Hitting, biting, temper tantrums, property destruction and self-harm – these are just some of the aggressive behaviors that children with autism can display. And, if not addressed early, these behaviors can worsen and lead to bigger issues for both the child and his or her family.
In some cases, children end up at Harbor Oaks Hospital, located in New Baltimore, which offers inpatient specialized care for children ages 4-17 with autism and other developmental disorders.
“We are the first inpatient unit that is completely dedicated to kids with developmental disorders in the state of Michigan,” says Dr. Sanjeev Venkataraman, medical director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Harbor Oaks Hospital.
It is one of only 13 units of its kind in the United States, adds Shelby Fey, Harbor Oaks’ SIPU (specialized inpatient pediatric unit) program manager.
Both Venkataraman and Fey have been on the frontline of care for children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities – and they know firsthand how hard it can be for families to cope, particularly when they don’t know where to turn for help and resources.
“Now with the expansion of the autism diagnosis, there is some crunch for resources,” Venkataraman says. “Schools are becoming more careful about giving out the resources,” so he says parents need to be prepared for getting “no” as an answer from that first step to receiving help for their child.
Not sure where to turn for more resources and support if your school can’t help? Read on for insight from Venkataraman and Fey.
1. Start with your child’s pediatrician.
Children with autism could benefit from having a developmental pediatrician, which is an expert in autism, developmental delays, learning disorders and more.
“They should be the first line of defense, because they are people who are much more aware of developmental disorders in kids. They can point the parents in a direction that will be beneficial to them,” Venkataraman says.
Getting in touch with your child’s pediatrician in a timely manner is key, too. “Like any of these conditions, earlier intervention is better,” he adds. The sooner you can identify the flags, the sooner your child can be directed to the appropriate resources.
2. Utilize community resources.
“Most counties have a typical nonprofit that’s helping families,” Fey says. “Some of them are family run or they have a family member who has autism or some other diagnoses, and they are helping other families find the right resources.”
In addition, there are larger organizations like Autism Alliance of Michigan and Autism Speaks that have developmental checklists for families to help them determine what steps they may need to take in their child’s care.
3. Establish a relationship with your child’s school.
“All schools are not created equal; however, if you get a good school social worker, they can do a world of good for the parents,” Venkataraman says, “because they also know community resources; they have referred patients before so they know who and what works; and they can identify things early.”
He adds, “There are preschool teachers who are able to pick up stuff and say, ‘your kid is not as social as they should be, or can’t share, or has temper tantrums more often than other kids.’”
Don’t burn bridges with teachers and social workers in schools, he cautions. While it’s easy to feel frustrated, try not to take that frustration out on the people you are entrusting your child to – you want to have a good rapport, he says.
“When you have a kid with any kind of special needs, you have to advocate without becoming an adversary,” Venkataraman says.
4. Keep first responders in the know.
“A lot of people don’t know they can actually contact their fire department, their police department, and let them know about the disabilities or the problems” their child may experience, Fey says.
This is helpful especially if responders do have to go to a family’s house in a crisis: They’ll know beforehand what they are walking into and if a child might react a certain way to their presence.
“At the end of the day, when they are in these crisis situations before they come to us, there is typically some type of first responder involvement, which can make things much worse if it’s done incorrectly,” Fey adds.
5. Get advice from family.
This may not be the case for all families, but in many cases, grandparents – and other family members with more years of parenting experience – can sometimes provide a different perspective.
“These people have a lot of experience, and I have so many parents who will tell me, ‘Grandma was saying that he was not speaking as early,’” Venkataraman says. “As a parent, you should listen to extended family who have had more experience.”
Content brought to you by Harbor Oaks Hospital. For more information, call 586-684-4574 or visit harboroaks.com.