Time and time again, families ring our clinic when they get a diagnosis of autism for their child and they are devastated. Firstly, they have to cope with the diagnosis of autism. However, the parents are disappointed and angry because the diagnosis took so long. It is really important to understand that children don’t grow out of autism. Above all, early diagnosis and intervention is key.
What does the research say about early diagnosis?
Research shows that early identification autism leads to the best outcomes for children and their families. Early intervention leads to better language skills, cognitive skills and reduced signs of autism. Research shows that the early intervention leads to a significant cost saving as the child gets older.
It isn’t easy for parents to open up to other people and express concerns about their child’s development. If a friend or family member says ‘I am worried about my child and I think something isn’t right here’, then listen to them. I can understand that close family and friends will want to reassure them that everything is okay. However, this is not ok at the GP, day care centre, or even a paediatrician office. The first five years of life are important years for brain development. In particular, the first three years are critical. Don’t delay the diagnosis. Early intervention for children with autism normalises brain activity and improves social skills in children as young as six months.
What do you do when it could be autism?
This is how you support parents so that early diagnosis happens?
- Don’t dismiss friend or relatives concerns. Listen to what they have to say. Unless you are knowledgeable in the area of autism, now isn’t the time to reassure the parent that everything will be fine.
- Make contact with an experienced professional who has experience with young children with autism. It should be a professional who works in the field every day. This can be a developmental paediatrician, a speech pathologist or a psychologist. We would much rather a concerned parent ring us because we understand and work with the early red flags that present in young children with autism.
- Recommend an assessment with a developmental paediatrician who has experience in young children with autism. The wait for autism assessments is, unfortunately, often months and even years for some children. The child is older when the assessment starts. The child lost critical brain development opportunities.
- La Trobe University has developed a fantastic app called ‘ASDdetect’. It is a free, evidence based app that guides parents through a series of questions about their child’s development. They have provided videos to help parent understand the early features of autism. The app will provide a recommendation regarding the need for assessment.
Children with autism don’t ‘grow out of it’. Developmental issues do not improve when you delay the diagnosis. Often the child’s behaviour becomes more challenging. The earlier the intervention begins, the better the outcomes for that child and their family. At out clinic we use the Early Start Denver Model, or ESDM, for young children with autism. OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is located in Bondi Junction in Sydney. Our team of therapists is trained at the highest levels of fidelity so we can improve children’s lives. If you want to find out more about the ESDM, then call our clinic on (02) 80657837 or email us.
Susan Marden is an Australian Speech Pathologist and Certified ESDM Therapist with over 30 years of experience in the field of Speech Pathology and autism.