Early Intervention for Children with Autism
The key to later success
Parents no longer have to blaze new trails to find evidence-based autism therapies for their children. Innovative, empirically based therapies have produced phenomenal results, according to child neurologist Dr. Liya Beyderman, director of child neurology services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics in Voorhees, NJ, and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE.
Things to know
Three things can empower parents to choose the right autism therapy or combinations of therapies for their child’s behavioral, developmental and educational objectives:
• Understanding the necessity of beginning therapy as soon as possible
• Considering the child’s temperament and behavior
• Learning about proven autism therapies
Early intervention is critical
Dr. Beyderman emphasizes starting intervention in the first five years of your child’s life, a critical period in brain development.
Anita Moore, whose 8-year-old son Tyler was diagnosed with autism at 30 months, agrees. She has seen marked improvement in Tyler’s communication and language, play, social, self-care and academic skills because she started intervention right away.
Investigate therapy choices
Moore consulted with her pediatrician and a child neurologist who specializes in autism treatment to help her prioritize her child’s needs and research programs.
Because autism treatment is intense and involves the whole family, Moore suggests that parents observe a program in action before choosing it for their child, talk to other parents whose children have used the therapy and make sure they have a full understanding of it.
See page 2 for therapy choices.
Select a therapy
Although therapies abound, experts recommend parents select individualized, positive, science-based, proven treatments.
ABA: The gold standard. “Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy is the number one intervention that has been proven to help and has sustained results,” says Dr. Beyderman.
Moore says Tyler learns best through an ABA-based therapy: “It uses positive reinforcement to reduce problem behaviors by rewarding success. It breaks down skills into small steps and gives children many opportunities to learn and practice these skills in a variety of settings.”
Ages 1 to 4. The Early Start Denver Model offers remarkable results. This comprehensive, evidence-based program developed by psychologists Sally Rogers, PhD, and Geraldine Dawson, PhD, has resulted in significant improvement in young children’s cognitive and language abilities.
Both the parents and the clinician must become certified in the ESDM principles. The clinician integrates the principles into the child’s play and daily routine for 15 hours per week, and the parents provide 5 additional hours of support in the home.
Ages 5+. For preschoolers and school-age children, parents may choose the pivotal response training program, developed by doctors Robert and Lynn Koegel. The program uses natural learning opportunities to advance communication and language skills and foster social interactions and friendships with typically developing peers.
Movement therapy. Dance and movement therapist Michele René Conner has designed a fun-filled, safe environment for children with autism to explore and investigate at Making Real Connections, her therapeutic studio in Hatboro, PA.
She envisions that children come to MRC as caterpillars and says, “My job is to help them connect with the real world so they can get their wings and fly.”
Regardless of the selected therapy, Moore hopes that parents see their children as unique individuals first before considering their challenges. “Your son or daughter is still the same person he or she was before the diagnosis,” she says. “It may not be the path you would’ve chosen, but some of the best journeys in life happen when we unexpectedly take a left turn.”
She reminds parents to trust their own instincts: “Breathe, laugh, pray often, believe in yourself, and more importantly believe in your child and never lose hope!”
Lynda Dell is a freelance writer and experienced PA-certified early childhood educator.