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The importance of early intervention in children with autism

Having a child who has just been diagnosed with autism can be an extremely challenging time for parents. Perhaps you are going through this right now.

The first thing you would want to do is to find out as much about autism as you can. After that, you’d inevitably ask yourself how can I help my child?

When it comes to autism, this is the question that opens up pandoras box of possibilities in the world of early intervention and the different models and therapies available. These may include:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Applied Behavioural
  • Analysis (ABA)
  • DIR/Floortime
  • Early Start Denver
  • Model (ESDM)
  • Sensory Integration Therapy

How to start your research - the most important question to ask yourself

While doing your research into the different models of early intervention it is critical that you take some time to ask yourself what is the ultimate point of early intervention?

Many parents will simply answer this by saying “to fix my child”. But what they don’t grasp is what this means exactly. What does a “fixed” child look like?

Having a clear vision of what you want your child to be able to achieve in life is important when it comes to choosing your therapies.

Early intervention therapies - all have differences

Each therapy has a different style of teaching and place different emphasis on different goals and skills.

Different styles of teaching shapes how your child learns and acquires new skills even after early intervention. This point can’t be stressed enough.

A good analogy is planning for a holiday. The different models of early intervention are like the available modes of transport. The location of the holiday is where you want your child to be in the future.

Only when you know where you are going, can you determine how you should get there.

“Normal” milestones are possible - but your child will need to learn skills first

Most parents would do anything to see their child make friends on their own, to be invited to birthday parties, to be able to live life without needing any support – to just be able to live a life like everyone else.

If this is you, realise that in many cases, these are all possible.

But you also have to realise that all of these don’t just happen or fall into place for your child. There are skills which your child will need to learn in order to be able to function without being overwhelmed.

Attending a birthday party - a celebration and challenge all in one

For example, being invited to a birthday party marks a huge milestone for many children with autism. For the parents, it goes a long way to showing that their child has been able to form friendships and make friends.

For the child, it’s a time of celebration – there’s other children, there’s balloons, cake, presents, singing, games.

However, there’s also a lot of noise, movements, visual distractions and often it is chaotic.

The extent to which your child filters out the distractions and cope with the chaos comes down to how well equipped they are to handle these situations. The best way to learn those skills is to put your child in situations where they need to use those skills.

The focus of early intervention - micro skills but do we need more?

You see, early intervention focuses predominantly on what I call micro skills.

These are skills like learning to match objects, holding a pencil with a tripod grip, being able to play appropriately with toys and regardless of which model of early intervention you choose, your child will be taught the same set of skills.

The gap - the need for micro and macro skills in early intervention

While these are important skills to learn what gets overlooked are what I call macro skills such as

  • Learning to learn (meta-cognition)
  • Resilience and
  • Problem solving

These macro skills govern how the micro skills are learnt and how well your child is able to generalise the micro skills outside the home or clinic environment. To return to the birthday party example, a child may have the social and language skills to engage with other children but if they are scared of balloons or rely on other children or adults to tell them how to behave, they will not be able to use the skills they have.

What’s next?

If you are at a stage where you are looking at early intervention therapies for your child, think about how well suited that therapy is for your child in the present moment and also in the future (and the vision you set for them).

As mentioned, the skills that are taught will essentially be the same regardless of which model of early intervention you choose.

However, what you want to compare is how those skills are taught. Why? The effects of early intervention on your child’s development will continue long after early intervention stops and it is for this reason that the choice you make now is so important.

If you are considering the Early Start Denver Model or simply want to find out more about it, contact with us by filling out our contact form.

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