Autism and Toddlers: The Amazing Rewards Of Early Intervention
Several months after turning one, our son Daniel started to show some unusual behavior. He started to forget words he had learned, and he would let chewed food fall out of his mouth while eating. Although concerning, we didn’t give it too much thought until he started becoming more passive, spending increasing time staring into space. Over the next six months this progressed until he was eventually spending most of his time lying on the floor, repeatedly rolling a toy car backwards and forwards.
Attempts to communicate with him would result in an annoyed growl, we soon completely lost eye-contact from him, and he lost the ability to feed himself and to make clear consonant sounds. Furthermore, he became prone to prolonged meltdowns at the slightest setback and we were able to find no way to console him.
We believed Daniel was clearly demonstrating signs of autism but all the doctors we spoke to told us not to worry since children develop in different ways, and to come back when he was three. But as his situation seemed to be getting worse all the time we couldn’t imagine waiting that long. While persisting with the doctors, which eventually led to setting the wheels in motion for an autism assessment, we began looking around for alternative approaches to help Daniel. By chance we came across the Mifne Centre website that treats families with autistic children under two.
Their approach focuses on early intervention—providing treatment to a child (and his/her family) at a very young age before the profound anxiety associated with autism becomes entrenched.We took the plunge and went to Israel for a three-week intensive treatment program where we learned a variety of approaches aimed at building Daniel’s confidence and encouraging him to feel safe, understood and loved. We were delighted when Daniel began immediately responding positively to the method used there. From that moment he has continued to improve and now, aged eight, although still facing several challenges, he experiences a degree of happiness and fulfillment in life that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. His once overwhelming anxiety is now greatly reduced, to the point that he hasn’t had a single meltdown for more than four years.
It was through this experience that I decided to set up the Transforming Autism Project, along with co-founder Gilles Pelenc. I truly believe in the life-changing effect early intervention can have in a child’s life.The first few years are so critical for development and early intervention can make a fundamental difference to any child’s future. However, autism diagnosis in the UK rarely happens before the age of four by which time an optimal window to make a permanent difference is missed.
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So, we decided to focus on the early years of an autistic child, and on providing the support that would normally not be available to families such as ours when we needed them. We are now working with the Mifne Clinic in Israel to bring the method that transformed Daniel’s life to benefit other families in the UK at our own clinic. We are also in the process of creating an online ‘Hub’ as a one-stop shop for parents of autistic children to give them the comprehensive support, guidance and hand-holding that we lacked to help them easily make sense of what is going on and all of the things they can do.
Recently, we have been honored to work with Professor Simon Baron-Cohen’s team at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre to develop an online questionnaire based on his well-respected ‘Q-CHAT’ questionnaire to help parents identify the early signs of autism in toddlers. I know how frustrating and confusing it can be to have to fight and then wait for a diagnosis after initially raising concerns. We hope this app will give parents confidence in pressing their children’s doctors for an assessment.
Our experience of the right sort of early intervention has been to utterly transform our son’s life and future, and thus the life and future of our whole family. I am passionately committed to ensuring that others have the same opportunities that we have been gifted with.
Guy Shahar is the co-founder and CEO of the charity, The Transforming Autism Project. Married with an eight-year-old son with autism, he has worked as a radio broadcaster, TEFL teacher, and teacher trainer, and most recently as a project manager, a role he left in 2016 to establish the charity. Guy’s book Transforming Autism describes his family’s journey to support his son and details the revolutionary treatment they went through at the Mifne Centre in Israel, which opened their eyes to many profoundly effective ways to bring out the very best in their child.
Find out more about the Transforming Autism Project and access the Q-CHAT app here: https://transformingautism.org/q-chat
You can also watch Guy’s TED Talk, The beautiful reality of autism, which introduces the Mifne Method at https://youtube/S8Nb2FDmQo4
This article was featured in Issue 78 – Back to School Success