FAQs About Autism

My child was just diagnosed with Autism. What should I do next?

Research has shown that early diagnosis and treatment lead to significantly improved outcomes for your child. If your child is under the age of 3, call your local county to request an evaluation for early intervention services for your child. If your child is 3 age or older, contact your school district to obtain an Individual Education Plan and begin school services. Children with Autism may benefit from occupational therapy, speech therapy, developmental therapy or behavioral supports which can be delivered in home services or in an outpatient center. In Pittsburgh, the Autism Connection of Pennsylvania offers “Introduction to Autism Courses” to caregivers. Autism Speaks also offers a great resource with their FREE 100 day kit after diagnosis: 100 Day Kit for Young Children | Autism Speaks

My child with Autism is having difficulty using words to communicate. How can I support them?

Children with autism may not reach linguistic milestones at the same time as their peers. They may require additional support such as work with a Speech therapist or developmental therapist or the use of communication system such as pictures, computer devices, or sign language. Learning to read your child’s non-verbal communication will support their ability to interact with others. Working to develop skills such as joint attention, pointing, eye contact, turn taking, and making environmental sounds will support your child’s goals in learning to use speech to communicate.

My child with Autism likes to line things up all the time. How can I help decrease this behavior?

All toddlers tend to line up toys on occasion but sometimes this activity can become overly repetitive for children with Autism. When a child is spending much of their time playing in repetitive ways, they are limiting their play activities. Caregivers can help by making their play skills as functional as possible such as encouraging them to drive the cars, stack the blocks, or build the blocks. Instead of lining them up, you can teach them how to play with the toys purposefully. Join your child in their play and demonstrate new ways to play with toy in order to expand their play skills. Play skills are so important for all children as it allows them to experiment and learn throughout the day. Keeping your child’s interests in playing with a variety of toys and in new ways, helps them to grow.

My child with Autism is a poor sleeper. How can I help my child get to sleep at night?

Children may have a hard time calming their minds and bodies down when it is time to fall asleep, and can improve these skills with sensory based interventions. Children with Autism may have specific sensory needs that need to be met before they are able to fall asleep. These sensory needs can be assessed by an occupational therapist. Having a consistent sleep routine each evening can be a way to support your child’s healthy sleep habits such as completing bath time, applying lotion, reading books, or listening to a specific song.

My Child with Autism tends to play independently. How can I help them play with me or with peers?

A key component of playing with others is a skill called joint attention, or the ability to share focus on a task. Developmental therapists can help to guide you through the process of building joint attention with your child. A caregiver’s first step in helping their child to gain joint attention involves observing their child and learning what the child is interested in doing. Starting with activities that are familiar and enjoyable for your child can be a way to gain joint attention. A key principle in play is that is it fun! It sounds so simple, but care givers can help their child gain interest in playing through their expressions of excitement when they are enjoying themselves during activities with their child. Sensory experiences such as playing with paint or playing in the bathtub may create opportunities to families to learn to play together.

My child with Autism is a picky eater? How can I help my child to expand his or her diet?

Depending on your child’s individual sensory processing skills, eating may be a challenge for them. Many children with Autism have sensory needs in a variety of developmental areas, especially with food. Working off their preferred foods and making subtle changes, such as the size, shape, or color of that food helps to expand their minds to a change in food. An occupational therapist may be a great resource for your family in helping to identify your child’s sensory needs. All toddlers can be picky at times, but children with autism are at greater risk of having sensory needs that limit their diets. If you notice a change in your child’s food choices, discuss with your pediatrician.

How do I go about getting my child assessed for Autism?

Your pediatrician typically does a screening questionnaire at the two-year check-up, and if concerns arise from the questionnaire you can ask them about a more in-depth assessment. You can also contact your local children’s hospital to see if they have a developmental clinic, or a local child psychologist to request an assessment. If your child is under the age of 3, early intervention can be helpful in determining your child’s needs.

As a family we are learning new things about Autism each day but would like to feel more supported. Where can my family access resources?

In Pennsylvania, there is a wonderful program called the Parent-to-Parent network which many families find supportive after their child is diagnosed with Autism. The Parent-to-Parent network connects families to one another so that can be a positive source of support. Locally in Pittsburgh, parents are encouraged to utilize the Autism Connection of Pittsburgh to help families find appropriate support groups. The Autism Connection of Pittsburgh offers classes to caregivers of children who have recently been diagnosed with Autism. Developmental therapists can help to set up wrap around services and work with behavior teams at places such as Wesley Family services, Watson Institute, and South Western Human Services.