Early Intervention – The Options
If your child is diagnosed with autism when they are very young then your family has a golden chance to implement an early intervention program.
But please don’t panic if a diagnosis has come much later. The brain is plastic throughout life and there is ALWAYS room and hope for positive changes for your child. You may well be able to follow one of the programs below as well as other therapies notwithstanding age.
Choosing an early intervention option for your child with autism can be a very overwhelming and confusing process. Unlike most other areas of childhood health, an autism diagnosis doesn’t come with a plan of treatment that parents can follow and a network of medical professionals to help implement it.
In most cases, it is up to parents/carers to do their own research and navigate their way through the multiple options that are out there.
There are several different methodologies for early intervention but only one golden rule: be intensive.
The Australian Government’s own “Guidelines for Good Practice” recommends a minimum of 20 hours a week of autism-specific early intervention. Sadly, most Australian children currently receive nothing close to this amount. Yet it is what experts absolutely advise, and what has been proven to provide the best outcomes.
There are also some important things to consider straight away:
- Does this therapy work? Is it proven to be effective?
- Will it work for us? Will the therapy suit our own family’s needs?
Finding an early intervention program that works
Listed below are the best researched early interventions programs for autism, described in some detail. This is a reliable list of methodologies which have research behind them.
The Federal Government only wants to fund effective, proven therapies through the Helping Children With Autism package and later, through the NDIS.
Below is a link to the Australian Government’s “Helping Children With Autism Review of Early Intervention Therapies.” This is an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of various different forms of intervention for children with autism, and it’s a must read for all parents!
Parents and carers should be aware that not all service providers (government approved or otherwise) are going to bring the same level of transparency, respect and rigour to the programs they deliver. It’s important that you do your research, ask questions and ensure the answers you’re receiving meet all your requirements.
You can also read more about evidence-based interventions and treatments versus non evidence based approaches here.
But most programs still lack intensity
On the HCWA Panel of providers, you will find many methods and programs which are not intensive, and provide nothing like the recommended 20 hours a week of autism specific early intervention. Be wary of these and ensure you thoroughly research the effectiveness of a program before making your decision.
Intensity is almost always more expensive, and many parents supplement the cost of their children’s early intervention program a great deal in order to meet the recommended minimum hours.
The advent of the NDIS is also making changes as support is entirely individualised. Once rolled out nationally, participants will be entitled to fully funded individualised packages that support their specific goals and needs.
Whilst in the past funding an intensive early intervention program might not have been possible for some, the NDIS is certainly looking like it will change that.
“However, the most important quality that teachers and therapists should have, which transcends academic qualifications, is the ability to engage your child. The best therapists can look past the autism symptoms and see the child within; they will know how to laugh and play and have fun, but also how to impose discipline in a kind and consistent manner. Your child will really enjoy being with these people and learn best with them. If you come across one you should try to hold onto her (or him) for as long as possible. Fortunately these gems are more common than you might think.”
Quote from the Australian Autism Handbook
Chapter 5: Early Intervention – The Australian Autism Handbook