An Early Start for Your Child with Autism

Friday, June 22, 2012 View Comments

Posted by Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

I am excited about this week’s publication of An Early Start for Your Child with Autism: Using Everyday Activities to Help Kids Connect, Communicate and Learn. (See related news item, here.)

First, let me tell you a little about the inspiration for writing this book with my long-time colleague Sally Rogers and our co-author Laurie Vismara. As many of you know, Sally and I developed the Early Start Denver Model, a comprehensive early intervention model for autism shown effective for children as young as 18 months. It combines an emphasis on relationship building and play with the scientifically validated teaching practices of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

However, we developed the Early Start Denver Model primarily for professional autism therapists. It didn’t fill the gap between diagnosis and a child’s enrollment in an early intervention program. This delay can be terribly stressful for parents eager to help their child now. In the worst-case scenario, the family faces not just a delay but inadequate or no access to services.

Even after a child is enrolled in an early intervention program, many parents wish to augment the program by using strategies for promoting communication and learning at home. In fact, research has shown that the effectiveness of early intervention is increased when parents are using similar teaching strategies. After all, children spend far more time with their family than with a therapist.

We wanted to write a book that would help parents from the very start. We wanted a step-by-step guide for using the parent-child relationship to promote connection, communication and learning. We did not want a guidebook of activities where parents sit down to “do therapy” with their child. Rather, we hoped to support their role as parents by offering suggestions for how to turn meals, play and other daily activities into opportunities to further their child’s development. When typically developing children interact with parents, they are learning how to play, communicate and interact to form relationships. We want these same everyday learning opportunities to be available for children with autism. Drawing on research and our own clinical experience, we provide a wealth of tips for making this happen.

The book also includes sections on how to choose the best possible early intervention program for your child. This includes tips for finding and evaluating programs and therapists. We also feature advice on coordinating the different therapies your child may need, including medical care. Importantly we discuss practical ways for taking care of yourself and the rest of your family. We know this ultimately benefits your child.

Our goal is to help parents quickly empower themselves by giving them the tools they need to help their child. In the “Everyday Strategies” section of the book, we’ve laid out the chapters to address and build on the skills children need to master. This begins, for example, with capturing your child’s attention and engaging in face-to-face interactions. These lead to more complex behaviors such as imitation, joint attention and pretend play. For each set of skills, we offer basic strategies for turning daily activities into opportunities for positive interaction.

I hope this book will help the children and families who are the heart of all we do here at Autism Speaks. I will close with an invitation to join me and my co-authors for a special “Early Intervention” webchat on July 5. You can join, or schedule a reminder, using the chat tab on the Autism Speaks Facebook page.

[Editor’s note: Guilford Press, the publisher of An Early Start for Your Child with Autism, is offering a purchase discount for members of the Autism Speaks community, here.]