By Dr. Domonique Randall
As parents, we feel there is an endless list of things to worry about when it comes to our children. Those concerns start the day a baby is born, with parents constantly tracking their child’s developmental path, worried about whether or not they are hitting their age-appropriate milestones.
A major developmental concern amongst parents is autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2014 Community Report on Autism, the new estimate of autism prevalence is 1 in 68 children.
That can be a scary statistic for parents, but there is hope through early detection and proven evidence-based approaches, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA, which is endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, is an evidence-based treatment approach that is focused on understanding how behavior is affected by the environment. The scientific principles of learning are applied to behavioral deficiencies and excesses associated with ASD.
The sooner a parent or physician can identify the signs of ASD, the better. Early intervention yields the best outcomes as far as developmental gains and increased IQ. Studies show early intensive intervention, such as ABA, improves learning, communication and social skills. The following early detection signs may indicate that your child is at risk for ASD. If your child exhibits any of these signs, please do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician. Appropriate screening can determine whether a child is at risk for autism.
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age
Once a parent is faced with an autism diagnosis, one of their first questions is, “What do we do now?” While there is currently no single known cause or cure for autism, there is a way to improve the everyday struggles. But time is of the essence – choosing the best treatment and getting started early is critical.
First, I recommend that parents make a commitment to choose only evidence-based treatments, such as ABA. It can be overwhelming when you search the Internet, so a good starting place is the First 100 Day Kit available on AustimSpeaks.org.
Next, be sure you have a support system in place with family and friends that will support you in your efforts to start and maintain ABA treatment. Often times the focus of ABA treatment will require that parents, family and friends change their responses to the child’s behavior to support his or her learning.
Third, find quality ABA treatment programs that will focus on the child’s, as well as the family’s, needs. Here are some key elements of quality programs:
1. Qualified Professionals – this includes board certified behavior analyst and behavior technicians
2. Data-driven treatment decisions
3. Individualized assessment and treatment based on the child’s strengths and weaknesses
4. Several forms of teaching to promote acquisition and generalization of skills – naturalist training, structured teaching, and social learning opportunities
5. Parent training and support in ABA principles and techniques
6. Teaches replacement behavior through the use of positive reinforcement
Finally, consider the commitment in terms of resources and time. Intensive ABA often consists of 30 plus hours per week for multiple years. A total of 38 states now require some coverage for diagnosis and treatment for autism. To learn more about this mandate, visit AutismSpeaks.org. Being your child’s advocate is important. Just remember, early detection and intervention is key. The sooner the signs of autism are identified and evidence-based treatment can begin, the better the outcome for your child.
Dr. Domonique Randall, BCBA-D, is the founder and CEO of The Shape of Behavior, an ABA clinic for individuals with ASD and other disabilities. She has over 17 years of experience in autism treatment. To learn more about The Shape of Behavior’s San Antonio clinic, visit www.shapeofbehavior.com.
For more information about Autism, check out the links below that have been complied by Kathleen Carter | firstname.lastname@example.org
Autism Speaks Resource Guide
Career Assistance for People with Autism
National Center for Autism Resources & Education
AutismNOW Transition Planning
Aquatic Therapy for Children with Autism