Monday, March 29, 2010

Could it be Autism?

One of the things that continues to astound us is how young everyone tells us Alanna is to be in intensive intervention.  She's currently 28 months, about 2 1/3 years old.  She started at about 23 months, just before she turned 2 years old.  In Ontario's Autism Intervention Program, Alanna is currently the youngest child on the waiting list for subsidized services in my city, and there is only one younger in the region.

Why is this?  It's because diagnosis is long and painful.  Autism is commonly not detected by medical professionals in a timely fashion, and even when it is, the referral process takes too long in Ontario.  If we had waited for the diagnosis, we would still be waiting just to confirm Alanna had autism.  Some professionals won't diagnose children as young as 18 months, even though it can be done, especially for children who are moderate or severe.

You can obtain a diagnosis privately.  It's not cheap (around $2000), but it will save you at least a year of waiting.  If you cannot afford private ABA therapy, consider investing in a private diagnosis.  You may even be able to find a private psychologist who will give you a break if you provide proof you've tried everything you can to raise funds for the diagnosis.  You can also write off this cost on income taxes.  If you have health insurance at work, they will also probably cover at least some of this cost.

For Ontario parents:

If you are a parent and suspect your child may have autism, do not waitIf you wait for the public system your child may be school age before they get intervention, and will fall farther and farther behind.  Meanwhile, you will be left to deal with your child's behaviour with little support in the meantime.  Find a way to get your diagnosis as quickly as possible.  Make it a priority; you will be glad you made the sacrifice later.  If you need help finding a psychologist who can help, let me know, I will do my best to help you find one to get you the diagnosis you need to start accessing services.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Travel Fun

We are blessed to have just returned from not-so-warm-but-fun-anyway Florida.  The residents were complaining, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway.  We had a few days of 22-25 degree weather and some sun.

Travelling with young children is never an easy thing.  Travelling with a child who has autism can be even harder.  Loud noises, changing environments, weird sensations, changes in pressure, crowds, boredom - all take their toll on children with autism.  Fortunately for us, Alanna did fantastic.  She tolerated the airplane movements, didn't mind the crowded airports (and even tried to play with some of the kids she met) and was a pretty "typical" two-year old during the entire experience (her brother on the other hand decided his parents are useful for practicing his head butt wrestling move and we have bruises to prove it.)

We were also worried that Alanna would hate the sand like she did last year, and not tolerate the water due to the resistance she is giving us with bathing.

Here you can see her very frustrated... uh, well, not really.  She really loved the sand!

She loved the water too and asked to go swimming!  We were so pleased.  Sometimes, despite all the challenges of autism and the special considerations you have to make as a parent, you have moments - not many - but some, where you feel like your child is just a typical kid.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Verbal Explosions

When Alanna was evaluated by a psychologist (twice over), her most delayed area was communication.  On the Vineland II Adaptive Behaviour Scale, Alanna scored in the <1% percentile for communication, which essentially means in a room of 100 random children her age, her communication skills would be the most delayed out of any of the children in the room.  For us, this was quite distressing, since an inability to communicate is a huge impetus towards developing a lot of problem behaviours for children with autism.  Fortunately for us, we were able to introduce the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to Alanna fairly early on.  She can now ask for lots of items, even if she does not see the item, using pictures.  However, what has us really excited is how the mand training we introduced into her therapy has caused a verbal explosion!

Mand training is a verbal behaviour term that refers to teaching a child how to ask for things he or she wants.  The word "mand" is short for "demand".  It's very boring but effective.  Essentially all we do is take a desired item and model the word for Alanna - for example, "muffin".  After several times modelling, we give her a small piece.  When she approximates the word, she gets a bigger piece.  As she is able to say more, we expect more and give her small pieces for responses that used to give big pieces (e.g., "mmm" originally gets a bigger piece but now does not).  She can now say "mufffan" or "muff an", sometimes "muffin". 

This "mand training" combined with her pictures allows her to say or approximate several words.  As she learns more words, other words are sometimes heard spontaneously, such as the "stawberry" I heard yesterday!

Sweet, sweet words.  They are like warm rays of sunshine in the bleak winter.  Keep talking, Alanna!