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What is autism?
The Autism Society of America defines autism as "a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a 'spectrum disorder' that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees."
Autism, once known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), is now an "umbrella" term for what are formally called Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
*With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.
*This explanation is from the Autism Speaks website: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
- Brooke S.
What are some common characteristics of autism?
No two people with autism are exactly alike. But all people with ASDs have impaired communication and social skills, exhibit repetitive behaviors, and have narrow interests.
Some other possible characteristics can include:
- Language delays
- Gross and fine motor skill delays
- Self-stimulating behaviors such as hand-flapping or rocking
- Meltdowns (tantrums)
- Echolalia (repeating expressions over and over again at inappropriate times)
- Aversion to touch
How is it treated? Is there a cure?
As of now, there is no cure for autism. But autism is highly treatable. Early intervention is extremely important because it is the best predictor of success for autistic adults.
Many therapy methods treat the symptoms of autism, such as speech therapy for language delays and occupational therapy for fine motor and sensory problems.
Intensive intervention methods, like Relationship Development Intervention, aim to treat the brain deficits themselves to encourage more flexible thinking.
Autism Therapy and Interventions
Occupational therapy (OT) can help children participate in everyday life either by modifying their environments (like their homes and classrooms) or by teaching adaptive skills. For example, our OTs might help a child with fine motor delay to use a pencil by providing hand strengthening exercises and a rubber grip. Or, they might recommend a beanbag in the corner of a classroom for a child to take breaks when he or she feels overwhelmed at school. Our occupational therapists also provide sensory integration therapy for children whose behaviors stem from sensory overload. In addition to doing sensory activities in the facility, the therapist can also provide a program for parents to do at home.
Speech therapy for autism can range widely depending on the child's needs. High-functioning children with no real speech delay often lack social language, so our speech therapists can offer pragmatic language therapy (teaching social skills) to help them along. Children with mid-range speech delays can benefit from exercises that address vocabulary, pronunciation, attention and memory. Autistic children who are completely nonverbal can be taught to use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods. These can include electronic speech devices or flash card systems to help the nonverbal child communicate. Our speech therapists can also address problems with food texture and swallowing that can lead to picky eating and poor weight gain.
Physical limitations in autistic children can range from very mild to severe. Some children have trouble with gross motor skills, like walking or running. This can be caused by low muscle tone or just poor coordination. Physical therapy can provide activities to help strengthen this area of development. Our physical therapists use aquatherapy (therapeutic swimming) and other sorts of recreational methods to encourage motor development.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is widely accepted by doctors and parents, mostly because of long-term research and a track record of anecdotal success stories. ABA involves one-on-one reward-based interaction between the ABA therapist and the child. The therapist begins with simple activities followed by lots of positive reinforcement, then works up to more complicated social interactions. This is a program for children with more severe symptoms and can involve between 20 and 40 hours of therapy per week. We will currently have therapists completing their Board Certified Behavior Analysis certifications and will be certified in ABA in 2016.
Specialized Sensory Preschool Classrooms
We believe in providing children and families a foundation to begin remediating the core deficits of ASD. Our specialized sensory classrooms are facilitated by a team of teachers and therapists, who help children engage in a preschool classroom that encourages dynamic intelligence, functional play, and improved social engagement. This classroom empowers families by providing the support and tools needed in order to create a successful home environment for all members of the family. Through a collaborative approach with professionals and families, our goal is to assist these children to reach developmentally appropriate milestones and ultimately thrive within an integrated classroom setting.
Our classrooms are designed to meet the needs of your children. Each classroom includes:
- Low stimulation environment
- Structured curriculum
- Small group instruction
- Individual visual schedules and transitional cues
Our Classroom Staff
Each specialty sensory classroom is comprised of an excellent, well-trained staff that operates under the supervision of occupational and speech therapists certified in RDI and in the process of obtaining BCBA certifications. Our teachers and therapists love the ASD community and are passionate about providing the best resources, education, and support that they can give.
100% of the Day:
- 3 teachers: 8 students
- 1 Early Childhood Development Specialist Certified Teacher
- 2 Early Childhood Developmental Technician Teachers
50% of the Day:
- 3 teachers: 2 therapists: 8 students
- 1 ABA Trained Occupational Therapist
- 1 ABA Trained Speech Language Pathologist
Our staff participates in specialized training including but not limited to:
- Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
- Picture Exchange Communication
- Behavior Tools Training
- Pivotal Response Training
- SOS Feeding
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Parent Resources for Preschool Parents
At Pediatrics Plus, we strongly encourage parent involvement. All parents or guardians of a child in our sensory classrooms will be required to attend monthly individual parent meetings. This is an opportunity for you to learn about your child's progress and ask questions. We have found it to be extremely beneficial for parents who also want to learn more about ASD and how to apply our classroom principles to the home. Parents will also have the opportunity to attend quarterly group parent trainings and will receive daily communication from the classroom teachers or therapists.