The Most Important Takeaways for Parents from the AAP’s New Autism Guidelines
As we enter the new year, our world is also entering a new decade with tons more experience, knowledge, acceptance and opportunities for the autism community than were available 10 years ago. In fact, with support from significant research, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published a new clinical report with updated guidelines around autism for the first time in 12 years.
Important Takeaways from the AAP’s New Autism Guidelines
The evolution of awareness and understanding has come a long way in 12 years. While working within this community at Hopebridge, we’ve seen the changes happen in real time. The diagnostic definition of autism has expanded under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). The prevalence of autism has risen to one in 59 children. Studies have indicated earlier screening may be beneficial; even able to diagnose children as young as 14 months of age. The government is funding more autism-related research and activities than ever before through the Autism CARES Act. And maybe most importantly, we have seen the power of evidence-based interventions like applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) change the lives of thousands of families with young children, especially those who began services within their first two years of life.
Major research around topics like these played into the AAP’s new guidance around autism. The report is targeted at pediatricians and other clinicians, but also serves as a great resource for parents, who the AAP encourages to take an active voice in the mental health of their child.
“With the AAP’s new report, we hope even more physicians and families will become familiar with the immense impact early identification and immediate intervention can have on not only childhood years, but an individual’s entire lifetime,” said Hopebridge Regional Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Janelle Stawasz. “This report stresses the urgency. Rather than waiting to see if it is just a speech delay for another nine months or year, we now know that screening for autism even a few months earlier can make a world of difference.”
What You Need to Know About the AAP’s New Guidance Concerning Autism:
- Early identification of autism is crucial for childhood development and independence over a lifetime.
In the autism world, time is precious. The AAP urges parents not to wait; encouraging universal screening from 9 to 30 months of age. If you suspect your child’s challenges may be signs of autism, act on it with quick and easy screening tools like the M-CHAT or request a referral for a formal assessment. This is especially important for children who have siblings with ASD, were born preterm or have other risk factors.
The AAP urges parents not to wait; encouraging universal screening from 9 to 30 months of age.
- While the recognition of ASD is vital, families who notice developmental delays or other signs of autism should not wait for the formal diagnosis to begin treatment.
Families in certain areas may have to wait longer for an evaluation appointment than others. Outcomes are better when interventions are started early, so for parents who believe their children are on the spectrum, acting quickly may mean beginning complementary therapies that support their needs while also waiting to receive a formal diagnosis or ABA evaluation.
- Once an autism diagnosis is provided, evidence shows comprehensive treatment models (CTM), including ABA therapy approaches, are most effective for children.
A diagnosis is significant because it opens doors for the most effective, comprehensive therapy options. Progress is shown to be greater through CTMs with higher levels of intensity, like early intensive behavioral interventions (EIBI). For instance, individualized ABA therapy programs should be considered, as they work to build pivotal skills 25 to 40 hours a week rather than solely a couple hours a week.
- It can be helpful for physicians to give parents the opportunity to look into the causes behind autism.
This new report also touches on etiology, suggesting physicians offer genetic evaluation or consultation to look into the genetic causes of autism. While they may not provide a cut-and-dry answer, the extra information can be beneficial to families hoping for more information before moving on.
- Providers should consider co-occurring conditions associated with autism.
There are several co-morbidities that occur alongside autism, such as sleep disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), feeding issues, seizures and wandering. Pediatricians’ knowledge of co-existing conditions helps them better recognize health and safety challenges in children who may not have the communication skills to voice their discomfort and instead resort to interfering behaviors like tantrums. Understanding these co-occurring medical and behavioral conditions can help parents monitor and understand the risks, weigh therapy options and determine goals.
How Hopebridge Supports the AAP’S New Autism Guideline
Hopebridge centers feature a multidisciplinary service mix, including ABA therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy
Hopebridge Autism Therapy Centers already have programs and teams in place that back the information the AAP provides in this report, starting with a focus on identification.
“It’s imperative to get help while children are in their prime developmental stages,” said Hopebridge Director of ABA Melissa Chevalier. “The average age of diagnosis is currently 4 years old, but we would like to see it closer to 2 years old, when children’s brains are most malleable as it relates to communication, social-emotional, cognitive and motor skills. At Hopebridge, our licensed psychologists have the tools to diagnose toddlers as young as 15 months old.”
In our centers, it often starts with a diagnosis, but does not end until our therapists help children successfully transition to school or other goal environments. Within that period, here are some of the ways Hopebridge supports the AAP’s new recommendations:
- Hopebridge offers diagnostics, ABA therapy and other autism services for children as young as 15 months of age; working to get children help as early as possible in order to have the best outcomes.
- Many Hopebridge centers feature a multidisciplinary service mix, including ABA therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, all under one roof, so children can get access to services that suit all of their needs.
- Accessibility and cost-effectiveness are also noted in the report, and Hopebridge offers a dedicated Care and Benefits team to guide parents and guardians through funding options for insurance, Medicaid and financial assistance.
- Parent training has been a key service provided by Hopebridge since its beginnings. In addition to open dialogue for questions and collaboration on goals, BCBAs also work closely with parents to provide specific strategies and tools that can be used to increase progress and generalize skills into the home.
- Understanding that each provider has its own expertise, Hopebridge therapy teams work closely with kiddos’ physicians to understand how co-occurring conditions may affect their behavior and progress. We encourage fluid communication between providers so the teams can work together toward the same goal.
Now is the Time to Act on the Recommendations
Now that you have the latest information, are there areas in which we can assist you? Together, let’s move forward to give your child the skills to lead a better life. Contact us to arrange a diagnostic assessment or ABA evaluation at a center near you to open their world to new opportunities.
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