I've read in a few places lately about early autism diagnosis and the (debatable) importance of early intervention. There was an interesting discussion on the Autism Parents Forum here. Then there have been some thoughtful blog posts by various people including the always astute Abfh and one by Joey's Mom.
As well as that, I've been reading more and more in the Irish media and on Irish blogs, about the campaigning by an Irish ABA lobby group called Irish Autism Action (IAA) and the recent court action by the parents of a 6 yo autistic child, who wanted to force the state to pay for 30 hours/week of ABA therapy. They lost the case but the state has just been ordered to pay them €61,000 in costs, to cover the delay they faced in gaining a diagnosis, and because the boy was denied any services until he had a firm diagnosis. The story is reported in the Irish Independent. In the same paper, is an article about a grubby little ad by the aforementioned IAA, which was banned by the broadcasting agency.
The Irish general election next week, has seen all sorts of people, journalists and politicians in particular, talking about autism. The only game in town, as far as they seem to be concerned, is ABA for the children. Alternative educational methods are ignored, as are the needs of older autistics.
For us, as far as early detection and intervention are concerned, I suspected Duncan was autistic when he was about 18 months old. I looked up 'autism' in a paediatrics book, and it didn't describe Duncan at all, since the symptoms listed were things like 'total disregard of other people...highly resistant to being held by care-giver...'
When he was 2, I thought about autism again and this time I turned to the Internet. I came across CHAT and after a few short minutes, I knew for certain that he was autistic. Over the next few months, what I read convinced me that I had to go into action, get him loads of ABA and hound the education board to pay for it. Then after hours of therapy a week, when he was 4 and going to school, he be in a mainstream school. I did not want a child of mine going to one of those special schools. I got over that.
After a while I investigated ABA further, and attended a talk by a provider in London (LEAP). I was not impressed. I knew that ABA, at least how that organisation were offering it, was not for Duncan. For one thing, it was prohibitively expensive, and the likelihood of getting the education board to fund it was very low. But mainly, I knew that the way the programme was explained to me, it would have made Duncan very miserable. Also, the more I heard them focus on the Lovaas claim that the children could be made 'indistinguishable form their peers', the less I trusted them. They kept harping on about a study published in 1987. Was that really the best 'evidence of effectiveness' they could offer?
Instead I discovered an nursery for children with autism and related conditions, which Duncan attended for 4 mornings a week for over a year. They used aspects of TEACCH, the Hanen approach to promote communication, and some PECs . One of the 2 main teachers was an excellent speech therapist and she helped Duncan tremendously. The focus there was on learning and play, but mainly on helping the children to communicate.
The NAS EarlyBird parental training programme also helped me gain knowledge of how to help Duncan. And now he's learning at home full time, he's speaking perfectly well enough to let us know what he wants and needs, and to give orders now and then (as when he told me yesterday after we visited my brother and they were our car ready to go home; 'Mummy, get in the car, now!') He's learning to read, both by using the computer to find films and characters etc, and via phonics lessons with me. He's learnt how to draw beautifully (I think, though I'm biased!) on paper and using computer art programmes. Earlier he drew a Percy Engine on Microsoft Paint, not the easiest of programmes, but his choice recently. It was fantastic. I actually had some little tears of pride and surprise when I saw it, but even though I saved it, he cleared it and saved over the file.
So what I'm getting at, is there is no reason to think that it gets harder for anyone to learn as they get older. There is no 'window of opportunity' after which the child is damned. ABA is not necessary, though if it works for someone else, fine. I don't understand however why all these new-style ABA programmes that people talk about are still called ABA though. Is it just shorthand for 'eclectic mix of speech therapy, occupational therapy, play, child-led learning, with a hint of discrete trial training'?