While April is Autism Awareness Month, those who work with people on the spectrum believe it should also be Autism Acceptance Month.
“Part of it is educating your children on what autism is,” said Britney Keele of Top Rehab, who works with many children with autism in her job as a speech language pathologist. “It’s important for them to understand that those with autism aren’t doing anything wrong; their brains are just wired differently. Acceptance is very important.”
Keele said the layers that put a child on the spectrum vary from child to child but that early assessment is key to helping them get the assistance they will need.
“Early diagnosis can mean more early intervention services,” she said, noting the “golden age” of assessing something may be different is generally between the ages of 2 and 3. She has worked with children as young as 18 months who have been diagnosed but noted many are not referred until they reach pre-school.
“Often this can be first-time parents that don’t have anyone to compare their child’s development to until they are in pre-school.
Statistics shows that one in 54 2-year-olds have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In the state of Tennessee alone, roughly 80,000 babies are born each year. Using the 1/54 equation we already know about the prevalence of autism, there are over 2,000 each year who would benefit from assessments.
Keele said things parents can look to include but are not limited to: if their child has repeated or restrictive interests that makes their attention hard to redirect; the child does not make eye contact or displays extensive hand flapping and/or some degree of deficits in social communication skills.
“These things do not necessarily mean a child has autism,” she pointed out, noting the first step is to take the child to his or her doctor or pediatrician. After that, a referral can be made to have the child assessed, something the staff at Top Rehab do, where they help with speech, physical and occupational therapy.
“If you have suspicions, it’s better to have your child assessed sooner, rather than later,” she said, adding that therapy can help a child but isn’t a cure. “It doesn’t make autism go away. There isn’t any magically therapy. It gives a child the tools to learn and grow and prepare for school.”
Anyone with questions may contact Keele at Top Rehab at 931-455-5189 or at email@example.com. Top Rehab is located at 2110 N. Jackson St.