Early diagnosis is critically important for children with autism spectrum disorders. The earlier a diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin. Making an appointment for an evaluation is the first step in this process. Summit’s Developmental Disabilities Clinic offers comprehensive evaluations for children suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder. Evaluations can occur well before a child reaches the age of two.
What is Autism?
Autism is a complex neurological disorder characterized by significant difficulties with repetitive/restrictive behavior, communication and socialization. It is a part of a group of Pervasive Developmental Disorders which also include Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). These disorders may also be called Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASDs. Autism is considered “pervasive” because it affects many aspects of an individual’s life. It is considered a “developmental disorder” because it occurs very early in life (often prior to the age of three) and may be apparent from early infancy or may begin to manifest after a period of apparently typical development. Autism occurs regardless of race, religion, income level or other societal factors. Autism is a life-long disorder that exists along a continuum of functioning levels - from those who have mild symptoms and can function independently in society - to those with severe delays in all areas of development who require continuous supervision. Regardless of the nature of their delays, many individuals who are diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder can make substantial gains with appropriate treatment.
What are common signs of autism?
The first signs of Autism usually appear before the age of three.
The earliest signs of Autism typically include:
- Poor eye contact
- Lack of pointing
- Difficulty in the use and understanding of language
- Unusual play or lack of play
Other common signs include:
- Poor social skills
- Over- or under-sensitivity to sound, sight, taste, touch or smell
- Repetitive movements (hand flapping, body rocking)
- Difficulty with changes in routine or surroundings
- Challenging behaviors such as aggression, self injury or severe withdrawal
- Echolalia (repeats words instead of responding)
- Not responding when called by name or appearing to be deaf
What is the Early Autism Program?
The Early Autism Program (EAP) is unique in Buffalo and Western New York offering Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) for children from birth to five years of age with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The Early Autism Program employs methodology derived from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
Who is eligible?
The Early Autism Program serves children from birth though 5 years of age with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Eligibility determination begins with a referral to the Early Intervention Program (for children under 3 years old) or the child’s local school district (for 3 and 4 year old children). If the child is determined to be eligible for services through the Early Autism Program, admission is based on available openings.
Is ABA an effective treatment for autism?
There is a substantial body of empirical support for ABA as an effective treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorders and EIBI as a model for delivering services to young children with autism. The model is also in line with recommendations and guidelines for effective treatment of ASDs from several organizations:
New York State Department of Health Early Intervention Program
American Academy of Pediatrics Position Statements
What does EIBI look like?
Most children in the Early Autism Program go through various phases of intervention. The earliest phase often includes 20 to 30 hours of intensive one-to-one instruction in a child’s home. Initially, the focus is on developing basic “learning to learn skills” such as attending to other people and materials, basic communication, requesting and indicating choices, following simple instructions, and simple imitation. The instructional sessions are highly structured and teacher directed with many opportunities to practice skills as they emerge. As the child begins to demonstrate these early learning skills, the focus of intervention broadens to include concept development, social skills, self help skills, and communication. The second phase involves continued instruction in all areas of development in a somewhat less structured session. There may still be a great deal of one-to one instruction, however, instruction may also be delivered in a one-to-two or small group format involving siblings, peers, and caregivers. In addition, instruction may take place in more natural setting with materials found in the child’s natural environment. The third phase of instruction involves even less structure and more opportunities for learning in the natural environment. As new skills are taught there may be some one-to-one instruction initially, but as quickly as possible, the child is encouraged to demonstrate skills in the natural environment.
Who are the providers?
The Early Autism Program is staffed by a team of Masters-level New York State certified special education teachers, licensed speech and language pathologists, and supervisory professionals including school psychologists, licensed clinical psychologists, and a speech and language pathologist. All staff members have extensive training and experience with ABA intervention and instructional methodologies.
Each team working with a child and his or her family is typically comprised of one to three teachers and a consultant. Some children in the Early Autism Program also receive speech therapy from one of EAP’s speech and language pathologists. The team’s focus is on the child’s ability to acquire age appropriate skills, reduce any maladaptive behavior that interferes with learning, speech and language, play, and social skill development, and to assist the family with issues related to raising a child with an ASD. The role of the consultant on the EAP team is to provide supervision and guidance to the direct care teaching staff as well as to provide training, education, and support to the child’s family. The consultant can assist family members with intervention methods, management of behavior problems, service delivery systems (e.g., Early Intervention Program, Committee on Preschool Special Education), emotional support, identification of community resources, and any other issues with which families may need assistance.
What is the role of families?
Family members including parents, caregivers, and siblings, are vital members of each child’s treatment team. Children who are most successful and show the most gains in Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention are those whose families are active participants. Family involvement is critical for children to learn and develop new skills, and this is accomplished when family members are active within therapy sessions and are able to implement intervention methods when direct care providers are not present. Family involvement also ensures that specific needs of families can be addressed. Given the intensity of the model, commitment from the family to be active participants in their child’s program is necessary.
Does the child attend school?
Decisions about attending school are made by the team as the child progresses through the program. Such decisions are highly individualized and based on the child’s needs and abilities. Most children begin with one-to-one instruction in the home setting. As they progress, some children may participate in a combination of home based instruction for part of the day in addition to a classroom placement. Decisions to begin a classroom placement are often dependent on basic readiness skills and the ability to benefit from social and language models provided by classroom peers.
For More Information:
For more information about Summit’s Early Autism Program, call us at (716) 629-3400. We can answer any questions you may have about the program. We will obtain some information from you about your child and describe the steps necessary to begin services. Before services can begin, placement must be approved by the county or school district in which you reside.
Research has demonstrated that many children with autism can be helped significantly by an intensive home-based program using systematic instruction techniques. This approach, also referred to as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), has been scientifically demonstrated to be effective in teaching a broad range of skills to children with autism. Summit has the unique expertise and experience to offer such a program in Western New York.
Systematic instruction begins with a well-trained teacher who carefully assesses the child's skills, identifies objectives for learning, then writes a detailed lesson plan for teaching each skill. For most children, the initial sessions are highly structured and teacher directed. Each session involves the presentation of multiple instructional trials so that the child receives repeated opportunities for learning. As skills emerge, instructional lessons are embedded within more natural activities and routines at home and school. The home-based program also teaches basic daily-living skills such as toileting and dressing, as the child's ability to follow instructions improves.