How early intervention makes huge differences for kids with autism
New Jersey has some of the most comprehensive testing for autism in the nation.
And Garden State also has the highest rate of autism classification in the country, according to data compiled by the CDC.
Dr. Kurt Miceli, the chief medical officer at Bancroft, a non-profit provider of services for those with autism and intellectual disabilities, said there are numerous variations of the disorder on the autism spectrum.
“Autism is a multi-faceted neuro-developmental disorder that can affect people’s communication skills, social functioning and other behaviors in a variety of different ways,” he said.
He said autism can be hard to treat "especially for the primary care provider, who might not have the specialization, so many times pediatric neurologists or psychiatrists can really be beneficial in this manner."
He stressed early treatment for those with autism is extremely important.
“The earlier the better, and the more supports that we can provide, the better off that individual will be throughout their whole lifetime,” Miceli said.
He said schools and governments have come to see the benefits of early intervention, providing funding and resources "because they are the best means of getting someone to improve their social skills, to improve their communication, to have less repetitive behaviors.”
Lisa Alberts, a psychiatric advanced practice nurse at Bancroft, said because the autistism spectrum is so wide, it presents differently in each individual. So "we use a variety of evidence-based strategies in order to treat someone on the spectrum,” she said.
“That may be behavioral strategies like applied behavior analysis, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and other treatment options," she said.
It's a particular challenge when an individual has no language abilities, "so therefore uses their behavior to communicate their wants, their needs, and if they’re in pain," Alberts said.
She stressed early treatment is important for many reasons, including the fact that “one thing we do see in a large portion of individuals on the autistic spectrum is self-injurious behavior and other types of behaviors that are very difficult to manage.”
Miceli said treatment for children with autism can start when they’re 2 or 3 years old.
“So much of it (the progress autistic children make) depends on the hours that are put in. Oftentimes we hear folks need a minimum of 25 hours a week in terms of the early intensive intervention benefits they can have."
He said because there are so many variations of autism treatment plans must be “comprehensive but also flexible, able to adjust to the needs of the individual.”
Miceli stressed early intervention can often result in a patient being able to live a more independent life for decades to come.
“It may allow folks to enter vocational programming later on, develop skills whereby they may have a job that they’re doing, whereby they can live in their own apartment, perhaps with some supports or perhaps not," he said.
He also pointed out because autism is a life-long disorder, it presents some unique challenges for families. They wonder if their loved ones will be taken care of when they're gone, or what sort of vocational training and jobs they might be able to sustain.
Alberts said many people who have autism need counseling and other services over the course of their entire life.
“That may be seeking higher education for someone with special needs. That may be recreational opportunities or vocational opportunities or even healthcare. Those resources need to be provided throughout an individual’s life,” she said.
Tomorrow, we examine what parents need to do immediately when they find out their children have autism.
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You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.