How Early Intervention Helps with Autism
Most of the differences associated with autism spectrum disorder emerge before age 3. Some children can be diagnosed as early as 18 to 24 months of age. Early identification is important to accessing therapies and services that will benefit a child with autism. The severity of autism varies from mild forms, such as presenting with virtually no speech problems and being exceptionally intelligent, to more severe forms of the disorder, such as intellectual disability and severe repetitive behaviors that require significant supports.
These impairments can vary in degree of severity within children as well as across children. For example, a child may have mild repetitive behavioral tendencies, but have more pronounced social difficulties or vice versa. Alternatively, one child may have severe impairments across symptoms, and another child may present with only mild deficits that do not significantly impact his or her ability to function in daily activities. For this reason, the diagnosis has been termed a “spectrum” in which symptoms can vary to any degree across the core symptoms.
Intervention and Assessment
Early assessment is crucial to getting your child quickly into evidence-based therapies to help lessen the severity of the symptoms. Research shows that 3% to 25% of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder will show symptom improvement to the point that they no longer meet symptom criteria for the diagnosis. Early assessment is about correctly identifying what challenges your child is experiencing to provide the correct treatment supports – the purpose is not about “labeling” your child.
There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, but there are several promising intervention strategies that have come about in the last couple of decades. The most effective intervention strategy consists of early intensive behavioral intervention strategies. Research has consistently demonstrated that early intervention significantly improves the prognosis for children with autism. It is recommended to receive an evaluation as early as possible so that your child can start therapies as soon as possible. Research suggests that the earlier a child receives therapy and treatment, the better the outcomes for the child.
As a psychologist, I often hear parents say they would rather wait to receive an evaluation because they fear “labeling” their child. I sympathize with the parents’ concern, but after studying the research, I encourage parents to seek an evaluation early as opposed to waiting. By identifying autism early, the child can access therapy at a time when their brain is more “plastic,” meaning treatment can potentially change or improve the connections in the brain. After a period of treatment, you can have your child reevaluated and see if they still qualify for the diagnosis or measure for symptom improvement.
Resources for More Information About ASD
Although there is still much to learn about the origins of autism as well as effective treatment options, there is much information available to assist families in navigating this diagnosis at any stage of the process.
- Autism Spectrum Disorders from A to Z: Assessment, Diagnosis... & More! by Emily Doyle Iland and Barbara T. Doyle
- Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child's Life by Lynn Koegel and Claire LaZebnik
- Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs to Know bBy Alan I. Rosenblatt, MD, FAAP and Paul S. Carbone, MD, FAAP
If you think your child could have autism spectrum disorder, let our experts at the Michael R. Boh Center for Child Development help.