In my last entry, I mentioned I was going to talk about obtaining a thorough needs assessment for your child. But I want to back up and address another important topic first—diagnosis. You read it, hear it, see it somewhere every day—the earlier a child is diagnosed with autism the better his or her outcome. I urge you to heed this advice; my son Joey is living proof.
Many parents noted observing symptoms in their child as young as eighteen months old, but for varied reasons do not actively pursue a diagnosis. A large percentage of these children go into the school system undiagnosed. Through educators observing them and standard school screenings of language and cognitive behaviors, the child is noted as having a special need and an individualized education plan (I.E.P.)* is drawn up. Parents have the right to obtain a full diagnosis, in addition to the screenings provided by the school, by an outside party or parties; I highly recommend doing so.
* Individualized education program (IEP)—an educational program designed to meet your child’s unique needs. An IEP should describe how your child learns and should detail what teachers and service providers will do to help your child learn more effectively. Key considerations in developing an IEP should include assessing your child in all areas related to his disorder, including language, social, emotional, sensory, and motor skills.
Benefits of an Outside Diagnosis
An outside diagnosis is usually performed at a hospital, such as Boston Children’s Hospital or a clinic that specializes in the type of behaviors your child is exhibiting. In some states, if you feel the school’s screening was lacking, you can apply to have the school pay for an outside screening, also most insurance companies will cover the cost of the screening.
The benefits are:
- An outside diagnosis tends to be more thorough. Experts specifically in the field of autism will observe your child and play a major role in providing a diagnosis.
- Your child’s social and emotional behaviors will be an equal part of the diagnostic process meaning the focus will not be solely on academic functions.
- You will have a greater opportunity to provide input about how your child functions at home and about his or her birth history.
- Your child’s individual education plan (I.E.P.)*will encompass the evaluation of your child as a whole and will not be based solely on the findings of the school.
- Doctors, psychologists and therapists that you and your child meet at the time of your child’s diagnosis, will continue to follow your child’s progress on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis depending on the needs of your child. This allows for their ongoing support and provides you with the tools and ammunition you will need to continually update your child’s services at school.
Having a diagnosis in hand—performed by experts in the field— prior to your child entering a school system, is the ideal situation. There is usually a lengthy wait period prior to obtaining an evaluation and diagnostic appointment. If your child enters school without a diagnosis, a large part of the school year will be lost on screenings, assessment, and formalizing the IEP.
Time is crucial in your young child’s life. If your child has already entered school and is not making progress at the rate you hoped, obtain an outside evaluation. If your child had an outside evaluation two or more years ago, it is time for a reevaluation. The diagnostic process should not be a one-time occurrence. If you suspect your child might have autism, don’t wait—your child is counting on you.
I encourage you to continue to send me your questions, and your own back to school tips to my Twitter account @alleviateautism or just comment below!