Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum (What is Autism?, 2014). In today’s world, the term Autism has become something scary, negative and down right dirty. When parents or teachers begin to notice something strange or different about their child or student, this is one of the terms that flood the mind. Autism Spectrum Disorder has become not simply more prevalent in our world recently, but continues to carry with it a stigma.
As a professional psychotherapist who specializes in working with children on the spectrum, I have had the pleasure of helping, learning from and being touched by many children and teenagers who would consider their autism not a crutch, but rather just one of the many characteristics that make them unique. Autism Spectrum Disorder does not have to be a negative diagnosis. It does not have to create set backs in the lives of children. At it’s most basic level, ASD is simply a different way of viewing and understanding the world.
The most powerful tool for helping children diagnosed on the spectrum is what is referred to as early intervention. Early intervention entails having children adapt and accommodate to their world at an early age so that as they grow, they are equipped with the tools to handle challenges and changes along the way. The most well known practices of early intervention include services such as physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy. However, early intervention can and does include so much more. Early intervention tools, which can be incorporated into everyday activities, include making schedules for children who are very structured and benefit from having a routine; creating coping skills to help when children have outbursts or tantrums and cannot seem to help their bodies regulate; emotion identification and social skill building for children who have difficulty with peers.
As a working professional, I am both certified in and strongly believe in the practice of relationship development intervention (RDI) when working with children on the autism spectrum. RDI establishes play therapy is a primary tool and excellent form of therapeutic intervention that helps children with autism learn how to increase and sustain play while also aiding in the development of social skills. In my own work with clients, I combine art and sensory projects, building with blocks and digging through sand trays, turn taking and following directions during board games and everything in between to create a new and fresh experience. I believe that the key to play therapy’s success is meeting the child at their current level of play and building upon the skills and progress they make. I have witnessed both children and parents discover traits and abilities that had been buried or simply thought to not exist. The most spectacular thing, is these talents become uncovered through fun and play.
When children diagnosed with a spectrum disorder benefit from these types of tools and services, they become more comfortable in their own bodies. They begin to understand the signs, which can lead to feelings of frustration and anger. They are better able to navigate social situations and understand the importance of following directions and rules. They learn to identify certain emotions in other people and respond appropriately. And most importantly, they realize that although they may be different, it does not mean that they are any less special.
Just as all of us need certain tools to accomplish a job or complete a task, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder need the tools to help them understand and adapt to their world.
Cristina Spinogatti, M.A., LPC
What is Autism? (2014). Retrieved July 14, 2014, from http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-auti
For more information regarding ASD, please consult www.autismspeaks.org.