Autism is a huge issue that may affect many daycare providers or those that own childcare centers. Diane Van Driesen, Director of Autism Services for the Wawa Eden House, clarifies autism spectrum disorder and describes special services for autistic children. Van Driesen also provides advice for parents of autistic children who are searching for child care and for daycare providers who care for autistic children.
OwnADaycare: What is autism? How and when is it diagnosed?
Van Driesen: Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that affects a child’s ability to communicate, understand language, play, and relate to others. Autism is considered a “spectrum disorder” meaning that its symptoms and behaviors can present itself in a variety of combinations from mild to severe. Children with autism process and respond to information in unique ways.
Among the early signs and symptoms that parents and Pediatricians look for to alert them that a child needs further evaluation for autism include:
- Not smiling by six months of age
- Not babbling, pointing or using other gestures by 12 months
- Not using single words by age 16 months
- Not using two word phrases by 24 months
- Having a regression in development, with any loss of language or social skills
Infants with autism might also avoid eye contact, and as they get older, act as if they are unaware of when people come and go around them.
There are no medical tests for diagnosing autism, so an accurate diagnosis must be based on the observation of the individual’s communication, behavior and developmental levels. Your child will need to be referred to someone who specializes in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders. This may be a developmental pediatrician, a psychiatrist or psychologist, and other professionals that are able to observe and test your child in specific areas. Children may be referred for a diagnostic screening and/or evaluation at 18 months of age or younger. Early detection and intervention is critical to the provision of specialized early intervention services.
OwnADaycare: Are there special programs/schools for autistic children and if so how are they different from “regular” programs?
Van Driesen Specialized preschool programs for children with autism tend to provide a specific method of treatment within a small, highly structured learning environment. Because of the individual differences among children with autism, an individualized approach that addresses the core deficits of autism spectrum disorders (e.g., communication, social, sensory, academic difficulties) and that matches each family’s preferences and needs is recommended. The following components have been identified as effect for children with autism:
- A curriculum that addresses deficit areas, focuses on long-term outcomes, and considers the developmental level of each child.
- Programs that capitalize on children’s natural tendency to respond to visual structure, routines, schedules, and predictability.
- A focus on generalization and maintenance of skills, using technology such as incidental teaching approaches.
- Effective and systematic instructional approaches.
- Coordinated transitions between service delivery agencies, including early intervention/preschool programs, and kindergarten environments.
- Use of technology associated with functional behavioral assessment and positive behavioral supports with a child who presents behavioral challenges.
- Family involvement, including coordination between home and involved professionals; an in-home training component; and family training and support.
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