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Timely help for those on autism spectrum
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Timely help for those on autism spectrum

MetroWest ABLE (Access, Belonging, and Life Enrichment for People and Families with Special Needs) is the community’s network of agencies and leaders that serve and advocate for individuals with special needs and their families. MetroWest ABLE is making connections within our Jewish community to raise awareness and support meaningful inclusion of people with special needs and their families in every aspect of Jewish life in MetroWest. MetroWest ABLE is funded by the UJA Campaign, the Linda Bunis Haller Foundation, and the Joyce and Leonard Kulick Fund for Special Needs. For more information, contact Rebecca Wanatick, community coordinator, at 973-929-3129 or rwanatick@jfedgmw.org, or visit www.metrowestABLE.org.

Autism spectrum disorders are a set of complex developmental disorders associated with the well-known challenges of social and communication difficulties.

Jewish Family Service of MetroWest’s entry into this arena, with its trained clinicians, is timely. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012, one in 49 children in New Jersey has an ASD, a rate of double the number of cases over the prior study in 2007. New Jersey records the second most prevalent rate among 14 states tested nationwide. According to the study, 80 percent of these cases have been diagnosed as “severe.” The average age of diagnosis in New Jersey is just over three years. As a result of this troubling growth in diagnoses, multiple interventions and approaches to working with children diagnosed with ASD have been developed. Each child with ASD is unique, so intervention plans can be tailored to address such individual needs.

A new evidence-based intervention offered by JFS, “DIR/Floortime” (Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based), concentrates on building healthy foundations for social, emotional, and intellectual capacities and improved communication, rather than focusing solely on isolated behaviors.

The DIR approach is a comprehensive developmental framework that enables clinicians, parents, and educators to construct a program tailored to a child’s challenges and strengths. It is built upon the following DIR components, adapted from the Interdisciplinary Council of Developmental and Learning Disorders:

The Developmental component is the identification of the child’s developmental stage, critical to establishing the building blocks for each child’s unique treatment program. The treatment objective is helping children to develop capacities to attend and remain calm and regulated, and engage and relate to others. Skill building involves the ability to initiate and respond to all types of communication, beginning with emotional and social affect-based gestures. Children are encouraged to engage in shared social problem-solving and intentional behavior. These developmental capacities are essential for spontaneous and empathic relationships as well as the mastery of academic skills.

Individual Differences references the model’s approach to understanding the unique biologically-based ways each child receives, regulates, responds to, and comprehends sensations such as sound, touch, and the planning and sequencing of actions and ideas.

Relationship Based describes the key component of the program, which is to utilize relationships with caregivers, educators, therapists, peers, and others who tailor their affect-based interactions with the child to his or her individual differences, and the importance of their role in developing capacities to enable progress in mastering the essential foundations. For instance, the model includes a technique that teaches parents to follow their child’s lead, joining in his/her world while at the same time bringing the child into a shared experience. If a child is pushing a toy truck, the parent pushes it with them or makes their arms into a tunnel for the truck to go through as a way of creating this shared world. The parent is encouraged to respect, and work to understand, the child’s perspective.

Those interested in learning more about DIR/Floortime are invited to a JFS MetroWest-sponsored free community seminar on Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m. The guest speaker, Dr. Serena Wieder, PhD, is the clinical director of profectum and founder and past associate chair of the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders. The seminar will take place at Saint Barnabas Ambulatory Care Center, Livingston, Conference Center, Rooms A & B. Preregistration is required. For more information or to register, contact Sylvia Heller at 973-765-9050, ext. 1708, or sheller@jfsmetrowest.org. The seminar is cosponsored by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest, Saint Barnabas Ambulatory Care Center, and MetroWest ABLE and is funded in part by the JFS Joseph F. Goldberg Memorial Learning Disabilities Seminar Endowment Fund.

To schedule a consultation to explore whether the DIR/Floortime intervention might be helpful to you and your family, contact Sara Mendez at 973-765-9050, ext. 1752.

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