With a staggering 70 million people in the world — 3.5 million people in just the U.S. alone — struggling with autism, it is fair to say that there is no greater challenge facing schools today than the increasing number of students diagnosed with autism and other special needs. Parents are demanding more than just standard therapy, and are instead hoping for a solution to rescue their children from a lifetime of disability.
In response, educators are developing new techniques and approaches to assist children with autism. Too often, good initiatives tend to succumb under a shortage of resources and financing. However, that grim picture might be beginning to change.
Much of that change can be attributed to Karen Chung and her company, Special Learning, Inc., who strives to improve the lives of 70 million people in the world living with autism and other developmental disabilities.
While working on a consulting project in 2010, Karen attended an Autism Society conference in St. Charles, Illinois. She began conversing with a behavior analyst at a booth that marketed educational toys and materials for children with autism.
The two-hour long conversation introduced Karen to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is an incredibly effective intervention therapy, boasting a success rate of nearly 50% in mainstreaming kids with autism.
Karen learned that there was a huge gap in the delivery of autism-related services – nearly 1 million out of the estimated 3.5 million people with autism in the U.S. had no access to this life-changing intervention. Worse yet, people outside of the U.S. had virtually no access to ABA.
The realization that tens of millions of people in the world were deprived of a chance to live independently imbued Karen with a newfound sense of purpose. She subsequently founded Special Learning with a mission to improve the lives of millions by bringing Applied Behavior Analysis to the world.
Delivering Solutions that Matter
Although the company currently has over 200 SKUs, that number is continually rising as Special Learning continues to develop new, innovative solutions to meet the insatiable needs of the global autism and special needs communities around the world.
Special Learning’s offerings primarily fit into three categories: Training, Educational Materials and Expert Virtual Services for parents, educators, behavior analysts and healthcare professionals. “We look at what we do as something very simple. At the end of the day, we are striving to create independence through access,” explains Karen.
The company firmly believes that in order to become their child’s therapist, parents should have ready access to all the requisite resources. It strives to achieve this by developing products that are suited for parents – content is less technical, specific to situations and circumstances that parents would experience in their home and communities, and terminology that is appropriate for the level of knowledge most parents possess.
By enabling parents and educators to help children with autism progress through their journey to independence with specialized training, education, and expert consultation and supervision, Special Learning ensures that they have the tools needed to attain mastery and generalization.
They have also made strong inroads with health professionals who provide care to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities by pushing the boundaries of knowledge for experts in the field of ABA. This is accomplished by providing them with access to knowledge possessed by the world’s foremost experts in the field of ABA. By using a differentiated teaching methodology it provides clinicians with the information that is highly relevant and immediately accessible.
By leveraging its clinical subject matter experts, Special Learning creates real solutions to address acute problems in the field which have not been addressed by other individuals or organizations.
Understanding the importance of inter-disciplinary collaboration, Special Learning has embarked on a very aggressive initiative to develop a training series to address the knowledge gap among various disciplines. With the launch of its Autism Intervention Team Collaboration series, it seeks to promote collaboration through bi-lateral exchange of information designed to create awareness, share knowledge, and introduce simple, relevant and actionable collaboration frameworks to help bridge this gap.
“People with autism receive intervention from multiple professionals, including educators, Speech Language Pathologists, Pyschologist, Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, and others. By teaching professionals in these other disciplines what ABA is and how it’s used, and vice versa – by teaching ABA professionals how professionals in other disciplines help their clients – we can bridge the chasm by removing those obstacles that get in the way of progress.”
Karen breaks it down, “Everyone’s definition of mastery may be different, but just as all ABA programs are customized to the student, our comprehensive array of products and services allow our clients to create their own customized solutions to meet their unique needs.
If you look at each product or service as a Lego piece, you can begin to understand the power of being able to create unique, customized solutions, no matter who you are or where you are in the service delivery process so that you can create your own system to meet your current level of knowledge.”
Comprehensive Digital Autism Solutions
As with any new company, irrespective of industry, Special Learning had to tackle significant challenges before it found its footing.
Special Learning originated as a product-based company by developing the tools necessary for the implementation of ABA programs. It created educational materials like flashcards, which are required to teach language and communication skills; social stories, which are a highly effective means for teaching social and life skills; and mobile applications to teach language.
After investing substantial resources and investing several years developing and launching its products in the U.S., it began to tackle the International markets. Special Learning realized very quickly that the most pressing problems for international parents and educators was virtually zero access to behavioral experts and lack of access to quality resources. As parents and educators were starting from ground zero in terms of their knowledge of ABA, training was the key to beginning the process of change. By providing parents and educators with access to quality ABA materials that systematically addresses this knowledge gap through training and quality educational materials… they began the process of empowering parents and educators to become ABA practitioners, capable of directly helping their own children or students.
From inception, Special Learning supported Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs), experts in ABA, with advanced training to push their boundaries of knowledge, while allowing them to acquire continuing education hours to meet their licensing and certification requirements.
“This led us down the path of creating a broad array of training products for expert behavior analysts.”
As its inventory of training products expanded, Special Learning decided to move down the educational curve to train teachers, health professionals and parents on how to use Applied Behavior Analysis with their students, patients and children.
As the company already possessed an extensive portfolio of training and educational materials, by adding virtual consultation and supervision with expert BCBAs to its portfolio, they were able to provide a comprehensive “solution” to enable any person in the world with the ability to create and maintain an ABA program.
“With these three pillars of success – training, educational materials and virtual services, we can now proudly call ourselves a ‘Comprehensive Digital Autism Solutions Provider.”
A Leader Fomenting Change
As the CEO and Founder of Special Learning, Karen Chung has dedicated her career to autism intervention and has courageously shouldered the responsibilities of the firm to lead it to where it is today.
Karen, a native of South Korea is an active speaker and tireless advocate for access to quality resources for the international behavior analysis community and for parents of children, adolescents, and adults who have autism or other special needs.
Karen is passionate about promoting exceptional ethical practices among practitioners who provide autism intervention. She is very successfully achieving this through partnership with the world’s foremost experts in the field of ABA, by advocating for standardization of services, and by developing rigorous global credentialing standards, training and other quality resources.
As an entrepreneur and investor, Karen possesses over 20 years of experience across a wide range of industries and functions. Her diverse background, knowledge and perspective have provided her with the unique ability to quickly identify problems and to develop innovative solutions to affect systemic change.
Her educational portfolio includes a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the Northern Illinois University, and a Master’s degree in Business from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
Needless to say, Karen is the driving force and innovative genius behind Special Learning’s mission to become the best and most comprehensive special needs provider in the world.
Going the Extra Mile
Special Learning prides itself in thinking beyond the way things are done and envisioning how they can be done better.
“As soon as mobile apps became known an effective way to deliver education and therapy services, we wasted no time in developing one that children on the spectrum can use to learn,” Karen reveals. The company consistently evaluates new and emerging technologies to determine how they can be applied to develop real solutions.
Speaking about the power of technology, she says, “We believe the real power of technology is the ability to connect us with people – parents, educators, health professionals and other thought leaders – to build a bridge to collectively create systemic and sustainable solutions to positively impact the world.”
Currently, Special Learning is in close consultation with companies offering VR and AR. The aim is to explore potential partnership opportunities that utilize these breakthrough technologies to create innovative solutions.
Although Special Learning is a for-profit business, it is not driven by competition or monetary accomplishments. “We’re driven by a strong, deep-seated desire to see more families and children smile as they relate their autism success stories. We know that when our passion takes the front seat, everything else will fall into place.”
Becoming Better, Stronger and Faster
Being an innovator and thought leader, Special Learning is always looking to become better, stronger and faster. Its close relationship with global behavior analyst communities continues to provide it with opportunities that lead to unique, actionable solutions that don’t yet exist or are not accessible to the masses.
2018 will see Special Learning bring about quality ABA to Russian-speaking countries by training professionals in the education system on how to help children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Ultimately, Special Learning is driven by a singular focus – to lead the charge in ensuring that members of the global autism ecosystem are given the ability to access the resources that they need to bridge the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” so that we can collectively make the world a better place.
“From information comes understanding. Through understanding, we may be able to achieve the wisdom to transcend our current reality and focus on what really matters — helping people with autism and other special needs around the world attain the skills they need to achieve independence to live happy, fulfilling lives,” concludes Karen.