As with any child with special needs, early detection is essential to allow interventions to be implemented. With autism, intervention needs to be started before deviation and delay from the normal pattern of development has progressed too far.
A characteristic unique to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the need for structure and repetitive routines. The child’s resistance to change can impede treatment and interventions if started too late when the child has already established inappropriate and non-functional behaviors as a part of his/her routine. Early intervention has also been proven to have more of a significant impact due the theory of brain plasticity, referring to the brain’s ability to change itself. This first occurs when infants are born and start developing into children. Between the ages of birth-six, studies have shown that the immature brain grows and creates neural networks at an unprecedented rate, as the brain is flooded with new sensory input from the outside world. Research continues to show us how the brains of children diagnosed with autism lack this natural ability to integrate and organize the input they receive. However, with specific and consistent early intervention, we have been successful in bridging this gap by facilitating appropriate neural connections to occur. Evidence continues to consistently show that early intervention improves long-term function for children diagnosed in the Autism Spectrum.
To ensure families receive early intervention, early detection is the key. Recognition and diagnosis before the age of two continues to be rare, however there are indications in the usual developmental progress that could suggest autism before the age of two. These include but are not limited to lack of eye contact, avoidance of sounds and non-responsive to name as well as a lack of interest in the types of play that most infants enjoy, such as those which involve social interaction with the parent. Assessment is best done within a child development unit because the expertise of a variety of disciplines is required and a team approach has been found to result in more accurate diagnosis.
This article was contributed by our own Dawn M., OTR/L, Tampa Bay Autism Examiner.
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