Early Intervention

Study after study concerning an autism diagnosis points to early intervention as being a key contributor in the overall well-being of the individual.  It makes sense, because the earlier you can address anything, the greater the potential for a favorable outcome.  Autism and Asperger’s are no different.

We are fortunate that Kaitlyn was diagnosed at a really young age (4), and that we were able to start the process of doing everything that we needed to do to improve her daily life.  We’ve started her in Miracle League, which has given her an opportunity to play sports in a completely fun environment, and it has also forced her out of her shell; I would have never thought that she would drop me as her “buddy” as quickly as she did, but the safe, fun environment that Miracle provides has allowed her to branch out and work with a new “buddy.”  We battled the school district and have won, and will be meeting with school officials next month to construct her IEP.

It is the small doors that are opened up through early intervention that are key.

I fear, however, that through a combination of cuts to education funding and a change in the criteria to diagnose ASD, many children will be overlooked or bypassed, thus not having the benefit of early intervention strategies.

The DSM-5, the psychological assessment tool critical in diagnosis a variety of disorders, including ASD/Asperger’s, is due out in 2013.  In it, there will be only one category—autism.  No more high functioning autism, no more Asperger’s.  Individuals will have to meet a more strict set of criteria to receive a diagnosis, possibly opening the door for many to be overlooked.  I am certain that Kaitlyn could fool the new criteria, but it was because of the persistence of her doctor, and the broader definition for Asperger’s that allowed us to begin our early intervention strategies.  There is no telling what might have happened in school if we had not known she was wired differently.  We may have thought we had a child with behaviorial problems that just did not want to listen, instead of realizing that Kaitlyn processes things differently.

Sadly, in addition to the changes to the DSM-5, education funding is being slashed across the country.  I guess it is easy to manage a budget when you can take funds from educating today the same people that will run our country in the future.  In Leon County alone, there will be $554.64 per student funding for the 2011-12 school year.  In a class of 14-18, that translates to $7700-$10,000 less that is being spent to properly educate the students in the class.

What does all this mean to the future of early intervention?  I think it means that fewer students will be receiving the strategies they need to succeed.  I saw a study (which I cannot recall off the top of my head, and I seem to have lost my notes on) that said that something like 55% of children that are diagnosed with an ASD receive their early intervention strategies (occupational therapy, physical therapy, etc.) through their public school.  With cuts to education, I have very little reason to think that these providers will feel the pinch, and probably first and hardest; it is almost always easiest to take from those that need it most, and since it is easy to take from education, it is probably that much easier to take from students that need additional services.

I am thankful we know about Kaitlyn’s Asperger’s, and that we found out early.  No matter the fate of early intervention at public schools or the number of new diagnoses that are provided with the new DSM-5, we will be able to continue to be proactive in Kaitlyn’s treatment.  No change to terminology will change the fact that Kaitlyn has Asperger’s; no cut in school funding will stop us from searching for the best possible treatments for her.

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