Thursday, October 13, 2011

Evaluation, Education and Treatment for Your ASD Child

On Thursday, October 6, 2011, Staten Island parents and professionals were fortunate to hear from a trio of experts on navigating the complex world of helping your child with ASD get the treatments, education and services they need. Dr. Mark Freilich, a developmental pediatrician, Sarah Birnbaum of NY Special Needs Support, a parent advocate and special education advisor, and Geri Brewster, RD, MPH, CDN, a nutritionist specializing in treating children with autism and related disorders, joined forces to present a comprehensive overview of options to consider for your child.

Many parents in attendance had never encountered a developmental pediatrician and Dr. Freilich explained the important role a developmental pediatrician can play in determining the appropriate types and amounts of therapies, the appropriate type of school program and the appropriate medical and biomedical interventions for your child. A developmental pediatrician can help form and/or work with the multi-disciplinary "team" of professionals your child likely will need. In his practice, Dr. Freilich observes the child in relevant settings (school, home, therapists, play group etc.) to get a holistic picture of a child, since children may be very different in different situations or with different people. This helps him to formulate a comprehensive assessment and series of recommendations that are child-specific.

Sarah addressed finding an appropriate placement for your child and the right to FAPE, a "free and appropriate public education." She addressed parents' rights both with respect to public and private school education options and discussed educational choices parents have to make - including where to live and where to send their children to school and, if private school is the appropriate placement for a child, funding issues. She also discussed parents' due process rights. Like Dr. Freilich, she reiterated that what is appropriate is different for each child and that you, as a parent, perhaps with the help of an advocate or lawyer, are the best person to fight for what your child needs. Sarah's explanation of parents' rights - especially the right to seek what your child needs, not merely what is offered, regardless of whether or not it is appropriate for your child, was an important and empowering take home message for parents.

Geri discussed the importance of a solid nutritional foundation to development and to education. A solid nutritional program can make a child feel better, can improve behavior and attention, and for some children even improve the core symptoms of autism -- therefore making the child more available for learning. She discussed that many children benefit from a gluten-free, casein-free (and often soy-free) diet. Parents likely will see changes most rapidly in removing casein, which leaves the system in a matter of weeks. Gluten takes many months to clear and parents must be patient while trying the gluten free diet before determining if the diet is helping their child. She also discussed that there are many other diets that may be appropriate for specific children and that, based on a child's needs, supplements may also prove beneficial. She noted that an excellent first step - even for those who may not need or be able to follow a special diet - is to clean up the diet, remove junk food and artificial colors/flavors/sweeteners, eat whole foods (not processed) and choose organic when possible, eat grass-fed and grass-finished meats, which have a better nutritional profile, avoid products from animals given a regular diet of hormones/antibiotics.

The trio of panelists provided important information and showed how medical/developmental, educational and nutritional/biomedical pieces of the puzzle work together synergistically to help improve children's outcomes.

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