Here are the facts:
In 2018 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States. Nearly 1 in 37 boys will be diagnosed, while girls are fewer at 1 in 151.
Autism expresses itself along a spectrum of symptoms which is why you might hear the phrase “on the spectrum” now. The degree of which autism shows up, the signs and symptoms, and the effects of autism can vary along this spectrum, so one definition is difficult. According to Melissa Reiner, M.Ed., behavior and autism consultant, and founder of AskMelissaNow.com, she agrees with this statement, describing her own interactions with people on the spectrum by stating, “I can meet 50 different individuals, all with a diagnosis of ASD, who all present differently.”
Children on the autism spectrum usually have some level of difficulty within the areas listed here:
– Communicating verbally and/or non-verbally
– Connecting with and/or relating to people and the world we live in
– Adapting to different behaviors or thought processes (they thrive with routine and structure and struggle to be flexible)
According to the Autism Interactive Network (AIN), a profound dislike of change, called an “insistence on sameness” in the – American psychiatric manual, is a classic symptom of autism, and they stress the importance of receiving an accurate diagnosis. HealthGuide.org has a great and extensive list of signs (by age and types of symptoms).
How can I help my child?
First, you’re already helping.
A diagnosis will better support both you and your child moving forward, and autism is a complex disorder in which your child operates in the world differently. You will want to learn how to understand the unique needs of your child, stay tuned into recognizing changes in their behaviour, and learn how therapeutic interventions can help your child have a life that works for them and for your family. You might need to challenge norms and you will likely encounter bias, so finding support, for you and your family, and self-care are critical.
The Therapeutic Approach
Just like autism, the therapeutic approaches available to autistic children exist on a spectrum and are not one size fits all. Your child might best benefit from learning communication and social skills, or your child might need assistance with sensory integration, motor skills, and food sensitivities.
Because of this range of symptoms, it’s key to do the research you’re doing right now and know that you knowing your child and their needs most will be pivotal in getting them the variety of supports they might need to thrive. Find a professional with autism experience. Commonly used therapies for autism include:
Behavioral Therapies – Targeting specific behaviors for change, therapists use techniques that provide a positive social response, such as reward, pleasure and praise. With breakthroughs in the medical world’s understanding of how the brain develops and rewires itself, behavioral therapies can help create new neural networks and learned behaviors.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of behavioral therapy, typically for older children and teens. Cognitive behavior therapy takings into account the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the participant, and helps them adapt or function in society by targeting the distorted thoughts they have about themselves or others. This helps the client learn how to interpret situations different, which will also help them change their reactions and behaviors.
Social Skills Interventions – This allows people on the autism spectrum, who sometimes really struggle to relate to others in society, to learn the social rules that everyone else seems to know inherently.
Sensory Based Therapies – This occupational therapy helps anyone with a sensory processing disorder to process and appropriately react to light, sound, touch, smell, or other sensory input. Learn more here. You can learn more about these therapies (and many others) as they relate to autism from the Interactive Autism Network.
A Practitioner’s Perspective…
“I can not stress enough the importance of finding and putting support in place. I raised two children with special needs and the support I received from the therapists in my life was invaluable. It paved the way for my need to give back and continue supporting other families with needs, through teaching. The one constant area of concern I saw was the lack of understanding families had concerning the challenges that they would face as their children develop differently than their peers. It is easier to “fit in” when kids are young and playful. Differences in skills and behaviors really begin to stand out during puberty. The gap in skills creates a new set of problems in mental health for children with autism and the parents who have to navigate this.
In response to this challenge, Karma Country Camp was launched in 2019, a nonprofit organization to support teens and young adults on the autism spectrum. Our seven week summer program hosted forty two campers age 12-22 years and each one presented with unique characteristics of autism. No two were the same. Even if they had similar behaviors, their reaction to the same events would be different. Their ability to express their needs, self regulate, problem solve, were dependent on their experience and support in their education and home realm. As a special education teacher, the conversations revolved around the increasing level of loneliness and isolation as teens on the spectrum had more difficulty understanding and interacting with their peers once puberty began. In our discussions, the teens I worked with recognized the gaps in social interactions and conversations were growing and were happy being home alone. The effort needed to build and maintain friendships was beyond their interest and ability.
Our summer program’s main areas of focus were social interactions, self-regulation, and emotional intelligence. In my experiences, typically children learn through overhearing, modeling, and repetition of experiences. They can be taught a skill and master it after a few attempts and their response to situations is based on a scaffolding of knowledge over time. For children with ASD, many skills need to be taught explicitly and repeatedly and often don’t resonate logically.
Using my education and psychotherapy training, I initiated many conversations around the ability to disclose and discuss their atypical identification. We explored the different emotions people experience, how to identify and work with them. We practiced social responses through role play and self-regulation techniques using CBT strategies.
Over the 7 weeks, parents reported a very visible change in their child’s skill set.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore, interact with and practice the skills that many children learn on the playground. In follow up conversations, our campers and their families have reported an increase in social abilities and experiences, better self-regulation skills and increased conversations on feelings. We are excited and ready to see what our 2020 summer camp experience brings.”