Our webinar’s speakers are so brilliant, we wish we could have asked them questions all day long. Kay Holman, Ph.D., CCC-SLP from Towson University and Erica Solliday, M.S. and Catherine Walton from Baltimore County Public Schools treated us to an insightful look into the world of autism among early learners. But since we couldn’t keep them all day, they were kind enough to choose a few questions from a recent webinar. Read on for what they had to say:
Hi everyone! We really enjoyed having the opportunity to do a webinar on Engaging Young Children with Autism in a Preschool Classroom and we were happy to receive several great follow-up questions. Here are our answers to a few of the questions that we didn’t have a chance to answer during the webinar.
What steps can you take if you feel that your child shows signs of autism?
One thing that we know for certain about autism is that early identification and intervention are key in helping children reach their full potential. Signs of autism can be seen as early as 18 months of age (sometimes younger), although there are still some people that are hesitant to give a diagnosis until a child is older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children be screened for developmental delays during regular well-child doctor visits starting at 9 months, and that they be screened specifically for ASD during regular well-child visits starting at 18 months. By the time that a child is 3 years old, there are very specific markers that can be seen that give a good indication of whether a child may have autism.
But let’s say the child is three years old. What if the doctor still wants to wait to test him?
The first step is to be insistent with your doctor. If your doctor does not feel comfortable screening your child, then request that he make a referral to a professional that has greater experience diagnosing autism. Professionals that do in-depth assessments for autism include developmental pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists. You can also call your local school system and request an evaluation. Many states also have autism centers with specially trained professionals.
Do I have to wait for a diagnosis to get the help and guidance my child needs?
You do not need a diagnosis to call your school system with concerns, and this may be the fastest way to see if your child qualifies for services. You can find a list of who to contact for school system special education services in each state on the website for the Early Childhood and Technical Assistance Center (ectacenter.org). Early intervention services can change the trajectory of child outcomes for children with autism, and so the sooner a child starts to receive services, the better! Don’t be afraid to advocate for your child and trust your intuition rather than following the antiquated “wait and see” approach.
Is it okay to have a child with autism in a classroom with ordinary children?
Absolutely! Research has indicated that including children with autism in a preschool classroom with typical peers did not result in the development of any maladaptive behaviors in the children without autism. Also, it is not only the children with autism that benefit, but the peers benefit as well. Programs that focus on including students with autism with their peers have actually found that the peers are often more successful in later schooling if they started out in inclusion models. As we discussed during the webinar, it is incredibly important to presume competence. Assume that our children with autism can and will succeed even when they are challenged. It is the least dangerous assumption that we can make!
Is that all there is to it? Or are there other considerations?
Whenever you look at a child with autism, something very important to remember is that they are a child first! Instead of thinking about what they can’t do, think about what they can do. That being said, it is likely that a child with autism will need additional supports to be successful in a preschool classroom. They may need to follow a specific schedule so that they know what is coming next at all times during the day, or they may need visual supports because it takes them longer to process spoken language. By putting some simple strategies in place, children with autism can benefit greatly from being in classes with their peers.
We hope that you find these answers and the webinar as a whole, useful to your practice. Remember, learning starts when we build connections with our students through intentional teaching and joy!