Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), describes a range of developmental delays in areas like social skills, cognition, language and communication, and motor skills. Telltale signs of ASD tend to surface just before two years of age, but as the term “spectrum” indicates, there’s wide variation in the developmental setbacks experienced by each child.
Some of the more common signs in infants include:
- avoiding eye contact
- lack of gestures and other signs of nonverbal communication
- absence of babbling or any attempt at language
- repetitive behaviors like flapping hands or spinning, and getting upset over minor changes.
If parents have concerns over their child’s developmental delays, it’s wise to seek professional advice from a pediatrician sooner rather than later. If there is an autism diagnosis, plenty of research reveals that early intervention with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can significantly boost a child’s ability to improve upon these areas of concern. The earlier a child begins ABA therapy, the better the chance of being mainstreamed into neurotypical classrooms.
Dealing with a new autism diagnosis can be an overwhelming experience. Amy Brown, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) at Action Behavior Centers in Austin, TX, with a decade of experience with children with autism, has some helpful tips to help parents through the process.
- Take time to observe and learn the specifics about your child’s condition. Each child’s experience with ASD is unique. It’s important to figure out what kinds of stimuli trigger certain behaviors — both positive and challenging ones. With a better understanding of a child’s likes and dislikes, fears, frustrations, and motivators, parents will be able to best modify or prevent difficult situations.
- Reward good behavior with reinforcers. Reinforcement is a fundamental aspect of ABA therapy, and parents can easily incorporate it in their child’s everyday life. Favorite toys and foods are effective go-to reinforcer options. Reinforcers should be given immediately after a desired behavior in order for the child to link the two, and reinforcers should eventually be weaned off to encourage a more natural behavioral pattern in the child.
- Watch for nonverbal cues. Many children on the autism spectrum are nonverbal, but there are plenty of other ways they communicate without words, such as through sounds, facial expressions, and gestures. Paying close attention to these nonverbal cues will help parents identify their child’s signals of being tired, hungry, upset or wanting something.
- Integrate visual schedules in your child’s daily routine. Visual schedules help children with autism understand the order in which certain activities will occur. Transitions often trigger adverse reactions in children with autism, so illustrating these changes beforehand is a good way to ease the anxiety associated with them. Like reinforcers, visual schedules should eventually be weaned off to help teach the child to transition independently between tasks or activities.
- Note your child’s sensory sensitivities. Many children with autism are hypersensitive to light, sound, taste, smell and touch. Becoming familiar with what stimuli may trigger an unwanted reaction can help reduce meltdowns.
- Research ABA therapy. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is the leading approach to treating the deficiencies associated with autism. ABA is clinically validated, and decades of research has shown its effectiveness in helping children with autism progress in several areas like language, motor skills, social skills, and play. Spend some time researching ABA therapy online and talking to professionals or other parents who have experience with ASD.
- Find local autism support groups. Raising a child with special needs can demand a lot of time and energy, so it’s just as important for parents to tend to their own needs. Connecting with other parents who are dealing with similar challenges can offer valuable emotional support. Some helpful Austin-based support resources are the Autism Society of Texas and Autism Support Group Meetups. There is also an upcoming class at Peoples Rx North on June 19 on how to make alternative healthcare affordable when you have a special needs child! Info and RSVP here.
Action Behavior Centers assists families with children on the autism spectrum. One-on-one ABA therapy can make improvements in verbal and nonverbal communication, life skills, and behavioral challenges. The ABC team strives to give each child the necessary care to live out rich, happy lives in which they can contribute to the world to the fullest.