Early intervention with regard to autism means that a child has started therapies before his third birthday to address common deficits found in autism. These deficits vary from child to child, but some forms of early intervention can be physical therapy, social, behavioral and speech-based. Usually, an early intervention program for a child with autism will be a combination of these.
Once a child has been identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, depending upon where he falls on the spectrum, an early intervention program will begin. Many services can take place in home, with minimum disruption. There are centers in many states that can provide some of these services, if the child qualifies. In California, for example, there are Regional Centers that will provide funding for therapies until the child turns three and ages out of the system. At that point, the local school district takes over, evaluates the child and determines what therapies may be needed.
The Regional Center requires an approval process, and at least in California, many do not accept Aspergers Syndrome as a qualifier for services. Children with more acute autism can often be funded, but the process can be long and frustrating, according to other parents with whom it has been discussed. Keep this in mind, fight for what you believe the child needs and trust your instincts. Stay in constant communication with the center, make sure they are aware you are involved in the process of getting and keeping services.
Reasons For Early Intervention
Early intervention is a necessity if the autistic child has been diagnosed early enough. Many children make strides through these programs. The first five years for children are key in their development and growth. To intervene therapeutically before age three can allow a child to learn new communication skills at a time when he is most able to grasp them. He can “unlearn” less desirable behaviors before they become ingrained. Because the child is not attending school yet, schedules are more flexible for appointment times. There is no need to work around school hours. It ends up being more convenient for everyone.
Children with autism who are younger are often easier to teach. As mentioned, they have less time to cement behaviors that might not work for them, before they are set in stone. It is much easier to teach a three year old not to tantrum as compared to an older child. There is more leeway given to a younger child: passersby tend to be more understanding. By the time the child is in grade school, that understanding has faded. An older child who throws a fit or otherwise “loses it” is looked upon with suspicion. Better to seek therapy early!
It is easier to tailor new dietary interventions with an older child, before long-term food preferences are set. A younger child, while having some food likes and dislikes, can often be convinced to change his diet with repeated introductions to new foods. This is important, because some interventions address possible food allergies. The younger the child, the easier to substitute new foods in place of old foods. Some common allergens in children with autism are gluten (wheat and grains), casein (dairy), soy, and corn. Getting a child on board with the regimen is easier at a younger age.
Speech therapy works best with younger children as well. Younger children are learning to speak, and correcting errors in speech at the beginning can be easier than waiting years later after the child has already become used to pronunciations and mouth movements. Also, younger children aren’t as concerned with appearances. There is a possibilty that if the child is in speech through grade school, he may suffer the stigma of being removed from class, something his classmates may ostracize him for. While this is a possibility with a child who has autism by virtue of just having autism, not adding to the difficulties may be a good idea.
Hope For Parents With Older Children
So if early intervention is so important, what about parents whose children with autism weren’t identified soon enough for early intervention? Some children are high-functioning enough that they are not identified early on. It is only as they get older and their peers surpass them in social and behavioral mores that the problem becomes apparent.
First of all, parents cannot blame themselves. Not every child shows signs of autism early, or the signs may be so slight that they can be missed. Higher-functioning children can compensate for their deficits. Or they may be around those who just consider them quirky. Often, the entire pattern of behavior has to be evaluated, and unless a child is having trouble at school or with peers, why upset the apple cart? It is easy to seek blame in these situations, but that serves no purpose. Most seek help when there is a need for it. Instead of dwelling on what wasn’t done, concentrate upon what can be done, now. The bottom line is, we do what we can do.
Tina Cruz is a writer, wife and mother of three children. The two youngest children have high-functioning autism and the oldest has undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome tendencies. She advocates for autism awareness and education, as well as acceptance. She views autism as a growth process and the opportunity to connect parents for support as a privilege. She is the editor of the Special Needs channel here at Typeamom. Her personal blog can be found at Send Chocolate.
photo of playground copyright striatic, flickr used under creative commons license.