Navigating the system is hard work, especially for parents of children on the autism spectrum! I wanted to provide a brief overview of the basic process—from early screening and intervention and evaluation to therapeutic support.
1. Start with developmental screening.
Developmental screening is a quick and early way to identify potential developmental concerns in infants or young children. Based on the results of the screening, your child may be referred for a more comprehensive evaluation with a pediatrician or other-health professional. Search MDE.ORG for your local school district early childhood screening program. For older children and adults, there are some great web resources that can provide psychoeducation on signs that you/ your child may be on the spectrum.
2. Talk to a medical and/ or mental health professional about your concerns.
Children with emotional or behavioral health concerns are referred for a mental health evaluation, otherwise known as a diagnostic evaluation. While a mental health professional can assess and diagnose a wide variety of mental health conditions, a diagnosis of autism involves a team of specialists.
3. Follow up with an additional recommended evaluation.
A therapist may refer your child to an agency or specialized professional such as a child psychologist or neuropsychologist for comprehensive autism screening and assessment to further assess social/ communication skills and adaptive functioning. Cognitive levels and language abilities will also be assessed. Larger hospital settings and specialized clinics that work predominately with individuals with autism may be able to provide multiple services in the same setting.
4. Depending on your child’s need’s, additional specialty assessment may be recommended.
Due to the complexities of autism spectrum disorders, children may require assessment, intervention, and treatment when there are difficulties in areas such as communication, learning, and motor development. Some of these services (e.g. speech therapy, occupational therapy) may be available within the public school system while other services are accessible within clinic settings.
5. Advocate for your child at school; utilize in-school supports.
Get to know your child’s teachers and those who support their learning, emotional, and behavioral health needs. The school social worker or counselor is a great resource to help provide support. They may be able to offer 1:1 meeting, groups support, or helpful referrals. Ask about Special Educational Supports such as a 504 Plan or supports as part of an Individualized Educational Program (IEP).
6. Know the different roles of mental health workers and the training/ experience providers have working with individuals on the autism spectrum.
It is possible to have a worker for individual and family skills training, individual and family therapy while also participating in services such as case management, group therapy, group skills training, and day or residential treatment. Finding the balance with getting connected to effective and the ideal number of supports can take time. It can be very helpful to connect with someone whose role is a case manager or advocate to help.
7. Get connected to ongoing supports for individual on the spectrum and their family members.
It is so important for children, siblings, and caregivers to understand autism and feel connected to others who understand their experiences. Caring for a child with autism, while challenges, also has it rewards. Being part of the larger autism community can be built in as an intentional part of self-care.
While there are many great resources that are available to support children with autism spectrum disorder, here are some to get you started:
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC
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