We realize that having a child being given a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a very stressful event for parents. It is very important that you realize that there is much you can do to help yourself and your child so that your child can develop the skills they need to participate to their fullest extent in the family, school and community.
Having a plan as to how to proceed to get the best possible help for your child is probably the most important step you can take to relieve your stress and to help your child’s development.
The Internet has made it possible for parents to have access to a great deal of information about treatment for ASD. Unfortunately, much of the information is not based on solid scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of such information. Although no one will have the answers to all of your questions, we would like to give some very practical information that is important for every parent to know. This information is only meant to be general information, as we cannot give specific recommendations without personally meeting with you and your child to learn all the details of your situation.
Regarding your child’s physical concerns
As with any child, if your child is having any physical problems (such as, constipation, diarrhea, difficulty sleeping), you need to have a physician who can help to ensure that the child’s body is healthy and is working as it should. The Autism Society of America states that 60%-80% of children with ASD have Gastro-Intestinal (GI) problems that often are first noticed by the child having diarrhea and/or constipation or abdominal pain. Sometimes these GI problems are not resolved by just giving the child the usual treatment of providing extra fiber and fluids, but require more involved medical interventions. Since Gastro-Intestinal problems play a major role in our immune system, all children should have their biological functions reviewed by a competent physician who is trained in the treatment of medical conditions experienced by children with ASD who can help the child’s body function well.
Regarding your child’s educational concerns
A child with a diagnosis of ASD is delayed in their development of language and social interaction skills. Research indicates the need for, and the effectiveness of, early intensive behavioral intervention for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Many times parents hope that trying some biomedical interventions along with a few hours of speech and language services will help the child overcome the developmental delays. This non-intensive approach has not been an effective strategy for many children. Don’t put-off the educational program while you explore medical issues! It is very important to have both programs working simultaneously. Get started immediately on learning how to teach your child.
It is important to make sure that you have an experienced professional ensuring that your child receives the best possible educational services available. It is important to have professionals on your side who have extensive knowledge in the development of effective educational interventions and are readily available to adjust your child’s program based on how the child is responding to the intervention.
All children are different, but in general there are some important steps to take after receiving a diagnosis of autism.
First, you need to identify the skills that your child does and doesn’t have. It is not always easy for parents and educators to see all of the specific skills that the child needs to learn. The ABLLS-R (or WebABLLS as an online version) is an assessment for basic language and learning skills that typically-developing children usually develop before reaching 5 years of age. There are 544 skills from 25 areas ordered from simpler to more complex.
The ABLLS-R includes receptive and several types of expressive language, social interaction, group participation, basic academics, self-help and motor skills. Once an assessment is completed, it is easy to identify and prioritize skills that need to be taught to the child. We can then track the development of those skills and teach more complex skills as the less complex skills are acquired. For more details on designing an educational plan for your child, we recommend the book Success on the Spectrum. This book will guide you through the teaching process in structured sessions as well as during routine daily activities. It also includes information on how to prioritize learning objectives and how to address common behavior problems.
The second critical component is to know that we all learn by doing. It is important to make sure the child is a motivated learner. It may be needed to start using highly motivating activities for a few simple responses in the beginning as praise is often not sufficient to motivate the child to participate in learning activities. If praise is paired prior to the delivery of the reinforcement, it is likely that the child will develop social praise as the reinforcer. The main issue is that children learn best from individuals they like and who make learning fun! We want the child to run to us not from us!
Please see our resource Learning to Motivate, Motivating to Learn for additional tips on how to help your child.
The third critical component is variation in learning activities. It is important to have many skill acquisition trials throughout the day. Children need a lot of repeated practice to develop skills. A varied learning environment is key. The child needs to learn not only in the structured teaching session, but also during daily activities (such as getting dressed, eating, taking a bath). Parents have the opportunity to teach critical skills to their child at the same time as they are helping them through these typical daily activities.
Finally, we believe that parent participation is a must. Parents are the key teachers in a child’s life and they need to know what skills are important to teach as well as how to teach them. Don’t expect the educational systems or professionals to provide all of the services your child needs. You, the parent, need to know what your child needs to learn and how to teach those skills so that you can help your child learn skills and be able to evaluate what services are being provided by others.
Our book Teaching Language to Children with Autism or Other Developmental Disabilities, written in an easy-to-understand manner, has helped many parents understand the language skills that a child needs to learn and explains in great detail how to teach those skills.