Navigating the ever expanding selection of techniques for helping autistic children ranks among the greatest challenges in the management of autism spectrum disorders. The many methods available for the treatment and education of autistic children can be overwhelming for parents, often making the task of choosing the best approach quite confusing. On the bright side, today's options make it possible to combine a variety of methods to devise an intervention plan for each individual that is specifically attuned to his needs. This is an invaluable tool towards the ultimate goal of providing children affected by autism what they need to develop to their fullest potential. While much disagreement among experts exists about the most effective strategies for managing autism, a few basic guidelines are widely accepted as the foundation for any good intervention plan.
Fundamental Techniques for Helping Autistic Children
Among the top concerns expressed by parents of newly diagnosed children with autism is whether their child will learn to speak. Many will with intervention and helpful tools. Getting your child involved in speech therapy as soon as possible is a good first step. Working with a speech and language pathologist who is experienced with autism issues can make a big difference in the development of those essential communication skills.
Your child will need to undergo a speech and language evaluation to assess strengths and weaknesses, allowing a therapy plan to be designed to suit his or her specific needs. Be sure to work closely with your child's therapist so that you can help your child practice new skills at home between sessions.
Signed speech is a method that has proven very effective in helping children with autism learn to talk. This technique reinforces the spoken word with the visual cue sign of language. By learning basic sign language and using it along with everyday speech as you talk to your child, you can help your child learn and remember words and phrases much more effectively. Signed speech is commonly used by disability professionals when working with autistic children, so if your child is enrolled in school or an early intervention program, chances are good that using this method at home will be excellent reinforcement of the work being done with your child by therapists and teachers.
Autistic children often miss the subtle cues that typically prompt children toward proper social behavior. An exasperated look from a parent or teacher can be enough to cause many children to correct their behavior, but children with autism are likely to need a more direct approach. If not addressed, inappropriate behaviors can lead to social isolation and interfere with learning and development, issues that can greatly alter the quality of your child's life.
Teaching appropriate behavior and social skills must be done very deliberately with many autistic children and a great deal of repetition is often required. Behavior modification in children with autism is often most effectively accomplished with a structured system of rewards for desired behaviors and consequences for inappropriate ones. Consistency is essential to success, as letting inappropriate behaviors slide or forgetting to reward positive ones will cause confusion, undermining the effectiveness of a clear, cause and effect, behavior modification plan.
Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, is a widely used approach that expands on the basic reward-consequence model, with many disability professionals basing their methods on its principles. ABA advocates the use of small, incremental steps to meet larger goals, with each step along the way rewarded. The principles of ABA have shown positive results when used in teaching appropriate social behavior and communication skills as well as in academics. ABA has shown the best results when begun before the age of five and is done in an intensive program that involves twenty to forty hours a week of one-on-one training with therapists.
Create a Comfortable Daily Routine
Children with autism tend to function better with structure, reacting poorly to change. Changes in routine often cause stress, which may be compressed in a variety of ways, including withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, or even violent outbursts. Creating a soothing, consistent daily routine can make transitioning from one activity to another less upsetting. An orderly progression of daily activities, done at the same times and in the same way every day, can help your child know exactly what to expect, making routine transitions, like going to school or therapy, much less intimidating.
Small changes in routine can help your child develop coping strategies to deal with transitions. The process is introduced in small steps, very similar to ABA techniques. Gradually, he or she is able to use strategies like social stories and self talk to work through the anxiety that transitions often present.
Rough Road to Real Rewards
Determining which techniques for helping autistic children will be in the best interests of your child can certainly be a daunting task. However, no matter how difficult the path may seem at the beginning, simply putting one foot in front of the other and gathering as much information and support as possible along the way will bring those goals closer each day. In time, the joy of accomplishment shared between yourself and your child as each small goal is met is sure to transform those first uncertain and plodding footfalls into confident strides along the road to success.