What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological and developmental disorder which causes qualitative impairments in communication, socialization, and repetitive or stereotyped behaviors. The current manual for diagnostic clarification used among mental health professionals divides autism spectrum disorders into three categories. These are known as Asperger’s Disorder, Autistic Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS). The American Psychiatric Association has recently redefined the definition of Autism which will be put into practice in the spring of 2013. Recent reports indicate that this new revision will eliminate the Asperger’s Disorder and PDD NOS diagnoses and include them into an overall category known as Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is estimated that children who previously received services underneath these diagnoses will not “lose” their diagnosis or services due to this revision.
Is there a Cure?
Currently, there is no “cure” for autism and children do not “outgrow” this disorder. Although improvements can be seen with early intervention, symptoms can fluctuate throughout the child’s developmental trajectory. It is also noted that pharmacological treatment is still experimental with this population. Although individuals have demonstrated improvements in behaviors when prescribed stimulants, mood stabilizers, or antidepressants; this treatment option should be individualized to the child and monitored by a licensed professional.
As a Parent what can I do?
Most researchers agree that early intervention is the best intervention. Therefore, postponing treatment is not recommended. However, it is recognized that the actual process of obtaining treatment is confusing and, in some cases, expensive. Therefore, the following are steps parents can take in order to secure resources and begin the process:
Have your child evaluated. Medical personnel are instructed to screen children for developmental delays during well-check visits. This is typically a parent-informed process that may take 10-15 minutes. If concerns are present, it may be recommended that you seek out a formal developmental assessment to determine if your child is developmentally delayed. Depending on the age of your child, this process could involve gathering developmental history, performing an in-depth clinical interview, behavioral observations, parent/caregiver screening measures, cognitive testing, academic testing, and measures specifically geared toward an autism spectrum disorder.
Educate yourself. Many parents often obtain a diagnosis and then become overwhelmed with confusion, grief and loss, and general stress regarding what this means, where to start, and what to do next!
First thing, take a deep breath. Then begin to do some research. Know the treatment options for your child’s condition however be wary of any treatment that states that it can “cure autism” or does not have a control group, adequate number of subjects who participated, ignores limitations to the treatment approach, and/or is not published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. It should be noted that to date, there is very limited good research on diet plans, vitamin supplements, or medication that treat the core symptoms of ASDs. Although every parent wants to hear the word “cure” some diet plans or nutritional supplements may actually have harmful results.
Some children with autism have learning difficulties and some higher functioning children tend to excel in some areas, demonstrating gifted abilities. Regardless of your child’s abilities in academics or in certain activities, services are likely to be appropriate due to the nature of the diagnosis. Children with an autism spectrum disorder demonstrate deficits in communication and socialization which are likely to impact their lives significantly. Therefore, having a provider that specializes in treatment of autism spectrum disorders is likely to be the most helpful.
Take Care of Yourself
Research does indicate that parents of children with autism, as well as siblings, do experience multiple stressors which impact family functioning. Therefore, support groups and support services are available for families.
What We Do
Comprehensive Evaluations. In order to determine which services are warranted and to assess strengths and weaknesses of your child a comprehensive evaluation is completed. Recommendations are provided upon the completion of the evaluation to assist you finding the appropriate services for your child. Depending upon the age of your child, these evaluations may include:
Autism Screening and Diagnostic Measures
Individual and Family Treatment.
Behavioral methods have been found to be supported by research to assist in managing behaviors, determining the function of a specific behavior, and to assist in teaching new behaviors to children on the autism spectrum. Therefore, behavioral therapy is typically utilized to assist in parent training, behavioral management, and social skills training. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy may also be utilized with children presenting with other symptoms such as anxiety or depression. Child and Family Psychological Associates provide these services through intensive outpatient services, directing treatment goals to your child’s specific needs and development.
School Consultation. Often children with specific strengths and weaknesses need much more individualized plans and goals throughout their education. Therefore, CFPA is available to offer consultation to schools and parents regarding the following:
Special Education Lawand Compliance
Behavioral Management Consultation
Functional Behavioral Analysis Assessments