Early and accurate diagnosis can result in early intervention which greatly improves a child's chances of making the most developmental gains possible. Everyone should have the opportunity to benefit from early treatment. It makes sense to offer the most effective treatments to people in the hope that they will respond.
Each pre-school treatment program may emphasize a particular kind of treatment and learning but all experts agree that the focus on early and intensive behavioural interventions for pre-school children is key in opening the doors to future communication and ability to learn. Evidence-based effective treatments have also been shown to provide significant improvements in the condition of older children, youth and adults with ASD conditions.
In children under 3 years old, interventions to target specific challenges usually take place at home or at child care center. Work with the child may focus on:
- helping the child acquire language or other communication skills
- learning by imitating others
- paying attention and being able to shift focus
- behavior and motivation using positive reinforcements
- interaction with others.
Activities and methods used may include behavioral therapies, communication and speech interventions, occupational, physical and sensory activities along with social play interventions.
There is no single formula for treating ASD symptoms as each person with an ASD will have a unique set of life circumstances and needs. Instructional methods need to be tailored to a person’s needs - for example, skills normally taken for granted such as making eye contact or being able to speak may need to be developed prior to working on other skills. Creating or deciding on the best treatment/education program for a child or an adult with an ASD will depend on a full understanding of the person's individual strengths and abilities in these areas:
- level of functioning
- attention skills
- social skills development
- ability to communicate
- sensory integration needs and any medical conditions
- behaviour patterns
- unique learning preferences and ways of processing information
Programs may include a combination of approaches, depending on the training of the professionals involved. Parent/family and staff training are key, as is careful case management.
Programs for elementary school-aged children vary across the country and will depend on provincial/territorial funding plans, availability, eligibility and wait-times. There are also differences in what each school board provides in the way of support to special needs children. Children over 4 years old are usually in either a home-based or school-based, individualized, special education program.
The child may be taught at home with the support of professional ABA or other therapists or they may be in a segregated class setting with other children with ASD or other learning disabilities. Sometimes they may be included in a regular class for part or all of the day. These programs provide the child and the family with a structured approach to learning and development of communication and social skills.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
Students with ASD are all individuals with unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning. They may be average, above-average or below average in terms of cognitive ability and they will each have unique social functioning abilities, communication challenges and special skills and abilities as well.
For a student with a developmental disability, the IEP is the cornerstone of the student's education. The IEP is a written statement of the educational program and adapted curriculum that identifies academic goals for the individual and the services and accommodations needed for optimum growth and learning during the school year. It will depend on an evaluation component and should include targets for re-evaluation. When planning an IEP, parents play a vital role in identifying skills, areas of strength, challenges and needs, all of which will be critical to a child's well-being and future development.
The long-term (ideal) goal for most students with an ASD is successful inclusion in typical school settings. Research suggests that many students with ASDs have the most independent outcomes if they first receive specialized instruction within the context of an evidence-based effective treatment program. This usually begins with segregated individualized treatment, and progresses toward increased independence and comfort in typical and inclusive settings. For some people this process can take years but the rate of progress will vary with each individual.
Careful attention to the difficult transitions from the public school setting to high school and again from high school on to post secondary pursuits will be critical to the success of students with ASD.
Teens with ASD will usually need specific support to ensure that they do not become isolated, and will usually require extra support in dealing with appropriate responses to pressures such as disclosure of their ASD to others, bullying, making friends and dating. Life skills development during this period is key, including the use of public transportation, volunteer and work experiences, financial experience, continued social skills development, building on individual strengths and interests, etc. Behaviour problems during this challenging time of life may also require additional attention and management. Regular evaluation of the IEP and progress measurements are important as is collaboration with teachers and support people in the child’s life.
Assessment and Educational Planning for Children on the Autism Spectrum: Using "Gold Standard" Assessment Methods and Tools [Streaming Video]. University of California Television.
Autism Management Advisory Team Report on Lifespan Needs of Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Province of Nova Scotia, May 3, 2010. View the full report [PDF].
Bridging to Adulthood: A Protocol for Transitioning Students with Exceptional Needs from School to Community is now available from Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. This document replaces Manitoba Transition Planning Process Support Guidelines for Students with Special Needs Reaching Age 16 (1999). It is intended for transition planning partners, including Manitoba Family Services and Housing, designated agencies, Child and Family Services Authorities and Agencies, Manitoba Health and Healthy Living, regional health authorities and their programs and services, Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth and educators in Manitoba.
Documents on Autism from Public Agencies. Neurodiversity.com: A collection of useful documents relating to ASDs and education.
Education Articles for Autism & Other Disabilities. Autism Awareness Centre Inc.
Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ministry of Education, Ontario. This resource guide is designed to support educators in elementary and secondary schools in Ontario in planning and implementing effective educational programs for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. PDF: Chapter 1: Foundations | Chapter 2: Teaching and Learning | Chapter 3: Communication and Behaviour | Chapter 4: Tools and Techniques | Chapter 5: Appendices
Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC): NSCC Disability Services and the Provincial Autism Centre have developed an Autism Toolkit which provides Faculty and Staff with strategies for supporting autistic students in the classroom and in the college community.
Saskatchewan Learning Special Education Unit: Teaching Students with Autism - A Guide for Educators 1999 (has section on IEP's - called Personal Program Plan in Saskatchewan).
Schoolyard Rules – Adolescence and Asperger's, Autism Services [Streaming Video].
Supporting Inclusive Schools: A Handbook for Developing and Implementing Programming for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Manitoba Education, CItizenship and Youth, 2005. A planning and programming resource for school teams who support students with ASD. PDF: Acknowledgements and Content | Ch. 1: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | Ch. 2: The Student w/ ASD | Ch. 3: Planning for the Student w/ ASD | Ch. 4: Teaching the Student w/ ASD | Ch. 5: Instructional Strat. for the Student w/ ASD | App. A: DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic Criteria | App. B: Asperger's Syndrome | App. C: Behavioural Support for Student w/ ASD | App. D: ASD Inventory | App. E: Human Sexuality Edu. & Student w/ ASD | App. F: Forms | Bibliography | Suggested Readings