Newswise — It affects one in every 68 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It” is autism spectrum disorder, a condition in the news, discussed in schools and worried about by parents. April is Autism Awareness Month.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, autism spectrum disorder is a complex neurobehavioral disorder characterized by impairment in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, and the presence of restrictive, repetitive, and stereotypic patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities.
And it has been the work of Rowan University’s Dr. Denise Kerth for years.
“As Maya Angelou said, ‘When people know better, they do better.’ Autism Awareness Month is important for this reason,” Kerth said. “It is an opportunity to share information about autism with people who are not directly involved in the autism community. Autism Awareness month is an opportunity to highlight the achievements and hard work of individuals with autism, to focus on abilities rather than diagnosis and to share the stories of families who are committed to helping their loved ones overcome challenges. When our community is aware of the unique needs and strengths of all its members, we can all ‘do better.’”
Kerth is the coordinator of the graduate programs in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in the Psychology Department at the university in Glassboro, New Jersey. She has been a board-certified behavior analyst since 2007 and received her B.A. in behavioral science from Drew University, M.A. in applied behavior analysis from Caldwell College and Ph.D. in applied behavior analysis from Caldwell College.
Kerth served as a behavior analyst, therapist and supervisor of ABA at Bancroft in Haddonfield, New Jersey, for seven years. Prior to that experience, she worked in the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) school district as a behavior consultant. She also spent numerous years working as an instructor/home program coordinator in North and Central New Jersey in private residences.
Receiving a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can be devastating and overwhelming for parents and family members. Kerth provided a few tips for parents of newly diagnosed children:
1. Begin intervention as soon as possible. Contact your state’s Early Intervention Services Department if your child is under the age of 3 years, or contact your school district if your child is 3 years or older. Early diagnosis and intervention offer the best chance for maximizing a child’s outcomes.2. Become informed. Stick to reputable (research-based) sources of information, such as The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (www.asatonline.org). There is no “quick fix” for autism. Learn about the importance of choosing evidence-based treatments, including applied behavior analysis, for your child.3. Focus on your child, not the diagnosis. A new autism diagnosis often highlights a child’s deficits. Although identification of deficits is important to diagnosis and to the development of treatment goals, it is essential to identify what your child can do and to maximize those strengths.4. Be kind to yourself (and your spouse). An autism diagnosis can evoke a range of emotions for parents, including the stages of emotion often associated with grief, such as denial, anger, bargaining and sadness. Keep in mind that spouses may experience these stages at different times. Give yourself permission to experience these stages. Plan for ways to take care of yourself -- such as eating well, getting adequate rest and getting short breaks from your child -- so that you can be take the best care of your child and family. 5. Establish your support network. Work with your friends and family to identify those who are willing to help support you, your spouse, your child and siblings. Ask for help when you need it. Autism Speaks offers a 100-day tool kit to help families navigate the first 100 days of a child’s diagnosis, including ways to establish support: https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/100-day-kit