When parents of children with down syndrome are referred to Fort Myers ABA therapy, their initial response is often, “Wait, I thought that was for autism?”
It is. But it’s also proven extremely effective when incorporated into the treatment plans of kids with other special needs – especially down syndrome.
Certain challenging behaviors common among children with down syndrome are very similar to those displayed by children with autism. These behaviors, left untreated, can impede progress with academics, socialization and independence – blocking their path to realizing their full potential.
Good news for Florida parents of children with down syndrome: ABA therapy coverage is mandated for them, this month marking two years since the legislature agreed this, along with early intervention speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy should be guaranteed for children diagnosed with down syndrome.
The Florida mandate – House Bill 221, codified in and amendment to F.S. 627.6686 – helps families and individuals with down syndrome access effective, science-based therapy without having to mount a massive fight with your health insurer.
Many of our FOCUS pediatric speech therapists were initially drawn to this field in part because we share a love of language. Sure, some of us are self-professed grammar nerds and logophiles, but in working with kids with special needs, we’ve seen that the real beauty of language is the way it facilitates communication and sparks connections. That’s a universal truth of language, but in helping children overcome speech delays, receptive language deficits or phonological disorders, we’ve come to appreciate language on a whole new level.
In stacking the developmental blocks for communication, social interaction and connection, one of the best (and easiest) things any parent can do: Read bedtime stories. This is especially true for kids with special needs, for whom language doesn’t come easily. Frequent storybook sessions help children learn new words, recognize the importance and subtle differences of tone, inflection and pitch, explore complex feelings and confusing interactions in a safe space and better grasp the intricacies of the world around them.
Most children – even if some have shorter attention spans – love bedtime stories. (Although story time can be anytime, bedtime is ideal – especially if you’re child is antsy – because you’re more likely to have a captive audience just before bed, as opposed to morning or mid-day, unless they still nap. Plus, many parents who work find it difficult to nail down a story time routine in the morning rush or simply can’t swing it on their lunch hour.) Making stories-and-snuggles part of the nightly groove works best for most, gives kids something to look forward to and a chance to wind down. And, as most parents of kids with special needs know, having a routine is a lifeline.
Even if your child doesn’t seem to understand the stories, follow along or pay much attention, research shows they still glean advantages from the one-on-one time, routine and mental exercise. Most speech, ABA and occupational therapists would argue children who struggle with expressive and receptive language skills may even need those bedtime stories more than most.
It’s been well established over decades of rising autism rates that two things are proven most effective to ensure the best outcomes: Early diagnosis and early intervention, the latter incorporating an initially intense schedule of Fort Myers ABA therapy (applied behavioral analysis), usually in combination with speech therapy, occupational therapy and sometimes physical therapy. (Most children with autism have co-occurring conditions.)
Now, a very interesting new study published in the journal Cell Reports indicates it may be possible to address some of the social behavior deficits characteristic of autism even well into adulthood with a novel approach: Electric currents. While the sensitive time period for treating social behaviors is longer than for repetitive behaviors, it’s still a pretty small window of early childhood. Citing a growing body of evidence that there is a genetic component to autism impacting certain neural pathways, the new study concludes we *might* be able to successfully tackle social behavioral inflexibility in much older children with autism or even adults with magnetic stimulation or low-dose electrical currents.
Now, we need to pause a moment and point out this isn’t a mad scientist / “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” kind-of-deal. So-called “electric shock therapies” got a terrible rap in the 19th and 20th centuries – and for good reason due to some wildly unethical tactics with tragic results. Today though, electroconvulsive therapy has proven both safe and very effective for conditions like severe depression and bipolar disorder, while neuromodular therapy (similar) has been effective in treating Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
Fort Myers ABA therapists at FOCUS know that in terms of specialties in medical study, autism is relatively new. The condition wasn’t even named in medical literature until the 1930s. The child psychiatrist credited with discovering it would later say, “I didn’t discover autism. It was there before.” But because this overall lack of awareness of the condition – even in the medical community – means still today that for as many strides as we’ve made, there is still so much we don’t know – namely, its causes or why autism rates have risen so sharply since the 1960s (now at 1 in every 59 children and 1 in 38 for boys).
What our ABA therapists can say with confidence is that early intervention with a combination of pediatric therapies – specifically ABA (applied behavioral analysis), occupational therapy, speech therapy and sometimes physical therapy – has thusfar proven the most effective in helping children diagnosed with autism catch up to their peers to the greatest extent possible.
ABA Therapists: FOCUS’ Collaborative Approach has Proven Most Effective
ABA, and the methods studied and practiced by our Fort Myers ABA therapists, specialists and RBTs (registered behavior technicians), are considered the”gold standard” when it comes to autism therapy. In the simplest terms, ABA is a rewards-based system for the goal of behavior modification. Parents use it all the time without even realizing (example: You’ll get dessert if you finish your broccoli). Our Fort Myers ABA therapists can explain we use the same basic principle, but uniquely tailored to each child, meeting them at their skill level to teach appropriate behaviors and minimize inappropriate or unhealthy behaviors. (This individualized plan approach is critical because as the saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism… You’ve met one person with autism.” What is motivating or consequential for one child may be totally irrelevant and ineffective for another. That’s why it’s so important to have ABA therapists who aren’t just trained, but passionate about what they do, committed to never giving up in identifying those missing puzzle pieces that are going to make it “click” for each child.
Parents of children with autism are acutely familiar with “meltdowns.” Over time, they grow attuned to them, gain a better sense of what and when to expect them and become increasingly adept at avoiding the most obvious triggers, reducing frequency and minimizing the effects.
FOCUS Fort Myers ABA therapists know that to outsiders, meltdowns and tantrums can seem analogous. The reality is they are very different. It’s not the result of a child or person who is trying to be difficult or disruptive (though many autism parents are familiar with the looks and judgments of people who assume so). Meltdowns occur when a child is utterly overwhelmed and often unable to express that in a way that is appropriate or easily understood.
Further, ABA therapists recognize meltdowns aren’t the only way someone with autism might express these intense feelings. It might also manifest with the person withdrawing from or avoiding a situation or interaction. It’s unique for every person, and often, recognizing these other indicators can signal to parents, teachers and caregivers when it’s time to intervene or remove someone from a situation.