Recent developments in therapies for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have focused on early intervention methods like the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Quality of care has improved dramatically with a new focus on intensive behavioural treatments for children under the age of 5. That’s why it’s imperative for young children who might be diagnosed with Autism to receive assessment as soon as possible. In Ontario, publicly funded assessment can take up to 3 years – whereas the most effective ESDM treatments end at the age of 5.
An effective ESDM program uses a naturalistic environment and positive reinforcement to teach skills and encourage children to generalize them. Earlier teaching methods often resulted in rote responses that children could not generalize beyond that specific input. For example, take this simple story about how to teach a child to communicate verbally and politely. The child enjoyed being in the bath, and didn’t want it to end. When bath time was over, he would throw a tantrum, and so his mother would cave to his demands and give him more time. The parent’s mistake is rewarding negative behaviour – which became a learned response. This behaviour can be unlearned by encouraging the child to ask for more time, and rewarding him with a few extra minutes when he asked correctly. This is called Applied Behavioural Analysis, or ABA, and you can find a video explanation of a similar story here.
But as children grow up into adolescents and adolescents into young adults, their environments can change abruptly, presenting new challenges. Socializing in particular becomes a greater challenge as children age. Higher level language such as sarcasm can be challenging to interpret, as is non-verbal communication like body language and facial expressions. Teens and pre-teens with Autism experience difficulty learning how to use eye contact, facial expressions, and the initiation of conversation in social situations. As they graduate from IEP (Individualized Education Plans) to college or university, they may also struggle with their academic achievements.
Speech language pathologists such as those at Toronto institutions like Simone Friedman SLS can help adolescents and adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder in a variety of ways. They can provide a Speech Language Pathology Evaluation that will measure strengths and weaknesses in a range of communication skills including reading, writing, receptive and expressive language use, attention, verbal memory and more. They can recommend educational accommodations that should be put in place. Adults may also benefit from help with vocational readiness from Simone Friedman SLS instructors. They can help with vocational communication skills such as resume and cover letter writing, job searching skills, and training in interpersonal communications appropriate to colleagues and employers. They can even provide on the job coaching to help patients generalize their job skills.
With the help of Simone Friedman ABA therapy in Toronto, ESDM can be an evidence-based program using ABA techniques that truly improves the cognitive and communication skills of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. But treatment doesn’t end there; in order to excel in adolescent social situations, at institutions of higher education, and on the job, individuals with ASD may need additional therapies. The good news is that they are available from qualified speech language pathologists.