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I am different, not less
April is all about Autism Awareness! Many believe that autism is a disability similar to Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and other serious diagnoses. However, autism covers a broad spectrum of differently abled cognitive abilities. Autism can range from children and adults that are completely non-verbal to children and adults that seem to be functioning like any other able-bodied person. Understanding the different severities of autism can be confusing since some of them overlap. However, April is all about taking the time to learn a little more about the autism spectrum, and what to do if you suspect you or one of your children may fall on the spectrum.
According to Autism Speaks, “Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 44 children in the United States today”. There are many subtypes of autism that can be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Autism isn’t the same for each person that gets diagnosed with it. It’s a spectrum of abilities with distinct sets of strengths and abilities within each subtype on the spectrum.
People with autism range from highly skilled to extremely challenged. Therefore, some people may not need any assistance at all, while others may need lots of assistance for the rest of their life. Many people with high-functioning ASD may even be able to live completely independently.
Autism can be diagnosed very early on, as early as 18 months; however, many children do not start to show signs until they are two or three years old. Intervening as early as possible has been proven to lead to positive outcomes for children later in their lives.
There are several factors that can influence the development of autism. These factors are often accompanied by sensory sensitivities, gastrointestinal disorders, seizures, sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, and attention issues. The following signs of autism are listed by age and come from Autism Speaks:
Few or no big smiles or other warm, joyful and engaging expressions
Limited or no eye contact
Little or no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions
Little or no babbling
Little or no back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving
Little or no response to name
Very few or no words
Very few or no meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating)
Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
Avoidance of eye contact
Persistent preference for solitude
Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
Delayed language development
Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
I wish I could tell you that there are baby steps to get you started. Nope. This first step is by far the hardest and scariest first step. Remember that a diagnosis is not a sentence, but gives you the information you need to know what you’re dealing with and how to get resources to improve things. In most cases, the diagnosis is what you need in order to get treatment approved, whether it’s through the regional center, your insurance, or the school district. Below are some places where you can go to get a diagnosis.
Central Valley Regional Center (CVRC)
CVRC is a local state-funded resource for people with disabilities. They provide free diagnostic testing. They also provide a wide variety of resources for people with disabilities and their families.
Other places where you can obtain a diagnosis include:
Your local pediatrician -You can tell your pediatrician about your concerns and they can refer you to a specialist who can provide formal testing and diagnosis.
Your local school – If your child is enrolled in school, you can ask the school to conduct an Autism Assessment.
In order to be the best parent you can be, and maintain your own personal health, it’s important to get support. One of the best ways to is through community. Find people who have been there and know what you’re going through. Below are a few resources close by that can help.
FAN is a 501c3 which was started by a small group of mothers of children with ASD. Their purpose is to provide supportive services for local families and children affected by Autism. FAN provides Play groups, workshops, parents night-outs, and family events. On April 16th, they will be having an Easter Egg Hunt at Oso De Oro Park. for more info, click here.
San Joaquin Valley TACA (The Autism Community in Action)
TACA provides education, support, and hope to families living with Autism. TACA was founded through grassroots efforts in Southern California in 2000. Since then, it has expanded nationwide to 32 states. They believe families living with Autism deserve a meaningful quality of life and that every individual diagnosed with Autism can lead an independent life. TACA holds monthly meetings in Visalia for parents from throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Families come from all over the valley to hear speakers and convene with other parents and grandparents.
Joni & Friends Central California
Joni and Friends is a faith based organization that provides hope and practical help to people and families with disabilities. Some of the ways they help is by providing families with respite care, family events, and even family retreats.
The Family Resource Center at Exceptional Parents Unlimited (EPU)
EPU provides parent-to-parent groups, and can assist with advocacy, and help you navigate IEP’s with schools.
Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD)
CARD has been around since 1990, and is the world’s largest Autism treatment provider. They have offices in Fresno, Clovis, and Madera. Their approach is usually clinic-based (as opposed to a home-based therapy model), however they do make some exceptions. While controversial, CARD believes that recovery is possible for some children with early intervention and the right amount of treatment.
California Autism Center and Learning Group
CAC also provides a clinic based model of treatment. They have offices in Central Fresno, West Fresno, and Merced.
Autism Learning Partners uses a home-based therapy model, meaning they come to you and perform the treatment in your child’s natural home environment.
From one mom to another, I really can’t say enough good things about The TALK Team. The owners, Amber Ladd and Amy Prince both hold credentials as Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs), but also as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). This is uncommon in the Speech therapy world. What it means for you as a parent is that you can be sure the therapist working with your child not only understands speech delay challenges but also understands the behavior challenges that can get in the way of learning speech.
Their approach is to make learning happen naturally and fun in a play-based environment. They have offices in both Fresno and Visalia, and they have over 16 therapists on staff. In addition to speech services, they also offer Social Groups that can help kids on the spectrum gain skills needed to interact with others.
Aspire Speech and Learning Center
Aspire offers Diagnostic Services, Speech therapy as well as Academic Enrichment Services for reading and math. They have been in business for 22 years in Fresno.
Empower Speech Therapy & Life Skills Center
Empower has offices in Fresno and Clovis. In addition to speech services, they also offer help for non-verbal individuals who may need Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices.
Pediatric Occupational Therapy focuses on gaining skills needed for daily living. For kids on the spectrum, this can include improving postural ability, sensory integration, motor planning, eating, self-soothing, self-help skills, and social interactions.
Goodfellow Occupational Therapy
Goodfellow’s therapy rooms include wonderful gross motor play equipment that improve vestibular and proprioceptive input and help build body strength such as swings, crash pads, and obstacle courses. They also have table activities that include fine-motor skill development.
Dynamic Kids’ facility appears to be more of a playground than a traditional physical therapy facility. They are equipped with swings, balls, and bungee cord equipment. While your child may appear to be playing and having fun, you can also be sure that there are gaining strength.
Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, leadership development, and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).
Adjoin helps individuals of varied backgrounds, interests, and abilities to achieve their life plan in the communities where they live, work, learn, and play.
Central Valley Training Center
At CVTC, we know that every situation is different. We are known for taking on challenges that others will not touch. We rise to the level needed to meet those demands. We face them with compassion and an inner resolve to do what’s right.