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In my experience as a former behavior technician working with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I have learned that every autistic child is different. While the overall diagnosis has some common deficits that can found be across all individuals on the autism spectrum, everyone has a different personality, just like a neurotypical individual does.

The children I worked with all certainly had little differences that made them unique. While one child I worked with loved to play outside, I had another who despised the outdoors. In another example, I worked with a kid who was extremely affectionate and loving. He loved giving hugs and being under you. However, I also worked with a child who did not like to be touched, especially hugging.

a happy autistic child involved in a painting project

Teaching the Way They Learn

Overall, the autism diagnosis shares some commonalities in behavior, but each child is different in their own way, and we must acknowledge that. The best quote from a famous researcher stated, “If they can’t learn the way we teach, then we teach the way they learn.” I love this. The statement makes perfect sense because it basically explains how each person on the autism spectrum is different and how it is our responsibility to adjust the way we teach so they can grow.

That quote is the reason we celebrate neurodiversity because, just like how we adjust to neurotypical individuals with their differences, it is the same for those on the autism spectrum. Each person has a skill that makes them unique in this world. With our respective skills, we approach situations differently based on our level of comprehension.

A person on the spectrum is not only their diagnosis. These individuals have skills that others might not possess, so we need to celebrate those differences. After all, differences contribute to our world and allow us to continue to thrive. We want to support growth and change by respecting differences among all individuals.

For an autistic child, some of the overarching needs that are different when compared to those of a neurotypical child would be environments with limited physical stimuli. For example, Chuck E. Cheese, because it is crowded with a lot of movement and noise, can be overstimulating for those on the autism spectrum.

Routines, Schedules, and Autism

Routines and schedules are seriously helpful for those on the autism spectrum. They provide guidelines to follow and prevent maladaptive behaviors (because the individuals are aware of what comes next). The thought of not knowing what to do can trigger behaviors that hinder growth. This causes stress, which is coped with through a behavior that may not be appropriate for the child. Emotions are not quite understood, though, and therefore reactions are actually normal (depending on the situation).

Here is a quick story to help illustrate this:

An autistic boy has a morning routine that he follows daily. One day, mom made a change to the usual routine because an unexpected event occurred. Her son reacted by throwing a tantrum out of frustration because he wasn’t sure what to do (since his routine was changed). Naturally, mom tried to calm the child down and explain the situation, but it was no help because he did not understand the abrupt change to his normal schedule.

If that seems unreasonable, think about it in the context of what it would be like for you if your routine at work was suddenly changed without getting a heads up. Wouldn’t that be frustrating? You might even want to express your frustration at being unsure about what comes next or what to do in that kind of situation. After all, you’ve become used to following a routine that makes your job easier and reduces stress. But then this unexpected change happens, you become stressed, and it all leads to more frustration and problems.

Perhaps neurodivergent and neurotypical people aren’t so different after all?

Working With Autistic Youth at Home and in School

According to At Home Healthcare (2022), there are companies that have teams that come into the home to work on behaviors and skills. They teach families how to learn about their autistic child and their needs, which then changes the family dynamic in a positive way.

This short story helps illustrate how home care works:

Linken, a young autistic boy, struggled with any form of communication, so a team that included a licensed speech pathologist and certified occupational therapist was formed. This team was assigned to work with Linken in his home, and they started by developing strategies to increase fine and gross motor functioning, along with speech, language, and communication. They implemented their strategies and provided Linken’s parents with methods for understanding his unique needs. As a result, his growth has increased immensely.

Along with home care, school plays a key role in caring for autistic youth. And when I was a teacher in the Detroit Community School District, we saw this when there were some students on the autism spectrum who weren’t given the tools to thrive throughout the school year. Parents need to consider if their child’s school offers assistance for autistic students. If parents are unsure, they can call the school to speak with the principal directly to learn what programs they offer that might benefit their child.

Parents should request an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to be put in place for their autistic child. The IEP ensures their child’s needs are being met. Visit the schools on your list that offer beneficial programs for your child so you can learn the validity and reliability of the information provided.

It is also important to locate schools that have special categorical classes and rotate the child in both special and general education. Having both benefits your child because they can learn from one-on-one instruction to help boost skills and behavior. Then, they can apply the skills and behaviors they’ve learned, while at the same time learning from others within their age group, in the general education classes.

ABA and Priming

There is a technique used in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) that we call priming. This is a very effective tool to use for autistic children, as it basically prepares them slowly for what is to come (to prevent unwanted behaviors during a transition).

An example of priming is when parents start telling a child in April that summer is coming and there will be no school until the fall. This helps autistic children get used to it and be better prepared when that time comes. And then when summer is getting close to ending in August, begin letting your child know that summer is almost over, and school will start again on a particular date. Consistently priming like that until a child understands the switch in routine and when it comes can help to make the transition smoother for them.

The priming technique can be used for changing schools, schedules, and routines. If you are changing schools because the new school is more beneficial, let them know in the fall. Tell them about going to a new school and let them know what to expect. When it is time to start the new school, any behaviors will likely not be as intense because your child was aware of the change.

Using the priming technique and Premack principle (“first [this], then [that]” language), you can help alleviate some behaviors in an environment. For example, parents can say, “We are going to the grocery store to buy food to eat. Once we get there, we will stay close to mom. We are not buying any candy. If we are good in grocery store, then we can go get ice cream. First, grocery store, then ice cream.” Using this language or something close will help build understanding for expected behaviors in different environments.

Change can occur; parents just have to be willing to apply it and be consistent. Remember, autistic children need this until it becomes learned.

Take Care of Yourself, So You Can Take Care of Them

Self-care is essential for taking care of an autistic youth. A parent’s health is important because you need strength to assist your child. In most cases, parents are overwhelmed and exhausted from giving in to behaviors, instead of changing them.

One idea to help you rejuvenate and find strength is to take a nap when your child is napping. Another suggestion that can be helpful is to try completing tasks that do not require too much of your attention while your child is working on something or busy playing.

For parents, there are no days off, so a smart practice is to get the entire family acclimated with behaviors and able to help shape them. You will find that other family members can learn and become more empathetic in this way. All familial interactions have the potential to affect the child in a positive way. And you may want to ask grandparents to babysit to give you time for yourself.

Enroll in programs that benefits your child and provides a break for you at the same time. For instance, your child may attend speech or occupational therapy. Once you drop off your child at an appointment, use that time to do something for yourself, instead of sitting there. You can use that time while your autistic child is occupied and being attended to.

It Takes a Village (And We Can Be Part of It)

Through all we covered today, you can hopefully see that your autistic child needs a village to ensure growth and development. At Waypoints Life, we offer education that teaches you and your child. We also provide tools to help you all grow individually and collectively.

Please feel free to explore our site to learn more about what we offer and check out other blogs that could be relatable to you and your situation!

References

https://waypoints.life/how-do-aba-practitioners-help-with-clients-self-harming-or-dangerous-behaviors/

https://www.athomehealth.org/blog/2017/april/at-home-healthcare-brings-hope-to-families-with-/

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Whether you’re looking for diagnostic testing, one-on-one in-home ABA therapy and skill-building resources, or simply want to learn more about our unique approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out! (We love getting mail.)

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Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Autistic Children

At Waypoints, we offer ABA (applied behavior analysis) services tailored to individual clients’ needs, based very directly on what goals they wish to pursue and what resources will be most effective in helping them meet those goals. Behavior analysis is a complex science of learning, but you can learn more about applied behavior analysis in simple terms in our previous blog post here!

ABA, though, is not always the right fit for each client’s specific goals. For example, our sessions at Waypoints are typically conducted one-on-one with clients, building skills in their own homes. Clients wishing to practice social skills and spend time with peers would likely want to look into other options.

As another example, our clinicians and behavior technicians help clients practice expressing their thoughts and feelings, but don’t provide traditional talk therapy – cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) would be better suited to meet those needs.

In this post, I’ve already referenced a couple alternatives to ABA therapy, and the list of potential options seems to go on and on – occupational therapy, speech therapy, even music therapy and play therapy. However, at Waypoints we do not consider ABA to actually be a form of therapy. That is because we do not believe it is possible (or even appropriate to attempt) to “cure” autism. As such, our ABA services are focused on skill-building and making adjustments to the environment in order to foster effective learning, and many practitioners providing the other kinds of services I’ll mention here have the same or similar goals.

If you are looking into autism services for yourself or a loved one, I encourage you to always consider what your desired outcomes are first and foremost. Regardless of what a company calls their services, therapy or not, you will then be able to determine whether they’re offering what you want and need.

autism services

Other Therapies and Services Based on Behavior Analysis

As I mentioned in another previous post, a couple of behavior-analytic services not provided here at Waypoints include Precision Teaching and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). More so than being strict “alternatives” to ABA, these services and those described below can be a wonderful supplement! There aren’t enough hours in the day to pursue all of these, of course, but different needs are met by each of these options.

Companies specializing in Precision Teaching would be a great option for clients hoping to work on fluency of motor or academic skills. Common procedures of ABA like discrete trial teaching (DTT) and natural environment teaching (NET) can be very effective in teaching early learning skills, while the structure of Precision Teaching is especially suited to building speed and accuracy of those skills. You may find Precision Teaching offered in in-home sessions, tutoring centers, and both public and private schools.

ACT, meanwhile, is a more traditional form of talk therapy that is nonetheless based upon the same behavior-analytic principles as ABA. Clients hoping to address symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even simply stress could benefit from seeking out an ACT therapist.

Other Clinical Services

A common alternative to ACT is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I want to emphasize again that these therapies do not “treat autism,” but may help to address mental health concerns. CBT is a very general term, and there are many approaches, including Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Rational Living Therapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

In sessions based on CBT, the client and therapist talk together to reach a shared understanding of the concerns to be addressed, and identify how those concerns might be affecting thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, feelings, and daily functioning.

The focus of CBT is to enable the client to identify solutions that are more helpful than the way the concerns have been dealt with previously. It is a collaborative effort between the therapist and the client, and as such can also offer important opportunities to practice expressing thoughts and feelings in a safe space.

Other Skill-Building Services

While we focus on skill-building at Waypoints, other professionals’ areas of specialization can absolutely go beyond our expertise. For example, teaching verbal behavior is a huge priority of ABA services, but speech therapy would be of much more help when it comes to building up oral-motor strength and musculature, or working on precise enunciation and articulation of vocal language.

Another service that commonly supplements ABA is occupational therapy. While somewhat similar to physical therapy, occupational therapy is focused on improving fine and gross motor skills that allow clients to gain independence with daily living skills. Again, this is something that ABA also prioritizes, but an occupational therapist will be better able to assess and intervene upon deficits related to muscle tone, balance, flexibility, or proprioception. Occupational therapists may also address sensory integration and provide options for clients with sensory-avoidant or -seeking needs.

As I noted above, sessions at Waypoints are typically conducted with a single client at a time, and as such there isn’t much of a chance for socialization. Social skills groups or sensory therapies based on music or play introduce more opportunities for interaction with the environment and peers.

For the most structure and goal-oriented practices, look for options that highlight a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL)! These kinds of activities often include small groups of peers who may or may not all be neurodivergent, usually with an adult moderator.

Do Your Research!

There are many different options out there for autistic people and their family members and loved ones seeking support services, but there is a lot of misinformation and poor quality control as well. ABA therapy itself is in no way guaranteed to be ethical or effective, depending on the practices of the company providing the services. It is vitally important that you research different options available to you as well as the specific companies providing those options, or seek out a healthcare advocate who can support you in doing so.

As one example to be wary of, dietary changes such as avoiding gluten are sometimes suggested for autistic children. If someone has a gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten will definitely make them feel better, but no particular dietary needs are directly associated with a diagnosis of autism. (Of course, proper nutrition is obviously important for all humans!)

As another example, autistic children often enroll in Montessori schools as an alternative to public education. The goal of Montessori education is to provide a wide array of natural sources of stimulation in the learning environment, and to pursue the teaching process with less structure in order to provide students with more freedom and opportunities for making choices. Some evidence indicates the effectiveness of certain components of the Montessori method, but it’s important to note that Montessori schools are not required to be licensed or accredited. As such, the quality and consistency of the curriculum and teaching methods can vary. In addition, Montessori methods may not be the best option for learners who thrive with more guidance and structure, which can be the case for some autistic children as well as neurotypical children.

Any of these options could be a good fit for you or your loved one, but they are not one-size-fits-all, and you will want to find companies that both suit your needs in particular and meet high quality standards. If you’d like to chat about Waypoints’ standards such as BHCOE accreditation, or if we can offer any support in finding a healthcare advocate to help you explore your options further, please contact us at info@waypoints.life!

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There are a few assessments that are used to determine if your child displays any autistic characteristics. Some of those assessments include, but are not limited to, ADOS-2 (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule), ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised), CARS-2, and many more. At Waypoints, we use two major assessments because the reliability and validity for determining a diagnosis that can be developed with these assessments are combined during observation.

The ADOS-2 includes five modules, each requiring just 40 to 60 minutes to administer. The individual being evaluated is given only one module, selected based on his or her expressive language level and chronological age. These modules include:

  • Toddler Module—for children between 12 and 30 months of age who do not consistently use phrase speech
  • Module 1—for children 31 months and older who do not consistently use phrase speech
  • Module 2—for children of any age who use phrase speech but are not verbally fluent
  • Module 3—for verbally fluent children and young adolescents
  • Module 4—for verbally fluent older adolescents and adults1

You can expect small programs that will be administered to observe your child’s behavior to stimuli. The purpose of this evaluation to identify if a child is developmentally on track. Observation from skills that develop at specific times in the lifespan will help determine if there is a need for improvement in certain areas.

Once the observation is complete, a report is developed and sent to an ABA agency (if ABA is recommended by professionals or requested by the family). The agency would then review the report and determine if another assessment is needed to narrow down the specific areas of improvement. Typically, BCBAs will conduct VB-MAPP assessment to identify the specific problems and create programs that help improve those identified problems.

Here is an example of the skills that are observed for Module 3:

  • Construction Task
  • Make-Believe Play
  • Joint Interactive Play
  • Demonstration Task
  • Description of a Picture
  • Telling a Story From a Book
  • Cartoons
  • Conversation and Reporting
  • Emotions
  • Social Difficulties and Annoyance
  • Break
  • Friends, Relationships, and Marriage
  • Loneliness
  • Creating a Story
autism evaluation

What Happens During the Observation?

During the observation, the examiner focuses on how the individual responds to certain tasks. If the individual is not performing a task as they should at their age, then it can be inferred there is some developmental delay in that specific area.

For example, the examiner could ask the individual to demonstrate how to wash their hands. The individual should be able to speak and gesture the actions in order and with detail such that if the examiner did not already know how to wash hands, they now will (based on the individual’s demonstration). However, if the individual cannot gesture and speak through the steps, they likely have some delayed development.

Each task is performed and then the examiner records their observations to develop a comprehensive report that details all tasks and how the individual performed on them. The examiner either determines a diagnosis or suggests more testing is required to make an accurate diagnosis.

At Waypoints, we aim to make sure families understand the process of the assessments and provide ample information to ensure families are prepared for testing. We strive to make testing as naturalistic as possible so it more closely resembles the real world. Our goal is to make families aware and able to function as best as possible in the world. 

Autism Evaluations in West Michigan and Ottawa County

According to their 2017 health needs assessment, Ottawa County declared our region to be a caring, giving, and philanthropic community with a wealth of excellent resources, programs, and services, a robust volunteer force, and strong collaborative spirit among people and organizations. Waypoints Life’s mission is to provide compassionate services and professional resources to families with members who have been diagnosed with autism. With such a large supportive community, Waypoints can provide their families with all the necessary materials required to thrive in society.

At Waypoints, we prioritize learning skills and accomplishing goals, so we conduct an assessment to identify the current baseline for your child as we seek to teach the tools they need to succeed.3 We’re committed to equipping children, youth, and their families with the tools they need to navigate life skillfully after an autism diagnosis. Diagnostic testing is the compass that guides this journey.2 After testing, we want to provide families with all the tools they need to guide them throughout the lifespan.

Between our work here at Waypoints and other resources in West Michigan and Ottawa County, we hope your family feels the support that is available for you. If there is anything we can do for you and your family—whether that means providing an autism evaluation or using ABA techniques to help develop skills—please feel free to give us a call or connect online.

References

1.     Mind Resources. (2022). Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2). https://www.mindresources.com/education/059902

2.     Hill,M. (2017). 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment, Ottawa County, MI. Executive Summary and Key Findings. Page 20.

3.     Waypoints Life. (2021). Diagnostic Assessments. https://waypoints.life/our-services/diagnostic-assessment/

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While ABA sessions can be extremely beneficial for support in learning skills related to communication, self-care, executive functioning, and more, support from family and friends in day-to-day life is also critical. The social model of disability, which covers autism as well as other forms of neurodivergence, presents many of the difficulties experienced by disabled people as “a problem with the society where they live and not as a problem within the person.” This is in contrast with a medical model assuming that disabilities are inherently associated with deficits or problems to be “solved.” Support systems at home and in one’s community ensure that unique individual needs are met, and can help everyone thrive.  

I am not autistic myself, and as Shannon Des Roches Rosa wrote in her blog post Eleven Ways You Can Make Your Autistic Child’s Life Easier, “even the purest love can’t always help you intuit how being autistic affects your child’s body, their senses, and how they interact with the world.” As such, I’ve written this post and the list of suggestions below based directly on the writings of autistic people advocating for the supports from which they benefit. 

how to support a child with autism at home

Copyright © 2021 Crompton, DeBrabander, Heasman, Milton and Sasson 

Physical and Environmental Supports 

Accommodations at home and in the community can include physical changes, like providing a grip bar in a bathroom. Parking spots close to buildings’ entrances accommodate the needs of people in wheelchairs or who otherwise have difficulty walking. Some physical impairments are hardly even perceived to be disabilities, because those impairments are common enough that support for them IS reliably provided at a societal level. For example, I’m becoming more and more shortsighted as the years go on, but it’s pretty easily addressed by simply wearing glasses.  

The same principles of environmental supports can be extended to most any kind of physical disability or specialized need. Physical adjustments in your home to help support a loved one with autism might involve use of visual aids and reminders, avoiding certain kinds of lighting such as fluorescent bulbs, or providing access to sensory activities and stimulation like fidget toys or a weighted blanket. 

Social Supports 

Other supports are more social in nature, as when it comes to communication and interpersonal interactions in general. One wonderful accommodation is the simple acknowledgement that not all communication has to be vocal! Your loved one might prefer to communicate textually, or using a device or tablet application like Proloquo2go. Sometimes, especially in stressful moments, they may prefer not to communicate at all and instead need to take time for self-regulation before resuming a conversation. 

In her blog post “A Quick Note on Disability vs. Impairment,” Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone provides a great example of the importance of social supports on a societal level. In a non-supportive environment, people interacting with someone using alternative communication may be impatient or dismissive, or talk to someone else accompanying them as if they weren’t even there. In a much more accommodating environment, supports could include simply waiting for the person to take their time to respond, and not talking over or for them. 

Catherine J. Crompton and co-authors wrote an excellent article regarding potential difficulties with communication between autistic and non-autistic people – Double Empathy: Why Autistic People Are Often MisunderstoodIn short, complex verbal behavior like metaphors, sarcasm, or talking around problems in order to be “polite” can be difficult for an autistic person to understand. Clear and direct language, especially when asking questions or giving instructions, can be very helpful. 

Specific Actions 

Based on the general principles described above, here are some more specific examples of actions you might take at home to provide loving support. 

  • Be patient  give extra time for responses when communicating with each other, repeat yourself if asked to do so, and/or ask if it would be helpful to repeat yourself. 
  • Allow for multiple forms of processing information  provide visual aids such as closed captioning when watching TV together, or a written or picture schedule for guidance during household chores. 
  • Change the environment in simple ways – sounds, scents, and textures that don’t even register to you may be very aversive to others! Sensory sensitivities can often be fairly easy to address. It may be helpful to provide clothes and bedsheets made from particular fabrics, cook stronger-smelling foods when you’re loved one is out of the house, or have noise-cancelling headphones available during loud home improvement projects. Everyone’s sensitivities are different, so ask what adjustments might be most beneficial, or keep an eye out for what sensations appear to be distressing. 
  • Be sensitive to potential medical conditions  undiagnosed ailments may be troubling your loved one, especially if they have trouble expressing what they’re experiencing verbally. The Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts requires that BCBAs “ensure, to the best of their ability, that medical needs are assessed and addressed if there is any reasonable likelihood that a referred behavior is influenced by medical or biological variables” because it wouldn’t be reasonable (or ethical!) to try to teach someone to use coping skills when they have something like an ear infection that antibiotics would much more directly address. 
  • Don’t require social masking – accept, and even encourage and celebrate, behaviors like stimming and echolalia. These behaviors can be forms of communicating distress, in which case environmental or medical variables should be addressed as noted above. However, they are just as likely to be ways of expressing joy or excitement. They may also simply be self-soothing or -regulating. 
  • Downtime  allow time and space for your loved one to be alone and recharge their social batteries in whatever way works best for them. Socialization at work, school, during therapeutic sessions, when running errands, and even simply with family members at home can be exhausting. Don’t take it personally if they ask for some space! 
  • Provide structure – do what you can to help make sure that your loved one knows what to expect as the schedule for each day. This can entail simply having a predictable weekly schedule of events and activities, or maintaining a clear family calendar and giving plenty of advance notice if there is likely to be more variability.  

These are just a few possible forms of support that your loved one may appreciate. Everyone’s needs are different, so it is important to learn about them individually. Above all, listen or attune yourself to their own needs rather than assuming that they’ll be the same as what yours would be, or even as what another autistic person’s might be.  

If you think you might benefit from some extra brainstorming for how to create a healthy support system and provide accommodations in your home, please reach out to us at info@waypoints.life! 

 

References 

Crompton C, DeBrabander K, Heasman B, Milton D and Sasson N. (2021, May 11). Double Empathy: Why Autistic People Are Often Misunderstood. Frontiers for Young Minds. 9:554875. doi: 10.3389/frym.2021.554875. Retrieved from https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2021.554875  

 

Creative Commons Attribution License Information 

Copyrighted graphic originally appeared in Frontiers for Young Minds website. It has not been modified and is used with permission under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). This usage does not constitute an endorsement from Frontiers for Young Minds, Crompton (et al.), or any other affiliated party for Waypoints, LLC. 

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Whether you’re looking for diagnostic testing, one-on-one in-home ABA therapy and skill-building resources, or simply want to learn more about our unique approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out! (We love getting mail.)

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This is a common question for most families of children who might be autistic. Parents across the nation have both good and bad thoughts about autistic diagnoses and the diagnostic process.

As an educator, I respect their opinions. From my experience, however, it is imperative to get a diagnosis, even if just for clarity. And the sooner you identify autism, the sooner you can take action to encourage healthy development. Sometimes, that takes a little extra help. You can think of the extra help as being like a tutor for promoting healthy lifestyle habits.

There are widespread misconceptions people hear when receiving an autism diagnosis. Doctors tell parents their child will never walk or attend a regular school. Newsflash – they’re wrong! As a former behavior technician, I’ve learned that autism is essentially just a label for an association of behaviors and characteristics. By applying some therapeutic concepts, these behaviors can be reduced and/or eliminated.

is it worth getting an autism diagnosis

Your Trust, Communication, and Education Can Help Your Autistic Child

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the time between a parent’s first concerns and gaining access to an expert clinician takes, on average, three-and-a-half years. So, my first piece of advice for parents is to trust yourselves.

If you have a concern, start by talking to your primary care physician (PCP). They are the gatekeeper for your child’s health.4 Along with this communication, be engaged in the process by researching clinics that offer information that can help your developing child.

Parents, along with trusting yourself and communicating with your PCP, take action by learning as much as you can. Having the right knowledge allows you to know how to assist in your child’s development.

As a former case manager for autism, I can say that most families are simply unaware of how to support their child. Often, parents learn there is something different about their child’s development and want to ensure they have opportunities doctors and specialists say they won’t be able to. It just takes some education to make that happen.

Recognizing the Benefits of Early Diagnosis

In the same way that an army vet suffering from PTSD must seeking counseling to help battle problematic thoughts and feelings, children diagnosed with autism need access to certain resources. In this case, autistic youth can benefit from things that reduce anxiety and frustration and relieve the sense of being overwhelmed.

The earlier an autistic youth has access to these resources, the better. As you help your child, you will notice greater trust in yourself and you learn more, so it’s best to start this process sooner. It will also put your child in a better position, as they can begin developing a foundation and being more capable of living with minimal assistance.

“Late diagnosis is associated with increased parental stress and delays early intervention, which is critical to positive outcomes over time.2,3 This is particularly important because studies have found that interventions implemented before age 4 (e.g., 12–48 months) are associated with significant gains in cognition, language, and adaptive behavior.5” (Zwaigenbaum L, Bauman ML, & Stone WL, 2015)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Characteristics

Typically, a neurotypical child will respond when their name is called and interacts socially by showing emotion and gesturing for attention. If you notice your child does not respond to their name when called, does not know how to socialize with others, and/or has a strong preference for being alone, then you should consider asking your child’s pediatrician questions about this behavior. From there, it’s possible testing may help show if your child is developmentally on track.

Some other common ASD characteristics noted in the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) include “persistent social and communication deficits and the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors and/or interests, and sensory differences.1”

What to Do After an Autism Diagnosis

Remember, there is no cure for autism. Once someone is diagnosed, they will always be autistic. But you can learn about available services to help your child thrive in society.

For example, if you live in West Michigan and are seeking professional diagnostic services for your child, you may want to schedule an appointment with Waypoints. Along with diagnosing and evaluating youth, our team of certified, highly educated specialists also provide services to help autistic children develop skills for life.

Of course, while you can certainly bring your son or daughter to see us at any point in their childhood or adolescence, hopefully you see now that earlier intervention is best for them and for you (and the rest of the family). And no matter if you simply have questions for us or are ready to schedule an appointment, please feel free to reach us at (616) 251-8162 or by filling out our online contact form.

References

  1. American Psychological Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
  2. Dawson G, Rogers S, Munson J, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics. 2010;125(1): e17–e23.
  3. Elder JH. Assisting parents in adapting and making decisions regarding the most efficacious treatment options. In: Giarelli E, Fisher KM, editors. Integrated Health Care for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Interdisciplinary Planning and Delivery of Care. Spring eld, IL: Charles C. Thomas, Publishers Ltd.; 2016: 173–192.
  4. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. (2019, August 5). Advice for Parents Concerned About Autism. https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/advice-parents-concerned-about-autism
  5. Zwaigenbaum L, Bauman ML, Stone WL, et al. Early identification of autism spectrum disorder: recommendations for practice and research. Pediatrics. 2015;136 (Suppl 1): S10–S40.

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Exciting news here at Waypoints – as of February 15, 2022, we are recipients of Preliminary Accreditation by the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (BHCOE), with a 100% score based on their rigorous standards!

The BHCOE’s accreditation process allows both clients and other professionals to be better assured that our services are of high quality when it comes to ethical practices, support for employees, and focus on client needs. Accreditation demonstrates our ongoing commitment to third-party assessment and approval of our clinical and administrative policies and procedures.

As the BHCOE puts it, “any ABA organization can apply for accreditation; however, organizations only achieve accreditation after demonstrating clinical quality as evidenced by a passing score on our clinical evaluation.”

We have been working through the accreditation process since March 2021, and it is very gratifying to meet this goal. Our next steps will be to pursue full accreditation as well accreditation of our practicum program, but in the meantime, I wanted to describe what this process has entailed and what the outcomes will mean for our clients and employees.

 

As the BHCOE puts it, “any ABA organization can apply for accreditation; however, organizations only achieve accreditation after demonstrating clinical quality as evidenced by a passing score on our clinical evaluation.”

BHCOE accreditation

The BHCOE Accreditation Process

As part of the accreditation process, the management and administrative team at Waypoints collaborated to create robust systems for meeting the BHCOE’s standards related to:

  • Ethics, Integrity, and Professionalism
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention
  • Client Intake
  • Service Delivery
  • Clinical Documentation
  • Collaboration and Coordination of Care
  • Health, Safety, and Emergency Preparedness
  • HIPAA Compliance

These standards were designed to ensure exceptional ABA service delivery, as well as care and respect for clients and employees alike. The BHCOE itself is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which you can learn more about at this link.

Guidance and feedback provided by the BHCOE on a regular basis throughout the year allowed us to create high-quality documentation related to employee training and continuing education, quarterly performance evaluations, clinical policies, and our company’s strategic plan.

I wanted to highlight our strategic plan in particular, as the accreditation process encouraged us to truly solidify in writing the underlying values and goals that brought us to the point of establishing Waypoints in the first place. Waypoints is committed to ensuring that clients are at the forefront of services being provided, and it’s important to us that our day-to-day practices reflect that. As such, here is what we formally established as our company principles and core values:

Waypoints helps people achieve life skills in a collaborative way with analytical and individualized plans that are based on socially significant, empirical data and which are enacted in the utmost ethical way. We believe that:

  • Neurodivergent people do not need to be “healed” or “fixed.”  
  • The best outcomes are derived from well-compensated and well-trained staff. 
  • People are more important than profits. 

Going forward, we will be measuring progress toward goals based on these principles and values on an annual basis at minimum. This data will keep us accountable, and let us know whether and how we need to adjust our actions to be better in alignment with those goals.

GoalMeasures
Waypoints will act honestly and responsibly to promote ethical practices of its employees and will support certified employees in complying with ethical and professional requirements of their certifying and/or licensing body.
  • Number of ethical and recipient rights violations reported and resolved
  • Maintained vs. lapsed certifications and licensures
  • Supervision levels of registered behavior technicians (RBTs)
  • Number of continuing education units provided internally (particularly ethics) and use of continuing education funds
  • Employee performance evaluation scores for 1) Professional Conduct and Communication, 2) Ethics and Cultural Competency, and 3) Safety, HIPAA, Confidentiality, and Client Privacy
Waypoints will strive to increase the diversity of applicants, hires, and clientele served, as well as meet the needs of diverse employees and clients.
  • Applicant demographics as measured by optional survey filled out when interview is scheduled
  • Employee demographics as measured by optional survey during on-boarding process
  • Client demographics as measured by optional survey during on-boarding process
Waypoints will strive to retain a high proportion of employees and prevent burnout.
  • Duration of employment and annual proportion of new hires vs. losses
  • Employee feedback during annual performance evaluation process and exit interviews
Waypoints will maintain high-quality service delivery and social validity of intervention goals, procedures, and client outcomes.
  • RBT competency scores, assessed on an ongoing basis
  • Client/caregiver assent and satisfaction
  • Client goal mastery

BHCOE Accreditation Benefits to Clients

It’s probably obvious that affirmation of and adherence to the BHCOE’s standards will act as excellent quality control of services provided to our clients! As the BHCOE itself states, “accreditation serves as a consumer protection mechanism that indicates the organization’s commitment to quality improvement, transparency, and accountability.”

We will be pursuing accreditation on a regular basis, which will require direct oversight by the BHCOE every 1-3 years. BHCOE-accredited organizations must follow the BHCOE Standards of Excellence for Applied Behavior Analysis Services; some standards particularly relevant to our clients include:

  • The organization ensures goals are appropriate based on current developmental level, chronological age, and the developmental order in which skills are acquired in individuals with typical development.
  • The organization provides treatment recommendations by relying on best practices such as decision models, research, and professional judgment. Treatment recommendations may include hours, amount of supervision, setting, approach, or frequency of treatment.
  • The organization ensures intervention is delivered as written in the treatment plan, and that implementation of services adhere to prescribed protocols.

Any concerns regarding compliance with these standards can be reported to the BHCOE directly via this link. One accreditation requirement was also the establishment of an ethics officer within Waypoints, who can be anonymously contacted via our website at https://waypoints.life/report-a-concern/, or by emailing ethics@waypoints.life.

Waypoints helps people achieve life skills in a collaborative way with analytical and individualized plans that are based on socially significant, empirical data and which are enacted in the utmost ethical way. We believe that:

  • Neurodivergent people do not need to be “healed” or “fixed.”  
  • The best outcomes are derived from well-compensated and well-trained staff. 
  • People are more important than profits. 

BHCOE Accreditation Benefits to Employees

The BHCOE also kindly provides a host of fantastic resources to all employees of accredited organizations. Their Virtual Academy covers topics related to clinical practice, human resources, and compliance and operations. They also regularly host live webinars providing free continuing education units (CEUs), as well as a private Facebook group for sharing resources and learning about upcoming BHCOE projects.

As part of the accreditation process, we also documented our commitments to our employees throughout recruitment, hiring, training, and ongoing professional development. Some standards directly benefiting employees include:

  • The organization does not engage in hiring practices that could restrict employees’ future employment, such as by requiring employees to sign non-compete agreements.
  • The organization employs supervisors who hold a graduate-level certification in good standing in applied behavior analysis (ABA) from a nationally accredited certifying body, meet the certifying body’s current standards for supervision, and hold a graduate degree.
  • The organization provides training in clinical tasks and administrative tasks for each level of employee upon hire.
  • The organization ensures employees at every level receive continuing education, training, and oversight in line with their certification and specific areas of need.

Regarding continuing education in particular, per the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s Ethics Code for Behavior Analysts 1.06, “Behavior analysts actively engage in professional development activities to maintain and further their professional competence.” Board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) are required to obtain 32 continuing education units (CEUs) within each recertification cycle, including four CEUs on the topic of ethics and three on the topic of supervision.

To facilitate this, Waypoints provides an annual stipend for full-time BCBAs to be used for continuing education to maintain certification or for professional development. In addition, in-depth online workshops providing ethics and supervision CEUs will be offered every other year at minimum to Waypoints employees, along with optional participation in a monthly journal club.

Next Steps

We’ve accomplished a lot this year, but there is more on the horizon! By mid-February 2023, we will be pursuing full accreditation, which will involve additional review of documents related to all our procedures and policies, as well as leadership interviews and surveys sent directly to our clientele. By meeting preliminary accreditation requirements, we’re already at least 70% of the way toward full accreditation.

Next on the to-do list will be accreditation of our practicum program, ensuring that all the BHCOE’s standards related to Supervisor Qualifications and Competence, Trainee Experience Documentation, and Trainee Competence and Breadth of Experience are met.

I hope that this offered some insight into what we’ve been up to behind the scenes here at Waypoints. If you’d like to chat more about what the accreditation process has entailed and how it might affect you or your loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@waypoints.life!

Related Articles

Get in Touch With Waypoints

Whether you’re looking for diagnostic testing, one-on-one in-home ABA therapy and skill-building resources, or simply want to learn more about our unique approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out! (We love getting mail.)

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