What is autism?
Autism is a spectrum disorder that is developmental and neurologic in nature and varies in its degree of severity. The disorder affects three areas of development: social interaction, communication and behavior, with symptoms ranging from minor social interaction problems to severe social interaction, communication and behavioral problems. The diagnosis is often made in early childhood (before age three), when children’s speech, language and social development are not equal to his/her peers.
Areas of difficulty:
Impairment in social interaction:
- Difficulty with understanding and use of appropriate eye contact, facial expression, gestures, etc.
- Difficulty with peer relationships
- Difficulty with shared attention
Impairment in communication/language:
- Delayed/disordered in spoken language development
- Spoken language does not accompany intent and can seem meaningless
- Repetitive use of language (i.e. copying others or repeating oneself)
Stereotypic patterns of behaviors, restricted interests:
- Preoccupation with specific patterns of interest
- Adherence to a specific nonfunctional routine
- Repetitive motor mannerism (i.e. flapping arms)
Diagnosis of autism is based on behavioral observations, parent reports and psychological testing. Often, it is necessary that a team of professionals composed of a developmental psychologist, a speech-language pathologist and an occupational therapist assess the child’s behavior, social interaction, communication, fine and gross motor skills, and sensory integration abilities. Specific recommendations regarding appropriate interventions are made following the thorough evaluation. And as with any intervention program, parent education and counseling are an essential component.
Treatment of children with the diagnosis of autism, or those who are demonstrating signs of this disorder with no formal diagnosis, are among the services offered at Evergreen Speech and Hearing Clinic (ESHC). Our intervention programs are family-centered and focus on parent training and education in order for the clinicians to design a treatment program that best meets the child and their family’s specific needs. In addition, clinicians work on direct intervention of impaired expressive/receptive language and social/pragmatic skills. At ESHC, our speech-language pathologists collaborate and utilize play-based activities that help expand the child’s language, social interaction and play skills. Specifically, ESHC clinicians use the Floortime* therapy technique, where they meet the child at his/her developmental level and help build on his/her strengths.
In some cases where autism is suspected but undiagnosed, speech and language intervention is initiated, and in the course of intervention, the parents are referred to seek a multidisciplinary team evaluation.
*A therapy technique based on the Developmental Individual Difference Relationship Model (DIR)