As we continue in our journey tracing the steps from learning about an autism diagnosis in the family to learning how to actually live with a family member with autism, one thing should be crystal clear by now: no two parents walk the same path when living with a family member with autism. And so it is with finding the treatment solution that works for you; it’s rare that two treatment programs are the exact same.
That said, most treatment tends to fall under either behavior, medicinal, or a combination of both. First and foremost, it’s crucial that a parent and a child’s doctor identify any additional medical issues that can arise as a byproduct of autism. Many persons with autism have additional medical conditions such as sleep disturbance, seizures and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Addressing these conditions can improve attention, learning and related behaviors.
Formulating a treatment plan is largely an improvisational practice; meaning that as a child matures, they might grow out of some issues while new problems present themselves with age. As different interventions and support systems become appropriate as a child develops and acquires social and learning skills, parents often need to be constantly recalibrating their approach to a child’s treatment throughout their development into adulthood.
But that doesn’t mean a parent shouldn’t start formulating a treatment plan as soon as they become cognizant of a child’s placement on the Autism Spectrum. Numerous scientific studies have illustrated that early intensive behavioral interventions—such as Applied Behavioral Analysis and the Early Start Denver Model—can be crucial to improving learning, communication, and social skills in toddlers and preschool children with autism.
While each early intervention program tends to differ in the details, they generally share some if not many of the following features:
- A child with autism should engage in structured, therapeutic activities for at least 25 hours a week.
- Parents should research and consult other parents to find the best-trained and most effective therapists and teachers who are responsible for the intervention.
- Parents should identify specific learning objectives that they would like their child to achieve and a child’s progress in reaching these goals is continually assessed and recorded.
- The chosen intervention should focus on the core areas affected by autism, which include social skills, language and communication, imitation, play skills, daily living, and motor skills.
- Children should be encouraged to interact with similarly developing peers as part of their treatment.
- The therapy should constantly engage parents in the intervention in terms of decision making and the means by which the treatment is delivered.
In addition to the above features, every program of treated requires a team of professionals, as needed, which can include a physician, a speech-language pathologist, and an occupational therapist.
While the elements discussed above are the building bricks by which any effective treatment program is built, it is also crucial that a family is working with therapists that have a clear respect for a child and his/her family’s unique needs and values. By ensuring these essential parts are in order, parents can move onto the next phase of living with autism: learning how to constantly adapt.