As the parent of a young child with autism, you’ll have plenty of questions as they begin treatment in an early intervention program. For example, how does early intervention help autism? How do I know that my child is making progress?
These questions are completely understandable and are actually encouraged – we want parents to be involved in their child’s treatment. Part of that involvement is making sure that the early intervention program their child is enrolled in is helping them develop and learn valuable skills.
There are several ways to measure your child’s progress, both at home and in the center. Keep reading to learn some of these methods, and the options available to you if you aren’t satisfied with your child’s progress or treatment plan.
How long does it take to show progress?
Every child with autism has unique brain chemistry, so there’s no concrete answer as to when your child could begin showing signs of improvement.
Autism is not a disease or sickness, but symptoms do improve with treatment, especially among young children who receive intensive therapy. You won’t see improvement after the first session; you might not even see improvement within the first 20 sessions.
However, early intensive intervention at a young age (less than four years old) is far more likely to put children on track with their peers, improving their language skills, social interactions, and problematic behaviors.
All in all, it’s impossible to predict how long it’ll take before your child begins to show signs of improvement, however your clinical team will work with you on what early progress looks like. Initial improvements are often subtle- it may include the child looking toward you when you have something they want, or smiling at you, or filling in a phrase they hear frequently like “Ready, Set ___”. Some children’s symptoms significantly improve within a year; others, within five years, however all children should show some progress.
The outcome depends on many factors, including the age at which your child begins treatment and how many hours of therapy they receive each week.
Indicators of Progress
Positive Social-Emotional Skills
Many parents first notice the social-emotional symptoms of autism in their children. Instead of the pattern of emotional development among typically-developing newborns, babies with autism will often seem uninterested in their surroundings.
Some parents might even think that their child has a seeing or hearing problem, but the reality is that children with autism often respond differently to people and emotions.
For instance, a baby with autism may not engage in a game like peek-a-boo with laughter and obvious joy while typically-developing children love this game and engage with anticipation and often laughter.
Through intensive early intervention, young children with autism learn these social play behaviors helping them to form strong, lasting friendships and bonds between family members, teachers, and others in their lives.
Here are a few ways you can monitor your child’s progress in early intervention through a social-emotional context:
- Early social interactions- Your child begins to interact with songs and fingerplays, anticipating the movement, imitating the hand movements or filling in the words to the song.
- Social relationships – Your child actively seeks out other children to play with or asks you or another adult to play a game with them. You don’t have to force your child to play a game or spend time with another child their age.
- Emotional Intelligence – Your child tells you how they’re feeling in a given moment. “That made me mad,” “I feel so good and I want to go outside and play.”
- Empathy – Your child notices that you look sad or frightened and comments or asks why. “Why are you sad, Daddy?”, “Did you see something scary?”
Learning and Using New Knowledge and Skills
Young children with autism learn plenty of things; they just do so differently than typically-developing children. It might take a child with autism longer to understand how to do something, or they may show intense interest in one activity while ignoring others.
These behaviors are typical among children with autism, but they can significantly hinder development and the child’s future independence. When you enroll your child in an early intervention treatment program, you’ll likely see improvement in their desire to learn and use new skills, building off what they’ve already learned.
To get an idea of your child’s progress in this area, look for the following indicators:
- Your child copies or imitates you or another person’s actions or words.
- Your child tries to learn new things (shows curiosity in objects, starts to imitate your actions).
- Your child solves problems without being easily frustrated or giving up (putting shaped blocks in the corresponding hole).
- Your child uses the correct word in the right context (“Help me,” instead of crying when unable to do something).
- Your child understands and follows directions from you or another adult.
- Your child understands concepts like numbers and shapes.
Using Appropriate Behaviors to Fulfill Needs
Parents often find it bittersweet when their child takes their first steps. Adulthood is a long way off, but a child’s “firsts” are often the earliest sign of independence. Typically-developing children may have some difficulty learning how to brush their teeth, for example, or going to the bathroom by themselves. Usually, though, those challenges are overcome in a matter of weeks.
For children with autism, however, those challenges can persist much longer. Some children with autism have toileting accidents long after the “normal” age of potty training. They may be thirsty and want juice but don’t know how to ask for it.
As a parent, be on the lookout for the following behaviors. They could demonstrate that your child is showing progress through early intervention:
- Your child starts to imitate your actions – this is a critical skill for learning new behaviors.
- Your child asks you for a specific item (“Juice?”).
- If your child cannot reach something themselves, they ask you for help or come get you.
- Your child lets you know when they’re hungry or thirsty.
- Your child feeds themselves and is able to hold a cup, fork, and spoon.
- Your child takes it upon themselves to figure out how to get what they want if you are unable to help (they ask someone else, they try to reach the item themselves).
Can early intervention help autism? Absolutely!
Research shows that early intervention plays an enormous role in helping children with autism develop necessary life skills. Those skills, including positive social interaction and emotional intelligence, help children gain independence, making it more likely for them to engage in self-sufficient actions later in life, such as attending college and choosing a career path.
To give your child the best chance at independence, consider enrolling them in an early intervention autism California program at Therapeutic Pathways. We work closely with children with autism to help them gain crucial skills and lead more fulfilling lives. Call today to learn more.