A new book is available to help parents get involved in improving their autistic child’s development. It is written by Tanya Paparella, PhD, an Associate Clinical Professor in the Division of Child Psychiatry UCLA and Laurence Lavelle, PhD, recipient of the university’s Distinguished Lecturer Award. In the new book, “More Than Hope: For Young Children on the Autism Spectrum,” Dr. Paparella writes that it is a helpless feeling for a parent whose child has been diagnosed with autism. She adds, “But with the right tools early on, she says, mothers and fathers can rest a little easier knowing they can have long-lasting, positive impact on their child’s development.”
Dr. Paparella has spent more than 20 years treating children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a range of impairments that strikes early in childhood. ASD disrupts a child’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships and is often accompanied by acute behavioral challenges. She explains, “Parent’s become overwhelmed with the thought that their little one is ‘on the spectrum. It turns people’s lives upside down as they struggle to cope with their own emotions, family and everyday life.” She adds that many parents are desperate to intervene immediately to help their children, but they often don’t know where to start, and they frequently face an extended — and agonizing — waiting period before formal clinical interventions begin.
The authors wrote the book to address that sense of frustration on the part of parents and to empower them by providing an easy-to understand set of practical strategies they can use to intervene early. Dr. Paparella explained, “Parents can make an enormous difference to their children’s development if they know what to do. The earlier the intervention, the better — and parents are at the forefront. Young children on the autism spectrum can make tremendous change and achieve what seemed impossible before they were treated. The effects of early intervention can be astounding.”
Dr. Paparella has achieved much success with early interventions for children with ASD, many as young as 2 years old, in her decades of work as a faculty member at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment and director of UCLA’s Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program, an internationally recognized treatment program for young children with autism at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
In the new book, Dr. Paparella draws on more than two decades of cutting-edge research and treatment; the material is distilled into a series of powerful, parent-friendly interventions that target each significant area of developmental difficulty in autism, ranging from language and gestures to social interaction and recognizing facial expressions.
In each area, Dr. Paparella explains why children with autism learn and behave differently and provides step-by-step intervention approaches that can be incorporated into everyday activities by parents to help their children develop better communication and social skills and encourage normal behavior. She notes that these teaching strategies are highly practical and have been proven to work. By offering parents and caregivers the critical knowledge so many of them lack at the outset of an autism diagnosis, she hopes they will feel empowered to intervene early, leading to long-lasting benefits for each child and their family. She stresses that in addition to children with autism engaging in therapies with specialists, family members should use the strategies outlined in the book. She explains that in so doing, they can significantly reduce the financial overhead incurred by relying only on specialists for intervention.
Paparella also stresses that parents are not to blame for their child’s autism. She explained, “We don’t yet have all the answers about what causes autism, but the consensus is that it is a combination of genetics and environmental factors.”
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