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TUSD presentation shines a light on autism
autism 2pic
A Wakefield Elementary student with autism gets one-on-one instruction from his teacher in 2011. The Turlock Unified School District Special Education Department led a presentation Thursday identifying methods parents can use to help their autistic child. - photo by Journal file photo

“Pick one goal and build success for you as well as your child with autism.”

This was one piece of advice spoken by behavioral analyst Michelle Max during a free autism presentation hosted by the Turlock Unified School District Special Education Department on Thursday.

“We may have 30 to 40 goals for our kids, but we need to target one at a time,” said Max. “If you want them to get dressed independently, then that’s your goal. If you want them to try new food, then that’s your goal.”

“Don’t worry about tackling everything at once. It’s impossible,” she added.

During the presentation, Max referenced to the Center of Disease Control which reported that the prevalence of autism in children is 1 in 68, with boys five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed.

“The lifetime cost to care for a person with autism is $3.2 million,” said Max. “With early diagnosis and intervention, we can cut that cost for providing treatment and support for that individual by two-thirds.”

Max communicated to those in attendance that autism is a neurological condition, not a disorder that is caused by the environment or a situation that happens after a child is born and can and does exist with or without an intellectual disability.

“For our parents who get their children diagnosed early and young, sometimes it does look like an intellectual disability because they are not testable, they don’t know how to respond,” said Max. “Truly, they have average intelligence, but they are just unable to tap into it and truly test it.”

Those diagnosed with autism have deficits pertaining to social communication and social interaction, including being “in their own world” and lacking the ability to look and reference to other people, as well as restricted and stereotyped patterns of behavior, including repetitive rocking and lining up of toys.

“Symptoms must be present in the early development period, it’s not something that happens later,” commented Max.

The behavioral analyst also explained the different autism treatments available, including psychodynamic, biochemical, and neurosensory approaches.

However, Max credited the applied behavior analysis approach as the most research and evidence based practice available, as well as the approach utilized at TUSD.

“Applied behavior analysis basically takes every skill deficit that that child has and uses learning theories that are research based to elicit a change in behavior and teach skills,” said Max. “It takes systematic instruction, especially in the beginning, and that’s why early intervention is key.”

As a regionalized provider, TUSD provides a wide array of autism services, including autism classroom and autism inclusion, to students within the district as well as smaller districts in the area.

“For autism inclusion, we provide those supports and continue to target those deficit areas,” said inclusion specialist Jillian Pedreiro. “We observe the student in the context of the classroom and work with the teachers with whatever strategies that need to be implemented to ensure student success in the general education setting.”

A number of parents, guardians, and relatives to those diagnosed with autism attended the event on Thursday and asked any questions they had pertaining to their personal experiences with the disorder.

One parent remarked that although she did not necessarily learn anything she did not know before, she still found the presentation beneficial for a different reason.  

“It was just nice to be in a room full of people who are in the same situation I am,” she said.