So, your child is between three and five years of age. He or she already has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and is receiving special education services. If you live in Pennsylvania, you have applied for Behavioral Health Rehabilitative Services (BHRS) through Medical Assistance (MA) or through your private health plan and are comfortable with how that is going. Do you wonder what else you can be doing?
- Certainly review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). (In Pennsylvania, preschool IEPs are called Individualized Family Service Plans.) Is it current? Are the goals measurable and appropriate? Has your child been making progress toward goals, or do you find yourself including the same goals year after year?
- Have you considered having an educational consultant look over your child’s IEP? Education consultants are individuals who are experts in child development and learning. They can help you determine if the goals and services set forth in your child’s IEP are appropriate. Families usually must pay for this service themselves; private insurance, MA, and the education system do not usually cover the cost. These services are not regulated, so please shop around and think long and hard to decide if this is necessary.
- Consider supplementing the services your child is receiving at school with outpatient therapy. In particular, you may want to pursue additional behavior therapy, Occupational Therapy, and/or Speech Therapy. Make sure you do not overwhelm your child with too many therapies at once, and be sure your private therapists and special education therapists are working together to avoid confusing your child and hindering progress.
- How about life skills? Does your child sit at the table with the family for dinner? Does he or she cooperate with morning and bedtime routines? How are your child’s sleeping habits? Does your child enjoy a varied and healthy diet? What about toilet training? Work to encourage good habits and promote independence in your child. When necessary, consult a medical professional and/or behavior therapist for assistance.
- Plan to have fun! Schedule time to play as a family, time to go out as a couple, time to re-coop as individuals.
- Could your child benefit from a developmental medical evaluation? A developmental pediatrician can help to identify challenges and any co-occurring medical or genetic conditions and can help to measure progress going forward
- 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 child’s teachers and therapists to learn how to begin.
- Think about what’s next. Will you choose to send your child to kindergarten when he or she is 5 years old, or are you considering keeping your child in preschool an extra year? As your child gets closer to kindergarten age, begin investigating programs in your local school district. What types of support are available at your local home school or elsewhere in your district? Can you visit these programs? Connect with other parents of students with ASD in your district to learn from their experiences. Local support groups are good sources of information.
- 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.