Autism: A Mother Looks at Diagnosis
The short answer is interventions. The work we did with Andrew improved his symptoms and raised our spirits. Activity brings hope. Not doing anything because you don't know what to do that's what brings on the bone-deadening "Why us?" kind of depression.
How did we know what to do? We didn't, at first, and that was definitely the darkest time. Fortunately for us, by the time we got the actual diagnosis of autism, Andrew was already seeing Roberta Poster, and she was a fantastic speech therapist. She referred us to Dr. Freeman, who referred us to Wayne Tashjian, a brilliant behavioral therapist (that is, someone who, like Dr. Koegel, approaches the child from a behavioral standpoint and uses positive reinforcement to improve behaviors and teach age-appropriate skills), and also to an occupational therapist and, over time, a recreational therapist and a tutor (although Andrew was a good student, he did need help in certain areas that required more sophisticated verbal skills than he had yet acquired, like word problems or reading comprehension).
All of this was expensive. We paid for some of it, got our insurance to pay for a few things, and eventually discovered that our public school system could be called upon to finance a part of it, as well.
Good referrals led to more good referrals. We asked the experts we trusted, and as we met more and more parents of children with autism, we shared names and compared experiences. Not everything panned out equally well for example, the same mother who gave us the name of an amazing music therapist who developed Andrew's love for song, rhythm, and playing the piano also gave us the name of a self-styled "computer therapist," whose services I found a complete waste of time.
You sift through your choices. You trust your gut.
And when Andrew was in preschool, a friend who had two sons with autism told us about this amazing clinic she'd discovered in Santa Barbara, run by a husband-and-wife team. She said their approach, which taught family-based interventions that focused on specific important areas, was doing wonders with everyone who went there. We met with Dr. Lynn Koegel as soon as we could get an appointment, and she taught us that virtually all interventions could be integrated into our daily lives, and that leading the most normal lives possible was the best therapy for Andrew and for the entire family.
We were already working with some truly extraordinary people, and we shared Dr. Koegel's suggestions with everyone, so we could integrate them consistently into our daily lives. Dr. Koegel's advice helped us to refine and focus our interventions, so that Andrew made huge strides with the same amount of scheduled therapy time he'd always had maybe even less. And Rob and I felt more capable than we ever had before of steering him in the right direction.
Don't Lose the Faith
Good friends of ours recently had dinner with a pediatrician. The subject turned to autism, and the doctor told them that his personal belief was that early intervention made no difference in a child's outcome, that her ultimate success or failure was hardwired at birth. "There's nothing wrong with most interventions," the doctor said. "They won't hurt. But they don't make any difference. I don't recommend them for my patients with autism."
My friends told us about this conversation because they were so horrified that anyone could go around saying that. They knew how we felt that the interventions we put in place with amazing people like Dr. Koegel had pulled Andrew out of a dark withdrawn place and helped him to overcome the worst symptoms of his autism.
We know that interventions turned Andrew around, and access to the research we describe in this book provides the scientific proof. From the very beginning, starting with our first speech therapist, we saw this kid who had been receding further and further away from us turn around and start moving back toward us. We saw systematic and scientifically validated interventions work.
More on: Learning Differences
From Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D. and Claire LaZebnik. Copyright © 2004. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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