Garden Grove center gives mom hope
Therapy center works to combat mental-health stigmas, help autistic and developmentally disabled children and adults.
By the time her severely autistic daughter, Vicky, was nine, Vivian Ngo had seen it all – the violent outbursts and fits of rage in supermarket aisles, the suppressed anger over her inability to speak.
Vicky was diagnosed with autism when she was two and for the next seven years Ngo attempted to treat her child’s symptoms and combat her behavior at home, often by searching for solutions on Google.
Frustrated and tired, Ngo sought professional help four years ago, turning to a behavioral center in Garden Grove to treat Vicky, and Ngo’s teenage son, Danny, who was diagnosed with a milder form of autism.
“I was exhausted,” said Ngo, who shares a Garden Grove apartment with her children and husband, Andy, who works long days at a medical-supply company. “I felt lonely, like there was no one helping me. I asked God why did he give me these kids?”
Therapists from the center, Behavioral Health Works, use applied behavioral analysis to treat children and adults with autism and other developmental disorders. The center works primarily in Garden Grove and Westminster to help families living in ethnic communities where parents, faced with language barriers and cultural stigmas over mental health, sometimes don’t seek out treatment for their children.
“For one, it’s already a stigma to receive help, especially in the mental health field,” said Rob Douk, a refugee from Cambodia who migrated to Long Beach with his parents when he was one and is the founder and executive director of the therapy center. “Marital problems and issues with your child can be very humbling.”
Started in 2008 by Douk in the Kitchen of his home in Orange with two therapists, the center has expanded considerably, moving in December into a corner of a Knott Street industrial mall. The center is funded primarily through the California Department of Developmental Services and receives many patient referrals from doctors.
Although co-payments for families can be high, nonprofit regional centers funded by the department work to provide financial help for families in need. And thanks to recent legislation, some treatment for children and adults with autism is now insured.
The center, full of therapy rooms and cubicles with sliding-glass doors and exposed black piping in the ceiling, looks more like the offices of a Silicone Valley tech start-up than a behavioral therapy center in Garden Grove.
Therapists practice applied behavioral analysis – a way of teaching someone how to modify their behavior. A lesson could be as seemingly simple as teaching a child prone to violent outbursts to squeeze their palms to release anxiety rather than lashing out physically.
“What we do is not anything overly complex,” said Douk, a 33-year-old board-certified behavioral analyst. “It’s really just good teaching”
Clinical supervisors work with a staff of 120 trained therapists who visit homes of 250 local families the center provides services to. The center treats patients from 2 to 32 years old.
Staff members reach out globally, too – to places like Vietnam and Cambodia, where disabilities like autism and Down syndrome often go untreated.
More people than ever before are being diagnosed with autism. About 1 in 88 is diagnosed with a form of autism, according to a report released in 2012 by the National Center on Birth Defects and Development Disabilities.
On a recent afternoon, therapist Marie Medeck sat next to Vicky, now 13 and still nonverbal, as the girl tapped icons on her iPad to help her communicate. They spend two hours together several days a week.
“She’s a completely different kid,” Medeck said, recalling a time when Vicky was much more prone to tantrums and loud outbursts.
Vicky’s brother, Danny, is earning high grades at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, where he is a sophomore. He wants to become an architect.
Vivian Ngo has taught her children how to interact with strangers and confront bullies. Once mired in dread, Ngo is now full of hope – working with her children and spending much of her time with other parents struggling with their autistic children, teaching them that it’s never too late to get help for their kids.
“I’ve learned a lot of things – how to be patient, how to work with my child and other people,” Ngo said. “Now, I feel so lucky to have both my children.”
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Original Article: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/center-528029-children-ngo.html