What is autism?
Autism, as defined by the Autism Society of America, “is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. Symptoms and signs of Autism generally emerge between 24 and 36 months of age. There is no known single cause of autism…”
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are general terms used for grouping complex disorders of brain development. These developmental disorders are characterized in different degrees by:
- Social interaction difficulties
- Nonverbal and verbal communication difficulties
- Repetitive behaviors
While the signs and symptoms of autism can appear as early as 6 months, and typically by age 3, there are many children who are diagnosed much later, and some individuals may not diagnosed until much later in life. It’s critical that parents and families are educated on the signs of autism as well as the steps to take if they think their child may have autism, in order to achieve the best outcomes for their child.
If you suspect a child may have autism, the first step is to contact the child’s pediatrician or their general practioner. The pediatrician will perform an assessment and will typically be able to determine if a child has autism or not.
In some cases, a pediatrician will refer families to a psychologist, a physician that specializes in mental health. The psychologist will perform a standardized assessment (included but not limited to CARS, ADOS, MCHAT, etc…) to evaluate if the child has autism and the severity. This step is critical in the diagnosis and evaluation process, as most insurance companies require a standardized assessment (such as those listed above) in order to approve an authorization for treatment (such as Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, ABA Therapy and more).
Data shows that the earlier children are diagnosed with autism, the earlier they start receiving interventions and the better their outcomes are. This leads to a better overall quality of life for the child and the family. This is one of the biggest reason’s families are encouraged to understand what autism is, recognize the signs of it, and take the steps to get their child the help they need.
Types of Intervention – ABA Therapy
Once a parent receives an autism diagnosis, they often are left in shock and confusion as to what to do next. While a physician or psychologist may refer them to a specific therapy center for services (whether that be ABA therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, or something else) but that is not always the case. The best thing you can do for your child is research the services and interventions available to you in your area.
Specifically, many doctors will recommend Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services for children with autism. This is the only type of therapy recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General for the treatment of autism. ABA therapy aids in the development of new skills, shapes and refines previously learned skills and decreases socially significant problem behaviors. It often involves the following components:
- Qualified and trained BCBA’s (Board Certified Behavior Analysts) lead and oversee a child’s therapy program
- After a detailed assessment of a child, the BCBA will create a unique program with consideration given to the child’s ABA therapy goals, preferences and the overall family goals.
- Goals will be developmentally appropriate for that child and will include things like sociability, communication, play, self-care, motor development and academic skills.
- Highly qualified and trained therapists will help a child achieve these goals through detailed instruction plans that break down skills into skill sets. The child will then work on the most basic skill sets and build up to more complex skill sets, with each skill set building off of the previous one.
- Therapists continually collect data on your child to determine which skill sets are improving, which one’s are not, and how the therapy program may need to be modified in order to make sure your child achieves their goals
- Regular meetings with family and staff take place to allow for planning, review of child’s progress and to make any needed adjustments.