As parents, we love our children and always want the best for them. And we see them through very special eyes. So what do you do if one day you start to notice that your child doesn’t really look at you when you are talking to him or her? What does it mean if you try to engage in interactive play and notice that your child is more interested in the toy than in playing with you? Is there cause for concern if your child spends a lot of time spinning the wheels on a toy car or compulsively lining up his or her toys and then gets angry if you try to change the pattern? And what should you think if your child walks aimlessly around the room or seems fascinated by repetitively opening and closing doors?
Like any parent, you’d probably begin to worry and feel a bit helpless and discouraged because your child is not relating to you. And you’d be right to be asking these questions, because the behaviors mentioned here are all red flags for autism. On the bright side, however, early intervention can make a world of difference, so there is no need to feel panicked or completely overwhelmed. The right help is out there. But if your pediatrician tells you, “Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it” or “Don’t worry, he’s just a boy!” know to trust your own better instincts. Pay attention to the signs you are seeing and get the help you need from professionals who can provide the kind of early intervention that can really make a difference.
Research continually shows that the earlier intervention begins, the better the outcome. It can start as early as infancy and continue to 3 years of age, as it is during this time that the most important development in a child’s brain takes place. If you observe any of the behaviors outlined above, don’t wait to seek help. It is the time when it is still possible to make important changes in your child’s brain function.
A great place to start is the Early Intervention System that can be reached at 1-888-653-4463 or visit their website at www.nj.gov/health/fhs/eis/. They can help you coordinate care with an agency in your area that will send an evaluation team to your home to assess your child. If your child meets certain criteria, you will then be eligible to receive early intervention services that include assistive technology, audiology, developmental intervention, family training, home visits, nursing services, nutrition services, occupational therapy, psychological services, social work services, speech and language therapy and more.
These services are usually provided in the home, in a familiar but isolated environment, so bear in mind that it is also really important for your child to have opportunities for socialization. The Therapeutic Nursery at the JCC provides a toddler socialization group that is the perfect balance to other early interventions. It helps children learn how to be a part of a group and teaches them how to make successful transitions. The next session will be held for 5 weeks this summer, beginning on July 11th. It is for children ages 2-3 who have difficulties with language and socialization. For more information on this program or other services provided at the nursery, contact Lois Mendelson, Ph.D. at 201-408-1497.
Just remember, early intervention can make all the difference to your child and your family.
Written by Anita Miller, M.S., OTR Assistant Director,