What is Autism? And What Can You Do If Your Child Receives This Life-Altering Diagnosis?
We’ve all heard at least a little bit about autism. Maybe you know someone with autism. Maybe your child has recently been diagnosed.
Or…maybe you’ve read about the reports saying autism is somehow caused by vaccines? Or that its rates in children keep increasing?
Unfortunately, misinformation is rampant when it comes to the subject of autism. And that can make it seem like a very scary issue for a lot of parents out there.
How can I keep my child safe? If my child is diagnosed with autism, is it somehow my fault?
As a parent, you only want the best for your child. And autism has been made by some to seem like the most horrible tragedy that can befall a family.
Here at The Loop, we feel very differently about this subject. As therapists who work regularly with children in this population, we’d like to share our perspective with you.
We’re honored to serve the families of children with autism, and love working with school-aged children on the autism spectrum to help them be the best students they can be.
We created this article to help parents learn more about this complex issue, and to offer hope that there’s help and many resources available to them, as they learn to navigate the realities of parenting a child with autism.
Let’s take a deep dive into this diagnosis, to learn what’s known about this issue, and what can be done to support those whose lives it impacts.
If your life is touched by someone with autism, we want you to better understand what this issue is, and also what it isn’t.
What is autism?
Autism is defined as a complex developmental disability. Involving the brain, it’s commonly characterized by issues that impact the language, social skills, and behavior of those who experience it.
Autism is known as a spectrum disorder, which simply means—those diagnosed with it present with a range of symptoms and severity.
Because there’s such a wide variety in how it presents in those who have it, we like to say—”If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
You may also see autism referred to as ASD, which is short for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
While some have tried to explain the origins of this issue, here’s the truth—we don’t yet know what causes autism.
While much science and research is ongoing on the subject, we’re still unable to say with complete certainty what specifically causes this disorder to occur.
But one theory that’s been thoroughly debunked by scientists is that vaccines somehow cause autism. Though this idea gained a lot of attention in recent years—there’s no evidence to support its validity.
Another issue we’d like to address involves the increased prevalence of autism in children. While it’s scary that the numbers of ASD in children appear to be going up, this is likely due to the simple fact that we’re much better at recognising and diagnosing children with autism than we used to be.
One other important note we’d like to make about ASD involves person-first language. You’ll notice we refer to a child with autism, rather than an autisic child. This may seem like a small change, but it makes a world of difference.
Think about it—if you’ve ever been diagnosed with an illness or disorder, would you want that issue to literally define you? Didn’t think so.
That’s why we practice person-centered care. There is currently some debate about proper language to use- person with autism or autistic person. At The Loop, we always check with the child we're working with and their family and use their preferred language.
Ok, back to what autism can look like…
In some cases, a child with autism may be nonverbal. In others, they may merely present with pragmatic issues that impact their ability to make friends and navigate social situations.
(Speaking of pragmatics, we wrote all about ‘em in our most recent blog. Give it a read!)
Some children on the autism spectrum exhibit behaviors such as repetitive movements, some do not. Some have difficulties with their language skills, some are quite verbal.
A hallmark of autism is often related to the social skills of children who have it. Children with mild autism may primarily present with issues related to their social interactions, which can be addressed with treatment by a qualified Speech and Language Pathologist.
Speech and Language Pathology is kind of an odd term—and one that doesn't fully cover what we have to offer. Check out this article for more info on what an SLP can do.
Children with severe autism may be non-verbal and require consistent care with daily activities.
We always work to place children with disabilities, like autism, in the least restrictive environment. Working with skilled therapists like those at The Loop can help promote children with autism’s ability to attend regular school and interact in a normal classroom setting with their same-aged peers.
Children with ASD often begin exhibiting signs of the disorder in early childhood. But these signs are not always noticed until a child with autism enters into a school setting.
The signs of autism can be difficult for parents to spot, and it can also be hard to see red flags for autism when a child is young and still rapidly developing their early speech, language, and cognitive skills.
What we therapists know is that early diagnosis is often very valuable when it comes to treating children on the autism spectrum. We work closely with families to help diagnose children with ASD as early as possible, in order to begin treatment to address their issues.
While a diagnosis of autism may be a very scary prospect for a parent to face, it’s also an important way we secure services and support for a child who needs them. The earlier we can begin addressing a child’s issues related to autism, the better the outcomes typically are.
And remember—we’d never reduce your vibrant, multifaceted child to a mere diagnostic label.
Let’s take a look at how ASD is diagnosed and treated, to give you an understanding of how working with skilled therapists can help your child thrive.
How is autism diagnosed?
Like many disorders impacting a child’s speech, language, and cognition—autism can’t be diagnosed just by looking at a child. It also can’t be detected by medical tests, scans, or bloodwork.
Instead, autism is typically diagnosed by evaluating symptoms. Your doctor or therapist will review your child’s developmental history and assess their behaviors. We’ll rule out any other issues in order to differentially diagnose your child with ASD.
Because we now know so much about autism and are able to detect the signs of this issue earlier and earlier in the children who experience it, many children can be diagnosed as early as 18 months of age or younger.
At The Loop, our team of therapists are skilled at assessing and treating children on the autism spectrum. We can help determine the severity of your child’s ASD, and develop a treatment plan to address any issues impacting their full participation in school and in everyday life.
We’ll work with you and your child’s teacher to provide a robust, team-centered plan of intervention.
Your child’s treatment with us will never be one-size-fits-all, and will be tailored especially for them—to meet their needs and promote their engagement with fun, personalized activities.
We’ll track your child’s progress and communicate regularly with you—so you can be involved in therapy and carryover the strategies we’re using at home.
How can autism impact school performance?
It’s important to diagnose and treat autism when it occurs because this issue can negatively impact your child’s ability to thrive in the classroom. Children with autism have just as much right as any child to learn, attend school, and be a fully participating member of society.
Children with ASD often struggle in the school environment with things like—
Effectively communicating their needs to teachers and peers
Understanding social cues
Understanding and using abstract and figurative language
Understanding classroom rules (like raising your hand)
Coping with school day transitions (like from class to recess)
As Speech and Language Pathologists, we’re extensively trained in addressing and treating these issues in children with autism when they arise. We’d love to share with you some of the ways we can help children on the spectrum to thrive in school.
What treatments are available for children with autism?
To return to what we’ve said previously—each child on the autism spectrum is unique and different. So, our treatments are based around the individual needs of each child we serve.
In general, children with ASD tend to benefit from therapy that addresses social skill awareness and use. We may use strategies like—
Stories that involve interpreting social cues
Games to practice using social skills (like turn taking)
Role playing of what is and is not appropriate in certain situations
Picture cards to enhance identification of emotions based on facial expressions
You can read more about how we address social language skills in our blog post from last week, all about pragmatics.
Some children with autism benefit greatly from the use of picture cards and schedules to help them plan for and anticipate daily transitions and reduce any behaviors around this issue. Teachers can also be involved in helping students with autism prepare for schedule changes.
Here at The Loop, our team is proud to offer both speech and language therapy and occupational therapy services. Our therapists are highly trained and skilled at working with children on the autism spectrum. We will work with you and your child’s teacher to create a robust, holistic therapy plan to address your child’s unique needs. We offer therapy right in your child’s school—to help them fully engage in their school experience.
Autism is a complex condition—so addressing it requires a multidisciplinary approach. The Loop was created to provide multifaceted therapeutic strategies, designed to truly benefit the children and families we serve.
Need more info about what we have to offer? Check out the rest of our site for tons of great insight and free materials! Reach out with your questions at email@example.com, connect with us on social @TheLoopSLL.
P.S. In addition to the awesome speech, language, and occupational therapy services we mentioned, above, we also offer executive function coaching, learning remediation, and educational consultancy and advocacy. With our full menu of educational support services, we’ve got all your needs covered!