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The Ins and Outs of Early Intervention

Saying the A-Word

Published March 1, 2016 4:16 PM by jasna cowan

As a young therapist I felt it was my duty my mission to mention autism the second I saw it. Over the years I think I have changed or evolved to another train of thought.

Yes, early identification is important. And yes, parents deserve to know if we have concerns as a professional.

The problem is, if I am the treating therapist and mention the "A" word I can break the rapport of the parent right off the bat. It is not easy to know how the parent will accept or even deal with the word. I have mentioned the "A" word in the past only to have the parent become so upset that they refused to work with me any longer.

I have also mentioned the "A" word and then learned that a child psychologist disagreed. I have even said the "A" word and then found out that the child actually had a genetic disorder or other syndrome.

I now rationalize with myself and avoid using the “A” word unless the parent asks, "Does my child have autism?" I then explain to the parent that I am not the person who could make an official diagnosis, although I can address the specific concerns they have for their child.

It's true we can predict and have hunches that it could or may not be autism. But the bottom line is if there is concern by the parent it is necessary to refer that family to a professional who can make the actual diagnosis or at least address the concern. I'm not saying leave parents in the dark about it—not at all. But why am I going worry the parent when it's not my call to make and I have to continue to work with the family?

So, I say refer parents concerned about autism to the right person. And while they seek that professional's opinion, just work on the areas of need you feel will make a difference in the everyday life of the child and their family.

So what do you think? To say the "a" word or not to say the "a word" is the question.


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Provide evaluation and treatment of all type speech/language and swallowing disorders, No early intervention or tracheastomy treatment provided in our  LET"S TALK office.

Larisa Berman, MSCCCSLP May 19, 2016 10:30 AM
Stamford CT

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