Credit: Kelly Sikkema

A therapy provider serving the highest number of autistic children in Pennsylvania is expanding into Maryland with new offices opening in Bethesda, Columbia and Lanham over the spring.

Helping Hands Family (HHF) provides Applied Behavioral Analysis services—often called ABA therapy—to children ages 18 months to 18 years old who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. ABA is an intensive, one-on-one therapy typically used to treat people with autism. Its goal is to improve patients’ “education, communication, socialization and comprehension through positive reinforcement,” according to HHF’s website.

HHF spokesperson Alesha Seternus described the organization’s approach as “child-led, play-based therapy in a natural environment.” She said HHF services involved certified behavioral technicians coming alongside young clients to help them learn basic life skills—everything from getting dressed and tying shoes to attending activities and interacting with peers.

“The goal of the therapy is to give kids consistent direction and feedback that they’ll hopefully be able to apply on their own as they get older,” she said. “That’s why we focus on early detection—so we can give them the tools they need to succeed while they’re still in those foundational years.”

HHF opened its first clinic in the greater Philadelphia area in 2019 and rapidly grew to become the largest ABA therapy provider in Pennsylvania, serving upwards of 450 clients as of April.

Behavioral technicians must be state-certified to work with HHF, and all techs receive four weeks of training before they begin accepting clients. The intake process involves an  assessment of the child and the creation of a personalized treatment plan. Clients are often seen for over a year, Seternus said.


Seternus said while Montgomery County is known as an area with resources and support available for families with autistic children, barriers to services exist due to a lack of consistent staff training and high staff turnover rates.

“Part of our model that sets us apart is that we don’t just see ourselves as a business,” she said. “All our technicians truly care about the progress of the kids. The company’s child-centered culture trickles down and feeds into the quality of our services.”

HHF clinical director Matthew Leal said their company is one of the only ABA therapy providers to accept Medicaid in Maryland.


“The prevalence of autism is increasing substantially—not just in Maryland but across the country,” he said. He cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that the rate of autism diagnoses quadrupled over the past decade—going from one in every 200 children to one in 49.

Leal said he believes autism awareness and sensitivity has greatly improved over the past decade, but added that better access to parent education opportunities would lead to even better outcomes for children.

“We can always do better,” he said. “It always ties back to parent education and whether or not new parents are aware of all the different resources that are out there.”