Children Can Overcome Challenges of Autism with Early Intervention

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Parent and special education professor, Claire E. Hughes-Lynch, explains in her new book, "Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide" how early intervention can make a difference.

If I had known that there would be 6 months of waiting for help, I would have started screaming earlier

With the number of diagnoses of children with autism increasing to 1 in 110, according to a December 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents across the United States are looking for solid advice on helping their children overcome the various challenges that accompany an autism diagnosis. One parent and special education professor, Claire E. Hughes-Lynch, explains in her new book, "Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide" (available from Prufrock Press Inc.; http://www.prufrock.com), how early intervention can make a difference.

Holding a doctorate degree in both special education and gifted education, Hughes-Lynch thought she would be prepared for anything her children's educations threw at her. When her daughter was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at age 3, Hughes-Lynch began to realize what it was like to sit on both sides of the table--as a parent and as a teacher.

That realization, and the 4-year process of early intervention that followed, led to the release of "Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide," Hughes-Lynch's inspiring, personal, and often funny book that provides advice and guidance to parents just starting the autism journey. The author and blogger (http://www.professormother.com) shares the following advice for parents of children with autism.

Start Early. The biggest piece of advice Hughes-Lynch gives parents? "Push early, push hard!" Her daughter was referred for services at age 2 and didn't see a therapist until she was 2 1/2. "If I had known that there would be 6 months of waiting for help, I would have started screaming earlier," Hughes-Lynch writes. She encourages parents to check into their state's laws for early intervention services and consult tools like the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT) and the ASD Video Glossary, available from Autism Speaks at http://www.autismspeaks.org/video/glossary.php. In the case of Hughes-Lynch's daughter, her early intervention services, including speech and language therapy, helped pave the way for her to overcome several of the struggles she faced. By implementing a variety of techniques while her daughter was young, including Floortime, occupational therapy, scripts, and replacement behaviors, Hughes-Lynch now proudly notes that, although her daughter will always have autism, these early interventions helped her to live life free of many of its challenges.

Trust Your Instincts. "Don't second guess yourself, and don't get overwhelmed," Hughes-Lynch advises, adding that parents should listen to their instincts, especially when they originally perceive problems. She encourages parents to find ways to document the behaviors they see--making lists and counting and timing behaviors--and to conduct as much research as possible in order to try to understand their child's differences. She also advises parents to "take each day as it comes," and not worry about the future.

Don't Be Afraid to Get Support. Some of the biggest support systems, Hughes-Lynch found, were other parents who had shared similar experiences. "I learned far more about autism and its reality from the 'parent books' written by other parents of children with autism than I did from scientific tomes," she adds. She encourages parents to tell their family and close friends upfront and supply information about the diagnosis to them. "They're going to be going through the journey with you, and they need to know where you're coming from."

Learn the Language. In her book, Hughes-Lynch stresses the importance of learning the terminology used by educators and psychologists. In particular, she advises parents to learn the five terms related to behavior: characteristics, frequency, latency, duration, and intensity. For example, Hughes-Lynch suggests that behaviors should be catalogued by how they look (characteristics), how often they occur (frequency), how long children take to respond (latency), how long the behaviors last (duration), and how intense they are (intensity).

Get Lots of Information. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available. Hughes-Lynch's book, "Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide," offers a handy compilation of the best resources parents should begin with in their search for information. She also warns parents to carefully evaluate the information and to reach out to professionals, such as those at local universities.

Find the Balance. As a child begins receiving services, it's imperative that parents make an effort to be involved with his or her education or therapy, without "being too involved," Hughes-Lynch says. She encourages parents to come to meetings prepared with doctor's notes, recommendations, and data on behaviors. "Often you will be educating your child's team about your child and you have to be prepared to be that advocate. The clearer you are, the less emotional you are, the better they will listen to you." She adds that parents should always be certain that the focus of the meeting remains on the child and his or her needs--a key component in ensuring that early interventions succeed.

Educate Others. Finally, Hughes-Lynch suggests that parents work to educate others about autism as they continue to educate themselves. It was this drive that originally inspired "Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide" and inspires her to keep spreading her story: "I want parents to know that there is hope and that knowledge is power." But, most importantly, Hughes-Lynch hopes parents understand that they are not alone in the process--there are many, many others like her out there who are willing to share their experiences with autism, both the challenges and the joys.

"Children With High-Functioning Autism: A Parent's Guide" is now available from Prufrock Press Inc.; http://www.prufrock.com. More of Hughes-Lynch's advice and her daily experiences with her children can be found at http://www.professormother.com.

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Joel McIntosh
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