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Building Your Autism Village

How a great team can create great outcomes.

By Chaya Glatt

It takes a village to raise a child; everyone knows that. But what if that child is demonstrating some troubling symptoms? What if that child is not pointing to her sippy-cup, saying “up”, or following directions when Daddy says “go get your shoes”?

When Brandon and Sarah*, parents of 18-month-old Leslie, first voiced their concerns to their pediatrician, they opened up a dialogue which introduced them to the world of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). “It’s a scary word to hear at first, even as a possibility.” Sarah confessed. “It was like stepping outside your front door, and finding yourself on another planet.”

Sarah is a financial planner and Brandon is an operations research analyst. Both are working hard to advance their careers. Struggling with Leslie’s often unpredictable and challenging behaviors has been an overwhelming experience for both of them. “I feel like this is something totally new, something that none of my education prepared me for.” Brandon said. “My daughter means the world to me. It breaks my heart to see her frustrated, to see her unable to communicate her needs…what I really want is answers.”

In search for those answers, Brandon and Sarah reached out to Connect Plus Therapy and spoke to parent liaison Jodie Littwin. “Jodie really helped us understand what we’re dealing with when it comes to ASD.” Sarah said, “We learned that the first thing we need to do is have Leslie see a specialist to get an answer to our most pressing question: is this autism?”

Currently, Leslie’s name is on a waiting list for an appointment with a Developmental Pediatrician, one of the few MDs qualified to diagnose autism. In the meantime, Sarah and Brandon have followed Jodie’s referral and reached out to an early intervention agency to get started with therapy services.

“One of the most important things parents need to know,” said Jodie, “Is to reach out to us as soon as they have that ASD diagnosis. So many people tell me they thought they should “wait and see” or “maybe it will get better”. The truth is that waiting wastes precious time.”

Research indicates that the early years of childhood, from ages 0-5, are when the brain has the greatest plasticity, or ability to develop. That’s why parents need to know that the sooner they can start addressing developmental concerns, the better.

“I think the most comforting thing is knowing that we’re not alone in this.” said Sarah,  “And that that if Leslie does get an ASD diagnosis, she’ll have a whole team of experts to support her—and even more importantly, to support us, and teach us what we need to know, so we can give her the best shot at success.”

Meet the Village

Children who are demonstrating some of the red flags for autism, or children who have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder gain the most when they have a “village” of support; a team of expert clinicians who specialize in their fields. Applied Behavior Analysis is the tool the team uses to reach goals and outcomes. Most of these services are covered by private insurance.

BCBA- A Board Certified Behavior Analyst observes your child and helps develop a
treatment plan to reach desired outcomes. These outcomes vary, are specific to the child, and can be anything from “We want Amy to say “water” when thirsty”, to “We want Michael to sit in his high chair for five minutes during mealtimes.”

Behavior Technician– Your Behavior Technician interacts with you and your child in his or her natural environment on a consistent ongoing basis to implement the behavior plan and work toward the child’s goals. Your behavior tech can address issues as they come up, in real time, and may be present during challenging routines such as tooth-brushing and mealtimes. The behavior tech also collects data on behavior which helps the team make decisions about the direction of therapy.

Related Services– Depending on the child’s needs, a transdisciplinary team of speech therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists collaborate with one another to help your child meet his or her goals.

Community as a Village

“We’ve been grateful for the support of our therapists, and also our family, friends and neighbors,” Brandon said. “I think there’s been a growing awareness of autism, and an understanding that parents like us need all the help and support we can get.”

Jodie agrees that communities play an essential role in supporting families of children with ASD “We are constantly working to build autism awareness in the community, and to partner with community organizations for the benefit of our families.” She said. “We want people to know that if they have concerns, it doesn’t cost anything to reach out, ask questions, and get some help. For you and your child, that first step can be the most important step of all.”

Could it be Autism? Watch for these Red Flags

If your child is exhibiting some or all of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician or early intervention agency. For a complete evaluation, make an appointment with a neurologist, developmental pediatrician, or licensed psychologist.

Impairment in Social Interaction:

  • Lack of appropriate eye gaze
  • Lack of warm, joyful expressions
  • Lack of sharing interest or enjoyment
  • Lack of response to name

Impairment in Communication:

  • Lack of showing gestures
  • Lack of coordination of nonverbal communication
  • Unusual prosody (little variation in pitch, odd intonation, irregular rhythm, unusual voice quality)

Repetitive Behaviors & Restricted Interests:

  • Repetitive movements with objects
  • Repetitive movements or posturing of body, arms, hands, or fingers

*Source:www.firstsigns.org

Connect Plus Therapy provides Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families. Services are developed and implemented with client and family at the core. Servicing South Jersey and the greater Philadelphia area. For more information, www.connectplustherapy.com 856-827-7630