Meet Our Founder

about-penny-lathum2

In 1993 my oldest son was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not Otherwise Specified (PDD/NOS). He was three years old at the time and appeared to be regressing with speech, loss of eye contact, and wasn’t playing with other children. He had a lot of repetitive behaviors and was difficult to manage especially during times of transition. In 1994 we had him reevaluated by another doctor who diagnosed him with Autistic Disorder.  In addition to these diagnoses my son also received many more as he grew up. As the years went by we discovered a variety of medical conditions through genetic testing, EKG’s, EEG’s, MRI’s, and blood work. The number of doctor appointments and treatments were overwhelming and I truly know what parents are going through whose children are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other medical conditions today. Not only was I overwhelmed by feeling the pressures to search for a cure, but I also felt a huge sense of guilt wondering where this condition came from and how did it happen? My pregnancy was perfect. I ate all the right foods, followed all of the doctors directions, and didn’t have any issues during delivery. He was a healthy little boy. For his first few years he seemed perfectly normal to me. As a mother I felt compelled to search for answers. I also realized that my son needed help learning new skills and the sooner the better.

pennys-kidAt the time of my son’s initial ASD diagnosis we decided to start an Early Intensive Behavioral Therapy (EIBT) program to teach him how to talk, play, and become independent at home. A team from UCLA supervised by Dr. O Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D. came to my home to train me and the staff that I had gathered to work with my son. They developed a Treatment Plan and they taught us the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis and showed us how to use these principals to manage my son’s behaviors so that he can learn new skills. We became one of the first Home Programs run by parents using Applied Behavior Analysis to treat children with autism. An organization named Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) formed in Sacramento, CA in 1993 and we were able to receive grant funding to pay for the training through this non-profit organization. I became very involved, even writing and developing the first Parent Handbook and Resource Guide for new members of FEAT in 1994. For two years I ran monthly parent resource meetings and I got involved with fund-raising by joining committees planning dinner auctions and other events. I made new friends and by connecting with other parents I was able to get the emotional support that I needed to get through the toughest of times. I am forever grateful for the FEAT organization and for those parents before me who wrote that original FEAT grant so that my son could get the treatment that he needed. We happened to be at the right place at the right time and I feel so fortunate. For more information about the history of the FEAT organization click here.

For two years we ran a home program for my son 40 hours a week. He worked Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM with a two hour break at 12:00 for lunch and nap. His treatment team worked in two hour shifts which was a combination of him working at a small table doing discrete trials with short breaks on the floor playing with toys and then longer breaks outside between team member’s shifts. He worked on language, play, academics, and self-care. He learned to talk, ride a bike, play with toys, play with peers, and one year into therapy he attended a private preschool program a few mornings a week with one of his team members as a shadow aide. By the time my son was six years old he was reading on a first grade level, doing double digit subtraction with borrowing, and was playing roller blade hockey on our street with all the kids in the neighborhood. The day my son was included in general education kindergarten was one of the happiest of my life. I remember how nervous I was feeling wondering if other parents or children would notice that there was something different about my son. He wasn’t 100% normal, but his IQ score was raised to normal levels and he was able to participate in general education and that was all that mattered to me. I was so proud of how far he came and how much he had learned from home. Everything that we had taught him from the intensive early intervention set him up for success in school and I do believe that my involvement in his treatment was a key factor in his success, because I could take every skill that was being taught to him by his team and generalize it into his natural environment. I attended every team meeting and educated myself on how I could change what I do as a parent so that I could help my son learn and grow. I can’t imagine where he would have been had we not intervened when we did. This is what had inspired me to make a career change and to take what I had learned from my son and help others have the same results. My number one goal in starting a business was to get the children young and work as hard as I could teaching them new skills so that they can be included in a general education class by kindergarten. I do believe that more learning happens in the home than at school and that is why my company is home-based and not clinic-based. There is a time and a place for school and when the children are young it is vital that they receive 1:1 intervention on targeted skills that are broken down into simple steps so that they can learn.

Because I was a mother first, I witnessed firsthand how effective Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) intervention, especially at an early age, can be if managed by the right people. This has made me even more dedicated, strong minded and passionate about the treatment programs we offer our clients. I have a very strong scientific and analytical background with over 20 years of experience. I am personally dedicated to staying current on the science and research related to ABA and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

I have personally navigated through false prophets who feed off of vulnerable parents of newly diagnosed children and nothing angers me more than to see a naïve parent buying into false promises of a cure through frauds seeking to make a profit for their own businesses selling products and treatments that have not been researched and/or proven to be effective.  It distracts parents attention away from what really matters and it drains them of their finances and sets them up emotionally to fail.  The guilt parents feel for not trying everything can be emotionally taxing on a family.  Applied Behavior Analysis is currently considered the most effective treatment for children with autism and through my own firsthand experiences with my son and my business, I am a big believer in its effectiveness.  With that said, I do want to be clear that ABA is not a cure or a quick fix. It’s hard work and it isn’t something every parent can handle and not all children make as much progress as my son did. Autism Spectrum Disorder effects each child differently and some are more severely affected than others. I believe every child can learn something new and ABA is the way to do it. Our goal as a company is to reduce behaviors that interfere with learning and to teach new skills so that your child can feel successful.

Penny Lathum, M.Ed., BCBA, AAC
Board Certified Behavior Analyst – #1-10-7087
Owner/Director of Eastside Social Skills Therapy, LLC