Early Intervention and Autism
People are often surprised that autism treatment can start as early as 18 months. Research on early Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)-based treatment shows an average of 30-40 hours per week is best.
Parents often ask, “Why so Early?” or “Shouldn’t kids be playing and learning through play?” or “Can children handle early intervention therapy?” “What do you do in therapy anyway?”
Why so early?
Autism can be detected as early as 18 months. Children can be accurately disgnosed as early as 18 months as well. There is ample evidence that if we intervene early, we have a better chance of changing the developing brain. Early intervention stops problematic behavior from becoming a habit as children get older. It’s ideal for children to receive early individualized therapy to help any delays. This aides children to enter group learning when they reach school age.
Shouldn’t kids be playing and learning through play at and early age?
Play is an important task for children. It’s a kid’s ‘job’ to play, however a symptom of autism spectrum disorder is the lack of appropriate play skills often accompanited by reptiitive activities and rigidity.
Typical developing children pick up a variety of skills as they observe and imitate others. They are naturally reinforced by imitating and socializing with others. Children with autism are engrossed in objects and activities that only interest them. They are less likely to imitate and interact with others and other activities that do not interest them. However that doesn’t mean that children with autism cannot be taught to do this. If you were to place a child with autism with a group of children without it would not help this child build those skills. For children with autism, play and social skills must be broken down and deliberately taught and practiced. The teaching method will allow a child to take part in play group activities.
“Can children handle early intervention therapy?”
Recommendations for high intensity treatment, especially at the beginning stages of ABA treatment, is based on research that have stood trials of many peer reviews. Children with autism learn best through small steps and with repeated, consistent practice. In ABA treatment, putting on pans is often taught with 4 or more steps, each step practiced over and over. More complex skills, such as having a conversation with someone, requires more building blocks and learning. With somemore skill breakdown, children need time to practice the steps and form them into a coherent skill set.
Even though ABA therapy is intense, it is also fun and learning is very meaningful. Play is important and therapy targets play and social interaction.
What do you do in therapy anyway?
When a child starts therapy, the goal is to associate the therapist and therapy with a positive experience for the child. This is the foundation for continued learning. In therapy, learning targets are always tailored to the child’s level. Learning is presented with appropriate support so the child is successful.
When dealing with behavioral challenges, ABA-based treatment looks at the relationship between factors in the chid’s environment and behaviors. During treatment, ther therapist should uncover the reasons behind problem behavior and what the child is getting out of this behavior. With the reason for problem behavior identified, therapists can develop and put in place a consistent behavior plan. This plan will help the child increase appropriate behavior and reduce inappropriate behaviors.