Autism is a general term for complex disorders of brain development that are characterized in varying degrees by difficulty in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Children with autism may have intellectual disabilities and difficulty with motor coordination and attention, as well as a number of physical health issues, such as sleep and gastrointestinal instabilities. While autism seems to begin around the time of early brain development, the most obvious signs tend not to emerge until between the ages of 2 and 3 years old. Each child with autism is totally unique. Some children may show exceptional abilities with visual, music, or academic skills, and about 40% of children with autism have average to above average intellectual abilities. Other children with autism have significant disabilities and are unable to live independently. It is estimated that about 25% of individuals with this disorder are nonverbal and have to learn other ways of communicating.
If you have concerns that your child is not meeting typical milestones of development, then reach out to the staff at Ascent Children’s Health Services. Our developmental programs can evaluate your child and determine if these delays are due to autism.
Why Seek Treatment for Autism?
It is important to recognize the early signs of autism so that your child can get intervention services as soon as possible. Current research suggests that early treatment can improve outcomes— in some cases outcomes can be improved dramatically. For example, early intensive behavioral interventions can improve learning, communication, and social skills.
As a parent it is important to learn the early signs of autism and know the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching. Some of the following “red flags” may indicate that your child is at risk for autism and should be evaluated as soon as possible. Some warning signs include:
- No smiles or other warm expressions by 6 months or after
- No back and forth sharing of signs by 9 months
- No babbling by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases by 24 months
- Regression of speech, babbling, or social skill at any age
Children with autism often have difficulty understanding what is going on around them and have an inability to predict what will happen. Due to the insecurity and anxiety experienced on a daily basis, children may engage in behaviors such as rocking, punching, biting, or full-blown tantrums that help them reduce stress. Because of this behavior parents tend to avoid taking their children to public places, which can cause the child to become socially isolated, affecting their social and emotional wellbeing. Additionally, children with this disorder experience difficulties with school and problems with social situations that can lead to lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. It can also lead to the development of high anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties.
Caring for a child with autism can cause huge emotional, financial, and physical strain, which is why an outpatient program like the one at Ascent is recommended to help everyone in the family get the support that they need. Treatment for autism includes the child’s entire family, who works closely with the treatment team. Addressing specific concerns can improve attention, learning, and other related behaviors.
Program Philosophy and Benefits
At Ascent Children’s Health Services, we make it our top priority to treat each patient in a multidisciplinary, developmental, and therapeutic setting that will maximize their levels of development and readiness for entering back into their home and school settings. Through nurturing the child as a whole, our staff paves the way for each patient to take full advantage of their potential that will enable them to achieve a successful recovery. We recognize that each child is a unique individual that has specific treatment needs for their autism. By enhancing the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of each child, while promoting independence, we can be sure that they receive the most appropriate and effective level of care. At Ascent, we offer comprehensive, individualized treatment plans and can provide a multitude of different therapies under one roof.
Treatment Options for Autism at Ascent Children’s Health Services
Before treatment can begin, your child will first undergo a series of developmental and mental health assessments. These assessments will be conducted by our multidisciplinary team of licensed, experienced, and qualified staff, which includes developmental pediatricians, pediatric psychologists, psychological examiners, licensed counselors, social workers, audiologists, dieticians, early childhood developmental specialists, developmental technicians, and licensed therapists – including occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists. The results of these assessments will help us determine the severity of your child’s autism and will help us to develop a treatment plan that will best suit the individualized needs of your child. The treatment plan we will create for your child will be completely based on the types of therapy your child needs to excel and manage their autism.
Treatment for autism is focused on reducing problematic behaviors, building communication skills, and improving social skills. For some children additional treatment will be needed to help with sensory integration problems, motor skills, emotional issues, and food sensitivities.
Our developmental program has a number of different therapies available that can help children who are struggling with autism. Some of the methods we use to treat autism may include:
Speech-language therapy: This type of therapy is designed to help those children who have language and speech problems. Speech therapists can help children with autism improve their communication and enhance their quality of life. In some instances, alternatives to speech need to be introduced, such as signing or typing. Additionally, the speech therapist will work with family members and the child’s school.
Physical therapy: Some children with autism have physical limitations and require a physical therapist to help them build strength, mobility, or motor skills. A physical therapist may help children with autism work on sitting, rolling, standing, or playing. They may also work with parents to teach them ways in which they can help their child build muscle strength, coordination, and skills.
Occupational therapy: Once our occupational therapists have gained information about your child’s abilities they will develop a program for your child to follow. An occupational program may include play activities, developmental activities like teeth brushing, physical activities to help with coordination, and adaptive strategies. The overall goal of this type of therapy is to help the child improve overall quality of life at home or school.
Nutritional therapy: Nutritional therapists can help design meal plans for a child with autism that will help to make sure that all of the child’s nutritional needs are met. Many children with autism have dietary restrictions and a nutritional therapist can make meal time less difficult.
Family involvement is a very important aspect of the treatment process so we make sure that parents and other family members are included in the whole process. As having a child with autism tends to affect the whole family dynamic, family therapy can help parents learn tips they can use that can make daily home life easier for them and their child. We can help parents learn behavior modification techniques, such as reward systems and behavior contracts, as well as help them learn to effectively communicate. The goal of family therapy is to get everyone on the same page when it comes to the child’s treatment process. Additionally, therapists can help the family learn more appropriate interactions.
Finally, in addition to traditional therapy methods Ascent provides some experiential methods that may be included in your child’s treatment plan. These may include:
- Therapy gyms
- Sensory rooms
- Handwriting Without Tears
- Nutritional consultations and meal plans
Continuing Care and Levels of Treatment
At Ascent, our initial evaluations will help us to determine which level of care and treatment program will be best suited for your child’s mental health or developmental needs. Our healthcare center offers a day program, a school-based program, and a summer program for all of our patients. Additionally, we have 24 hour crisis intervention should an emergency arise. Our CHMS and RSPMI programs allow children and their families to receive rehabilitation, early intervention, and prevention for long-term disabilities. Additionally, our CHMS services include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy and are offered at a day and outpatient level.
When your child no longer requires our services, we take the time to help your child transition back into their home and usual school-based setting. We have a formal discharge process that involves providing your family with education and community resources needed for continued recovery success. Additionally, we provide follow-up appointments to check on the progress of all of our clients.