Why I chose Applied Behavior Analysis Indiana


By Angela Vargas, M.S., BCBA

Like most other kids, I went through my list of what I wanted to be when I grew up: a lawyer (…too boring), a law and order SVU detective (…too scary), a wedding planner (…I probably wouldn’t be much good at that). This all changed when I learned that my younger cousin was diagnosed with autism. Initially, it didn’t affect me much. He lived in Colombia and my family had already moved to the United States by then. It was only a label. Then, my cousin’s family came to Wisconsin for a visit. Although he was only about 3 years old, I noticed slight differences in the way he interacted with others. “This must be the autism,” I thought.

As I got older, I heard my parents talking about the different hardships my cousin and his family faced in Colombia; limited resources and knowledge about autism being the two most prominent ones. My aunt and uncle tried to find a logical reason behind the diagnosis. Was it the Coke they gave him to drink when he was a baby? Whose side of the family did it come from? How was his birth different than that of his brother’s? All of these questions, left unanswered, only increased the familial tension. Finally, my aunt decided she would get her certificate in ABA at the University of North Texas so that she could be better informed about autism and hopefully guide my cousin’s treatment. Additionally, my cousin would make several trips to Florida to receive the needed therapy.

As it may come to no surprise, I ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the field of autism. After doing some research and talking to those in the field, I was given two recommendations: become a behavior analyst or a special education teacher. “Behavior analyst it is!” I thought, and I haven’t looked back since. Choosing to become a BCBA, while on a whim, was the best decision I have ever made. I have a profession, which I not only love, but one that constantly challenges me. Very few individuals can say that they are excited to get up and go to work every day; I am fortunate to be one of those who can. Each learner teaches me something different about life and resilience. Every milestone met, no matter how big or small, is groundbreaking. We all have a reason for pursuing a career in this field. Many of us have likely been affected by autism personally. Each and every time I work with a new learner, my cousin comes to mind. He may not have received the needed services. His family may not have been provided with the necessary support and information. He may not have had access to a service provider like LSC, something unheard of in Colombia. Luckily, I have the opportunity to be sure that his story is one never told by any of the families I work with. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Angela Vargas is a program manager at Little Star Center.

An Article You May Have Missed: For Kids With Autism, Wings to Fly

The December 3, 2012 issue of People magazine features a Heroes Among Us article which includes Wendy Ross, a pediatrician in Philadelphia.  Ross developed an air-travel program at Philadelphia International Airport with clinicians and airlines that allows children with autism the opportunity to practice everything related to air travel including check-in, security screening, and boarding a flight so as to reduce challenging behaviors.  Parents are finding the program a huge help in making air travel a smoother experience.  According to the article, United Airlines starts rolling out the program this month nationally through Ross’s Autism Inclusion Resources (AIR), the nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children with autism prepare for air travel.

Little Star Research and Training Director, Tim Courtney said, “Research indicates that children with autism are often very anxious, much more so then their same-aged peers. Treatments to help children with autism overcome their anxieties are gaining widespread acceptance due to their effectiveness. We’ve had great success at Little Star addressing anxieties related to the dentist, loud and obnoxious hand dryers, and haircuts. The article does not include particular information about the intervention being used to address fear of flying or other issues related to travel e.g. waiting in line, loud noisy environments, etc., but I would bet it is very similar to the desensitization approach we have implemented.”

The Hoosier Association for Behavior Analysis (HABA) 2012 Conference

Little Star (LSC) staff recently attended the fourth Hoosier Association for Behavior Analysis (HABA) Conference.  HABA, the state chapter of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI), brought in Dr. David Celberti, executive director for The Association for Science and Autism Treatment (ASAT) to provide the keynote address: “Science: Don’t Treat Autism Without It (that applies to everyone).”

The presentation highlighted the role that behavior analysts can play in helping consumers and other providers choose and implement interventions, as well as evaluate outcomes.

Although there are hundreds of autism interventions, most lack any scientific support; yet, such approaches prevail in many public schools and receive widespread media coverage. Science and scientific methods should serve as the foundation upon which treatments should be chosen, implemented, and evaluated.

Other topics the LSC staff enjoyed included: Dr. Wayne Fuqua’s “When Evidence Based Interventions Fall Short of the Treatment Goal: A Checklist for Trouble Shooting Treatment Failures” and Dr. Ernest Vargas’ “Language: Lingual Behavior.”

HABA “facilitates humane, ethical and effective behavioral practices in academic, research, home, school, clinic, community, and other settings.”  To this end, the organization promotes the basic science upon which the behavioral technology is grounded and supports the Behavior Analyst Certification Board as the appropriate credentialing body for practitioners of applied behavior analysis in the State of Indiana.

The Artistry of Gentry Groshell

Gentry Groshell, daughter of Amy Gudal Groshell—the founder of Little Star Center, is an amazing artist.  Her paintings grace the walls of Little Star’s centers in Carmel and Lafayette, Indiana as well as the Groshell home and the Duval County Public Library in Florida. The demand for her work is such that her canvases and jewelry collection are available for purchase via the website, peaceofheartjewelry.com.  Through her talent, Gentry has become an inspiration to other young people with autism and their families.

The story of Gentry’s journey in painting is chronicled in an excerpt in the article, “Healing Through the Arts,”  in the September 2012 issue of Autism File Magazine.  The piece discusses the Rainbow Artists project which was developed through a partnership with The HEAL Foundation: HEALing Every Autistic Life, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Jacksonville, FL, and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.  The art program was initially started by mothers of children with autism: Carol Lombardo, Cynthia Walburn, and Holly Green.

As noted in the article, “Art can play an important role in the lives of many children, teens, and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  It can be therapeutic, and gives the individual with autism an avenue of creativity and self-expression.  The activity of art can quell many of the stimulatory behaviors caused by the disorder and be a soothing and calming exercise for the participant.  Since many young children with autism have deficiencies in their gross and fine motor skills and are averse to learning new things, teachers and parents should explore the options art offers as a therapeutic tool.”

Gentry has severe autism and is non-verbal and constantly in motion.  When her mother noticed that Gentry calmed down when painting, she explored the MOCA program and discovered an outlet for her daughter’s energy and self-expression.

“Family and friends have all shared in the bittersweet journey with Gentry as we’ve navigated the storms of autism and mental illness,” said Amy Groshell. “I am happy that through her art, we have a venue to celebrate her life and all she has overcome.  May she continue to inspire us all.  God bless Gentry and all the other children, teens and adults trapped inside their minds.  May we not pity them, but see their lives as a source of inspiration and beauty.”






Errorless Learning: When the Learner is Always Right…

Little Star Center (LSC) — created by a family of a child with autism — was the first in Indiana to employ Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment, which has long been considered the most effective intervention method for children with autism.  ABA features several instructional approaches for consideration when developing a learner’s personal program. One of the ABA evidence-based procedures used by the Little Star clinical team is ‘errorless learning’ or ‘errorless teaching.’ Errorless learning is a strategy to ensure independence in the learner and foster success by systematically fading out assistance. Learners (or all people, actually) , at times, become frustrated or discouraged if they make a mistake and may hesitate to try a skill again. Or, the learner learns a skill incorrectly, which then needs to be corrected. Frequently making errors or being asked to do work that is too difficult may provoke problem behavior such as tantrums, aggression or self-injury.

Errorless learning is the technique of making sure the learner provides the right answer to a question every time, reducing or eliminating mistakes.  A key element of errorless teaching is the therapist prompting the answer when the learner appears uncertain; increasing the likelihood the learner makes the correct response. Prompts are extra cues or hints to help the learner know what to do in a particular situation or time (including physical assistance, pointing, demonstrating, showing a picture, writing a checklist, or asking what the learner wants).  In addition to prompts, errorless learning uses positive reinforcement to assure the skill is performed again.

The process at Little Star sometimes involves flashcards with pictures or words on them or pointing to something. The learner is asked to identify the appropriate item, by matching, selecting or naming it.  If the learner hesitates in responding, the therapist prompts him/her as many times as needed for the learner to understand what is required.  The therapist monitors how often the learner needs prompting and how often he/she responds unaided in order to determine when to decrease prompting.

If the learner makes an error during the process of learning something new, the therapist does not make negative comments, nor provide reinforcement or reward.  In these cases, the therapist withholds reinforcement and presents the instruction again providing an immediate full prompt of the correct answer or presents a new instruction.

As the learner performs the targeted skill independently, the therapist reduces prompting. Once the learner has mastered the skill, it is revisited periodically for maintenance purposes and the process begins again with a new skill.



10.24.2012  Little Star Center, 317.249.2242

© 2012-2013 Little Star Center, Inc. All rights reserved.


Autism Speaks Hails Landmark Federal Decision Calling Key Autism Therapy a ‘Medical’ Service Eligible for Insurance

Michele Trivedi, Little Star Board member and volunteer health insurance advocate, is an active member of the autism community, volunteers with the Autism Society of Indiana (ASI), the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA,) and Autism Speaks to promote health insurance coverage for autism across the country. Michele shares her thoughts about the recent landmark federal decision on autism therapy insurance coverage:

“We are very fortunate in Indiana, that through the advocacy of parents, IRCA, ASI and the Autism Research Centre (ARC), our state legislature recognized more than a decade ago that autism is a treatable neurological condition.  It also acknowledged that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a medical treatment for autism, when our Indiana Health Insurance Mandate was passed in 2000.

The recent decision by the federal government, noted in the Autism Speaks article, though not binding, will help all people with autism who do not currently have the benefit of health insurance coverage for autism by making it much more difficult for health insurance companies to claim that ABA is an “educational” program and not a medical treatment.  This will help families in Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) health plans (federally regulated health plans) to advocate for autism coverage.

Little Star Center has always been at the forefront in the efforts to advocate for insurance coverage for ABA therapy and will continue to assist in efforts to ensure that all children have access to quality ABA services and quality ABA health insurance coverage. We look forward to continuing to work with organizations like ASI, IRCA, the ARC and Autism Speaks.”

Michele serves on the Health Benefits Mandate Task Force for Indiana (appointed by Governor Daniels) and was appointed in 2002 by the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Insurance to represent the autism community on health insurance issues for the development of Bulletin 136, which mandates insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders.  She earned a Masters of Science degree in Health Services Administration from Xavier University.

She donates her time to assist fellow Hoosiers with insurance-related issues. Her daughter, Ellie, was the “test case” for the enforcement of the Indiana Autism Mandate.


Photos and Video from ASI’s Excellence Awards – Little Star Center Received the Excellence in Direct Care Award

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

Zionsville, Indiana

A great crowd came out to support the Autism Society of Indiana and their 2011 Excellence Awards. Little Star Center was there to receive the Excellence in Direct Care Award, an award for providers who demostrate excellence in direct care services to infants, toddlers, children, youth and adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) through their work in medical, therapeutic, recreational and other settings using innovative and scientifically supported best practices in partnership with families and other professionals.

This was the first time a center received the award, not an individual. The nominations came from our great families, friends and civic leaders.

Thank you so much for your support. We are honored to receive this award and will continue providing these services we were awarded for.

See Award Presentation Here

Little Star Center Receives $1,500 Grant from Answers for Autism for iPad’s

Answers for Autism, an all volunteer organization founded by parents of children with autism located in Fishers, recently presented a check to Little Star Center for $1,500. This grant will help provide iPads for the center.

About AAI:

Our mission is to increase and broaden public knowledge and awareness of the behaviors, social issues and emotional needs of individuals on the autism spectrum so that all individuals can participate in and contribute to our community without fear of bias or loss of individuality.

Thank you AAI for helping Little Star provide the best services possible.














Summer Camps Available in the Area – Check Out These Camps Operated by Easter Seals Crossroads

We get a lot of calls from parents asking about summer camps. We do not offer summer camps here at Little Star Center, but our friends at Easter Seals Crossroads have a great list for you this year!

All camp information including the flyers and registration forms are available on their website.  This information can be found by going to www.eastersealscrossroads.org and then selecting ‘Summer Camps’ on the ‘What’s New’ section of the homepage!

Easter Seals General Summer Camp Information

Have a great summer!

Your friends at Little Star Center

Some Great Reading Material When the Weather has you Stuck Inside – The Latest Autism Topics and Research: ASAT Newsletter Winter 2011

Hi Everyone,

Hope you are warm and your schedule is back to normal after all the crazy weather last week.  Little Star Center was closed three days due to ice and snow, but we are back and ready to roll.

This morning, when I sat down at my desk, I was excited to see I had the latest edition of the ASAT Newsletter in Inbox.  My favorite part is Media Watch – a section where Association for Science in Treatment of Autism (ASAT) responds to both accurate and inaccurate portrayals of autism intervention in the media.

This quarter, there are also three research article summaries – examining hyberbaric oxygen therapy, the use of weighted vests and a manualized DIR parent training approach to treatment.

Also, check out page six for our latest ad!

Happy reading and enjoy the sunshine today!