In preparation for your child’s future, you have already taken an important first step by seeking out information. If you learn as much as you can, visit schools and facilities offering intervention, talk to professionals and other parents, and consider all your options, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about the treatment options that most suit your child’s needs.
What Does My Child Need and How Do I Get It?
Children who receive a diagnosis of autism demonstrate impairments in three major areas: communication, social interaction, and repetitive/restricted interests. What your child needs, then, are interventions that directly address these three areas. It is particularly important to establish a functional communication system that your child can use to interact with other people. Many programs are very good at producing improvements in other behaviors, such as compliance, motor imitation, or even beginning academic skills. Others may be effective at teaching children to use expressive language, but the child’s vocabulary may be limited to labeling objects. It is critical that treatment programs put a communication system in place that teaches children to use it competently with their parents, siblings, other family members, peers, teachers, and other people in the child’s community. Social communication deficits are perhaps the most limiting aspect of autism. Addressing them early, consistently, and thoroughly is likely to have the most meaningful impact on an individual’s quality of life.
Who are Potential Members of the Intervention Team?
Intervention invariably involves more than one treatment and multiple providers, i.e., an intervention team. Several types of professionals and services should be involved in taking care of a child with autism. This team should be under the direction of one certified and experienced professional who will develop, organize, advocate for, and watch over your child’s specific program. The team may include some or all of the following professionals: Developmental Pediatrician, Child Psychiatrist, Neurologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Child Psychologist, Special or General Education Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and/or Speech/Language Therapist.
The Importance of Response to Intervention
Response to intervention is just as important as the initial diagnosis. It is important that your child undergoes accurate and regular assessment to ensure that the course of treatment is appropriate and effective. Assessments do not necessarily need to be long, nor should they be done frequently. Think of them as the primary tools you have to benchmark your child’s development and document progress. Assessments will help you continue to identify the appropriate treatment goals and modifications needed for your child’s treatment plan.
The data you gather from ongoing assessment will provide critical information about whether an intervention is working and goals are being met efficiently, or whether an intervention is ineffective, should be discontinued, and/or another approach taken. While some treatments may take longer than others to demonstrate improvements, do not be reticent if you have questions. Time is of the essence in autism intervention, and you should be committed to only those treatments that are producing meaningful changes in your child. Finally, your family needs to be included in the assessment of your child. Treatments that are selected should be culturally sensitive, fit within your family’s daily routines, and be practical for your child and family to participate in all aspects of the intervention correctly.
Continuity of Care
Intervention invariably involves more than one treatment and multiple providers, i.e., an intervention team. Continuity of care refers to the extent to which intervention programs are coordinated across these treatment providers without lapses in treatment. Ideally, all of your child’s therapists would work for one agency to ensure that everyone is on the same page. That doesn’t happen much in the case of autism and is even less liable to occur in the case of a military family and autism.
It is far more likely that your child’s treatment team will be made up of a number of therapists with different backgrounds and approaches to intervention. The team may include some or all of the following professionals: Developmental Pediatrician, Child Psychiatrist, Neurologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Child Psychologist, Special or General Education Teacher, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and/or Speech/Language Therapist. All of the aforementioned providers may work for different service agencies, posing challenges to maintaining continuity of care. It is critical, nonetheless, that your child‘s team of treatment providers works together and maintains open lines of communication to avoid conflicting therapies.
It may be helpful, then, to select a “lead” therapist/agency who is responsible for overseeing the child’s overall program and for coordinating interventions across therapists and service providers. Generally, this therapist/agency should be the one who has the most expertise in autism treatment programs and spends the most time with your child.