Autism Q & A: What are the benefits of early intervention?

By Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

What is early intervention and why is it important to my child? Will my child get better?  I have characterized autism as a brain-based developmental disorder. To me, “developmental” means change or open to change over time.

Every child can benefit from early intervention. Make the call. Ask for an evaluation and not a screening. Follow up those phone calls if at first you don’t get a response. Do not wait.

Children with problems of development who are under 3 years will either be eligible for services under the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP) or the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) based on somewhat different eligibility criteria. Most children who have autistic disorder should be eligible under DDD and many should also be eligible for federal matching funds under Title 19 of the Social Security Act, which is administered by Arizona Long Term Care Services (ALTCS). You should ask about all three. In addition some children may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the Social Security Administration.

Who benefits from early intervention? All will benefit though all are likely to change at different rates and in response to different forms of help. Not wanting to miss anything that may help is what causes parent to search high and low for the right intervention, the right supplement or the right therapy, even if there is limited scientific support. And because in most regards earlier is better, parents are afraid not to embrace the latest “cure” posted on the Internet. But the old saying still goes, buyer beware. While many are well meaning and many believe what they are telling you about the latest cure or treatment, there are folks who will gladly take your money in exchange for little more than false hope.

We cannot predict who will benefit the most from intervention and we don’t know how much any individual will benefit without waiting and observing and sometimes changing what we do. But early intervention works! While I personally don’t put stock in curing autism I have seen remarkable recovery. It exists. And I see improvement in everyone. But what works for your child may not work for your friend’s child. Education works. Speech therapy and occupational therapy work (especially sensory integration therapy when indicated) and music therapy also can be enormously helpful for many children on the spectrum.

Next: What is behavioral therapy and why would you want it for your child?

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.

The views he expresses in this series are based on his training, his reading of the literature and his more than 30 years of experience taking care of hundreds of kids on the autism spectrum. The series begins here.

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