Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute Opens New Medical Program for Young Children on Autism Spectrum

July 26, 2021

A new medical rehabilitation program for young children ages two to five with autism spectrum disorders has opened at Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. 

The You & Me Autism Program for Young Children, part of the JFK Johnson Pediatric Rehabilitation Department, provides one-on-one Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, in addition to group activities. Speech therapy and occupational therapy can also be provided.

The medically based program builds on JFK Johnson’s four decades of experience with autism spectrum disorders through other You & Me programs at the rehabilitation institute. The program’s experienced therapists include Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) Special Educators and Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT). Each child is given an individual and comprehensive plan.

The program opens as the incidence of autism continues to rise in the United States. New Jersey has the highest rate with one out of every 32 children in the state diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data say one in every 54 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder.

The JFK Johnson program is medically based and therefore reimbursed through Medicaid and commercial insurance. New Jersey requires meaningful coverage for autism under state regulated health insurance plans.

“We know there’s a significant need for intensive and highly focused programs like this for young children with autism spectrum disorders,” said Sara Cuccurullo, M.D., Medical Director and Vice President of JFK Johnson. “This program is based within our rehabilitation program for children, and we can provide an individualized continuum of services needed for each child with an autism spectrum disorder to successfully benefit from this program.”

Program Director Claudia Sommerer called the program one of the area’s most intensive medically based programs for young children with autism spectrum disorders. Children will work one-on-one with therapists and also come together for group activities to learn social skills.

“Speech and occupational specialists will be available to consult with the special educators and provide input on communication and sensory and fine motor skills,” Sommerer said. “Our focus is very individualized.”

Children must be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to be eligible for the program. If families suspect their child may have autism spectrum disorder, the program is connected to the Neuroscience Institute at JFK University Medical Center and can connect families to specialists, such as pediatric neurologists, who can determine if a child has an autism spectrum disorder.

“We’re here to help children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. We’re also here to help if a family thinks their child should be evaluated,” Sommerer said. 

Sommerer called ABA the gold standard in autism intervention. The evidence-based therapy has decades of research that demonstrates its effectiveness. “ABA is the most respected intervention that exists,” Sommerer said. Early intervention is generally most effective, and intensive therapy beginning before the age of four can result in better long-term outcomes as well as a reduction in the need for special services in education.

The program is located at 2050 Oak Tree Road in Edison. It runs five and a half hours each day throughout the year with breaks. The program can also accommodate school-age children during summer vacation.

Anyone who wants more information on the You & Me Autism Program for Young Children can call 732.548.7610.