Early intervention for childhood development delays / Autism

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a wide term used to describe a group of neurodevelopmental disorders. The disorder is characterized by identifying issues with understanding communication and social interactions. Restricted, Repetitive, or Stereotyped interests or patterns of behaviour are the demonstrators of autism spectrum disorder. There are specifications to the disorder in the context of genetic hereditary and but irrespective of social norms. With time passing, autism has shown rise with different variants with a prior diagnosis of autism with autistic disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, Pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), or childhood disintegrative disorder.

The cause of autism can be genetic mutations, Fragile X syndrome, birth to aged parents, low birth weight, metabolic imbalances, exposure to environmental toxins, history of viral infections, and fetal exposure to medications. Surprisingly genetics and environment may also determine whether a person develops autism. The diagnosis of autism may include several different screenings, genetic or hereditary tests, and evaluations. Autism can delay the developmental milestones in children at early stages, which in turn increase the necessity of early intervention.

What is Early Intervention?

Early Intervention is specialized and specific support for children with disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, developmental delay, and other additional needs. Early intervention is an effective way to support the development and betterment of children with disabilities. Early intervention as a term refers to intervention for children and their families in the early years from birth until children start school. Early intervention should take place sooner the child’s requirements are identified. In fact, the CBSE schools in Pune have shown that early intervention escalates the developmental growth of autistic children and can help them to develop the skills they require to take part in routine activities. Children up to the age of 4-5 years having a developmental delay or specific health conditions like autism qualify for the early intervention. An evaluation is recommended when opting for early intervention as it will provide clarity about the depth of the requirement. The Lexicon Institutes have supported the ideology of early intervention and added value to it by supporting and inculcating early intervention into their vision. In fact, Lexicon Rainbow school, a school for special children, plays an important role in helping parents who have kids with autism.

How does an early intervention work?

Early intervention is a universal method and is accessible to anyone seeking. Every child has different requirements. After identifying child-specific needs or conditions is diagnosed, interventions can be a target to address the child’s and family’s specific needs. To avoid any myths, early intervention is yet different from special education. Early intervention is available at home or in the general community. Different types of specialists work with kids depending on what skills are being delayed. Opting for such services early helps kids catch up and thrive in school and overall life. There are four core areas that early intervention puts focus on: –

  1. Cognitive Skills – Child’s thinking and learning or problem-solving ability.
  2. Social and emotional development – communication skills like talking, listening, or understanding others.
  3. Motor skills – Skills that require a good brain to body connection like holding a pencil, writing with precision and trying a shoelace.
  4. Behavioural Skills – Child’s behaviour and how he/she is affected by physical and cognitive development with self-help or adaptive skills like eating and dressing.

The overall aim of early intervention is to improve a child’s development during early preschool years, which is important to their ongoing learning and development. The early intervention services can last up till the child’s third birthday yet can be continued if required. In case of late awareness, early intervention can be still availed as an option. The first step would always be an evaluation of the depth of diagnosis and then identifying the requirements of the child leading to opting for appropriate services. The effects of early intervention can last longer in the life of the child.

What are the principles for effective Early intervention?

Opting for the intervention as soon as autism spectrum disorder diagnosis is considered, even before a definitive diagnosis is made.

  • 24 hours per week, 12 months of the year, active engagement of children is required with the provision of intensive intervention. Systematic planning inclusive of developmentally appropriate activities designed to address identified needs.
  • One-on-one time will allow meeting sufficient and specific individualized goals with the involvement of the family.
  • Tracking the progress of the child with ongoing measurement and documentation to understand in case of any adjustments in programming are indicated.
  • Inclusion of continuous routine, visual activities involving outdoor and indoor activities, and clarity based on physical boundaries to minimize distraction on the disorder.
  • Addressing specific educational goals via typically developing peers to the extent of promotion of opportunities.
  • Strategy to apply skills to new environments and situations to maintain functional use of these skills.

Promising Early interventions: –

  • Occupational Therapy – Occupational Therapy applies therapeutic techniques in order to enhance or equip a child to carry out everyday activities. Occupational therapy has a more inclusive approach and includes solutions that help a child become more independent and functional.
  • Speech Therapy – Speech Therapy refers to the strategic treatment and practices targeted at bettering a child’s speech and language skills as well as swallowing. Speech therapy helps a child communicate better by teaching them to translate their thoughts to speech without stuttering or getting lost, to enunciated properly and be conscious about the way they speak, to understand and decode the use of any language accurately, as well as swallowing and the overall control of the muscles around the mouth.
  • Relationship-based treatment – Under such programs, treatment can be referred to by other names such as DIR, floortime, or Relationship Development intervention. Floortime facilitates the acquisition of social skills through intensive child-directed play and interactions. Floortime can be combined with other therapies such as speech therapy or occupational therapy. Floortime is a popular intervention and has proved promising results amongst children as well as parents because the floortime treatment can be used in some form with all ages and ability levels.
  • Play therapy – Playing skills form a constant role for children with autism spectrum disorder and offer opportunities with guidance for play-based interactions with peers. The training involves an important part of social skills training which is an evidence-based intervention. Under the traditional method of play therapy, a child is expected to ‘act out’ or ‘work through’ internal conflicts which can increase the difficulty for children with autism. Yet in the later stages of early intervention, play therapy can help to establish social communication when used to complement other interventions.
  • Support Therapy – The support therapies are required and be opted for by both child and family. The most effective therapy with individuals diagnosed with autism. Support therapy can include music therapy and massage therapy as a form of treatment. Other than these art therapy with pet therapy are scientifically proven interventions. It is quite likely that activities that are fun and engaging offer opportunities for reinforcement, relaxation, and interaction for individuals with autism.
  • Auditory integration training with facilitated communication – ATI intervention supports remediate problems with sound sensitivity and auditory processing. ATI results in improved behaviour, communication, and quality of life. ATI can be best combined with facilitated communication FC. FC is curated to be an augmentative communication strategy that involves the use of a facilitator who gently provides a personal touch to individuals with disabilities as the type to communicate. The most effective intervention is the ATI and FC combination which helps to objectify the specific evaluated problems.

How is early intervention for childhood development useful?

Certain types of intensive early intervention make a difference for at least the first few years which can be followed by the treatment. Early accessibility of the intervention can lead to early improvement of the child and increase more hope. Early intervention helps children to learn socially acceptable behaviours at a very young age. In fact, early intervention helps to ingrain habits, relatively easy to stop negative behaviours before children become intractable. Autism is a lifelong diagnosis, even though the symptoms are difficult to identify yet early identification can help better to improve gradually.

Bottom line is that early intervention is a good idea. There is nothing to lose but only a lot to gain for a child with autism with age-appropriate therapies. However, it is important to remember that early intervention cannot wipe out autism symptoms but can help a child and their family function better by developing the missing skills.Lexicon Rainbow provides different therapies and an inbuilt specialized curriculum for parent and child with autism to cope with early intervention. There is a good chance that other behavioural, developmental, or intellectual symptoms may improve resulting in better adaptation of autism for child and family.

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