Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Autism: The Evaluation

Article first published as Autism: The Evaluation on Technorati.

Youngest son riding a zebra on the zoo Carousel
This was a day we had looked toward for a long time. Partly it was a day of anxiety, but mostly it was a day of vindication and relief. It was the day our youngest was evaluated for Autism.

Our oldest son has Autism, and since the youngest was born we had thought that he might have it as well. But things were different, because he was more free with eye contact than our oldest, and more likely to interact and smile with you. What he didn't get was speech. Sure, he could talk a little bit, and learned a couple of phrases, but he was also losing words and the phrases didn't make any sense. We therefore were concerned that his behaviors were not learned from his older brother, but rather inherent.

The Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the largest school district in the State. As such, they have a lot of funding that they can then apply to evaluation and special education. It was at their offices our evaluation took place. We took Scott in after getting Jonathan on the bus for school, and started with filling out paperwork. The speech pathologist came in and started working with Scott as we ran through behavior ratings. The school psychologist observed him here with us, as well as tried to give our son an intelligence test. It didn't work, however, as our son refused to attend at all to the task at hand.

We then filled out an Autism Spectrum survey, as the psychologist saw the signs we had believed we saw. The survey was pretty straightforward, without a lot of detail to cover with which we were not already familiar because of our oldest son. After two hours of evaluations and questions about Scott's behavior at home and at school, they took the evaluations back and started to score them. It took about an hour or so, during which I got to play with my son up and down the hall in a quiet section of the offices. We then had Scott's hearing tested (just to be sure), and they returned with their evaluations.

For some reason school officials seem reluctant to use the word Autism. Perhaps they are concerned that parents will get defensive, offended, or otherwise be annoyed. Whatever the reason, they talked about why it wasn't just a developmental delay, or other mitigating circumstance that would cause his behavior, and decided to classify his educational stance as "Autism". They made it clear that it wasn't a medical, official diagnosis, as it doesn't clearly outline where on the spectrum he sits.

Honestly, it doesn't matter much, because the ABA techniques work across the spectrum, and we could tell what his level of comprehension is on the various subjects. Nope, we just wanted to hear that our son would be benefiting from the special needs IEP (Individual Education Profile) that would guide his education, and have access to the right kind of environment to best help him. And that we got.

Getting evaluated for Autism is primarily a Parental evaluation, as parents fill out the forms that describe their child's behavior. But, of course, they have the teaching staff of the child's class fill out the same forms so as to evaluate behavior in the classroom. Why? Well, sometimes children will behave differently in class than at home. This way the psychologist can get a more clear picture. It also provides vindication for both sides of the evaluation, as most often the evaluations are very close in their results. We did show more development in our results than did the teacher's, but our son does perform much better at home in a familiar environment than at school.

So that is that then. We currently have two children on the Autism Spectrum, our only two children. I started thinking about that: both my children have Autism. Both my children are special needs, and will have a rough go of it when they get into school. Sure, they may have their own classes, but I can just imagine how some of their peers will behave as they get older. It's a whole new dynamic, as athletics are going to take a back seat to behavioral analysis and occupational therapy. Speech therapy will take the place of things like the Drama club. The only thing I hold out hope on is music for my children. But even that is not a guarantee.

You would think I would be depressed, angry, or hurt. But the thing is, I'm not. I already suspected that my youngest had Autism, and as both my wife and I have no idea how to raise a child other than on the spectrum, it actually simplifies the home dynamic for us. We don't have to worry about a child feeling alienated because we spend more time focusing on one son's behavior than on the other. It also means that we can work with them both at the same level (essentially), even though they are 4 years apart in age. I'm already used to having a child with Autism, it holds no fear for me.

If you have any questions about whether or not your child has Autism, I suggest you get them tested. Most school districts that have a school child psychologist will have the necessary test procedures in place, and should be willing to do it for you. If your school doesn't have the resources (and some less well funded schools will not), then check with your child's doctor and see what they would recommend. If you catch it early enough then Autism can be treated. But if you wait too long, it becomes exponentially more difficult to change their behavior.

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