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Autism: Signs, Effectiveness of Therapy, and Other Considerations

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Parenting is a journey full of unexpected twists and turns. When your child’s speech, language, or social skills aren’t developing in the ways you anticipated or have read about, it can be concerning.
The prevalence of Autism has continued to increase over the past several years. So when a child’s developmental skills seem different or delayed, many parents wonder if these could be signs that their child is on the Autism Spectrum.
Some might consider taking a “watch and see” approach. After all, children do develop at their own pace.
But actually, it’s recommended that parents follow their instincts and seek a professional evaluation for their child early on.
If a child does have Autism, receiving that diagnosis early can help him or her achieve the most positive outcomes and improvements in skills.

An early diagnosis can lead to early intervention (EI). EI has been proven by research to lead to long-term improvements in a child’s overall intellectual ability and language skills.

Learning the signs of Autism can help you better recognize them if they are present in your child. If you are concerned your child has Autism, you should talk to your pediatrician.

Let’s start by looking at what those signs are, along with more details on the effectiveness of therapy.

Signs of Autism

Two hallmark signs of Autism that a child must show in order to be diagnosed with the disorder are:

#1 Difficulty with social communication

Children with Autism have trouble interacting with others through verbal and/or nonverbal communication.

This can include trouble understanding the ways other people are communicating with them. For example, a child might not read someone else’s facial expression the right way in order to understand how they’re feeling.

He or she might also have difficulty comprehending what others say. This could be understanding the feelings being conveyed through different tones of voice, or knowing how to respond to certain questions.

They can also have difficulty using nonverbal or verbal communication appropriately with others. An Autistic child might not make eye contact with you when you talk to them or try to play with them.

Children with Autism are sometimes described as being “in their own world” because they may not show the desire to communicate with others. He or she might not greet people by saying “hi” or “bye”, or come to you and ask for “help” when needed.

#2 Restrictive and repetitive behaviors (RRBs)

These are very specific behaviors that an individual does repetitively. Examples include:
  • Lining up toys or other objects
  • Flapping hands when excited
  • Talking about a certain topic over and over
  • Scripting (repeating a sound, word, or phrase that someone else has said, for example, a line from a television show)
  • Focused interests in certain areas (such as letters and numbers)

A child may insist on taking the same route to school every morning or display unusual attachment to objects like toys or keys. They may obsess over specific bodies of information such as maps, manuals, or tables of statistics.

Children with Autism may become upset or have difficulty transitioning away from these RRBs. For example, if a line of toys is moved or they take a different route to school.

Does my child have signs of Autism?

Even some children who do not have Autism can show a few of the symptoms (like delayed language skills).

Parents should be aware that these symptoms do not necessarily mean your child is on the autism spectrum.

Autism is known as a spectrum because individuals who have the disorder can show a range of possible symptoms. And, those symptoms can have widely varying levels of severity.
If your child demonstrates difficulties with social interaction or shows restrictive, repetitive behaviors that match the core signs of Autism, the best thing you can do is to reach out to a professional for an evaluation.

Effectiveness of Therapy

Interventions such as Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy can be highly effective at helping a child with Autism improve his or her developmental skills.
Early intervention is one of the keys to unlocking the most improvements.

A child’s brain develops more rapidly during their first 5 years than any other point in their lives. Children are more receptive to learning new skills at these young ages because the brain is more easily influenced to change (plastic).

Here are some ways therapy has been proven to help children with Autism:

Speech Therapy

  • Increasing vocabulary
  • Improving verbal and nonverbal communication skills
  • Building sentences
  • Providing different modes of communication (such as PECS or Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC))
  • Developing social skills to help with areas like participating in conversations and making friends
  • Improving pragmatic language skills, leading to long-term improvements in social-emotional wellbeing and academic achievement
Speech Therapy can help bring a child’s attention outward, developing social language skills and encouraging eye contact through enjoyful shared experiences.
Children practice strengthening skills through activities that incorporate unique motivators.

Occupational Therapy

  • Developing problem solving and thinking skills (cognitive skills)
  • Improving joint attention
  • Developing play skills
  • Increasing sensory processing abilities. This helps children keep calm by regulating interfering behaviors that may inhibit their ability to learn and grow.

Other Considerations

Parents should keep a few important considerations in mind, based on the current Autism research.

Family involvement in therapy is key. When parents are involved and participate in therapy, children with Autism can make even more progress towards improving their speech, language and social skills.

Second, a team-based (“multidisciplinary”) approach is considered to be optimal. Professionals working with a child, such as the Pediatrician, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, and other specialists, should communicate and collaborate regularly about his or her overall progress and goals.

There are also specialized approaches available for improving skills in children with Autism, such as:

Finally, don’t delay in seeking services. Specialists who diagnose Autism such as Developmental Pediatricians, Psychologists, and Neurologists, sometimes have extended wait times for evaluations.

If you have concerns, talk to your child’s pediatrician and ask for a referral for Speech, Occupational, and/or Physical Therapy. Many children on the Autism spectrum are already receiving therapy at the time they are diagnosed.

Additional Resources

1 in 36 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with Autism, according to the CDC. Parents can be their child’s best advocate by knowing the signs of Autism and what intervention to seek out to help.

TherapyWorks is here to help your child succeed. Our team of specialists are experts in working with children on the Autism spectrum, and offer speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy and ABA.

If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!
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Are you interested in services for your child? TherapyWorks provides speech, occupational and physical therapies and ABA services using a relationship-based, multidisciplinary approach.

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