HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Critical Early Intervention Strategies for Aspergers Children

While there is no cure for Aspergers (High Functioning Autism), treating it early with the proper parenting techniques as well as school-based programs can greatly reduce Aspergers symptoms and increase the youngster's ability to grow and learn new skills.

Research has shown that intensive behavioral therapy during the toddler or preschool years can significantly improve cognitive and language skills in younger kids with Aspergers.

There is no single best treatment for all “Aspies,” but some of the common features of effective early intervention include:
  1. Encouraging activities that include typically developing (i.e., neurotypical) kids, as long as such activities help meet a specific learning goal
  2. Guiding the youngster in adapting learned skills to new situations and settings and maintaining learned skills
  3. Having small classes to allow each youngster to have one-on-one time with the therapist or teacher and small group learning activities
  4. Having special training for moms and dads and other family members
  5. Measuring and recording each youngster's progress and adjusting the intervention program as needed
  6. Providing a high degree of structure, routine, and visual cues (e.g., posted activity schedules, clearly defined boundaries, etc.) to reduce distractions
  7. Providing focused and challenging learning activities at the proper developmental level for the youngster for at least 25 hours per week and 12 months per year
  8. Starting as soon as a youngster has been diagnosed with Aspergers
  9. Using a curriculum that focuses on:
  • Cognitive skills (e.g., pretend play, seeing other people's point of view, etc.)
  • Language and communication
  • Research-based methods to reduce challenging behaviors (e.g., aggression, tantrums, etc.)
  • Self-help and daily living skills (e.g., dressing, grooming, etc.)
  • Social skills (e.g., joint attention, looking at other people to draw attention to something interesting and share in experiencing it, etc.)
  • Typical school-readiness skills (e.g., letter recognition, counting, etc.)

One type of a widely accepted treatment is applied behavior analysis (ABA). The goals of ABA are to shape and reinforce new behaviors (e.g., learning to speak and play) and reduce undesirable ones. ABA, which can involve intensive, one-on-one youngster-teacher interaction for up to 40 hours a week, has inspired the development of similar interventions that aim to help children with Aspergers reach their full potential.

ABA-based interventions include:
  • Pivotal Response Training: Aims at identifying pivotal skills (e.g., initiation and self-management) that affect a broad range of behavioral responses. This intervention incorporates parent and family education aimed at providing skills that enable the youngster to function in inclusive settings.
  • Verbal Behavior: Focuses on teaching language using a sequenced curriculum that guides kids from simple verbal behaviors (i.e., echoing) to more functional communication skills through techniques like errorless teaching and prompting.

Other types of early interventions include:
  • TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication handicapped Children): Emphasizes adapting the youngster's physical environment and using visual cues (e.g., having classroom materials clearly marked and located so that children can access them independently). Using individualized plans for each “Aspie,” TEACCH builds on the youngster's strengths and emerging skills.
  • Interpersonal Synchrony: Targets social development and imitation skills, and focuses on teaching kids how to establish and maintain engagement with others.
  • Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR)/Floortime Model: Aims to build healthy and meaningful relationships and abilities by following the natural emotions and interests of the youngster. One particular example is the Early Start Denver Model, which fosters improvements in communication, thinking, language, and other social skills and seeks to reduce atypical behaviors. Using developmental and relationship-based approaches, this therapy can be delivered in natural settings (e.g., home, pre-school, etc.).

For Aspergers kids younger than age 3, these interventions usually take place at home or in a daycare center. Because moms and dads are the youngster's earliest educators, more programs are beginning to train moms and dads to continue the therapy at home.

Children with Aspergers often benefit from social skills training programs. These programs seek to increase and improve skills necessary for creating positive social interactions and avoiding negative responses. For example, Children's Friendship Training focuses on improving kid's conversation and interaction skills and teaches them how to make friends, be a good sport, and respond appropriately to teasing.

Working with Teachers—

Start by speaking with your Aspergers youngster's teacher, school counselor, or the school's child support team to begin an evaluation. Each state has a Parent Training and Information Center and a Protection and Advocacy Agency that can help you get an evaluation. A team of professionals conducts the evaluation using a variety of tools and measures. The evaluation will look at all areas related to your youngster's abilities and needs.

Once your Aspie has been evaluated, he/she has several options, depending on the specific needs. If your boy or girl needs special education services and is eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the school district (or the government agency administering the program) must develop an individualized education plan, or IEP specifically for him/her within 30 days. IDEA provides free screenings and early intervention services to kids from birth to age 3. IDEA also provides special education and related services from ages 3 to 21.

If your youngster is not eligible for special education services (not all kids with Aspergers are eligible) he/she can still get free public education suited to his/her needs, which is available to all public-school kids with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, regardless of the type or severity of the disability.

During middle and high school years, your youngster's educators will begin to discuss practical issues (e.g., work, living away from a parent’s home, hobbies, etc.). These lessons should include gaining work experience, using public transportation, and learning skills that will be important in community living.

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