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Raising a Child Who Has Autism

Updated on April 3, 2013

My eight year old son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was three years old. His behavior was aggressive and his verbal skills were way below what is typical. My husband and I knew that something was not right for a year prior to his diagnosis. It was very difficult to see our expressive, sweet, happy baby transform into a child who became combative and difficult to redirect.

We had our son evaluated by a Neurologist who told us he felt our son was Bipolar, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and a little bit Autistic. Having a degree in mental health, I was pretty certain he wasn't Bipolar. We then had him evaluated by the state school district. His evaluation showed he was about 1 - 1 1/2 years behind typical children his age. He was placed in an early child development pre school. At this time we decided to take him to see a Psychiatrist for an actual diagnosis. He was initially felt to have ADHD and Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Autism Spectrum. His aggressive behaviors escalated while attending school. His teachers were not trained to handle children on the spectrum. He was held in a Teddy Bear hug in order to keep him seated during group time and they would hold his hands in cold water (they couldn't get the water warm) to wash them. He did have a team at school to evaluate his IEP (Interdisciplinary Education Plan) and they finally made a recommendation for him to be evaluated by the Delaware Autism Program. Delaware is the only state that has a special school, funded by the state school district. It is not a private, profit or non- profit school. He was evaluated in three separate settings by a team specially trained in autism. He was found to meet the educational criterea for autism and was accepted into the program.

In the Autism Program

It was such a relief to finally have a place where people are specifically educated in how to treat people with autism. The atmosphere was accepting, and the school offered educational programs for parents as well. The school uses ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) to encourage student learning. This method focuses on rewards for behavior, for example a child may be asked to complete a worksheet in class and in reward they receive a pre determined "cash out". As the child gets older the amount of expected work increases and the time for reward stretches further apart. This lets the child learn to delay gratification.

My son already had a lot of rote memory skills such as counting, colors, numbers and letters. His verbal and social skills were below normal. Now he was beginning to learn! His teachers were wonderful and understanding. In talking to the teachers, many have immediate family members with autism spectrum disorder. They wanted to help children get a good start so they could function as independently as possible.

Schools Must Have Teachers Who Understand ABA

I have family in other states who have children on the spectrum. Unfortunately, their states do not have schools specifically for autism. They are placed in regular schools in the Special Education classrooms. The children have various needs and teachers can be unprepared for all the different circumstances. Many teachers are not educated in ABA and children on the spectrum do not always receive the attention they need. Imagine a child who can't communicate effectively in a setting with children who can.

The goal of the Autism Program is to eventually integrate children into public schools. Children are in separate classrooms from typical children and spend some time each day working together with typical student helpers in regular classrooms. When the child is ready, they will move into a typical classroom full time. Support staff educated in ABA are present for the transition. This system seems to make much more sense. I've seen the difficulties other family members face with their children in special education classrooms. Teachers can only do what they are educated to do. When they do not have specialized training in autism or ABA, they are limited. This leads to parents homeschooling autistic children, or paying private schools. Funding for other therapies such as, Occupational Therapy, Psychology and Physical Therapy is left to the parents and any insurance they may have. The Autism Program provides these services as part of the child's IEP.

What Can We Do?

The number of children being diagnosed with Autism is increasing. The varied nature of their disabilities makes it difficult for public schools, insurance and parents to keep up with the costs. The states must come together and decide how we are going to treat such a large number of children, that will grow up, without the necessary skills to function after their parents can no longer care for them. Early intervention is absolutely necessary to give children with Autism the much needed head start. Without the intervention, the children will grow up unable to work, and live as independently as possible.


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