By: Melissa K. Burkhardt, M.S. Ed, BCBA
Certified Early Start Denver Model Therapist and Autism Specialist
It is an honor to guest blog for Choosy Kids this month since April is Autism Awareness Month.
Autism is so prevalent in today’s society that if you do not personally know someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or know a family that is being touched by a child with ASD, statistics tell us that you probably will soon.
You may ask, exactly what is autism? ASD refers to a complex group of developmental disorders of the brain. Symptoms appear before age three and reflect delayed or abnormal development in language, social skills, and repetitive or restricted behavior. According to a study released in March of 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in every 68 children has been identified with ASD.
The CDC report also shows that most children with ASD are diagnosed after age four, although ASD can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Many parents report that they “knew something was not right” with their child as early as a few months old. Research has shown that early detection and intervention are the most powerful tools in helping children with ASD to reach their greatest potential. This is where my passion lies – reaching out and working with toddlers and their families to maximize their learning ability so they can develop to their highest capability!
It is important to realize that children with ASD are each very unique and have an extremely wide range of functioning levels. Mildly affected children may have average to above-average academic skills but lack social reciprocity and are unable to have developmentally appropriate relationships. They are often experts on one subject and may only want to speak about this subject despite the obvious disinterest of others. Conversely, severely affected children may have little-to-no functional language, other developmental delays, and few social skills. They often have severe sensory processing disorder (SPD) which can result in repetitive, intense behaviors.
Early Red Flags of Autism
- By 6 months: No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions
- By 9 months: No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions
- By 12 months: No back-and-forth gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving; lack of response to name; and, no babbling or “baby talk”
- By 16 months: No spoken words
- By 18 months: No play of “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll)
- By 24 months: No meaningful two-word phrases that do not involve imitating or repeating
- At any age, any loss of: speech, babbling, or social skills
A person with ASD might:
- Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings, or talking about their own feelings
- Have delayed speech and language skills
- Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
- Give unrelated answers to questions
- Get upset by minor changes
- Have obsessive interests
- Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
- Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
During Autism Awareness Month in 2015, I conducted a webinar, “Autism in Early Childhood: Evidence-Based Practices” for Hatch Early Learning that is available free of charge. On April 21, 2016, I will be conducting another free webinar for Hatch on Autism and Friendship. Click here to register. Another resource is the award-winning book I authored, Exceptionally Good Friends: Building Relationships with Autism, told from two points of view. One from the point-of-view of a neuro-typical child about her friend with autism. Flip the book over for the same events told from the point-of-view of a child with autism. The reader (both adults and children) gains empathy and understanding as he/she receives a glimpse into the world of autism. Evidence-based practices and resources are included in the middle of the story that relate back to the child with autism’s story.
Please share this very important information and resources about autism with others so that all children with autism and their families can receive the support and help they need. If anyone would like to inquire about autism consultation services, Melissa can be reached at Melissa@earlystartautism.com or to learn more about evidence-based early intervention visit EarlyStartAutism.com.
Exceptionally Good Friends: Building Relationships with Autism recipient of the Autism Society’s, “2015 Dr. Temple Grandin Outstanding Literary Work of the Year” and the Mom’s Choice Award. As a certified Special Education Early Intervention Teacher, she taught in the public school system for 20 years where she helped to pioneer a fully inclusive pre-k program in her school district.
Melissa specializes in private therapy providing very early intervention for children with autism and parental coaching to achieve best outcomes in a child’s life. She shares her extensive knowledge about autism through public speaking, coaching, program development, and preparing specialized presentations for individuals, groups, and corporations.
Melissa has learned from experience that early intervention takes advantage of the brain’s neural plasticity and is essential in helping a child with autism spectrum disorder to achieve success in developing to their full capacity.
Melissa can be reached at Melissa@earlystartautism.com.