Early intervention involves assessment, evaluation and services for children from brith to three years of age. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be reliably diagnosed as early as 18 months, according to most experts. However, most children are not diagnosed with ASD until 3-5 years of age, or older.
Assessment and Evaluation
A diagnoses of ASD must come from a qualified doctor of medicine or psychology/psychiatry. Since ASD is considered a low incidence disorder, the number of qualified professionals are in short supply. This often means that assessment and evaluation for ASD is a long and arduous process. Many companies exist to help families with diagnoses and early intervention services; yet, families still report in research studies feeling lost and confused in getting their children diagnosed and receiving needed services. Universities with autism or developmental disability centers provide the best option for early diagnosis. If a center is not able to provide diagnostic services then they can families find someone who can and help the family with locate and receive proper intervention services.
Intervention services depend on the needs of the child. Some children with ASD will require speech-language services, behavioral services, life skills and/or educational services. Services are also dependent upon the resources the family already has in place. McWilliam (2010) recommends the construction of ecomaps so that professionals can understand family ecologies in establishing early intervention services. Far too often professionals seek to take over and saturate families with services from therapists, doctors and other professionals when it is not needed. Family support systems, perspectives and values need to be considered before any service is agree upon.
The most difficult part of early intervention is acquiring the diagnosis. After a child is diagnosed, early intervention services can be obtained through the state or private agencies (some states may even contract through private agencies for some services). The cost of many early intervention services come free or reduced cost through state funding and federal legislature. Early intervention services are transferred to the public school system once a child turns three years of age. It is not too late to get a diagnosis or proper services for someone with ASD after the early intervention window has passed. If you suspect your child of having ASD, contact your physician, hospital psychiatrist, or your state department of disability services.