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What Can I Expect from an Autism Early Intervention Program?

Parents of babies and toddlers who notice developmental delays in their children may wish to consider an autism early intervention program to identify gaps in development and improve the chances of overcoming them. Today, there are more options for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder and addressing its symptoms. When discovered early, a child and their family can begin to learn skills to compensate for any that are lacking and to more seamlessly navigate their world. Keep reading to learn more about early intervention programs and how they can benefit autistic children.

 Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

 About Early Intervention Programs

 Many developmental delays can be seen early in a child’s development, even before a year of age. A developmental specialist such as a physician or counselor can help to pinpoint these issues, but parents often suspect delays on their own. Issues such as delayed speech, lack of social interaction with others and limited facial expression might indicate the possibility of autism spectrum disorder. Early intervention programs employ knowledgeable professionals to assess young children and to begin to teach them adaptive skills. This type of education can help to prevent communication, socialization and other developmental difficulties down the road. The programs also work to help families understand these differences and to work proactively to meet the unique needs of their child.

Importance of Early Detection and Diagnosis

Early detection of autism is incredibly important in the development of autistic children as well as their relationship with their parents. First, early detection allows an autistic child to receive the appropriate treatment interventions. Early intervention is associated with a host of positive outcomes, as outlined below. Second, an early diagnosis relieves uncertainty in parents and helps them to learn to begin to cope effectively with their autistic child. Finally, a diagnosis is needed to obtain certain financial benefits from government and private programs. It is no secret that the cost of raising an autistic child can be substantial and any assistance is welcome.

Unfortunately, early detection can be difficult. Parents are usually uneducated about the symptoms of autism and may not understand the signs. Moreover, medical professionals are often reluctant to diagnose children with autism due to the fear that they may be unjustly labeled and face stigmatization. However, valid assessment measures have been developed to accurately diagnose autism at a very young age. It is believed that with proper education and training, autism can be reliably diagnosed by age two. This is crucial, considering that most children are not diagnosed until age four or five. As you might imagine, the earlier the intervention, the better the outcomes.

Benefits of Early Intervention

Autism Spectrum of Australia shares how enrolling in an autism early intervention program offers numerous benefits to autistic children and their families. Early detection and intervention can help to initiate the learning process for a child with autism and their family. They can learn to interact more comfortably with others, which will make socialization more pleasurable. They’ll discover coping and compensatory skills to manage difficult emotions or reactions. Autistic children undergoing early intervention will also exhibit significant improvement in their cognitive development and daily living skills. In general, early intervention offers families the information and tools they need to navigate life with autism more seamlessly.

Components of a Quality Program

There are certain things to look for when looking into early intervention programs. For one, it’s important to ask if the program is family-centered. What that means is that the unique culture and needs of the entire family unit are considered throughout the intervention process. Parents must be included in education and evaluation so that they are aware and informed, as well as so they can put the techniques and strategies they learn into practice. Practitioners should follow the child’s lead when it comes to treatment. This type of child-directed approach makes it possible to meet the unique needs of each individual child, rather than working from a generalized protocol that may not be as effective. Programs should also be systematic and functional. Though each child’s characteristics and abilities are of utmost importance in guiding care, a program should have a developmental trajectory to guide their work. Finally, the best early intervention work is naturalistic, meaning it occurs in everyday settings. Autistic children need to learn and practice behaviors within their daily life and environment to best retain the information. They often cannot transfer knowledge learned in one area to another.

Costs of Early Intervention

Early intervention programs vary widely in cost. Those run by private agencies tend to be more expensive than those administered by local communities. In addition, states and insurance companies may subsidize families that meet specific criteria. Depending on the severity, children will need more services, costing more money. Taking all that into account, it has been estimated that early intervention services in the United States cost in the range of $40,000 to $80,000 per year. Considering that is a full year’s salary for a lot of people you can see why many will require financial help.

Early Intervention Pays Off Long-Term

While some may hesitate at paying for early intervention services, it does seem to be worth it over the long haul. A University of Pennsylvania Medical School study found that an intensive early intervention program for autism saved people almost $20,000 per year after the program was over. During the intervention itself, it only cost $14,000 more than a local community-based treatment. The researchers concluded that the effectiveness of the early intervention reduced the need for future services, therefore substantially decreasing overall costs.

This is a basic summary of early intervention programs and how they can help autistic children. Diagnosis at a young age is often the key to overcoming some of the issues autistic individuals encounter, and an autism early intervention program can help to make that happen.

ABA Programs Guide Staff

Update April 2020

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