For the first time in 12 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revised its guidelines for the evaluation and treatment of autism spectrum disorder. The AAP is urging pediatricians to provide a clinical diagnosis if autism is suspected, with hope that more children will reap the benefits of early intervention services.
“The new guidelines are impactful, as these guidelines support pediatricians to aid their patients in accessing earlier diagnosis, which ultimately results in earlier access to appropriate therapeutic interventions,” says Dawn Montroy, clinical director and BCBA at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center in Novi. These interventions include applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. “Considering long-term goals and the current research, early intervention is crucial.”
Cyrus Garmo, M.D., Blossom’s co-founder, agrees.
“This information reinforces the Blossom Method for early intervention and individualized programming for these children,” Garmo says, “and it shows us that the American Academy of Pediatrics supports the evidence that early screening leads to earlier diagnosis, which in turn leads to the onset of earlier therapeutic services.”
In addition, Montroy adds, “This will definitely allow us to strengthen these children through early intervention programs from a much younger age providing better outcomes as time goes on.”
In the past, not receiving a diagnosis was a big part of the problem and ultimately hindered a child’s development as it made it difficult to initiate these services. Per the AAP guidelines, most children will need to see a specialist for a diagnostic evaluation, however, general pediatricians and child psychologists can make an initial clinical diagnosis, which aids in the initiation of services to start therapy sooner. This further supports the benefit and effectiveness of early intervention.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism begins before age 3, and children can show signs as young as the age of 1. By age 2, the CDC reports that 80%-90% of parents notice some signs of autism in their children. These signs include things such as not responding to his or her name by 12 months old, not pointing at objects to show interest by 14 months, and not pretend playing by 18 months. In addition, speech delays and avoiding eye contact are other “red flags.”
In order to identify autism, the AAP recommends that pediatricians use developmental surveillance at each visit, in addition to standardized autism-specific screening tests at well visits at 18 and 24 months old.
Whether you suspect your child has autism or you’re currently on a waitlist to receive an assessment and diagnosis, contact your pediatrician to see if you can obtain a clinical diagnosis to initiate services.
Therapy at Blossom
Once a clinical diagnosis is received, a child can begin working with the Blossom team, which puts together an individualized treatment plan.
Blossom has adopted and incorporated the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), Montroy says, which is a naturalistic developmental behavioral intervention. Simply put, ESDM uses play and natural routines to build relationships and foster growth in both communication and cognitive skills.
“To implement these interventions, our center has included a community room with multiple mock naturalistic environments including a dentist’s office, haircut studio, restaurant style waiting area with dining table, classrooms, and more,” Garmo says. “The earlier children are exposed to these settings, the more familiar they are with navigating them when they do encounter them outside of Blossom’s walls.”
And, by receiving a clinical diagnosis from a pediatrician, early exposure – thanks to early intervention – can lead to the best possible outcomes for children with autism.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized a need for children who are at risk for developmental delays to become involved in early intervention programs,” Montroy adds. “This change in the guidelines could mean greater ease of access to those services and, additionally, more positive outcomes for the children in need.”
For more information on Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, visit blossombehavioral.org.