Working in with the 0-3 population, I see many kids who have a diagnosis of autism. Even so, there are so many more children who have not yet been diagnosed and are just “red flagged” for some concerning indicators. These red flags are usually identified with a tool called the M-CHAT, a standard screening used during the intake process for early intervention.
Children with autism are given a lot of attention and many hours of services by the birth-three early intervention system. This is done due to superior neuroplasticity during the formative years. Neuroplasticity is to the brain’s ability to heal, reorganize itself, and develop connections. From birth to five years of age, there is a window of time where developmental gains can be made that will be much more difficult, or even impossible, later in life.
Through my own experience, I’ve come to learn that, although children respond best to research-driven interventions, each child is unique and will require an individualized treatment plant. I’ve put together what I call my “autism toolbox”. In it, you will find everything you need for success during this crucial period. In the best-case scenario, each part of the toolbox enhances to your child’s treatment, maximizing developmental achievements and individual success.
- Appropriate environment: Every child with or without autism will thrive in their least restricted environment. If your child is in daycare and his behaviors are challenging, make sure the staff is equipped to deal with these behaviors in a strategic, non-intimidating manner. I have seen daycare centers where children with autism spend long periods of time restrained in a high chair because the provider cannot manage his/her behavior. This is heartbreaking to witness. It is important to find a center that can accommodate your child’s needs and work with your team to manage his behavior. There may be times when restraint is necessary for the safety of the child or others. The decision if and when to restrain your child should be made by the family and team together, and not unilaterally by the day care provider.
- ABA: Research-driven and proven to be successful, ABA is an important tool for your treatment plan. ABA is based on a behavioral analysis. Interventions are designed by studying the antecedent, behavior, and consequence patterns in your child’s routines, in order to affect change in his/her behavior. This therapy is provided by the special instructor, although all team members should be familiarized with this approach for maximum success. For more on ABA, please read my archived article, The ABCs of ABA.
- Teamwork: A great early intervention team works together like a well-oiled machine. Each therapist or clinician sees himself/herself as a part of a whole, and treats the whole child, not only the areas most affected by that particular therapist’s discipline. Communication between team members is crucial. Daycare providers and family members are the most important part of the team! They are the ones who see the bigger picture, track the child’s progress across a variety of routines, and help the team members keep in touch with one another.
- Sensory Diet: Almost all children with autism also have a sensory processing disorder. An individualized intervention plan to help address your child’s sensory needs is absolutely essential to ensuring success. For more on sensory processing disorder, please read my archived articles, Sleepy Senses, or Wide-Awake? and Rock, Brush, and Roll.
- Gross Motor Play: Research indicates that children with autism have difficulty with motor planning. That means it is very difficult for them to have their bodies do what they need in order to achieve their goals. Deficits in motor planning affect all areas of development, including communication, social interaction, self-care, fine motor skills, and cognitive problem-solving. This deficit needs to be addressed by giving the child consistent opportunity to practice motor planning with 1:1 attention and assistance. Rigorous gross motor activity also improves sensory processing and releases endorphins that improve focus and attention.
- The Secret Sauce: Although every component listed above is essential to your child’s success, the secret sauce is really inside your child’s own heart. S/he is unique, and special with individual likes, dislikes, and interests. As caregivers, family members, and service providers, our job is to find out what really makes your child tick and use it to help him learn. Maybe he loves animals, cars, or music. Maybe he is very visual and learns best with things he can see. Whatever it is that lights up your child’s life, we will find it, bring it out, and connect with it. That thing is what makes your child unique, and what makes working with him such a thrilling adventure.
Wishing every child, family, and team good luck on their journey to success!
~Chaya Glatt, Special Instructor