Up until the late 1990s, parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) had few resources at their disposal.
ASD is a serious developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate and interact. Children often have difficulty with communication, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviors. Fitting into normal life and the classroom has been challenging if not impossible for these children, to say the least.
Today, early intervention, as well as behavioral, educational and family therapies are now considered a key approach to help reduce symptoms, support development and learning and help children with ASD to function.
One of the first companies to address the pressing need for better ASD services and treatment was Children Making Strides (CMS), based in Plymouth, founded in 1997 by Patricia Antonellis, who was seeking services for her son who was diagnosed with autism. Under her direction, CMS introduced parents to a novel form of therapeutic services that was just gaining momentum, Applied Behavior Analysis.
The company changed hands in the beginning of 2022 when Antonellis retired and sold to a family office led by Chaim Fiskus, who has a background in behavioral health administration.
“Our mission is to provide the finest quality ABA services to children who have been impacted by ASD, and to do so in a compassionate, professional manner,” he says. “By satisfying these children’s needs and providing personalized, skilled services, we aim to make an immeasurable impact on the lives of the children and their families.”
Children Making Strides’ services include home and center-based Applied Behavior Analysis programs, parent and community programs, school and community consultation and social skills groups. Clinicians work one-on-one with children to help them acquire critical skills.
While the overall mission remains essentially the same as when the company was founded, Fiskus has been making internal changes to improve the clinical quality of the program as well as the work environment for staff.
“Since the change in new ownership last year, we have invested a lot of time and resources into improving the clinical quality of our program, as well as the clinical support for our staff, new-hire onboarding and training, and our HR department,” Fiskus says. “We have also put a big focus on staffing/recruiting to ensure we bring in highly qualified staff who love doing what they do, and have a great time doing it! We have put a big emphasis on cultivating and encouraging a positive work environment, and can proudly say that CMS is a place where everyone is truly excited to come to work every day.”
Since new ownership took over, benefits/initiatives have improved, such as Paid Time Off, health insurance, 401(k), compensation and bonuses (including sign-on bonuses and referral bonuses). The staff base has increased by more than 50 percent. Learning centers are now located in Plymouth and Fall River and the company services the surrounding areas as well with in-home services.
“While CMS is constantly growing and improving, we continue to prioritize the clinical quality and support for our staff and the families we service, all the while never losing the personalized feel and appeal of a smaller ABA company,” he says. “Since we’ve taken over the company, we have emphasized staff training and staff support. Our plans are to expand across the state and maintain our industry-leading quality of the care and our level of compassion.”
Fiskus credits Clinical Director Kristen Bettencourt for providing top-notch clinical support to their BCBAs and Behavior Therapists, improving the staff training and significantly raising the quality of care. Her skill set was a perfect fit for Children Making Strides, he says, and the staff improvements he sought to make.
“She’s made a huge impact in our company since joining us in April 2022,” he says.
Bettencourt has focused on Applied Behavioral Analysis throughout her career, which included teaching in a substantially separate ABA Pre-K/Kindergarten classroom from 2011-2013 in Cambridge, while she was pursuing a master’s degree, and working as a behavior specialist/BCBA at the Northeast Arc in Danvers, where she oversaw in-home ABA therapy cases for clients 3- to 9-years old.
In 2015 Bettencourt relocated to South Carolina to work as the Director of Professional Development at the Unumb Center of Neurodevelopment. She was promoted to Director of ABA Services in 2016 and oversaw all clinical operations of the center from 2016-2020. Kristen relocated back to Massachusetts in August 2020 to work for Alternatives ABA as the Director of ABA Operations for the Plymouth center.
“We aim to make the most positive impact possible for the families that we serve,” said Fiskus. “I am so fortunate to see firsthand how our services can be a game changer for CMS families and how their lives have significantly changed for the better since they started here. The credit goes to our wonderful staff, and seeing that progress is what drives me.”
Children Making Strides
6 Resnik Road, Suite 210