Freeman News

Arkansas Autism Connection supplies ABA therapy to children of northwest Arkansas

April 01, 2020

Arkansas Autism Connection provides its clients with ABA, a behaviorally based autism treatment endorsed by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Surgeon General.

JOPLIN, Mo.—At age 13, Ethan Koeneman was still unable to fully communicate with those around him. Diagnosed with autism, Ethan was not able to convey his thoughts or emotions through verbal expression. For years, his mother, Shannon Edwards, struggled to connect with her only child. 

Ethan recently began receiving treatment at Arkansas Autism Connection, a service of Freeman Health System, based out of Joplin, Mo., and its behavioral health division, Ozark Center. Board-certified behavior analysts at Arkansas Autism Connection have provided Ethan with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), long considered an effective autism treatment. Since his therapy began, Ethan and his mother have shared meaningful communication. Thanks to the work of his therapists, Ethan is able to make purposeful gestures to help those around him understand his wants and needs. The treatment, Edwards said, has injected a sense of normalcy into Ethan’s life. 

“Sadly, there are many children in Arkansas who need ABA therapy,” Edwards said. “Children with autism so often are not able to do things that the rest of us take for granted. ABA is the only intervention proven to help those living with autism.”

Located in Bentonville, Ark., and established in 2013, Arkansas Autism Connection was developed by Freeman and Ozark Center in consultation with the Cleveland Clinic Autism Consulting Group. Arkansas Autism Connection provides its clients with ABA, a behaviorally based autism treatment endorsed by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Surgeon General. Because of this intensive, one-on-one therapy, ABA intervention is proven to unlock parts of the brain.

“ABA is an effective intervention because it examines the function of a behavior we want to change—whether communication, social interaction or restricted or repetitive behaviors—and creates an intervention to replace it. We examine what is happening before, during and after a behavior and determine how we change that behavior. By consistently providing reinforcement for the behaviors we want and not providing reinforcement for behaviors we don’t want, we are able to intervene in a way that is going to help a child with autism learn. That is the science behind ABA,” said Kristy Parker, Autism Arkansas Connection clinical director. 

Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s previous estimation that one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder, there may be as many as 5,000 individuals in Benton, Madison and Washington counties in northwest Arkansas who are on the autism spectrum. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently increased their estimation of the prevalence of autism to one in 68 children, meaning the number of individuals living with autism in northwest Arkansas is likely greater than 5,000. 

A reform law passed in Arkansas in 2011 requires health insurance companies to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. The law states that there can be no cap on the number of treatment visits and requires health insurance companies to cover the diagnosis of an autism disorder, ABA therapy and other related care. This legislation allows greater accessibility to the ABA therapy provided by Arkansas Autism Connection. 

While Ethan had received ABA therapy in another state, a job change required Edwards to move to Arkansas in 2011. Following her move, Edwards said she discovered that ABA therapy was not readily available in her community. This lapse in treatment caused Ethan to regress. Now that he is again receiving ABA, Ethan has been able to gain back his former skills and then some. The difference ABA has made, Edwards said, is undeniable. 

“Because of the lack of availability of ABA services, some parents are not aware that it exists and how it could change the life of their child,” Edwards said. 

Arkansas Autism Connection serves children ages newborn to 18 living in and around Benton, Madison and Washington counties. Clients of the center will have full access to services provided at Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, an autism treatment center run by Freeman and Ozark Center in Joplin, Mo., that includes a diagnostic team comprised of a pediatrician, licensed psychologist, board-certified behavior analyst, speech language pathologist, parent coordinator and developmental nurse. 

An approved provider for the state of Arkansas, Arkansas Autism Connection offers outpatient and in-home treatment. Board-certified behavior analysts provide individualized, year-round services to meet each child’s specific needs. Parents also receive training through workshops, so they may continue ABA therapy outside of scheduled treatment sessions.

“Parent training is crucial to a child’s success,” said Edyth Wooldridge, Arkansas Autism Connection board-certified behavior analyst. “Just as the ABA therapy we provide is tailored to address living skills, verbal communication or social interaction, so too is the parent training. That kind of reinforcement is critical to the success of ABA therapy and is one of the reasons why Arkansas Autism Connection, Freeman and Ozark Center have been able to change the lives of children like Ethan.”

Arkansas Autism Connection supplies a highly-educated staff of behavior analysts who receive ongoing training to remain current with new autism research. Specific, developmentally appropriate goals are created for each child. Year-round treatment is provided, thus preventing regression. Arkansas Autism Connection behavior analysts create targeted learning opportunities to develop social skills in everyday settings, such as the grocery store or playground. 

Arkansas Autism Connection is located at 1005 Beau Terre Drive, Suite 308, in Bentonville. To contact Arkansas Autism Connection, please call 479.254.1995. 

About Freeman Health System
Locally owned and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System has earned a number of US News & World Report distinctions – Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri, #4 hospital in the state, and High Performing status in seven specialties. The health system includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital, and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. A not-for-profit health system, Freeman provides cancer care, heart and vascular care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services, and women’s services and has more than 300 physicians on staff. For more information, visit or or follow Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker at 

About Ozark Center
An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Missouri, Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults, and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit or call 417.347.7600.