Chatting With: Charlene, Director Of Autism Behavioral Center (ABC)

Hi Charlene, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed! Tell us about yourself.

Thank you having me back! My name is Charlene, and I am the Director of ABC (Autism Behavioral Center), Malaysia’s largest 1:1 intervention center in Malaysia. I started off 11 years ago, as a therapist myself. Upon seeing and experiencing for myself how the science of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) changed and improved the lives of children with developmental delays, I then challenged myself to gain as much experience working with children, teens and adults on the spectrum; which lead me to open Autism Consultancy about 7 years ago, and today, ABC.

What inspired you to open Autism Behavioral Center (ABC)?

What inspired me was predominantly the lack of quality intervention here in Malaysia, and I felt I needed to address this. Due to the lack of standardization, qualification and training, there are many individuals and centers that were claiming to provide “ABA therapy”, without supervision or continuous training. I opened ABC with the aspiration to be the best clinically advanced intervention center in Malaysia, providing international standards of intervention to individuals with developmental delays.

How is ABC different from other ABA centers in Malaysia?

Firstly, it’s the approach and technology we use here in ABC. ABC is the only center in Malaysia to implement PATTAN (Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network) technology developed by Dr. Amiris Dipuglia and Mr. Mike Miklos, both of which are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). All programming and supervision in ABC is conducted by our clinical advisor, Ms. Dita Chapman, who is also a BCBA. ABA, as I have mentioned is a science, hence having a BCBA supervising the programming and children’s progress is imperative to ensure high quality of services.

Additionally on top of continued training and supervision from Ms. Dita and Dr. Amiris, ABC’s infrastructure is quite unique. Each child has their own classroom (1 child: 1 room: 1 therapist). ABC has 40 individual therapy rooms.

When a child has acquired sufficient skills in communication, they have the opportunity to join in small group instructions (dyad’s= 2 kids, triad’s= 3 kids).

What’s ABA and how does the Individualised Education Plan (IEP) work?

Is a misconception that ABA is a ‘therapy’. It is not, ABA is a SCIENCE. Basically when we refer to what is known as ABA therapy, this basically means behavioral therapy using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA is the gold-standard treatment approach for autism spectrum disorder. ABA is the only research-based treatment for autism with findings that almost 50% of young children who receive good quality intensive ABA are able to catch up to their typical developmental age. ABA has over 100 scientific and peer-reviewed journal articles to support the effectiveness of the ABA treatment.

IEP’s are basically short term and long term goals that are set by the team and the family. EIP goals are decided based on the childs current ability, and the suitable language, social skills, life/school skills and behaviour expectations over the next 6-12 months of intervention. The IEP should be reviewed at least twice a year (depending on how extensive the goals are), and once skills are achieved, new goals are created.

Can you tell us how to spot the earliest warning signs of autism? And, if the child meets all the diagnostic criteria for autistic disorder; where do they go next from there?

I would say the best way to spot early signs of autism is to spend time with your child. Some of the very early red flags to look out for (even for children younger than 12 months old) is;

  • Your child does not respond to their name
  • Your child does not point
  • No babbling is present, and if your child is closer to 2 years old, your child should be able to request with words consistently
  • Your child does not reciprocate smiles (seems to be non-responsive)
  • Poor eye contact  
  • Leads you to items by pulling your hand Vs pointing or verbalising
  • Incredibly picky eater
  • Frequent meltdowns and tantrums

If your child shows more than one of these red flags, please make an appointment to see a developmental paediatrician, child psychologist or child psychiatrist. If you are put on a waitlist (which is common) of more than 3 months, my advice is to start intervention as soon as possible as the delay in milestones and skills is clear. For many centers like ABC, we are able to start intervention without a formal diagnosis.

What are the most common misconceptions about autism?

Autism is caused by putting my child in front of the TV/Ipad.

Autism is caused by the mother.

Autism is caused due to the lack of the family spending time with the child.

Autism can be cured with non-evidence based interventions like diets, stem cell therapy, dolphin/animal therapy, massages, essential oils, supplements. This causes more harm than good as this makes your child a live guinea pig!

Do you have any plans in place for further expansion?

Yes we hope to open the next center within the next 12 months. The timeline has been delayed due to the pandemic, but we hope to be in every state in Malaysia, supporting all families around the country!

Last question, name 5 important parenting books every parent should read and why. Feel free to suggest more than 5. 

Parenting books, this is a hard one! I would say for families dealing with children with needs, I would recommend:

The Verbal Behavior Approach: How to teach children with autism and related disorders by Mary Lynch Barbera

A Work in Progress: Behavior Management Strategies and a Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism by Ronald Burton Leaf

The Autistic Brain by Temple Grandin

To add in, here’s 3 suggestions of movies you can watch to better understand autism!

Atypical (2019, Netflix series)

Adam (2009)

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)


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