Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects an estimated 11,000 children and adolescents in the state of Mississippi, and this number is likely to grow. Autism, a neurodevelopmental condition, affects individuals in a variety of ways along a “spectrum” of strengths and challenges that manifest very differently from person to person.
Dr. Chris Furlow, Director of Autism Solutions for Canopy’s Autism Early Intervention Clinics and School Consultation Programs, recommends that parents seek a formal autism assessment as soon as they become aware of any developmental differences. Though each child develops at their own unique pace, if a child is not meeting their specific developmental milestones, an early autism diagnosis is critical to ensure the child has the support they need before they begin kindergarten.
While autism can be a scary diagnosis for both parents and children, Canopy offers hope through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, a treatment proven effective through testing and research. ABA therapy is tailored to each individual child and adjusted through evidence-based behavioral interventions. For children 8 and under, Canopy’s Early Intervention Autism Clinic provides children with a comprehensive and individualized behavior identification assessment to determine their unique strengths and challenges, as well as to detect any barriers to learning.
“We are a very mission-driven organization. We are a very mission-driven clinic,” Dr. Furlow says of the work he does. Canopy’s overarching goal through ABA therapy is to help children “learn how to learn” effectively so that they can achieve success in a traditional education setting. Children with autism often have difficulties establishing the relationship between receptive and expressive identification, an essential skill in learning. The behavioral analysts at Canopy use concrete methods such as flashcards and matching games to target and develop this skill, then move into conceptual applications once the concept is grasped. Though it looks like traditional education to an outsider, this method of intensive therapy is what sets Canopy apart from other solutions-based providers.
“We try to come in every day and give it our all, to make every little incremental step towards the ultimate goals that we have outlined for them in their treatment plan,” Dr. Furlow says. “We’re here for the kids. We’re here for each other. We’re going to give them the help they so desperately need.”
Each child who comes to Canopy is formally reassessed every six months to monitor progress. However, the therapists who work with the children are constantly seeking to detect and problem-solve therapeutic measures that best fit a child’s needs. Working with great resiliency and attention to detail, therapists collect data electronically during each session and use it to make corrections and adjustments to ensure each child receives the most effective treatment possible.
“We want to make sure that everyone feels very comfortable sharing their voice,” says Dr. Furlow. “We want the kids and parents to be active participants in the treatment.” If something is not working, everyone involved in the treatment process, especially the child and the parent, must feel comfortable openly expressing their concerns so that the behavior analysts can pivot and make the necessary changes. Open communication is key to successful treatment.
“We have a very strong, family-oriented work culture. Not just with the families we work with, but in our work family as well,” Dr. Furlow continues. “We show up to work every day to transform lives. Not just the lives of our children, but the lives of our families too.”
For those who care for children with autism, it is important to remember that not every step of treatment needs to be complex. While evidence-based data is essential in our clinics, methods at home can be much more relaxed, such as “Time In.” Time In refers to a focused period of time where parents engage in 100% child-led playtime. No questions, no prompting, no instructions. Rather, the parent should actively describe everything happening as they play with their child. While it may feel awkward, this exposes a child with a speech delay to tons of language in a positive setting.
It is also important for parents to praise their children with ASD consistently and genuinely. Things that seem simple to an adult can be monumental to a child with autism. Feedback is essential in encouraging a child to repeat behaviors they do correctly.
Canopy aims to promote autism awareness through many different avenues, such as parent training, research projects, educator workshops, promotional interviews and more. To learn more about the Autism Solutions at Canopy, click here or call 800-388-6247.