’Tis the season for Chanukah parties, and employees of Ira Rinn’s company may well find themselves attending these events.
Mr. Rinn, who lives in Hillsdale and is the founder and executive director of Rinn ABA Consulting, said the mission of his company — which delivers autism intervention in the home — “is to help children develop skills pertaining to play, social interactions, language and communication, self-care, and independence.
“There are ways in which we help parents who have goals for their children that involve Jewish practices and identities,” Mr. Rinn, a board certified behavior analyst, said. “Part of our mission is to help them obtain any goal meaningful to the parent or the community, and that may involve religious practice.” Of course, he added, the same is true for non-Jewish clients as well.
In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing that the number of children identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains at 1 in 68 children nationally. This statistic is based on the CDC’s evaluation of health and educational records of 8-year-olds in 11 states, including New Jersey, in 2012.
According to the group Autism New Jersey, this state again has the highest rate of those states evaluated, with 1 in 41 children — 2.5 percent — identified as having the disorder. This is higher than the average percentage in all U.S. communities where CDC tracked ASD in 2012. The New Jersey rate marks an increase of 12 percent over the previous 1-in-45 statistic released two years ago. Although theories explaining this statistic have been advanced, none are generally accepted, and the cause of this rise remains a mystery.
Rinn ABA Consulting, which recently won the New Jersey Small Business Success Award, was founded in 2010 when Ira Rinn and his wife, Jennifer, left their jobs working for schools to create direct intervention services for families. Having worked at both public and private schools as an instructor, and then later as a BCBA, or board certified behavior analyst (the latter designs the intervention, the former implements it), Mr. Rinn realized that no matter what you do in the schools — for example, helping teachers provide effective instruction, learning behavior management, and minimizing tantrums — “it won’t do nearly enough for that student” unless such intervention is carried through at home as well.
“Parents were struggling to manage behavior,” he said. “That focus began at the outset. My wife and I left our school districts and started the practice. It’s been our mission since day one to start services in the home.” Today, he and his 10 full-time and 10 part-time employees perform 90 percent of their services in homes or in the community.
His small business success award recognizes that the company does the job well, not only contributing favorably to the community but also demonstrating good management and growth potential. “The SBDC recognized us for our business success as well as our impact on families and communities,” he said. “We couldn’t be more proud of that.”
His field is not new, Mr. Rinn said. But New Jersey state law now mandates that BCBA services be provided to people with autism. And because the state requires it, insurance companies have had to get on board, trying to build networks to provide that service.
“It was most definitely a gap that needed to be filled,” Mr. Rinn said. After the state mandate, in 2009, insurance companies realized that they had no behavior analysts in their networks, and they didn’t know how to authorize these services or assess the quality of the work of applied behavior analysts. New Jersey, he said, “is regarded as the state with the best autism intervention,” and he estimates that there are some 1,200 BCBAs practicing in the state.
Almost all clients are reimbursed by their insurance companies, Mr. Rinn said, and his business has grown significantly through social media, where people may “hear parents talk glowingly in chat rooms. Or they might call [their insurance company’s] member services and be directed to an in-network provider. We’re working with 30 families now.” Since his company started, the group has served more than 50 families. “We’re limited only by geography — people we can reach,” he said.
That means working with people from all ethnic groups, he said, adding that he has seen no evidence that the Jewish community “is resistant to embracing ABA as a method for treating autism. They have been every bit as dedicated and supportive as we could hope for.” (ABA is applied behavior analysis, which is defined by a dictionary as ““the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior.”) “They’re just as aware and supportive as any other community,” Mr. Rinn continued.
Still, many parents experience and wrestle with specific issues related to the community.
He recalled working with a young man at a JCC summer camp, “supporting him in his camp program. It’s too difficult if you’re not trained … to come up with effective strategies,” he said. Members of his staff also accompany students to extracurricular activities on the weekend. One young man served by his company, soon to turn 13, had trouble tolerating his older sister’s bat mitzvah practice. “He became agitated and disruptive, but he learned to tolerate the process,” Mr. Rinn said. Now, three years later, he is preparing for his own bar mitzvah.”
Ira and Jennifer Rinn have two children, Abigail, 3, and Emily, 10 months.