January 24, 2010

What We Did

After my son received an autism diagnosis, I wasn't sure what to do. Autism isn't like a typical medical condition where there are medications to help alleviate the symptoms...it seemed there were a million different avenues we could go down to help Will. It also felt like if we didn't do the exact right thing at the right time that we would miss the "window" to help him. I felt pressure to get something started for him, but I didn't know what to do.

Thankfully, God provided people around us at that time to help guide our decisions.

First, since Will was diagnosed through the school district, we had a meeting with the school psychologist, speech therapist, preschool teachers, Head Start teachers and administrators, and the school's vice principal to talk about what was best for Will. They recommended starting speech therapy immediately, which we did two times a week, and they suggested that an in-home trainer come to our house once a week to work with Will and answer my questions. They also suggested that Will attend Head Start. Head Start is a federally funded program to help children prepare for kindergarten. It is mostly for low-income families, but it reserves 10% of spaces for children with disabilities. They thought Will would learn by being around typical children in a structured setting.

So the fall after Will turned 4, he was in school full time, while still getting speech therapy and in-home training. The in-home trainer worked with him on taking turns, eye contact, answering questions, and social cues. She also gave me suggestions on such things as handling tantrums and answered any questions I had about parenting Will.

We didn't do official ABA training or have him in ABA therapy, but we parented Will using that philosophy and techniques. For example, he really struggled to dress himself and didn't want to even try. We broke what we wanted him to do into small steps and rewarded him for each little step until finally he was able to fully dress himself. It took alot of work to get to the final result, but we found rewards worked really well if we stuck with it and didn't let him off the hook. I glued pictures of what we wanted him to do (a picture of a boy brushing his teeth) and each time he did it on his own, he got a sticker to place next to the picture. You can see a post I did about that here.

We didn't do the gluten-free/casein-free diet, although I know alot of people do. We went back and forth on it for a while, but finally decided not to after receiving counsel from our in-home trainer. If you're interested to know more about that, just email me.

The most important thing we did was not giving up. No matter what treatment options you choose and even if you don't see results right away, be consistent in what you're doing with your child and look for ways to reinforce what they're getting outside the home. Will exhibited what is called echolalia. Instead of answering questions, he would just repeat what I said. You can imagine how frustrating it was to ask him even the simplest things....

Me: Will, what do you want to drink?
Will: What do you want to drink.
Me: Tell me what you want to drink for breakfast.
Will: What you want to drink.
Me: Do you want milk or orange juice?
Will: Milk or orange juice.
Me: Say orange juice. (knowing that is what he wants)
Will: Say orange juice.

Very frustrating! I remember thinking that he would NEVER drop the echolalia and learn to answer questions. But we worked so hard at it and after a year or so he finally dropped it and learned how to answer simple questions.

I am not about telling you what you should do with your child. Children need different things so what one family does will be different from another family. The best treatment is love and consistency. As a Christian, I believe the Lord led us to the right things and right people for Will. Pray for wisdom concerning your child and your family situation. He will answer.