Friday, June 10, 2011

Autism Takes a Village

One in 110 children in America has autism, and 1 in 70 boys has autism.  Over the past several years a lot of research has been collected about autism, but still no explanation of the cause or prevention of the disease that affects so many.

There is one thing that is certain about autism: It Takes a Village to treat and help the patient and family get back on track.  Roshonda Franklin-Epps, our guest special education expert will tell us how to get much needed services for children with autism or a child you suspect may have autism.

What is autism? 
Autism is a developmental disability/brain disorder that affects a person's social skills, language, and/or behavior.

What are the symptoms of autism?
As stated above, autism can affect three main areas: social skills, language, and behavior.  Here are a list of symptoms, however, Roshonda stresses the fact that "autism doesn't fit in one fills a spectrum".

  • Poor eye contact, or no eye contact at all
  • Tactile Sensitivity
  • Playing Alone
  • Language Impairment
  • Non-verbal
  • Mono-tone robot speech
  • Slapping hands or waving arms
  • Lack of motor skills
Autism Speaks has also compiled a list of early signs to watch out for.

My child has shown some/many of these symptoms....what am I supposed to do?
Roshonda also stresses the fact that early intervention is key and makes all the difference in the world.  Also, you will have to be patient with the diagnoses process and take the team approach.  Here's a list of steps that will guide you through.

  1. If your child is in school, speak to their teacher about their behavior at school, and if they've noticed anything different about your child.  Your child's teacher is an important member of your autism advocate team.  If your child is not school age, proceed to step two.
  2. Make an appointment with your pediatrician and tell him/her your concerns.  They should conduct an assessment of your child's development, especially relating to their speech and communication.
  3. If the pediatrician finds cause, he/she will refer you to a team of therapists: Psychological, Speech, Physical, and Occupational to do a battery of diagnostic testing.  This testing will mainly consist of the professionals observing your child in their environment.  Also, this step may take a while because there are several professionals involved and many tests.  The key is to be patient, and stay the course because it's for the benefit of your child.
  4. Remember, one person on the team cannot diagnose autism alone.  They will review the findings of the entire team and make a diagnosis.  If your child is under 3 and/or not in school, services will be provided at your home.  If your child attends school, then you will get a referral to the Special Education team for your child's school, where they can receive services.
  5. According to the Individual Disability Education Act (IDEA) of 1975, the school has to follow up on your request for services, regardless of if your child attends a public or private school.  More than likely, they will also do their own testing with you and your child, which will mirror the previous diagnostic tests.
  6. Upon the results of their tests, the team (your child's teacher, principal, counselor, and therapy staff) will put together a Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child, which will specify if they need to be in a special classroom where they can receive more personalized one-on-one attention or exactly which therapy services they need (i.e. speech, physical, occupational, etc).
Of course this process can be tough to wield through, which is why Roshonda strongly recommends seeking out a Special Education Advocate, which can be anyone from a parent whose gone through this process before, a counselor at your child's school, someone at the Department of Education, or a professional who does this on a full-time or volunteer basis.  Please visit Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates for more information about finding an advocate.

Lastly, Roshonda stresses the important of having a working relationship with the team of professionals that will help you through this process and to be very vigilant for your child's sake.  If you have any questions, Roshonda can be reached here.

Roshonda Franklin-Epps is currently a volunteer advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocate, and she is considering going into Special Education Law in the future.  Roshonda holds a B.S. and M.S. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO.  She has worked the last 7 years in various special education roles, including, but not limited to: Speech Language Pathologist for the Kansas City, MO School District, and ABA Therapist for St. Louis Special School District and Residential Supervisor at Touch Point, an organization for adults and children with disabilities.  Roshonda has spent most of her career working for people with autism and she is very passionate about helping them through the maze of services.


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