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Feeling Stuck? Ideas for Parents of Children Under 3 Years of Age
So, your child is not yet three years of age. He or she already has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and is involved with Early Intervention services. If you live in Pennsylvania, you have applied for Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services (BHRS) through Medical Assistance (MA) or through your private health plan and are comfortable with how that is all going. Do you wonder what else you can be doing?
- Ask your service coordinator about "what comes next…." While Birth to 3 services are delivered in the "Natural Environment," most Preschool Special Education programs are carried out in early childhood settings, such as day care centers, preschool, or nursery settings. Your Service Coordinator can help you find programs near your home. Visit the neighborhood church or local nursery program, to help you decide if it is a place you might consider for your child after your child turns three years old. Also ask if you can visit the Preschool Special Education programs in your area which are exclusive to children with disabilities. These may have restricted visitation policies. You may not be able to visit these sites unless, or until, one has been recommended for your child. Ask your Service Coordinator about how to plan for this possibility. Should you, or can you visit?
- Familiarize yourself with the laws pertaining to Preschool Special Education. There are key differences between the Birth to 3 Early Intervention system and the special education system that applies to children after they turn three years old.
- Make sure that in addition to working with your child, your child's therapists are also teaching you how to help your child learn. One of the greatest advantages of the 0 to 3 Early Intervention system is the focus on educating the family. Learn communication and behavioral strategies that work with your child. For example, if your child uses a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) with the therapist, make sure you know how to use PECS on your own, and use it consistently.
- Learn how to collect data. You can help measure your child's progress and determine what strategies are working by keeping records of your child's day. This isn't something that needs to be done 'round the clock, but pick a period of time and measure how frequently your child initiates an interaction with you, or note how long it takes for your child to respond to his or her name, for example. Talk with your Service Coordinator or individual therapists to learn how to begin.
- Does your child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)? ABA is one of the most well-researched interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum, and research has shown that young children have made tremendous learning and behavioral gains through ABA. Some families pursue ABA privately, others receive ABA services through the IFSP. Are there other therapies or new goals that should be added to your child's IFSP?
- Consider outpatient Occupational Therapy and/or Speech Therapy to supplement what your child may receive through Early Intervention. However, make sure this additional therapy does not prove too much for your child, and make sure that your private therapists and your Early Intervention therapists are working together so as not to confuse your child with different approaches.
- Plan to have fun! Schedule time to play as a family, time to go out as a couple, time to re-coop as individuals.
- Unscheduled time is important and necessary for good mental health. Be sure your child's day is not completely scheduled; children need time to just be, as do adults! Rest and relaxation should be in everyone's day (although seldom are).
Still want more ideas? If you live in the Greater Philadelphia Area, consider attending a Next Steps Workshop for Families of Young Children, hosted by the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.