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Early Intervention Strategies for Children with Autism

Instructor: Elizabeth Hemmons

Beth has taught early childhood education, including students with special needs, for the past 11 years. She has a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education.

Research shows that early intervention is key in child development, especially for students with special needs. This lesson provides examples of early intervention strategies for students with an autism diagnosis.

Why Early Intervention?

Imagine being sent into a room with many people you don't know and lots of loud noises. People are trying to speak to you and play with you but you just want them to leave you alone. There are toys everywhere and you don't know where to start. It's really loud and other kids are running around and yelling, which causes you to cover your ears. You just want to get out of the room because you want to be alone. Imagine feeling like no one else understands how it feels to be you. This is what it can feel like to be a child with autism in a typical daycare or early preschool environment.

Daycare or early learning centers can be overwhelming for children on the autism spectrum. When a child has difficulty functioning with peers or responding appropriately to school-type settings, it's usually an indication that the child could benefit from early intervention. Early intervention is a system of services provided for a child with developmental delays or a disability before the child is school age.

When a child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder or if it is suspected that the child is on the autism spectrum, early intervention is recommended. Autism spectrum disorder is a wide range of disorders that are characterized by difficulty with social interaction and communication (both nonverbal and verbal) and behavioral issues.

Examples of Intervention Strategies

Since autism spectrum disorder has such a wide range of diagnoses, each child will have different needs and strengths. Following are some examples of intervention strategies that are recommended for children with autism.

Speech/Language Therapies

The main goal of early intervention speech and language therapy is communication. Helping a child communicate in a functional way will help the child feel more of a part of the world.

For children with autism who are nonverbal, a speech and language pathologist may use:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): This replaces verbal communication with symbols, pictures, or body movements.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): This strategy helps the child learn to communicate using picture communication.

For children with autism who are verbal but have difficulty with self-expression, a speech and language pathologist may use:

  • Visual prompting
  • Scripts (to promote social interactions)
  • Computer-based instruction (using iPad or computer program)

Play Therapies

The main goal of play therapy is to teach the child how to play and interact with peers. Some examples of play therapy strategies are:

  • Social skills groups
  • Modeling appropriate play
  • Floortime Therapy: A play therapy strategy that uses a specific child's likes and interests and builds upon it to create social interactions and relationships

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