Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Both children and adults with autism typically show difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities. One should keep in mind however, that autism is a spectrum disorder and it affects each individual differently and at varying degrees - this is why early diagnosis is so crucial. By learning the signs, a child can begin benefiting from one of the many specialized intervention programs.
Autism is one of five disorders that falls under the umbrella of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), a category of neurological disorders characterized by “severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development.”
The five disorders under PDD are:
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
Each of these disorders has specific diagnostic criteria which been outlined in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
Prevalence of Autism
Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders, affecting an estimated 1 in 88 births (Centers for Disease Control Prevention, 2007). Roughly translated, this means as many as 1.5 million Americans today are believed to have some form of autism. And this number is on the rise.
Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate, the ASA estimates that the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.
Autism knows no racial, ethnic, social boundaries, family income, lifestyle, or educational levels and can affect any family, and any child.
And although the overall incidence of autism is consistent around the globe, it is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.
The Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach teaches social, motor, and verbal behaviors as well as reasoning skills (1). ABA treatment is especially useful in teaching behaviors to children with autism who may otherwise not "pick up" these behaviors on their own as other children would. The ABA approach can be used by a parent, counselor, or certified behavior analyst.
ABA uses careful behavioral observation and positive reinforcement or prompting to teach each step of a behavior (2). A child's behavior is reinforced with a reward when he or she performs each of the steps correctly. Undesirable behaviors, or those that interfere with learning and social skills, are watched closely. The goal is to determine what happens to trigger a behavior, and what happens after that behavior to reinforce it. The idea is to remove these triggers and reinforcers from the child's environment. New reinforcers are then used to teach the child a different behavior in response to the same trigger (3).
In discrete trial training, an ABA practitioner gives a clear instruction about a desired behavior (e.g., "Pick up the paper."); if the child responds correctly, the behavior is reinforced (e.g., "Great job! Have a sticker."). If the child doesn't respond correctly, the practitioner gives a gentle prompt (e.g., places child's hand over the paper). The hope is that the child will eventually learn to generalize the correct response (4).
Incidental teaching uses the same ideas as discrete trial training, except the goal is to teach behaviors and concepts throughout a child's day-to-day experience, rather than focusing on a specific behavior (1).
Pivotal response training uses ABA techniques to target crucial skills that are important (or pivotal) for many other skills. Thus, if the child improves on one of these pivotal skills, improvements are seen in a wide variety of behaviors that were not specifically trained. The idea is that this approach can help the child generalize behaviors from a therapy setting to everyday settings (4, 5).
In fluency building, the practitioner helps the child build up a complex behavior by teaching each element of that behavior until it is automatic or "fluent," using the ABA approach of behavioral observation, reinforcement, and prompting. Then, the more complex behavior can be built from each of these fluent elements (6).
Finally, an ABA-related approach for teaching language and communication is called "verbal behavior" or VB for short (7). In VB, the practitioner analyzes the child's language skills, then teaches and reinforces more useful and complex language skills.
Through ABA training, parents and other caretakers can learn to see the natural triggers and reinforcers in the child's environment. For example, by keeping a chart of the times and events both before and after Sammy's tantrums, a parent might discover that Sammy always throws a tantrum right after the lights go on at night without warning. Looking deeper at the behavior, Sammy's mother might also notice that her most natural response is to cuddle Sammy in order to get him to calm down. In effect, even though she is doing something completely natural, the cuddling is reinforcing Sammy's tantrum. According to the ABA approach, both the trigger (lights going on at night without a warning) and the reinforcer (cuddling) must be stopped. Then a more appropriate set of behaviors (like leaving the room or dimming the lights) can be taught to Sammy, each one being reinforced or prompted as needed. Eventually, the hope is that this kind of approach will lead to a time when the lights can go on without warning and Sammy still does not throw a tantrum.
Many experts believe that children with autism are less likely than other children to learn from the everyday environment (8). The ABA approach attempts to fill this gap by providing teaching tools that focus on simplified instructional steps and consistent reinforcement. At best, the ABA approach can help children with autism lead more independent and socially active lives (8). Research suggests that this positive outcome is more common for children who have received early intervention. This may be due to critical brain development that occurs during the preschool years and can be affected by training (3, 9).
ABA is considered by many researchers and clinicians to be the most effective evidence-based therapeutic approach demonstrated thus far for children with autism (10). The U.S. Surgeon General states that thirty years of research on the ABA approach have shown very positive outcomes when ABA is used as an early-intervention tool for autism (11). This research includes several landmark studies showing that about 50% of children with autism who were treated with the ABA approach before the age of four had significant increases in IQ, verbal ability, and/or social functioning. Even those who did not show these dramatic improvements had significantly better improvement than matched children in the control groups. In addition, some children who received ABA therapy were eventually able to attend classes with their peers (8, 12, 13). A similar study in older children showed improvements in behavior but not IQ (14).
Parents are often trained in ABA therapy, and several single-subject studies have shown that parental training helps children with autism who receive ABA therapy. Larger controlled studies looking at this issue are underway (15). Studies of parental satisfaction with ABA indicate that parents believe the approach is effective (16). Parents also report that they experience less stress as a result of applying ABA (17).
There are, however, some controversies surrounding the ABA approach (10). Early ABA practice (in the 1980's and early 1990's) included the use of aversive techniques such as yelling at or restraining a child. Most ABA practitioners no longer consider aversive techniques to be acceptable, and the current ABA approach is equally effective without these techniques (18).
Experts also disagree as to whether the ABA approach should be used alone or along with other treatment methods. While there are varied opinions (10), most practitioners agree upon the importance of early intervention, intensive treatment for as much time as possible each day (in the range of 25 to 40 hours per week), well-trained practitioners, and consistent application of the ABA approach within and outside of school (3).
A crucial element of the ABA approach that is especially important for children with autism is finding appropriate reinforcement for each child. Because praise may not be rewarding for these children, careful analysis of each child's behavior can help reveal more effective reinforcement tools (19). Examples of successful reinforcers may include access to a favorite toy or chair.
In order to effectively implement ABA, both parents and any other major caretakers must be trained in ABA (15). Workshops covering the basics of ABA treatment can last from 2-7 days, and cost between $175-1,000 per person. Online ABA courses are especially useful for parents who do not live in a large city.
Children can also be enrolled in schools and clinics that specialize in ABA treatment. These can be found in most major cities and university towns. The cost of such schools can be quite high; tuition ranges from $16,000-25,000 per year. However, some schools offer scholarships to parents in need.
It is possible to set up ABA treatment at home using therapists in training or college students who have taken a workshop in the ABA approach. This can also be expensive ($5,000-20,000/year), and requires a great deal of time organizing and structuring the program.
A qualified, full-time (30 hours/week or more) ABA therapist devoted to your child costs approximately $30,000-$50,000 per year. Because of the success of ABA and the evidence indicating that training should be intensive (25-40 hours/week), there is very high demand for ABA-trained therapists, and it may be difficult to find one who is available (see Resources).
Although autism is a condition covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), whether IDEA covers intensive ABA treatment is still being considered by the courts. See www.wrightslaw.com/info/autism.index.htm for a discussion of court cases and their outcomes.
Several books that might be helpful in understanding the ABA approach are:
Psychosocial Treatment for Child and Adolescent Disorders: Empirically Based Strategies for Clinical Practice (2nd Edition). by E. D. Hibbs & P. S. Jensen (Eds.). 2005. American Psychological Association.
Raising a Child with Autism: A Guide to Applied Behavior Analysis for Parents, by S. Richman. 2000. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities, by M. Sundberg and J. Partington. 1998. Behavior Analysts, Inc.
Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis: An Introduction to ABA for Parents, Teachers, and Other Professionals, by A.J. Kearney. 2007. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
DIAGNOSIS AND CONSULTATION
There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism. An accurate diagnosis must be based on observation of the individual's communication, behavior, and developmental levels. However, because many of the behaviors associated with autism are shared by other disorders, various medical tests may be ordered to rule out or identify other possible causes of the symptoms being exhibited. At first glance, some persons with autism may appear to have mental retardation, a behavior disorder, problems with hearing, or even odd and eccentric behavior. To complicate matters further, these conditions can co-occur with autism. However, it is important to distinguish autism from other conditions, since an accurate diagnosis and early identification can provide the basis for building an appropriate and effective educational and treatment program.
A brief observation in a single setting cannot present a true picture of an individual's abilities and behaviors. Parental (and other caregivers' and/or teachers) input and developmental history are very important components of making an accurate diagnosis.
Research indicates that early diagnosis is associated with dramatically better outcomes for individuals with autism. The earlier a child is diagnosed, the earlier the child can begin benefiting from one of the many specialized intervention approaches treatment and education
The characteristic behaviors of autism spectrum disorders may or may not be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but usually become obvious during early childhood (24 months to 6 years).
As part of a well-baby/well-child visit, your child's doctor should do a "developmental screening" asking specific questions about your baby's progress. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) lists five behaviors that signal further evaluation is warranted:
Having any of these five "red flags" does not mean your child has autism. But because the characteristics of the disorder vary so much, a child showing these behaviors should have further evaluations by a multidisciplinary team. This team may include a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant, or other professionals knowledgeable about autism.
While there is no one behavioral or communications test that can detect autism, several screening instruments have been developed that are now being used in diagnosing autism:
CARS rating system (Childhood Autism Rating Scale), developed by Eric Schopler in the early 1970s, is based on observed behavior. Using a 15-point scale, professionals evaluate a child's relationship to people, body use, adaptation to change, listening response, and verbal communication.
The Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT) is used to screen for autism at 18 months of age. It was developed by Simon Baron-Cohen in the early 1990s to see if autism could be detected in children as young as 18 months. The screening tool uses a short questionnaire with two sections, one prepared by the parents, the other by the child's family doctor or pediatrician.
The Autism Screening Questionnaire is a 40 item screening scale that has been used with children four and older to help evaluate communication skills and social functioning.
The Screening Test for Autism in Two-Year Olds is being developed by Wendy Stone at Vanderbilt and uses direct observations to study behavioral features in children under two. She has identified three skills areas that seem to indicate autism - play, motor imitation, and joint attention.
CONSULTING WITH PROFESSIONALS
Whether you or your child's pediatrician is the first to suspect autism, your child will need to be referred to someone who specializes in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. This may be a developmental pediatrician, a psychiatrist or psychologist, and other professionals that are better able to observe and test your child in specific areas.
This multidisciplinary assessment team may include some or all of the following professionals (they may also be involved in treatment programs):
Developmental pediatrician - Treats health problems of children with developmental delays or handicaps.
Child psychiatrist - A medical doctor who may be involved in the initial diagnosis. He/she can also prescribe medication and provide help in behavior, emotional adjustment and social relationships).
- Specializes in understanding the nature and impact of developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders. May perform psychological and assessment test, as well as help with behavior modification and social skills training.
- Focuses on practical, self-help skills that will aid in daily living such as dressing and eating. May also work on sensory integration, coordination of movement, and fine motor skills.
Physical therapist - Helps to improve the use of bones, muscles, joints, and nerves to develop muscle strength, coordination and motor skills.
Speech/language therapist - Involved in the improvement of communication skills, including speech and language.
Social Worker - May provide counseling services or act as case manager helping to arrange services and treatments.
It is important that parents and professionals work together for the child's benefit. While professionals will use their experience and training to make recommendations about your child's treatment options, you have unique knowledge about his/her needs and abilities that should be taken into account for a more individualized course of action.
Once a treatment program is in place, communication between parents and professionals is essential in monitoring the child's progress. Here are some guidelines for working with professionals:
Be informed. Learn as much as you can about your child's disability so you can be an active participant in determining care. If you don't understand terms used by professionals, ask for clarification.
Be prepared. Be prepared for meetings with doctors, therapists, and school personnel. Write down your questions and concerns, and then note the answers.
Be organized. Many parents find it useful to keep a notebook detailing their child's diagnosis and treatment, as well as meetings with professionals.
Communicate. It's important to ensure open communication - both good and bad. If you don't agree with a professional's recommendation, speak up and say specifically why you don't.
GETTING PAST THE DIAGNOSIS
Often, the time immediately after the diagnosis is a difficult one for families, filled with confusion, anger and despair. These are normal feelings. But there is life after a diagnosis of autism. Life can be rewarding for a child with autism and all the people who have the privilege of knowing the child. While it isn't always easy, you can learn to help your child find the world an interesting and loving place.
Discovering that your child has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be an overwhelming experience. For some, the diagnosis may come as a complete surprise; others may have had suspicions and tried for months or years to get an accurate diagnosis. In either case, a diagnosis brings a multitude of questions about how to proceed. A generation ago, many people with autism were placed in institutions. Professionals were less educated about autism than they are today and specific services and supports were largely non-existent. Today the picture is much clearer. With appropriate services and supports, training, and information, children on the autism spectrum will grow, learn and flourish, even if at a different developmental rate than others.
While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that may reduce some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention may help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills that allow for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies individuals with ASD, there is no single treatment that will be effective for all people on the spectrum. Individuals can learn to function within the confines of ASD and use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and be tailored to the child's unique strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Throughout the history of the Autism Society of America, parents and professionals have been confounded by conflicting messages regarding what are, versus what are not, appropriate treatment approaches for children and adults on the autism spectrum.
The purpose of this section is to provide a general overview of a variety of available approaches, not specific treatment recommendations. Keep in mind that the word "treatment" is used in a very limited sense. While typically used for children under 3, the approaches described herein may be included in an educational program for older children as well.
It is important to match a child's potential and specific needs with treatments or strategies that are likely to be effective in moving him/her closer to established goals and greatest potential. ASA does not want to give the impression that parents or professionals will select one item from a list of available treatments. A search for appropriate treatment must be paired with the knowledge that all treatment approaches are not equal, what works for one will not work for all, and other options do not have to be excluded. The basis for choosing any treatment plan should come from a thorough evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses observed in the child.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR OPTIONS
Treatment approaches are constantly evolving as more is learned about the autism spectrum. There are many therapeutic programs, both conventional and complementary, that focus on replacing dysfunctional behaviors and developing specific skills.
As a parent, it's natural to want to do something immediately. The literature states time and time again the importance of early treatment for individuals on the autism spectrum However, it is important not to rush in with changes. It does no good to push ahead with a treatment that is not appropriate for the individual or one that may be harmful. You also much consider the larger implications of beginning a new treatment. A child may have already learned to cope with his or her current environment and sudden changes or unexpected different expectations could be stressful and confusing. Various treatment approaches should be investigated and information gathered concerning various options before proceeding with any child's treatment.
Parents will encounter numerous accounts from other parents about successes and failures with many of the treatment approaches mentioned. Professionals also differ in their theories of what they feel is the most successful treatment for autism. It can be frustrating! Parents do learn to sift through the information, examine options with a critical eye and make rational, educated decisions on what is appropriate given the individual circumstance. Parents live with the individual on the spectrum every day and best know his/her needs and the unique ways that autism impacts their lives. Parents must be empowered to trust their instincts as various options are explored, considered and implemented.
The descriptions of treatment approaches provided here are for informational purposes only. They serve as overviews and should always be followed with contact with qualified professionals and should be discussed with parents or individuals on the spectrum who have person experiences. The Autism Society of America does not endorse any specific treatment or therapy.
While doing research, parents and professionals will hear about many different treatments approaches, such as auditory training, discrete trial training, vitamin therapy, anti-yeast therapy, facilitated communication, music therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and sensory integration. These approaches can generally be broken down into three categories:
Biomedical & Dietary Approaches
Some of these treatment approaches have research studies that support their efficacy; others may not. Some parents will only want to try treatment methods that have undergone research and testing and are generally accepted by the professional community. But keep in mind that scientific studies are often difficult to do since each individual on the autism spectrum is different.
For others, formal testing might not be a pre-requisite for them to try a treatment with their child. Even for those with "scientific" proof, the Autism Society of America recommends that all options available are investigated to determine the approach that is most appropriate.
Experts agree though, that early intervention is important in addressing the symptoms associated with ASD. The earlier treatment is started, the more opportunity for the individual to reach their highest potential. Many of the approaches described can be used on children as young as age 2 or 3. They may also continue to be used in conjunction with special education programs or traditional elementary school for children who are mainstreamed.
PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN UNDER AGE 3
If a child is younger than 3 years old, he or she is eligible for "early intervention" assistance. This federally-funded program is available in every state, but may be provided by different agencies. Contact the local chapter of the Autism Society of America in your area for more specific information, search program listings in Autism Source™ located on the web at http://www.autismsource.org/, or obtain a state resource sheet from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.
This early education assistance may be available in two forms: home-based or school-based. Home-based programs generally assign members of an early intervention team to come to the home to train parents or caregivers to educate the child on the spectrum. School-based programs may be in a public school or a private organization. Both of these programs should be staffed by teachers and other professionals who have experience working with children with disabilities specifically autism. Related services should also be offered, such as speech, physical or occupational therapy, depending on the needs of each child. The program may be only for children with disabilities or it may also include typically developing peers.
PROGRAMS FOR SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN
From the age of 3 through the age of 21, every child diagnosed on the autism spectrum is guaranteed a free appropriate public education supplied by the local education agency. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal mandate that guarantees this education. Whatever the level of impairment, the educational program for an individual on the autism spectrum should be based on the unique needs of the student, and thoroughly documented in the IEP (Individualized Education Program). If this is the first attempt by the parents and the school system to develop the appropriate curriculum, conducting a comprehensive needs assessment is a good place to start. Consult with professionals who are well versed in the spectrum of autism and related conditions about the best possible educational methods that will be effective in assisting the student to learn and benefit from his/her school program. Educational programming for students with ASD often addresses a wide range of skill development, including: academics, language, social skills, self-help skills, behavioral issues, and leisure skills.
Parents can and should be an active and equal participant in deciding on an appropriate educational plan for their child. Parents know the child best and can provide valuable information to teachers and other professionals who will be providing educational services. Collaboration between parents and professionals is essential; open communication will certainly lead to better evaluation of progress and improved outcomes for the student.
To learn about other services specific to an area, contact resources in the community, such as the local ASA chapter, a local University Affiliated Program for Developmental Disabilities, the local ARC, Easter Seals, or Parent Training and Information Center. Be persistent but be patient it may take days or weeks to find the information you need. If a local resource is not able to provide the information or services sought, ask for a referral to another agency or local resource that may be helpful.
Because no two children on the autism spectrum have the exact same symptoms and behavioral patterns, a treatment approach that works for one child may not be successful with another. This makes evaluating different approaches difficult and that much more essential. There is little comparative research between treatment approaches. Primarily this is because there are too many variables that have to be controlled. So, it's no wonder that parents might be confused about what to do.
The Autism Society of America has long promoted the empowerment of individual consumers (including people on the spectrum, parents and professionals) to critically examine a variety of available options and be forearmed with a set of parameters under which they can better determine associated threats and opportunities and, therefore, make informed decisions. Further, better educated consumers, would help control the embracing of unproven notions that may distract from effective courses of treatment for individuals with ASD.
In the article "Behavioral and Educational Treatment for Autistic Spectrum Disorders" (Autism Advocate, Volume 33, No. 6), Bryna Siegel, Ph.D., suggests thinking about "each symptom as an autism specific learning disability…" that tells "something about a barrier to understanding." Using this model, what the student can and cannot do well can be evaluated. "…take stock of which autistic learning disabilities are present," and "then select treatments that address that particular child's unique autism learning disability profile."
Understanding these learning differences is the first step in assessing whether a specific treatment approach may be helpful; understanding a child's strengths is equally important. For example, some children are good visual learners, while another child may need written, rather than oral, cues.
Finding Treatment Programs in Your Area
Once familiar with the treatments that are available and appropriate for individuals with ASD, parents begin to think about where they can receive these services. Treatments may be obtained through either the medical or educational community, depending on the nature of the treatment. There are also a variety of resources useful in finding qualified professionals or service providers in your area. There are several state agencies established to provide this type of information and support, including Protection and Advocacy agencies; Developmental Disabilities Councils; Vocational Rehabilitation Centers; Parent Training Centers; and Educational Resources. Local chapters of the Autism Society of America are run by parents of individuals on the autism spectrum and have been established to provide guidance, advice and referrals to programs and professionals in a specific geographic region.
Autism. As the diagnosis has become more recognized and the issues are more out in the public eye, awareness of heightened emotions arise at the very mention of the word. In parents, it evokes fear, anger and grief. In service providers, it wells up feelings of confusion, frustration and inadequacy. The plain truth is that all are natural and appropriate feelings.
What is autism? We now know much more about autism than we did just five years ago. We still do not know what causes autism. Autism is a neurological disorder that disrupts a person’s learning and socialization. Deriving its name from the Greek word for “self”, autism is often associated with people who seem self-absorbed and exhibit unusual behaviors. It is a spectrum disorder (ASD), meaning that any two people diagnosed with autism may have very different symptoms and/or characteristics. Persons with the disorder are represented across the severity range of impairment. There is no known cause or cure for autism. However, much is being done in the field to potentially shed more light on the causes and treatments.
Autism is behaviorally diagnosed and requires the attention of trained specialists in the field to accurately diagnose and effectively treat the symptoms. Persons diagnosed with autism require a great deal of understanding and assistance in coping with their environment and relationships. To ensure optimal outcomes for the person diagnosed with autism, accurate diagnosis and early intervention are imperative.
How does autism affect a person’s life? 1) It causes impairments in one’s ability to be effective in social interactions, especially in making friends and understanding social cues and rules. 2) It causes impairments in one’s ability to communicate. Special challenges are apparent in the area of understanding spoken language or reading “nonverbal” communications. This is very difficult for the person with autism. Studies show that 24 to 40% of children with autism remain mute throughout their lives. 3) A person with autism will demonstrate restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. Unusual preoccupations, odd or repetitive motor movements, restricted patterns, adherence to sameness or routine or interest that are abnormal in either intensity or focus are not uncommon.
How can the individual with autism be helped? Through accurate and appropriate training of all persons involved as a primary or secondary caregiver. This may include parents, teachers, teaching assistants, speech/language pathologists, physicians and anyone else that touches the life of a person diagnosed with autism. Also effective and consistent behavior management still proves to be the best method of programming and treatment for individuals affected by autism. The need for effective and creative design of programs to meet the specific needs of each individual is imperative. Like no other types of programs, these programs must address the specific issues caused by autism in a non-traditional manner. The buy-in of all persons involved to provide consistent directions and interventions is a must. The success of a person diagnosed with autism lies in the design of their program and the training of all participating in the implementation of the program.
How prevalent is autism and why do we hear so much more about autism now than we did even five years ago? That is a complex question. There is no doubt there is a growing need for services as well as a focus on service direction for Mississippians diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. The most recent statistics on prevalence of autism indicate that potentially 1.5 million Americans are challenged by this developmental disability. It is presently the second most common developmental disability in the world, second only to mental retardation. Sixty-five percent (65%) of these cases are under 14 years of age and is four times more common in boys than girls. At its present rate of increase it will be, by a significant margin, the most common developmental disability in the world by the year 2010. Recent statistics from the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Division of Special Education indicate that 1 out of every 166 children in the State of Mississippi is effected by an autism spectrum disorder. Using these numbers as a guideline, Mississippi should have around 3,000 school aged children eligible for a ruling of an autism spectrum disorder. With this number in mind, it is clear that the need for services is insurmountable. These services include diagnostics and evaluations, medical services, speech-language services, occupational therapy and behavioral intervention services just to name a few. These needs are placing an incredible strain on the present support infrastructure that is not prepared to handle this influx of required services. These numbers and service demands do not include the numbers of adults with autism. The potential for services needed to meet the needs of this faction of this growing population is also massive. This data clearly supports an urgent need for a more extensive support network in Mississippi. TEAAM is that network.
Even if bed wetting isn't a challenge for you, finding a doctor who understands autism may be an obstacle you'll need to overcome. Why? Unless a doctor has had experience with autism, it will be unlikely that they will be able to help effectively diagnose and treat the condition. Autism is not a simple pervasive development disorder that can be fixed with medication or a few trips to the psychiatrist. It is a serious disorder that affects people differently, making each case specific to the individual.
Therefore, regardless if you or your child's pediatrician suspects autism, it is imperative to your child and their future that they are referred to someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorders. This means your child may require more than one medical professional who specializes in autism.
The following is a list of medical professionals that might make up the multi-disciplinary assessment team an autistic child requires:
Child psychiatrist Can help determine the initial diagnosis, prescribes medications, and helps an autistic deal with social relationships and developing emotional behavior.
Child Therapist Specialist who understands the impact and nature of autism and other development disability disorders. They may conduct a psychological assessment test and assist with the training of social skills and modifying behavior.
Development pediatrician treats children with health problems related to handicaps or delays in development.
Language/speech therapist Helps to improve communication skills, focusing on language and speech.
Occupational therapist Focuses on helping those with disabilities develop daily practical and self-help skills such as eating and getting dressed. They may also focus on fine motor skills, sensory integration and coordination of movement.
Helps a child improve their coordination and motor skills by strengthening muscles, joints, nerves and bones
Social Worker Can help arrange treatments and services and can provide counseling services.
Once you find the professionals your child needs, it is imperative that you work closely with them. The reason is because although professionals have experience with autism, you are the most experienced when it comes to the specific information regarding your child's needs and abilities.
To effectively work together with professionals you need to:
Educate yourself Learn as much as you can about autism
Prepare yourself Write down any questions or concerns you have regarding your child, autism or treatment and address them with the professional(s)
Open communication You don't have to agree with everything a professional says. If you disagree with a recommendation voice your opinion.
If you are unsure where you can find the right professionals that specialize in autism, the following are some helpful suggestions:
In your community Visit your health care provider, hospital, or pharmacist and ask them if they know anyone who specializes in diagnosing and treating autism. You can also contact your government's health department. Just remember, even if you are referred to someone, this may not be the specialist you are looking for. Don't be afraid to find out their experience before making a commitment.
Internet resources The internet is a fantastic resourced and has plenty of useful and helpful information about autism, understanding and effectively helping individuals with Autism and how to get help in your community. Some excellent websites you can check out include:
o Autism Society of America (http://autism-society.org)
Support group Getting involved in a support group that is designed to reach out to parents and family members can be extremely helpful for finding a professional, as you can ask fellow members for recommendations. Support groups also provide you with encouragement when times are tough, and allow you the opportunity to discuss autism with others who know what you are experiencing
Autism is the world's fastest growing developmental disability. People on the Autism spectrum may:
****For law enforcement or medical personnel:
This individual may not understand the law, know right from wrong, or know the consequences of his or her actions
Here are some helpful hints when interacting with an individual who has Autism:
posted by Ashish Jain
The expression ‘developmental disability’ stands for the kind of impairment that interferes with a person’s ability to perform one or more vital functions of life. Since such disabilities are of extremely serious nature, they might adversely affect the affected person’s ability to earn an independent living. Autism is one of such disabilities.
In an autistic child, the symptoms are quite visible right from the time when he or she is three years old.
In most of the cases, these kids have difficulty speaking and cannot speak clearly. An autistic child is much of loner and does not enjoy playing with other children. He prefers to stay alone and play all alone. They often confine themselves to a small corner and keep playing their very own games, which might look very strange to an outsider.
They do not light bright light or loud noise, and if subjected to such disturbances, they might react rather violently.
Many a time, when you are speaking to them, they wouldn’t even pay attention to what you are saying. You might take them for deaf. But they are not essentially deaf. Chances are that they would not pay any attention to what you are saying for a very long time and then suddenly react to your talk with a smile or even a hearty laugh, or by simply saying something in reply to what you said. They may not even respond to the sound of their own names at times. But then, on other occasion you might find them looking bang in your face if you called them by their names.
The basic reason for their not responding is not that they do not ‘hear’ but that they are too self-immersed to take note of what you said. At such occasions they cut the external inputs out and take no cognizance of what is being spoken.
Autistic children are difficult to manage because of their unpredictable behavior. They might be an impressive picture of tolerance on one occasion while on the other you might find them extremely irritable and short tempered.
The best way to get along with them is to be patient, receptive and willing. So, far there is no cure for autism. Therefore, all that we can do is wait. Wait, patiently.
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When your child is first diagnosed as having autism, you feel your heartbreak. It may take a bit but you slowly begin to let the pieces fall into place. The odd behaviours other children never do, become clearer. Your world becomes more understandable, while your autistic child's becomes more blurred. You may want a second, third, fourth opinion. You may be confused and blame yourself.
First you must realize it is not your fault. Children with disabilities and delays are born everyday with no fault of their parents or the pregnancy. Nothing you could've have done would've prevented this and nothing you do will ease the feelings you have. All you can do is assist your child in surviving in his autistic world and do your best to learn and understand how they feel, who they are and what they are going through.
Every child is born unique. Every child is special in their own way and mannerisms, your autistic child is just a little more special and needs a little more guidance and care to help them to cope with daily life and the world around them. You still care for them as any parent would, you just may have to change some of the techniques you thought would have worked when you became a parent.
A diagnosis of autism is not the end of the world and is something that can be easily coped with, with education and knowledge about your child and their condition you can make their transition through childhood no less stressing or joyful as any other child's. They are special but all children are.
Children with Autism - Tips on how to show them affection
"Heartbreaking" -- That is the word some people use to describe their failed efforts in showing love to children with autism. Parents, teachers and caretakers of autistic children may wonder how to reach out to a child that seems withdrawn, unreachable and disinterested in showing affection.
It is true that many autistic children have a problem when it comes to affection but it would be false to say that all autistic children cannot give nor receive affection. This is a myth. An autistic child processes sensory touch differently from a normal child. Therefore, autistic children can be affectionate, but it would be on their own terms.
So, if you are wondering how you can be affectionate towards an autistic child, here are some suggestions for you:
Seek first to understand How autism impacts a person's life and ability to function ranges from light to severe. You could say that autism affects a person in a wide spectrum of ways. They do not all react the same way. The way they react to almost everything can be different for each child. Some don't mind bear hugs. Some cannot even stand having their arm held. Some are able to be touched by close family members but not strangers or friends. Through trial and error, you have to learn what kind of hug or touch is acceptable to them. Give warnings before you touch them. An autistic child who is oversensitive to touch may become agitated, upset and even violent if touched unexpectedly. So always approach the child from the front and give a warning before touching them. For example, tell the child you will be carrying him into the car seat. Don't just grab him. Don't force hugs on them. If you feel an autistic child could use a hug, get down to their level and invite them with open arms. Talk to the child and let them decide if they want a hug or not. Do not violate their personal space but rather let them invade your space. If they refuse your offer, don't feel offended. It's probably not what they need at that time. Try other ways to show affection. Hugs and touches are not the only to show affection. You can give verbal encouragement and positive comments coupled with a loving smile. You could also use hand gestures like giving a thumbs up. Affection could also be in the form of doing something nice for them or giving them a gift they will appreciate.
Every autistic child is different. Building up that bond takes patience. If your child has a problem with affection, don't be disheartened. Learn more about autistic behaviors so you don't hold on to unrealistic expectations. Communicate with other parents that have children with autism to see how they have coped with the issue, then experiment the different ways to see what works for you. Be positive and think of it as learning to speak a different kind of love language with you