What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder, which affects a child’s social learning from the very early stages of life. Children with autism are less likely to observe and imitate others, to seek out and play with peers, to initiate social and communicative interactions. As a result, it is hard to respond to social initiations directed to them. Unusual and repetitive behaviours emerge in the second year of life. This can be seen in difficulties with changes, wanting to stick to the same routines, and using unusual repetitive actions with their body or objects. Autism impacts many lives. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 100 people in Australia have autism. It is important to choose an intervention that improves the features of autism. There are many intervention so understanding what makes an intervention good practice helps parents make the choice.
Throughout history people with ASD were misdiagnosed and inappropriate treatments were used. Generally speaking, autism is not a general learning problem or a learning disability. It is a neurodevelopment disability. On the positive side, children with autism can learn. In fact, some children have exceptional learning skills. However, social learning is difficult for every child with autism. As long as people understand the core features of autism then they can choose best practice interventions.
Best practice includes these principles
At a recent Speech Pathology Australia event, Dr David Trembath from Griffith University presented ‘Autism Update: A Clinically Focused Research Review’. He said that current research indicates that the best intervention for young children with autism should:
- Begins early in life
- Uses evidence-based strategies, strategies proven through research
- Addresses the individual child’s strengths and weaknesses
- Targets the core features of autism (such as reduced imitation, joint attention and social learning)
- Uses the three steps in teaching: ‘antecedent-response-consequence’
- Has a detailed description of the treatment procedures in an intervention manual that therapists use for their training
- Includes a process whereby a therapist has to prove that they can deliver the intervention according to the manual. This is a fidelity measure.
- Has individualised intervention goals. There should be no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
- It includes systematic monitoring of progress
- The sessions should have child-initiated activities, as opposed to therapist directed.
In other words, look closely at a program so you can decide if it includes enough best practice principles.
Dr Trembath reviewed all the intervention approaches in Australia. As a result, he found that the only early intervention approach for young children with autism that meets all the criteria is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). The ESDM is unique in the way it incorporates knowledge from different disciplines (including developmental science, applied behavioural analysis, and social affective neuroscience). Generally speaking, it facilitates learning and development in young children with autism.
OneOnOne Children’s Therapy has been using the ESDM as our best practice intervention for young children with autism since 2013. We are 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.