Early Intervention Conundrum

18 Jan

Over at her wonderful blog One Loco Mommy talks about perhaps her son being one day diagnosed off the autism spectrum.

In it she also praises early intervention with helping her son B make such wonderful progress. And she’s right. Early intervention is one thing we know with certainty helps children with autism. Note: it does not “cure” anyone of autism nor “fix” them but it makes important differences in their lives. All of us with children with autism pretty much sing its praises and decry its defunding.

But another fact of Early Intervention and autism is that it does help all children in the same way. An acquaintance once told me that the much shared video of Jodi DiPiazza singing Firework with Katy Perry on the Night of Too Many stars upset her because it led people to believe that with EI, all children with autism would be like DiPiazza. Far from it. This same acquaintance informed me that the mother of another child with autism at her child’s school informed this person that the reason my acquaintance’s daughter was not speaking more and had not made as many “achievements” as her (the other mother’s) son is because the little girl did not get ENOUGH early intervention.

I’ve encountered this myself with some parents not believing The Princess had any early intervention services (despite being diagnosed on the autism spectrum at age 2 and receiving services immediately) or not enough because she is not speaking, not toilet-trained, and still routinely makes the loud noises as she verbally stims. I also have heard skeptics say early intervention does not help and The Princess is proof of that.

Au contraire, The Princess made tremendous gains in her social skills in that year of early intervention. She went from the first visit from her services coordinator running out the back door in fear, to engaging her after just a few months with eye contact and choosing to sit next to her during her visits. The Princess also began self-regulating her sensory issues. Not all of them,  but she was good at requesting when she needed deep pressure or compressions from her therapists, caregivers and us. Shelby also began to understand social rituals such as people gathering at a table to talk and although she could not contribute, joining in.

People who meet The Princess today, as a six-year-old often ask about her age at diagnosis and services received because she is still in diapers, not speaking etc. The point these people are missing when they incorrectly assume a lack of early intervention or its failure, is that they did not know Shelby at age 2. At the time of her diagnosis. To compare her from then to now is to see how powerful intervention truly is despite her not being mainstreamed in school or unable to speak.

It is a conundrum because the impacts of early intervention vary from child to child, just as tendencies of autism vary from individual to individual. When we, as parents of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, defend early intervention, we cannot stress enough the varying degress of autism within the spectrum and the broad range of what can be conceivably seen as progress for these children. All progress is positive progress.

Equally important to stress is that we are not all attempting to make our children neurotypical nor “normal.” Many of us are simply trying to give our children the best possible chances for success, not necessarily aiming for a diagnosis off the spectrum or for our child not be identified by most as typical.

Make no mistake, early intervention is critically important. The earlier we can diagnose a child, the earlier we can begin therapies as their brains are rapidly changing and growing and help impact their futures more positively. But we cannot, and should not, hold up children who could easily be assimilated into society as the only success stories of early intervention. We have to look at the gestalt and realize that success is measured differently from child to child.


One Response to “Early Intervention Conundrum”

  1. OneLoCoMommy January 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    I’m honored that you mentioned, “her wonderful blog”. Aw, shucks. 🙂

    I think a lot of people are either misinformed about EI or feel that it’s a magic wand to solve our challenges. As you know, it’s definitely no potion or spell – it’s hard work from the child, the parents and the therapists. It’s long, arduous and ongoing…and totally worth it. Keep strong!

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