Autism is a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impair social, communication, and cognitive functions. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network found that about 1 in every 88 children born in the U. S. today will be diagnosed with some form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although ASD can be diagnosed as early as 6 to 18 months, it is more commonly discovered in school-aged children. Because ASD is a lifelong condition, early diagnosis and treatment using a range of accepted therapies is extremely important.
As a Speech Language Pathologist who works with children with ASD, I value materials that help me do my job. I was very pleased to find two books and two check lists that do just that. The books are: “Challenging Behavior and Autism” by Philip Whitaker (2001) and “The Classroom and Communication Skills Program” by Megan Ahlers and Colleen Zillich (2008). These books are published by AAPC under the auspices of the National Autism Society.
Philip Whitaker is a practicing psychologist who specializes in treating children with ASD. The material in the book is directed to parents, caretakers and staff working with children of all ages who were diagnosed with ASD. The discussion of the challenging behaviors that are common in children with ASD is very helpful. It offers practical suggestions, guidelines and strategies that have proven beneficial in managing these challenging behaviors at home and at school. According to Whitaker, challenging behavior is “any behaviors that challenge our ability to carry out our responsibilities as parents or professionals”. These behaviors can “affect our overall understanding of either ours or the child’s well-being”.
This book is divided into the following four sections: “Making Sense of Challenging Behaviors”, “Prevention of Challenging Behaviors”, “Prevention of Challenging Behaviors” and “Changing the Results of Challenging Behaviors”. In addition, there is an excellent bibliography at the end of the book.
“The Classroom and Communication Skills Program” is the result of collaboration between school administrator, Megan Ahlers and Speech/Language Pathologist, Colleen Zillich. Ahlers has spent 27 years in the field of education. Her expertise is working with young children who are non-verbal or have severely limited communication skills. Zillich is an Early Childhood Speech and Language Pathologist who have also worked primarily with young children who exhibit extremely limited communication skills. Believing that the idea of least restrictive environment (LRI) is a principle rather than a place, they favor offering the level of educational support needed to supplement effective programming, especially the continuum of services available. Since the incidence of Autism has greatly increased recently, the authors have developed a new program aimed at teaching these children functional, classroom and communication skills.
This book mainly focuses on ideas that will help to organize and implement a public school program for children in Early Intervention Programs. Topics include: overall behaviors, functional communication and play skills, relationship-development, creating a supportive classroom environment, managing sensory issues and promoting successful parent/teacher partnerships. Some of the most helpful features of this book are the Q and A section and the extensive bibliography at the end. In addition, there are several helpful tips throughout the chapters that will be helpful to educators.
Both authors have had experience with students who are either non-verbal or severely language-delayed and believe these children need a “foundation of readiness skills that require a special teaching approach. A child’s educational needs are best met when addressed by a total communication approach in a natural classroom environment”. Meet the educational needs of these children is a constantly evolving process. Appropriate assessment and monitoring tools that guide classroom programming are important in ensuring a child’s individual needs are met.
In addition to the books, I have had the chance to explore the use of two checklists that are helpful in identifying children on The Autism Spectrum, with impairment that ranges from mild to severe. They are co-authored by Ruth Aspy, Ph. D. and Barry Grossman, Ph. D. Both authors are highly regarded experts in educational psychology and have worked extensively with children that have been diagnosed with ASD. They jointly wrote the book “The Ziggurat Model”, which won the 2008 ASA Outstanding Book of the Year award. This model has been adapted at both the district and state level throughout the U.S. The authors are both Licensed Clinical Psychologists and have private practices.
Entitled “Underlying Characteristics UCC – Classic (2011) and UCC: High Functioning (2008), they were created to describe characteristics and behaviors of classic Autism as well as Aspergers’ Syndrome. They are both designed to be used by the specialists that are the team working with the children and include a wide range of behaviors found in children who are diagnosed with ASD. The high-functioning (Aspergers) checklist focuses on non-language related issues, since language is generally not the most significant difficulty for these children, while the classic check list includes an emphasis on language which is the most significant concern in the children presenting classic symptoms of Autism.
As a Speech and Language Pathologist who has been practicing for 42 years mostly with young children with ASD, I found all the material reviewed above very informative and helpful. I highly recommend them to parents and professionals working with young children on the Autism Spectrum.
To request a catalog and/ or more information:
AAPC, P.O. Box 23173
Shawnee Mission, KS 66283-0173
Photos: B. Keer