The first step in autism treatment is identification. Look for the common signs of autism and talk to your pediatrician. Make sure screening is done by your doctor at your child’s 18 month and 24 month visits. Treatment and intervention can only begin after a diagnosis is made. The average age of diagnosis is after age 4 years yet present screens that can be performed by you at home or in your pediatrician’s office have the capability to identify children under age 2 years.
Once you have a concern the next step is a comprehensive medical evaluation and vision and hearing testing. Make certain your child is tested by a professional who has the skills to test young children and children with behavioral or developmental problems. Further developmental testing by Early Intervention, a Child Neurologist or a Developmental Pediatrician should then be pursued. This allows individualized testing to be obtained based on your child’s examination and history. Such testing may include specialized laboratory testing and neurological testing.
Intervention must include services to respond to the social, emotional, educational and physical needs of your child. All services must be supportive of your whole family and must respect personal, religious, cultural and ethnic preferences.
The most common intervention includes child focused intensive behavioral intervention that is also family supportive. Services must be provided both in and out of home and include parent and caregiver training. The purpose of all services is to provide intensive and child specific intervention that supports community and in home functioning. Specific attention must be directed to behavioral challenges that commonly exist and a focus on age specific group integration that is provided under the supervision of a highly trained individual.
Services should be evidenced based and provide outcome information to aid parents in choosing services. These services must be highly structured, individualized and include positive reinforcement while avoiding negative reinforcement. Service ratios are very important and in the initial treatment phase 1:1 supervision is often required if there is to be success in transitioning from a controlled to a naturalistic environment both in and out of the home.
Parent education and support services must also be part the treatment program. The focus must be on fostering collaboration between everyone involved in the care of the child or adult and identifying and pursuing reasonable and non-restrictive strategies that “work.” Connections and networking with available community services and the development of unavailable necessary community services are also essential if the transition from child to adult care is to be successful.