Once an autism evaluation has confirmed that your child is affected by a spectrum disorder, you should look to learn as much as you can about treatment options. Since early intervention is crucial to a positive outcome, becoming an educated advocate for your child’s care is very important.
By the time a developmental screening has led to an autism evaluation, you likely will have learned a great deal about autism spectrum disorders and will know that treatment is the next step.
While it is important to know the symptoms and the factors that increase the risk of autism, now is the time to become educated on treatment options and how your child’s treatments will be carried out.
Start by asking the team of professionals who evaluated and diagnosed your child to explain to you where he or she is on the autism spectrum. You may not get as straightforward an answer as you would like because each child’s autism disorder is unique.
No two children with the same diagnosis will have the same symptoms, so finding out what aspect of the diagnosis is specific to your child is important. Your child’s treatments should be individualized to his or her needs.
Research into effective treatments in ongoing, so find out whether your child can receive the most up-to-date treatment options. Treatments are tailored to specific delays and are designed to be appropriate to your child’s chronological and developmental age. Find out what types of treatments your child can expect to receive now and which of those will be ongoing.
Check With Your Insurance
As a matter of practicality, check with your health insurance company to determine how treatments will be covered. Inquire about services in your community to determine what services, if any, you can receive at a reduced cost.
Someone from the team who evaluated your child should be able to provide materials to your child’s school that can help you establish an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for him or her.
Your child will likely receive a number of therapies simultaneously: speech, behavioral, and occupational therapy, for instance, will become a regular part of your routine. There may be pharmacological or dietary treatments as well, depending on your child’s symptoms.
Talk To Your Family
You will likely receive a great deal of information about how you can incorporate elements of treatment into your home routines, so expect some changes in the way your household runs. Inform your family members of how they can help your child’s therapy to extend beyond office visits.
Expect to work through a lot of emotions once you receive a diagnosis of autism. Certainly, you may feel overwhelmed, confused, disappointed, guilty for being disappointed, anxious, or some combination of all of these and more.
However, remember that getting an autism diagnosis is a positive step toward treatment. Autism is not curable, but early and effective treatment and intervention can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child with autism.
The usual “red flags” that warn of early signs of autism in babies are a baby’s failure to make eye contact or to smile or otherwise, react to parents or caregivers.
A recent study, though, conducted by the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities and published in the September 2009, issue of Pediatrics, has found other symptoms of autism.
Signs of Autism
The study consisted was of babies who were in the neonatal intensive care unit after birth, and found that those children who were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have abnormal muscle tone and differences in visual processing than those who were not later diagnosed with ASD.
Although parents are usually the first to notice the more traditional signs of autism in children, these subtle differences in muscle tone and visual processing were so subtle as to be, something parents would probably not have spotted.
The study was of 28 babies who had spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit who were then later diagnosed with ASD. These babies were matched with a control group of 112 babies who did not have ASD. The behavior of both groups was tested at 1 and 4 months and then periodically until the children were about 2 years old.
1 to 4 Months
At the one-month evaluation, the infants later diagnosed with ASD were “more likely to show ‘persistent neurobehavioral abnormalities’” and about 40% of those with ASD showed abnormalities in their visual tracking of objects.
Also, more than fifty percent of the babies later diagnosed with ASD had either too floppy or too rigid arm tone. Of the babies who developed normally, only 22 % had this abnormal tone. At the 4 month, evaluation the infants who were later diagnosed with autism preferred showed a preference for higher amounts of visual stimulation.
Study co-author Ira Cohen, chair of the psychology department at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, states that the preference for visual stimulation “fits in anecdotally with what we see later on. Kids with autism like looking at moving things in front of their eyes, such as flapping hands or following contours.”
7 to 10 Months
The 7 to 10-month evaluations revealed that those babies later diagnosed with ASD showed a decline in motor and thinking skills, and by about 13 months, there was an obvious divergence in the development of the two groups.
While the study is significant in its findings and implications for early intervention, the researchers stress that the study group was of infants from the NICU and that additional studies need to be performed on children who were born healthy at full term.
Regardless, the authors of the study conclude and reiterate that early autism intervention – by age 2 – is the best course of action for a positive outcome.