Throughout the month of April, the Autism community is spreading awareness about this challenging yet inspiring health condition. They call it a “spectrum disorder,” which in many cases can be attributed to not only the severity of the disease, but also to the range of emotions that many go through when caring for an autistic person.
As a nonprofit educational institution, Brandman University seeks to develop teachers that provide the best care for those requiring special attention. In this article we highlight the benefits of education throughout the lifespan of an autistic person and the motivating success stories that are happening everyday.
Early Childhood Education
Many early childhood educators and parents recognize that the first three years of life are crucial to a child’s development. Although the average age of diagnosis is between 3 and 6 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that check-ups between 18 and 24 months should include developmental screening for autism spectrum disorders (ADS) for all children. Early detection can translate to early intervention, which can make a huge difference for children both behaviorally and functionally for future well-being. The Autism Society identifies various approaches to early intervention including:
- Intensity - The accepted range of direct service for young children with ASD is 20-24 hours per week. Focus and frequency are both involved with this process as young children with the condition should practice adaptive skills and engage in reinforcement activities.
- Specialization - This approach uses techniques that have been proven effective through evidence-based methodologies, with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) being the most widely accepted for children with ASD. Selecting a therapist who understands the deep complexities of the condition is important as ABA is based on systematic, planned teaching strategies that focus on determining why behavior changes.
- Individualization - This method technically removes the traditional curriculum for young children with ASD and designs treatment around personalized assessments and goal selection. Its success heavily relies upon the support of family members and their home environment.
Although doctors genuinely work extremely hard to provide hope to their patients and families, some believe that preparing them for the worst is often the best approach. Although debatable, there are moments when a child’s strength shines for others to live by. Take Rodeo’s story for example, his mother Trixie Denis tells about her son’s early childhood development:
When my son was diagnosed with Autism and an extreme sensory disorder at 16 months, they told me many things to be aware of in the future — things like, "Don't expect him to start speaking til' maybe 6 or 7 years old at the earliest" and "He may never want to hug or kiss you."
After a few weeks of testing, they shared with me his saving grace: They said my son was one of the most stubborn and headstrong little boys they had ever worked with. He has worked very hard and has struggled through adversities that I can only see from the outside. He is now six years old and can speak full sentences. He spends half his day in regular ed 1st grade and has been in a horsemanship program for three years now. He begins each and every day with hugs and kisses, and is one of the most lovable kids you could ever meet.
He has taught me so much about not letting others expectations of you define your abilities, but it's not only me he teaches. Many parents of children like Rodeo have approached us and asked if his story is true — if the happy boy in front of them was really previously known as one of the hardest children in school. When I say yes, they say Rodeo gives them hope for the future of their little one.
The primary force driving fair learning opportunities to all is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees free and appropriate education that is based on a child's age, ability and developmental level. The legislature has many principles including the Individualized Education Program (IEP), a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), parent and student participation in decision making and procedural safeguards.
These federal laws overall support the claims of most professionals that school-age children with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized education programs. Educational planning often addresses a wide range of skill development including academics, communication, social skills, self-help abilities, behavioral issues and sensory integration.
One of the most critical developmental aspects during this time is a child's social ability. In fact, as illustrated in our first featured story, many autistic children are non-verbal and struggle to communicate in the simplest ways to others around them. Some however indeed can overcome this common obstacle and excel both socially and academically:
[My boy] wasn't potty trained until the age of 4 , and pretty much non verbal until the age of 5 he had his own words he used and I learned them so we could communicate. It wasn't until grade 2 when the teacher pulled me aside and told me SHE got me an appt to see an specialist. Turns out that Harry had Aspergers Syndrome as well as some other sensory issues. They told me he would never play organized sports would never make friends easily and wouldn't be verbal as much as others.
Today I am the proudest mom of a 15 year old who plays every sport possible and excels to the top of them , he plays on a AAA hockey team and with draft year next year fingers are crossed and he has an 82% average in his grade 9 courses.
Post-Secondary Education and Adulthood
These stories of triumph that we have read thus far prove that with dedication, support and autism education the lives of those affected can be positive. Although public education has its limits, these children can grow up to attend college, trade schools and eventually attain jobs that contribute to the betterment of our society.
Parents are encouraged to work with their children to not only pick programs and curriculum that foster development, but also find services to support them as they transition to function independently. Students and parents can contact the department of Vocational Rehabilitation and Social Security Administration to determine eligibility for service or benefits for employment.
The beautiful story of success we focus on for this period of adulthood comes from Southern California. His name is Sean Sullivan and he explains how he uses his autism as motivation:
I am a 27 year old Autistic. Who is trying and succeeding at improving my mind to the point where I can get a masters in what ever area I choose. In the past I have had mental, physical, and psychiatric, pain and trauma done to me by others. In short that motivated me to improve myself, which includes my intellect, demeanor, and me as a whole. I also like public speaking and sharing my experiences among other things. I know I have a long way to go, but I will never give up!
Autism Awareness and Support
Many of the personal stories pulled for this article come directly from the Autism Site in association with the Greater Good, which promotes awareness and support for many different causes including veterans, diabetes, literacy and more. Visitors can take action for free with a simple click, which helps raise funds for community members. Many other outlets and businesses are participating by running programs throughout the month of April.
Brandman University works to extend care and awareness of autism by providing academic programs for special education teachers that help these individuals thrive and live well. To learn more explore Brandman University School of Education programs including:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders, Added Authorization
- Early Childhood Special Education, Added Authorization
- Preliminary and Level II Teaching Credentials (Mild/Mod/Sev)
- MA, Special Education, Autism
- MA, Special Education, Behavioral Analyst