What to Do When Your Child Gets an Autism Diagnosis
Your doctor suspects autism. Now what?
Each child with autism has his own needs. So knowing what specific indicators (behaviors, speech and language delays, and other factors) justified a diagnosis is key to determining next steps. Evaluations that help decide what kinds of services you need should compare a child’s actual age in years and months and how he scores compared to typically developing children in these areas:
- Speech and language skills, including receptive language (how well a child understands what is said to him) and expressive language (how well a child can talk, amount of vocabulary he can use). This also covers how well a child can follow directions and carry on a conversation. (Read more about speech and language milestones.)
- Social skills, that is, a demonstrated desire to share observations and feelings with others. The child’s ability to share “joint attention” with others, to point to something and get another’s attention to share an observation about it. Learn more about childhood social skill development.
- Pretend play skills, the degree to which a child can apply pretend situations to toys and share those experiences with others.
(More background information about screenings and evaluations is available from the Autism Society of America.)
What Kinds of Services Are Necessary?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children start receiving services as soon as possible once an autism diagnosis is under consideration. According to the AAP, services to address communication and social skills needs, inappropriate behaviors, and school readiness skills should include:
- active engagement of the child at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, in systematically planned, developmentally appropriate educational activities designed to address specific objectives
- low student-to-teacher ratios to allow sufficient one-on-one time and small-group instruction to meet specific goals
- inclusion of parent training (so learning opportunities can continue outside of the teaching setting)
- ongoing measurement and documentation of the child’s progress toward educational objectives, with adjustments when needed
- a high degree of structure through predictable routines and visual activity schedules (which use pictures and symbols in addition to words)
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