Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Early intervention for children with autism - why it's important. Benison O'Reilly weighs in.

Early intervention in autism spectrum disorders is key - and many times I am asked how soon I had my son diagnosed, and how I knew he had autism.

They are two separate questions, of course, but very much interconnected.

My son was diagnosed when he was one and a half. I just knew and of course there were plenty of signs [more in a future post]. And what I also know now is that early intervention is incredibly important.

Just last week I chatted with my sons' daycare centre director about his wonderful progress, and at the end of our conversation she was quick to add how thrilled she was that I have always embraced taking on the advice of his early intervention educators, and being willing to work with his teachers at daycare.

For me, it's a no-brainer: I love my boy more than life itself and I will always do everything I can to help him reach his full potential. But gosh, it's so great to get that kind of acknowledgement.

In the first of many opinion pieces by author Benison O'Reilly for this blog - she co-wrote the autism bible, "Australian Autism Handbook" - she explains why early autism intervention is key.

"I’ll illustrate with a personal example: my son, Joe," says Benison.

"He’s now a big boy of eleven but was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder just after his third birthday.

"At the time of diagnosis Joe was assessed as having moderate to severe developmental delay, which was a polite way of saying he probably had a very low IQ. After 20 months of intensive early intervention we had his IQ reassessed. The result: borderline normal. Did my son suddenly become a lot smarter? Of course not—early intervention simply gave him the skills he needed to demonstrate his intelligence.

In simple terms, early intervention teaches children with autism how to learn. Given the choice, these kids prefer to retreat into their own little worlds, which are safer and less challenging. 

Good early intervention programs drag them out of these worlds, and teach them the 5 essentials: how to focus and pay attention, how to imitate others, how to understand and use language, how to play appropriately with toys, and how to socially interact with others.

Many of the problem behaviours we see in children with autism, such as tantrums and self-injury, are actually acts of frustration—frustration at their inability to communicate their needs. That’s why language is such a major focus of early intervention. 

The good news is, with early intervention, the vast majority of children with ASD will learn to talk.

Early intervention sets children with ASD on the right trajectory, a trajectory of learning that will last them a lifetime."

Adds Benison: "With very young kids they sometimes provide a provisional diagnosis which almost invariably goes on to become a proper diagnosis."

She refers to a point made on the Autism VIC website [now http://www.amaze.org.au]

"Diagnosis is usually made from the age of about 18 months onwards. Sometimes a provisional diagnosis is made when the child is very young and is reassessed at a later date."

Benison continues: "At eleven, Joe continues to develop new skills but the foundations were established when he was just three years old. If he hadn’t had that early intervention, who knows where we’d be?"

Benison's words are what I live by. My son is now four and a half and I often look back at how far he has come and I am so thrilled... I know in my heart that - although we have a lot of work to do - the best is yet to come.

For more on the blog for the book Benison co-authored with Seana Smith, go here: http://autism.janecurrypublishing.com.au/

You can follow Benison on Twitter here: @BenisonAnne

And the Australian Autism Handbook Twitter page is: @autismhandbook 

This is the "Australian Autism Handbook" cover - parents with a child with an autism diagnosis: buy this book.

What are your experiences of your child's autism iagnosis - at what age did you have him or her diagnosed?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What is autism? Temple Grandin explains

What is autism?

It's the question most parents of kids with autism are asked.

It's not an easy one to answer, as there are so many 'kinds' of autism on the spectrum.

Here is the way the 'godmother' of autism - Temple Grandin - describes it: