Behavior Intervention Services

The mission of the Behavior Intervention Services Division is to provide evidence-based, individualized behavioral treatment and professional training that improve the lives of individuals with autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, ages 18 months to 22 years of age.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an evidence-based approach to understanding behavior and how it is affected by the surrounding environment or context. Treatments based on applied behavior analysis use behavioral principles and strategies to bring about meaningful and positive changes in people and their lives.

Autism Speaks provides a thorough description of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions for individuals with autism.

Program Descriptions

The Applied Behavioral Intervention Services Division offers behavioral treatments in the clinical setting for individuals between the ages of 18 months and 22 years who have a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), neurodevelopmental disorder, or other health condition that affects development and may result in concerns in the areas of language & communication, social skills, play skills, self-help skills including toileting, or problem behaviors including difficulty following directions, repetitive behaviors, self-injury, and mild aggression. Services include:

Early Intervention: The Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a comprehensive behavioral early intervention approach for children with autism, ages 12 to 48 months. The program encompasses a developmental curriculum that defines the skills to be taught at any given time and a set of teaching procedures used to deliver this content. It is not tied to a specific delivery setting but can be delivered by therapy teams and/or parents in group programs or individual therapy sessions in either a clinic setting or the child’s home. 

Psychologists Sally Rogers, Ph.D., and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., developed the Early Start Denver Model as an early-age extension of the Denver Model, which Rogers and colleagues developed and refined. This early intervention program integrates a relationship-focused developmental model with the well-validated teaching practices of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Its core features include the following: 

- Naturalistic applied behavioral analytic strategies

- Sensitive to normal developmental sequence

- Deep parental involvement

- Focus on interpersonal exchange and positive affect

- Shared engagement with joint activities

- Language and communication taught inside a positive, affect-based relationship

Who can benefit from the Early Start Denver Model? What Has Research Shown?

The Early Start Denver Model has been validated in a randomized clinical trial for use with children with autism as young as 18 months of age. It has been found to be effective for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) across a wide range of learning styles and abilities. Children with more significant learning challenges were found to benefit from the program as much as children without such learning challenges. A randomized clinical trial published in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that children who received ESDM therapy for 20 hours a week (15 hours by trained therapists, 5 hours by parents) over a 2-year span showed greater improvement in cognitive and language abilities and adaptive behavior and fewer autism symptoms than did children referred for interventions commonly available in their communities.  

Certification to be an ESDM therapist requires the therapist have at Master’s Degree or higher, complete a 5-day training series, and then demonstrate fidelity to implement ESDM techniques reliably and according to high standards set by leading ESDM therapists. This ensures that a certified professional has the knowledge and skills to successfully use the teaching strategies with children with autism.

Social Skills Groups:

Our ABA team offers social skills classes for children ages 4-15 years that utilize the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), under the supervision of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). A specific treatment program is designed looking at all of the important social skill areas including social referencing, play skills, imitation, joint attention, behavior skills, social awareness, eye contact, as well as conversation and language skills and school readiness skills.

Social skills groups run from 1 hour to 1 ½ hours in duration, depending on the needs of the student and size of the group. Our goal is to match a child’s needs and skill level to similar-matched peers.  Siblings, friends and peer models are included in our group sessions. Individual treatment plans are developed for each child, and parent homework is incorporated into sessions. 

Adolescent Interventions:

In addition to social skills groups, our ABA and Speech and Language (SLP) team have developed a young adolescent class called Advantage Social Communication Program

The Program is a 12-week series that focuses on young adults ages 14-22.  This unique program is designed to teach communication skills including understanding how to make positive impressions through appearance, actions, and words. A primary caregiver is required to attend all 12 weeks to learn strategies to help practice, model and create situations for their children to use the social skills they are taught in class. Both students and their parents’ complete pre and post information, and work together to develop individual social skills in addition to the curriculum.

The Behavior Intervention team has also created a Health, Hygiene, & Puberty series for young boys and girls on the autism spectrum.  This class also requires parental involvement. This course series was featured on the Autism Speaks website. Click here to read the blog. 

Parent Consultation

In addition, we offer 1:1 parent/child consultation for focused ABA intervention around specific behavioral challenges including but not limited to, specific challenging behavior needs, homework challenges, aggressive behavior, smearing feces. The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders offers a number of parent and caregiver education and training classes that include specific topics that can be challenging to a family with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

Click here for our Family Emergency and Disaster Planning Preparedness Kit

Community Training:

Our Behavior Intervention team is here for your training needs. Our team is experienced and available to train on many topics including:

- Understanding Autism & ABA 

- How to successfully engage parents in ABA assessment & treatment 

- Managing challenging behaviors of autism in your setting  

- Helping families and organizations with children with autism in an emergency or disaster

- Register Behavior Technician Training

Behavior Intervention Providers

  • Interim Behavior Intervention Division Lead, Hazel Benavides-Vickers, MA, BCBA

  • Behavior Therapist, Jennifer Nguyen, BA

  • Behavior Therapist, Ruby Aguirre

  • Behavior Therapist, Sharina Alejo


2500 Red Hill Ave
Suite 100
Santa Ana, CA 92705


Phone: 1.949.267.0400
Fax: 1.949.221.0004
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Founding Partners

University of California, Irvine Choc Childrens Chapman University William & Nancy Thompson Family Foundation Children & Families Commission of Orange County