Frequently Asked Questions
After a diagnosis…
Autism is not a “one size fits all” disorder and neither are Autism therapies or supports. What works for one individual may not work for another. Therapies and supports must fit into your family’s new lifestyle and all members must be committed to following through with programming. This does not mean families cannot try, change, or add new therapies. However, therapies and supports may take time to become effective, which is why you have a support team to help you with your journey. Below are some questions families often ask after receiving an autism diagnosis.
Autism is considered a pervasive developmental disorder, which means it affects multiple areas of development. There are usually significant speech and language delays, social functioning delays, sensory processing issues, and emotional regulation difficulties. Other symptoms of Autism can include limited eye contact, a complete disregard for safety, and unusual play – for example: lining up toys or not playing with toys appropriately, difficulty with change in schedule or physical environment, or rigidity in thinking. Some examples of rigidity are: if mom gives a cup of milk, then mom must always be the one to give a cup of milk; flapping hands/items in front of eyes or continually watching wheels spin (called stimming); and repetitive behavior. Autism is not a one size fits all. An individual may have many or only a few of the symptoms. The issue is whether the symptoms impact an individual’s ability to function in daily life. These symptoms will also fluctuate. People with Autism have good days and bad days, just like everyone else. The only consistent thing about Autism is its inconsistency.
Speech and Language
A Speech Therapist will work to increase an individual’s functional language. This can include PECS (a system of using pictures to get needs met), sign language, verbal expression, assistive speaking devices, oral motor activities to strengthen muscles used for speech, and instruction for at home programming.
An Occupational Therapist (OT) uses physical movement to increase an individual’s ability to do everyday things. Therapists work to improve fine motor skills: learning to write, grasp items, fasten buttons, tying shoes, and zip zippers; and on improving gross motor skills: crossing midline (crossing the center of the body), walking, skipping, and jumping. OTs help individuals learn motor planning (how to accomplish a task), and self-regulation (techniques for sensory processing and calming techniques for emotional regulation). See: What is sensory and why is it so important?
Physical Therapists strengthen, stretch, and tone muscles and tendons to allow individuals as much physical mobility as possible. Therapists work on attaining age appropriate motor skills and function.
Social Skills/Social Thinking
These programs are most often done by Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Autism Specialists, or Special Education teachers. The programs are designed to teach individuals social skills like attentive listening, reading nonverbal cues, interpreting tone of voice, sharing, etc. Social skills also often incorporate role-playing and peer interaction to practice these skills.
In-home Autism Therapy
In-home Autism Therapy is when trained professionals come into your home to work with an individual on the Autism Spectrum. If your insurance covers in-home therapy, you are bound by the rules of your insurance. Wisconsin has an Autism Waiver Program that has two levels of service to choose from: 10 – 20 hours per week or 30 – 40 hours per week. If you apply for and are granted the Autism Waiver, you can pick whichever tier works best with your lifestyle. Please note, if you choose 30 – 40 hours and feel 10 – 20 hours is a better fit, you are allowed to switch. However, you may not switch from 10 – 20 hours in favor of 30 – 40 hours. Unfortunately, the Autism Waiver only services children, and there is a waiting list. Currently, if your child turns 8 years of age before being placed on the waiting list, your child is no longer eligible for services. It takes anywhere from 18 months to 3 years to obtain services once you are placed on the waiting list, in Wisconsin, depending on which county you live in. Many in home therapy companies will provide services if your family is able to pay out of pocket.
Daily Living Skills
Therapists or Special Education professionals work on increasing age appropriate life skills. Examples would be dressing, brushing teeth, cooking, bathing, money management, job training, etc.
Center-based Therapy is similar to in-home therapy, but treatment is at the center instead of in your family’s home. Some centers offer additional services like social skills groups and often contain a sensory room. Make sure you check with your health insurance that they cover center-based therapy, or, if you’re on the waiver, that the center is approved by the state.
Equestrian Therapy is when therapy is coupled with horseback riding and related activities. The therapy is tailored to the client’s specific goals and is done by licensed therapists.
Casein-Gluten Free Diet
The Casein-Gluten Free Diet entails removing wheat and dairy from an individual’s diet. There has been anecdotal proof of positive outcomes in varying degrees, but no validated studies to date. This does not mean the therapy is invalid, just not scientifically proven. This diet is a large commitment and must be done 100% of the time. Consider time, cost, and practicality when considering this course of therapy.
DAN (Defeat Autism Now) Doctors
DAN doctors take a biomedical approach to treating Autism. DAN doctors use supplements to help balance the biological deficits that may exist in individuals with Autism. This can be a very expensive treatment and should be done in collaboration with your child’s pediatrician (your practitioner, for adults) and/or medical Autism team.
There are no drugs designed to treat Autism, but there are dozens that are used to treat the symptoms of Autism. Make sure that anyone prescribing medications to your child has the right credentials. Only psychiatrists should prescribe anti-psychotics, and only after all other avenues have been exhausted. Make sure any doctors/practitioners servicing your child have a good working knowledge of Autism and any other disorders your child may have. Any doctor or clinician that makes you feel bad for asking questions is probably not the doctor or clinician for you and your loved one.
Birth to Three
Birth to Three is an educational service through your county. If your child qualifies after an evaluation, professionals will come to your house weekly to work with your child. This can include speech, occupational, and/or physical therapy.
Early Childhood is an educational service through your family’s school district. If your child qualifies after an evaluation, he/she will attend an early childhood classroom to help develop age appropriate skills. Additional services may include speech, occupational, and/or physical therapy. Early childhood services children 3 to 6 years of age, depending on the individual’s school district.
Special Education is provided when a child needs more support than a regular education teacher can provide on his/her own. This can include supports in the regular education classroom: such as, preferential seating, fidgets, or gum chewing, a paraprofessional or aide, and movement breaks. It can include pull-outs (attending class in a special education classroom) for subjects that are difficult to understand or when the regular classroom is too distracting. It can also be a self-contained classroom, such as Early Childhood or an Autism classroom. There can be behavioral plans, crisis intervention plans, and sensory breaks incorporated into your child’s IEP. Other supports may include speech, occupational, and/or physical therapy. You are a part of your child’s IEP team and you know your child best. Feel free to discuss your concerns, thoughts, and ideas with the rest of your child’s team. They are there to help your child receive the best education possible.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically validated approach to Autism treatment based on core principals to adjust one’s behavior. Therapies are considered ABA when goals are tracked, outcomes are able to be replicated, and treatment is designed around the core principals of Applied Behavioral Analysis.
When we talk about sensory in relation to Autism, we are referring to an individual’s ability to take in information from the world (through the seven senses discussed below), process this information, and respond. Most often, an individual with Autism has difficulty filtering through all the information coming in at once, thus making it difficult to respond appropriately. Sometimes, he/she will “tune out” the world completely and other times he/she will “overreact” to sensory information. Most people are aware of the five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound, but there are two other senses: vestibular (balance and movement) and proprioceptive (body position and spatial reasoning) that are often affected in Autism. This inability to process sensory information properly is often referred to as Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder. Sensory training and tools are important because being overly or under sensitive to external stimuli can make daily life very difficult. Imagine trying to do your work in the middle of a rock concert or when someone is tickling you all day. These can be the sensations individuals feel while sitting in their desks in school or while wearing long sleeves and pants. There are tools and strategies to help individuals learn to interpret their environment in a meaningful and nonthreatening way. These skills will give the individuals the ability to focus on other areas of need, like language and social skills.
An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan. You and your child’s school develop an IEP if your child qualifies for Special Education. It is designed to give more support through educational services than regular education can. If your child does not qualify for Special Education but you feel he/she still needs help, there is a 504 Plan that can be put in place. It is developed like an IEP and can add supports where needed.
To receive educational services, contact the main office of your family’s school district.
To apply for the Autism Waiver (Wisconsin) or Birth to Three, contact your county’s family services department.
Contact your health insurance to see if it covers Autism treatment. You may also be able to purchase additional commercial insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace that covers Autism. Be mindful of premiums, deductibles, and co-pays/co-insurance.
There are many groups and nonprofits that give grants for specific services and/or needed items. See resource page.
There are over 150 illnesses/disorders in the DSM – V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Ed.) and only 13 categories for educational placement in Special Education. If your child is higher functioning, it may be difficult to qualify/retain special education services. There is an alternative, called a 504 plan.
The Autism Waiver program is a state and federally funded program that allows qualified children to receive autism treatment services paid for through their county of residence. A child must be under eight years of age when placed on the waiting list in order to receive services in Wisconsin. Based on the family’s income, there may be a family responsibility portion that needs to be paid. It is minimal compared to the cost of intensive in-home autism treatment. It is important to know that not all states have Autism Waiver programs.
Contact your county’s family services department. You will have to apply to Social Security for your child so he/she can be deemed legally disabled. You must fill out a child disability report and apply to SSI for your child. Once your child is accepted, you will be placed on the waiting list for services. A county case worker can assist in this process. A functional screen is done through the county to determine your child’s eligibility. This web site, www.dhs.wisconsin.gov, lists the criteria for eligibility, as well as other services your child may qualify for.
Currently, we are not aware of any facilities specializing in adults diagnosed with Autism other than Acceptional Minds. However, you may find benefits in seeing a therapist to learn calming techniques or an Occupational Therapist for living skills and social thinking. Check with your insurance to see what it may cover. Also, see resource list for books dealing with Autism to learn more about the disorder.