or registered behavior technician one to two times per week for a duration of three to six months. During a coaching session, the parent works directly with the child and the therapist provides coaching and support. The therapist and parent work together to develop a plan for implementing strategies throughout the child's day in a variety of activities. The parent is then responsible for putting the plan into action and keeping notes on progress.
COMPASS Family Navigation
Ages 5 years to 12 years
COMPASS is an ABA-based family training program designed to help caregivers become an agent of change for their child. The program consists of two, 1.5- to 2-hour sessions per week over a period of 6 months.
Brief Behavioral Interventions
Ages 5 years to 12 years
Brief Behavioral Interventions is our step-up program for children who qualify for the COMPASS program but may need more frequent sessions to achieve their goals. The program consists of three, 1.5- to 2-hour sessions per week over a period of 6 months. After completing the BBI program, children may continue into the COMPASS program if additional services are needed.
Ages 18 months to 12 years
For children on our wait list, we offer 1- to 2-hour behavior consultation services with a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) to address one specific behavior goal. The consults are available in-person or via telemedicine (online) and are not covered by insurance. Fees are $55 per hour and are due at the time of service.
Speech and feeding therapy
Our pediatric speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are expertly trained to assess, diagnose and treat disorders or delays related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, feeding/swallowing, articulation, fluency and social skills in children of all ages. Services are collaborative with Occupational Therapy (OT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapies as needed.
Our specialized training includes:
- Augmentative and Alternative Communications (AAC/voice output devices)
- Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS)
- Sign Language
- Feeding therapy for food aversions and oral-motor difficulties
- Home programming/parent education
- Neurodevelopmental treatment for oral-motor
- movement disorders (ex: Apraxia)
- Auditory processing therapy
- Language processing therapy
- Social skills therapy
Pediatric occupational therapists (OTs) help children with everyday life skills and tasks. Our occupational therapists will evaluate and provide treatment to maximize independence in the child's daily "jobs," which are age dependent and may include:
- Cutting with scissors
- Hygiene skills (tooth brushing, toileting, etc.)
- Independence in self-feeding
- Playing with others
- Playing with toys
- Sensory Integration
Social skills therapy
Our social skills therapy program offers individualized therapy plans for children of various ages. The treatment plans are created based on the child's needs and administered during direct intervention and/or in social groups with similar age peers. The children in social groups meet weekly to practice skills such as problem-solving during disagreements, conversation skills, positive peer interactions, emotional regulation, reading and using non-verbal language appropriately, and cooperative play through games and therapeutic activities that help reinforce appropriate social skills. Certain social groups meet monthly at locations in the community in order to practice social skills in other environments (ex: bowling, restaurants, mini-golf).
For more information on services offered at the Autism Center of The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart or to schedule an appointment, please call our office at 850-416-4933.
All services at the Autism Center – except for behavioral consultations – require a physician referral and prior authorization from your insurance company. Please contact your child's primary care physician for a referral, and ask that they fax a referral form and script to 850-416-7776.