If your child receives a diagnosis of severe autism, learning strategies to use for severely autistic children can help your child and the entire family deal with daily life. The right strategies and treatment plan can help children with severe autism grow up to have a life of dignity, comfort and fulfillment.
Importance of Early Intervention
Since autism can resemble other medical conditions, getting a correct diagnosis early is important. Studies have shown that children with autism who received early intervention within the first five years of life make significantly more progress than affected children who begin autism treatment in later childhood. A 2004 University of Michigan study showed that early intervention lessened the general impact of autism in some cases to the point that some children no longer met the criteria for an autism diagnosis by age nine. Theories about the effectiveness of early intervention include the idea that treatments stimulate brain cells during crucial brain development.
The first strategy after diagnosis is to begin a treatment plan as soon as possible. It can take a while to find the right autism experts and to develop the best treatment program for your child. Researching autism and advocating for your child are key to figuring out what works best.
Strategies to Use for Severely Autistic Children
Helping a child with severe autism make progress will be a mix of small and large victories. Your strategies for progress should focus on helping your child function in daily life, build a sense of self, make connections with others and manage autism symptoms. Work closely with your child's doctors, therapists and teachers to find the best strategy approaches for your child.
Daily Life Strategies
Teaching your child basic life skills are often necessary with severe autism. Life skills to address may include:
- Potty training
- How to get dressed and undressed
- Basic grooming, such as bathing, brushing teeth and combing hair
Some children with severe autism may always need assistance with these things. Yet, in other cases, a child with severe autism can learn potty training, basic hygiene and how to get dressed independently. An occupational therapist can help your child learn life skills and teach you how to encourage him to attain as much independence as possible.
Providing a strict daily routine for your child can help him progress. The need for routines is common in autism, and routines allow the autistic child to anticipate the schedule and activities. The preference for strict routine may be related to the way some people with autism experience a delay in how they process certain stimuli, such as time perception. A strict routine can help a person stay focused.
Set Realistic Goals
Talk to your child's therapists and doctors to set realistic goals for your child's current development level. Pay attention to your child's responses to determine the pace of the goals. Having both short-term and long-term goals can allow you to celebrate each aspect of your child's progress.
Strategies to Build Confidence and Self-Awareness
Whenever possible, let your child be as independent as possible. As your child makes progress, praise the progress and let the child express himself or complete a task on his own. Even if completing a task will be messier without your help, it is important to let your child attempt it. Every time he accomplishes a task or part of one, he is building a sense of self. Encourage and praise all self expression and attempts at independence.
Social Interaction and Communication Strategies
If your child is nonverbal, an alternative language can help him communicate. Alternative language systems, known as augmentative and alternative communication (AC), can help nonverbal people interact with others and express themselves. Examples of alternative languages that work well with autism are:
- Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): PECS uses a series of pictures and graphics in place of speech to help nonverbal people communicate. Many people with autism respond well to visual aids.
- Sign language: Sign language for autism can also be an effective speech alternative. Signed Exact Language and the American Sign Language are both used in autism.
- Facilitated Communication: Facilitated communication involves a facilitator holding a person's hand, wrist or arm to help them push keys on a keyboard or point to picture cards. The facilitator follows the lead of the client to help him or her communicate.
You can also find ways to encourage social interaction. Both play therapy and Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan's Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) model, known as DIR/Floortime, can help parents connect with children with autism. Both play therapy and DIR/Floortime involve child-led play and activities that encourage social interaction based on the child's interests. A 2007 University of York, UK study found that a six year old boy with severe autism responded to play therapy by showing a growing attachment to his therapist as well as demonstrating improved social skills and pretend play.
Managing Autism Symptoms
You will also need to develop strategies to manage autism symptoms. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is one way of dealing with undesirable behavior and encouraging good behavior. The treatment method involves modifying and controlling behavior with a strict routine, repetition and positive reinforcement.
If your child has sensory issues, sensory integration therapy can help a child improve responses to stimuli. You can also create a sensory playroom at home tailored to your child's sensory issues to supplement therapy sessions.
Hope for the Future
Some days may be difficult, but you will see progress as you continue to work with your child. Children with severe autism are responding to current autism treatments and autism research continues for more answers. Your beloved child can have a happy, fulfilling life with dignity.