Here's Why Early Intervention For Children On The Autism Spectrum Is Really Important

Early intervention programmes can help your child navigate the world better as an individual with autism.

Cover image via Sebastian Pandelache/Unsplash & Tanaphong Toochinda/Unsplash

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They say that kids absorb information quickly and their brains are highly active when they're young

My name is Imelda and I used to be a special needs educator at Lighthouse Academy where I taught children with Autism and other learning difficulties from as young as 3 years old up to 18 years old. With over three years of experience in this industry, I'm trained to carry out early intervention programmes, behaviour management, and prepare individualised education plans for students. 

You'll notice that babies and toddlers are extremely curious about their surroundings, which is why they love to explore using their senses like putting things in their mouth, touching everything and anything, learning to taste different food textures, and even seeing what their limbs can do.

Even though kids with autism do come with their fair share of challenges, it is easier to understand, stimulate, and teach them when they're younger, as they learn skills easier. 

You can look out for signs of autism in a baby from an age as early as six months. Here are some of the signs: 
- lack of eye contact
- lack of emotions or none at all 
- does not interact with others 
- does not know how to play 
- does not respond when their name is called
- have a delay in milestones
- repetitive strange behaviours like hand flapping
- obsessive over certain items or actions like the movement of a spinning fan

Do note that autism does not go away or can be cured, but the severity of the spectrum can be lessened with early intervention, which makes it easier for one with autism to adapt to the world around them. 

Here are some reasons as to why it's crucial to start early intervention as young as possible:

It's easier for teachers and parents to see improvements in aspects like their social skills when the child learns and is trained from an early age

If you didn't know, no one child on the spectrum is the same. Their needs and the way they view the world are totally different from ours and each other. Yes, autistic children may have some similar characteristics. But, once you get to know and understand each and every one of them, you'll notice certain traits that set them apart.

This is why it's best to learn to understand their individual needs from a young age, so a personalised plan can be created to help them develop skills that they may lack in areas such as social skills, fine motor skills, and more. For example, autistic kids often struggle with managing their own emotions as well as showing emotions towards others. These have to be taught, so they know how to react to situations. 

Early intervention also helps them improve self-regulation and coping with the world around them

Certain kids are sensitive to the texture of clothing and might even refuse to put them on. In this instance, we can start with baby steps to desensitise them. Parents can try putting a shirt on them for a few seconds then increase to a few minutes and hours as time goes by. Giving them a duration of time that they can look forward to also helps them reduce their anxiety. 

Most kids on the spectrum love to have structure and routines in their lives, which includes knowing when certain activities begin and end. In the classroom, having a visual timetable that they can follow and refer to in order to know what is coming up next helps reduce their anticipation and keeps them calm. 

By getting diagnosed earlier, parents will also know what to do when their child has a breakdown and understand what can be done to calm them down. It's not always a linear way, but over time you'll understand your child better as well, with the help from therapists and the early intervention programme. 

From building friendships to ordering food at a restaurant, communication is a key aspect of everyday life. But, what happens if you're unable to communicate?

A child starts communicating as early as six to eight months non-verbally. They might cry when they are hungry or show certain gestures to show you what they need. But, kids on the spectrum might have delays in communication or speech. By detecting a delay in the normal development chart, you'll be able to start your child with autism with early intervention, and get them introduced early to speech, language, and communication skills with a therapist.

The earlier you start with a speech therapist, the sooner you're bound to see improvement when communicating with your children. This includes identifying their speech problems, and if it's articulation, you can do exercises to help with their pronunciation. And if the kids can't speak, they can opt for PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) or use sign language, which is helpful to learn at an early age so they can communicate their needs fluently with you.

Since kids spend a lot of time with parents or caretakers at an early age, it's important for them to follow the practices set by the therapist to have consistency at home and in the centre, so the kids don't get confused.

Kids on the spectrum may even struggle with living skills as simple as putting on socks, so by starting early intervention, it can help them be independent

Autistic children can find it hard to grasp basic living skills like using a fork and spoon, drinking water from a cup, and listening to instructions. Through programmes like applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is an evidence-based therapy, autistic children can learn what are appropriate and inappropriate behaviours through a reward system. As kids, we used to love getting rewards as they motivated and encouraged us, whether it is to get our homework done or complete chores. 

I've seen kids that love to bite or hit themselves as a way to regulate their frustrations. When this is not tackled at an early age, as they get older, they get more violent which sometimes results in hurting their own parents or siblings. With early intervention, we can identify the triggers that make them bite or hit themselves, and teach them an alternative behaviour like squishing a stress ball when they feel frustrated. With time, they'll keep up with the practice and show fewer inappropriate behaviours. 

With that being said, society should also build an understanding and awareness towards autistic children, so they are not the only ones adapting to the world but can count on the world adapting towards them too

Click here to learn more about autism!

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