April is Autism Awareness Month, a time to celebrate the lives and achievements of individuals on the autism spectrum.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, known as ASD or autism, is a group of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect an estimated one in 59 children in the United States. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, no two individuals with autism experience the exact same effects. Generally, autism is characterized by difficulties with communication and social behavior, repetitive behaviors, insistence on sameness or resistance to change, and differences that are often unique to each individual. Research has demonstrated that there are many types of spectrum disorders ranging from mild to significantly impactful.

Every child is different, and every child develops at his or her own pace. However, there are specific developmental milestones that all children should be reaching by specific ages. Parents often notice signs regarding their child’s milestone delays or non-typical behavior between 12-24 months of age. According to Dr. Jim Moore, LBA, BCBA-D, who serves as Canopy Children’s Solutions’ Director of Autism Solutions there are certain “red flags” that parents should be on the lookout for, and if noticed, should not hesitate to discuss concerns with their child’s pediatrician.

Potential Indicators of Autism:

  • Not responding to their name by 12 months of age
  • Not pointing at objects to show interest (pointing at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
  • Lack of interest in playing “pretend” games (pretending to “feed” a doll) or imitating by 18 months
  • Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
  • Trouble understanding other people’s feelings (empathy)
  • Delayed speech and language skills
  • Repeating words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
  • Providing unrelated answers to questions
  • Getting upset by minor changes
  • Obsessive interests
  • Flapping their hands, rocking their body, or spinning in circles
  • Unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Early Intervention

Achieving the highest success rate of altering the trajectory of a child’s life, early intervention is key. It is important that children gain access to evidence-driven therapeutic care at the right time, at the appropriate intensity and for the necessary duration of time. In regards specifically to autism, the U.S. Surgeon General, Academy of Pediatrics and other health leaders refer to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as the gold standard of treatment for children with autism. According to Autism Speaks, a national leader in autism resources, advocacy and awareness, ABA is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. There are several curricula which utilize specialized methods based in ABA to teach learning and retention skills and address harmful, challenging or disruptive behaviors.

At Canopy’s Early Intervention Autism Clinics in Jackson and Hattiesburg, they use the Promoting the Emergence of Advanced Knowledge (PEAK) language training system. PEAK is unique from other ABA curricula in its identification of a child’s understanding of derived relational processes, or an understanding of how two things relate to one another based on learned experiences. The Canopy’s Jackson clinic, located at the Canopy Center of Excellence, performs more PEAK assessments and intervention programs than any other clinic in the world. Canopy is also the single highest employer of Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in the state.

“Since we have adopted the use of the PEAK assessment last year, our kids in the autism clinic have seen a 300 percent progression in their individual assessments,” said Moore. “We use PEAK intervention programs to help children develop speech, fine and gross motor function, language comprehension, emotional regulation, social skills and relational processes.”

Autism Resources

For families who have received an autism diagnosis, there are a number of helpful resources in which to turn. The Mississippi Insurance Department has developed the Autism Hotline—1-833-488-6472—and a consumer-friendly Autism Insurance Resources webpage— www.mid.ms.gov/autism to help families and caregivers gain access to treatment and insurance coverage options. The webpage is a comprehensive resource for Mississippians regarding information related to filing health insurance claims for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.

ABOUT CANOPY: Canopy Children’s Solutions is a leader in autism solutions with comprehensive programs spanning early intervention therapy, educational solutions and ABA solutions for children on the autism spectrum. Canopy Autism Solutions is the single largest employer of board certified behavior analysts, including two Johns Hopkins-trained Ph.D.-level clinicians. Autism solutions are provided through the Jackson-based Center of Excellence and the early intervention clinic in Hattiesburg. The CARES Schools in Jackson and Hattiesburg offer specialized classrooms specifically for children on the autism spectrum. For more information, please contact 800-388-6247 or visit mycanopy.wpengine.com.