This week’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from Lauren Elder, PhD, Autism Speaks assistant director of dissemination science.
Once their children begin receiving early intervention for autism, many parents wonder how to evaluate these services. I frequently get questions such as, “How do I know whether the intervention is right for my child? How do I know if my child is making as much progress as possible?”
It can be difficult to say how much progress any one child “should” be making. Keep in mind that all children learn at different rates, and children may go through periods of time when they are learning more slowly or quickly. What’s most important is that your child is learning, and that you can see new skills developing over time.
That said, it’s important to trust your instinct if your concerns persist. In my experience, parents are usually right when they say their child could be making more progress!
To help ensure that your child is receiving the highest-quality treatment, I suggest posing these questions:
What research supports this intervention? Programs and techniques should have the backing of scientific studies demonstrating clear benefits. Ask for references to published studies on the method the program uses.
What training has the staff received? The intervention providers should be happy to describe their training and educational background. If the team includes paraprofessionals (individuals without advanced degrees), inquire about the team leader’s training and how closely he or she supervises all those working with your child.
What are the intervention’s goals – both in general and for my child in particular? Your child’s providers should clearly describe the skill areas that the intervention addresses, as well as their specific goals for your child.
How is the intervention individualized for my child? The providers should describe clearly how the intervention builds on your child’s personal strengths and motivations.
How do you assess my child’s progress? Providers should regularly collect information on your child’s progress and challenges. And they should regularly use this information to adapt the program to your child’s needs to ensure continued progress. These regular reviews should include at least one standardized developmental assessment of your child’s skills.
How will we work together as a team? Children do better when their parents actively participate in their treatment. You know your child best. Use this knowledge to help the intervention team understand how your child learns. Also ask to be trained in the program’s intervention strategies. In this way, you can apply them at home to maximize your child’s learning. As part of the team, you should also expect regular updates on the program and your child’s progress.
What to do if your child is not making progress
Typically children need time to adjust to new intervention programs. So allow your child to settle in before evaluating progress. If you still don’t see that progress – or don’t think your child is making as much progress as possible – consider the following:
What’s the team’s opinion? As they get to know your child, the members of the intervention team can help you determine whether he or she could be learning more. Ask them for ideas about adjusting your child’s program to maximize progress. There may even be more than one model of early intervention offered in your area.
Is my child healthy? A number of medical problems such as sleep difficulties and seizures are relatively common among those with autism. Clearly, they can interfere with learning. If you are concerned about possible medical issues, consult your child’s doctor and ask for evaluations that can help identify underlying conditions so they can be treated. Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) is dedicated to this “whole-child” approach to treating autism and related medical issues. Read more about the ATN here.)
Got more questions? Email them to us at GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org.