Three therapists in Cayman have been trained in an early intervention therapy for children with autism.
Psychologist Shannon Seymour, applied behavior analysis supervisor Sloane Pharr, and senior therapist Dorett Simms at the Wellness Center in George Town recently completed advanced Early Start Denver Model training at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Studies suggest early intervention treatment can help improve brain development for autistic children.
The aim of ESDM is to help improve communication, play, cognitive skills, fine and gross motor, and decrease the symptoms of autism, Ms. Seymour said.
“What we’re seeing is kids make incredible process when they get the intervention very early. So if we can get kids between 2 and 6 years old, getting their 20 hours of therapy a week, then we’re going to see remarkable outcomes,” said Ms. Seymour, director at The Wellness Centre.
The three newly trained ESDM practitioners join a list of only about 100 ESDM therapists worldwide, Ms. Seymour said.
During the certification process, the therapists worked with four local autistic children between the ages of 2 to 4.
“I have been aware of ESDM for a few years now, and have watched the research emerge. When the certification training became available, I knew it was the direction I wanted our clinic to go. It’s been a wonderful experience and we are so grateful for the families who have taken this certification journey with us,” said Ms. Seymour.
As a parent of a child newly diagnosed with autism, it can be daunting to find treatment, but Ms. Seymour said Cayman has come a long way in terms of diagnoses and treatments.
“We’ve got more intervention than we’ve ever had. We’ve got more specialised therapists than we’ve ever had. So, in terms of having a young child with autism, parents should be very hopeful that they have access to great services now,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays at 9, 18 and 30 months.
Ms. Seymour advises parents not to have a wait-and-see attitude.
“Don’t wait, that is the most important thing … Time is of the essence, and we can help so much more if we are able to deliver intervention to the children early. It can change their lives … A year is worth a million dollars when it comes to kids with developmental delay,” she said.
She added that babies should display a “hunger for human connection.”
“Babies are typically very social, they light up when mummy walks into the room, they reach for mummy and daddy,” she said.
If a baby does not start speaking by 12 months old, or saying phrases by 18 months, that can be a major warning sign.
Once a child is diagnosed with autism, treatments can prove expensive.
“The difficulty is funding,” Ms. Seymour said. “Interventions are expensive because staff and therapists have to be highly skilled and highly trained.”
She said, in her experience, “most insurance companies, with the exception of CINICO won’t cover this.” What is ESDM?
ESDM fuses behavioral, relationship-based, and a developmental, play-based approach into an integrated whole that is individualized, yet standardized in its delivery and data collection. It can be delivered in clinic, home or preschool settings and includes a emphasis on parental interaction during natural play and daily routines. It is based on the empirical knowledge-base of infant and toddler learning and development and the effects of early autism on a child’s developmental pathway.