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The ASD Team Approach:  Ten Essentials You Need To Know

Dec 6, 2023

How can we, as a community, ensure that every individual with ASD has the opportunity to flourish, reach their full potential, and contribute their unique talents to society? Jenny McCarthy once said of her son, Evan Asher, 'I made a pact with God the day Evan got his autism diagnosis,' she says. 'I said, 'God, show me the way to heal my boy. I will teach the world how I did it.' While her words are undoubtedly inspiring and relatable to any parent of a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), it's important to clarify that autism cannot be reversed or "healed." ASD is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that impacts the structure and function of the brain. It is present from early childhood and continues into adulthood. However, individuals with ASD can work on understanding the disorder and developing adaptive skills to enhance their quality of life and reach their full potential. Early intervention and support can be particularly beneficial in helping individuals with ASD thrive.

While there is no known cure for autism, early intervention and appropriate therapies can significantly improve an individual's quality of life and equip them with the skills and strategies to effectively navigate their challenges. These interventions focus on areas such as communication, social interaction, behavior management, and adaptive skills.

The benefits of early intervention for children with developmental disorders like ASD are numerous:

1. Improved Outcomes: Early intervention can lead to better long-term outcomes in terms of communication skills, social interactions, and overall development.

2. Enhanced Learning: It provides children with the opportunity to learn and acquire skills during critical periods of brain development, making it easier for them to catch up to their peers.

3. Targeted Support: Early intervention programs are tailored to the specific needs of each child, addressing their unique challenges and strengths.

4. Improved Communication: It helps children develop communication skills, significantly enhancing their ability to express themselves and understand others.

5. Social Skill Development: Early intervention supports the development of social skills, making it easier for children to interact with peers and form relationships.

6. Family Support: It offers support and guidance to families, helping them understand and cope with the challenges of raising a child with developmental disorders.

7. Reduced Behavioral Issues: Early intervention can help reduce the occurrence of challenging behaviors and promote more positive behaviors.

8. Increased Independence: It equips children with skills that improve their independence and daily functioning.

9. Better Quality of Life: Overall, early intervention can lead to a better quality of life for both the child and their family by addressing developmental challenges proactively.

10. Collaborative Approach: This approach extends beyond the therapist-client relationship to include a broader community, involving families, caregivers, teachers, and fellow therapists. Synergistic early intervention is a great way to foster a collaborative partnership with the ASD community. We can create a robust and interconnected support system.

In general, early diagnosis and intervention are recommended for children with developmental concerns. But what happens once the approximately 1 in every 100 American children who have received an ASD diagnosis turn 18? They may have difficulty finding continued support and jobs, as Liezl Els, the wife of Ernie Els, has emphasized: 'It's not something that all of a sudden you don't have once you turn 22. It's life long ... although it's referred to as a disability, for us we think it's a huge ability.'  She continues, "But it will be with you probably for your entire life and for us it was important to provide something for these young adults, somewhere for them to go, a safe haven where they can get training and be able to find jobs. Meaningful jobs. Just to make their dreams come true as well, and not have them pigeon holed into something that society thinks they should be in.

Liezl Els makes a valid point about the ongoing needs and potential for growth and fulfillment in the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) beyond their youth. Here's what often happens as individuals with ASD transition into adulthood:

Transition Services: In many places, there are transition services in education systems that help individuals with ASD plan for adulthood. These services can include vocational training, life skills development, and support in finding meaningful employment.

Adult Support Services: While the focus on support may change as individuals with ASD become adults, there are still various support services available. These can include vocational training centers, day programs, and residential facilities designed to provide a safe and supportive environment for adults with ASD.

Employment Opportunities: Finding meaningful employment for adults with ASD can be challenging, but it's crucial for their independence and fulfillment. There are organizations and initiatives that aim to connect individuals with ASD to job opportunities that match their skills and interests.

Community Involvement: Many communities have programs and organizations that promote the inclusion of individuals with ASD in social and recreational activities, ensuring they have opportunities for social interaction and engagement.

Advocacy and Awareness: Families and advocates often work to raise awareness and promote inclusion, ensuring that individuals with ASD have the opportunity to pursue their interests and dreams and are not limited by societal assumptions or stereotypes.

Individuals with ASD can lead fulfilling and productive lives as adults with the right support, opportunities, and understanding from society. Organizations like the Autism Project of Palm Beach County  and facilities like the Ernie Els Center for Autism play a vital role in providing support and resources for individuals with ASD as they transition into adulthood and beyond.

In the past, there were concerns and theories suggesting a link between thimerosal exposure (an organic compound containing ethylmercury used as a preservative in some vaccines) and the development of ASD. However, extensive scientific research has consistently debunked this hypothesis, and thimerosal is no longer considered a cause of autism. This is a consensus among experts in leading medical and public health organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As a precautionary measure and to address public concerns, thimerosal was removed or significantly reduced from most childhood vaccines in the early 2000s in many countries, including the United States. Despite this removal, autism rates did not decrease, further supporting the lack of a causal connection. Health authorities continue to monitor vaccine safety and conduct ongoing research to ensure the safety of vaccines and to address concerns about vaccine ingredients.

Embracing autism with acceptance, understanding, and unwavering support is paramount. Every individual with autism is a distinctive and remarkable mosaic, brimming with their own unique strengths, talents, and challenges. Instead of pursuing the elusive goal of reversing or curing autism, our mission should be to champion their individuality.

In my practice, I emphasize a collaborative approach. I believe that effective treatment for individuals with ASD involves a partnership between the client, their caregivers, and myself. We sign a collaborative contract, affirming our shared commitment to the journey ahead. For clients aged 13 to 25, I recommend in-office visits and encourage their active involvement in talk therapy sessions alongside a family member. This approach allows them to not only understand but also practice and implement the valuable skills they acquire during therapy.

Together, we navigate the unique challenges and celebrate the individual strengths of each person with ASD. It's a collective effort where we strive not just for therapy but for lifelong progress, independence, and inclusion. In the journey of supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), fostering a collaborative approach is not just a choice but a cornerstone of effective care.

By encouraging an environment of teamwork and shared responsibility, we can nurture their well-being, promote their independence, and facilitate their inclusion within the rich tapestry of society.

In the journey of supporting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it is necessary to embrace acceptance, understanding, and unwavering support. Autism cannot be reversed or "healed" but, instead, represents a unique and lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that shapes the brain's structure and function. However, with early intervention and appropriate therapies, individuals with ASD can significantly enhance their quality of life and develop essential skills to navigate their challenges effectively.

Famous quotes from well-known individuals regarding ASD:

“Autism is not a disability, it's a different ability." - Stuart Duncan, founder of Autism Speaks Canada

"Autism can't define me. I define autism." - Kerry Magro, autism advocate and speaker

"Autism is part of my child. It's not everything he is. My child is so much more than a diagnosis." - S.L. Coelho, author and advocate

"When you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." - Dr. Stephen Shore, autism self-advocate

"Autism is as much a part of humanity as is the capacity to dream." - Kathleen Seidel, autism advocate

(Note: The discussion on vaccinations is not an attempt to persuade or deter families from vaccinating their children but to clarify that vaccinations have no causal link to autism.)

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