The Importance of Early Intervention for Autism

child working on fine motor activity in early intervention
child working on fine motor activity in early intervention

In recent years we’ve experienced a noticeable increase in parents of younger children – 2-3 years old – contacting us for services. This means they are getting evaluations and receiving an autism diagnosis at younger ages than the national average. Data from the CDC indicates that the average age to receive an autism diagnosis is over 4 years old. Receiving an autism diagnosis before the age of 3 provides great opportunity for early intervention for autism to begin.

Early Intervention for Autism

But once parents receive that diagnosis, choosing the right treatment for their child can be as complex as the diagnosis. There are no miracle cures for the varied challenges that can come with an autism diagnosis. However, behavioral therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, is evidenced-based and the most frequently recommended treatment for helping a child diagnosed with autism.    

“Research very clearly states that early intervention for children with autism and other developmental disabilities is vital,” explains Jamie McGillivary, MS, LLP, BCBA, Director of Healing Haven. “When children start therapies like ABA early on, they receive strategic learning opportunities that support them in the areas they need.” 

Whether it’s communication, social and play skills, or activities for daily living (brushing teeth, eating with utensils, potty training), children who struggle with these skills can make great strides when provided early intervention support. Additionally, the likelihood of negative behaviors decreases because they learn appropriate behaviors from the beginning. 

ABA Therapy

early intervention for autism

A child’s individual early intervention plan will address their unique areas of need. For instance, if it’s developing language and communication skills, the ABA therapist will work on helping the child learn to label items and appropriately request things they want or need. And the mode of communication will vary. It may be pointing to a picture, or handing a picture of what they want (Picture Exchange Communication System). And some may use a communication device (tablet), or verbal expressions.  

In addition, if the child has negative behaviors their ABA therapy plan will address them. Some common negative behaviors include: damaging toys or property, non-functional crying and screaming, resisting transitions by falling to the ground or running away, aggression or self-injurious behaviors.

The behavior plan developed by the child’s BCBA will include strategies to address the types of behaviors listed above. They will work to pinpoint the reason for these behaviors and teach them skills or replacement behaviors to reduce them. 

“For example, some children flop to the ground when transitioning to a new activity. Their ABA Therapist may address functional ways to communicate that the child may need a break,” Jamie explains. “Or they may introduce proactive strategies to warn the child that a transition is about to occur. Giving warnings and visual information about what is to come helps decrease the anxiety surrounding transitions.”  

Generalizing New Skills

As a child makes progress on and eventually achieves their goals, we can work on scaling back one-on-one support. The ultimate goal is for the child to generalize the skills they’ve learned into their natural environments. We provide additional programs to support the child and family in this goal. 

“We place a significant emphasis on parent training and involvement,” says Jamie. “When parents participate, we increase the likelihood that what children learn in the clinic will carry over to their natural environments.”  

As a result of early intervention services, young children with autism receive a strong foundation to learn, develop and grow. It’s good to remember that autism is a spectrum and each child is unique. Some children need more support, while some need less. Some will need ongoing ABA therapy, while others will move on to their school environment with varying levels of support.  

You can learn more about all our early intervention services for autism here. And contact us to get your child started with therapy services.

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Autism Testing and Evaluation Services


With the increasing demand for autism testing and evaluation services, we are expanding to include this in our range of services. Our new Psychometrician can administer a variety of evaluations that support families in search of answers. These testing services also fulfill insurance company requirements for diagnostic evaluations as it pertains to autism and approving therapies.

So what is a Psychometrician?

Psychometrician? You may be wondering, “What is that?”
Psychometrician – psy·​cho·​me·​tri·​cian | \ ˌsī-kə-mə-ˈtri-shən  \, as defined by Merriam-Webster is:
1: a person (such as a clinical psychologist) who is skilled in the administration and interpretation of objective psychological tests
2: a psychologist who devises, constructs, and standardizes psychometric tests

Get to know our new Psychometrician

Kristofer Picano MA, TLLP, BCBA joined our team back in August 2018 as an ABA Therapist while pursuing his Master’s Degree. Kris received his Bachelor of Science, majoring in psychology from Rochester College (now known as Rochester University). In July 2019 he received his Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology and certificate in Applied Behavioral Analysis from the Michigan School of Psychology. Kris’ breadth of education and experience are the perfect fit for expanding our services to include autism testing and evaluations.

HH: Why did you want to work with kids with autism / special needs?

KP: After years of working in related fields I always saw a need for better diagnostic and therapeutic services. Vulnerable populations can easily be taken advantage of, purposefully or even accidentally. As a result, I felt I could take my experiences and resources to create a more effective way to serve these populations. Using data gathered to generate an objective course of action minimizes trial and error and enables the potential for more effective treatment. In addition, being able to implement this to a young population greatly increases the potential for significant gains in the developmental process.

Additionally, I don’t want to overlook the parental figures and the role they take on when they have a child with special needs. The drastic changes in lifestyle, social pressures, anxiety, stress, among other things can greatly strain a relationship and/or household.

“Utilizing my experiences and education to the fullest enables me the privilege to collaborate with all levels of the family system. It provides a space to discuss worries and concerns, minimize anxiety and stress, and foster courage and hope.”

HH: Describe your career background and other experiences you have that are a benefit to the work you do here at Healing Haven.

KP: My background is diverse; however, I believe the breadth of experiences have prepared me for the work I am doing here at Healing Haven. I previously worked at a rehabilitation and treatment center for adults with acquired traumatic brain injuries. Additionally, I spent some time working at Henry Ford Hospital in their emergency psychiatric facility. I assisted in the overall care for individuals with severe mental illnesses. I also volunteered as a neuroscience researcher at the John Dingell Veterans Medical Center in Detroit. My work experience also includes a private practice setting performing neuropsychological testing and assessments with populations of all ages. Clients concerns ranged from developmental and cognitive impairments to ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, and severe mental illnesses.

HH: What motivates you to come to work every day?

KP: Making a difference. Whether it’s the progress of the child or support I can offer for the family, it all motivates me. Knowing that I have the room and ability here at Healing Haven to create something that can be of such a benefit to all individuals of the family system.

HH: Describe the kind of work you do with clients at Healing Haven.

KP: My work at Healing Haven ranges from discussions with parents and family to actual activities with the children. But primarily I provide tests and assessments for comparative and progress reports, educational placement, intervention guidance, and diagnostics.

HH: What is a favorite memory of working with a client?

KP: It’s hard to pick just one specific memory as a favorite. But I can say that anytime I was with a client and they mastered a new skill was the greatest! Witnesses these accomplishments always gets me so excited for them!

And here are some fun things to know about Kris:

  • Favorite food: It’s a tossup between tacos and pizza too tough to pick
  • What radio station is on in your car? Or music on your iPod? I listen mostly to podcasts when I drive. I found it makes sitting in traffic a little more bearable than music. But when I do listen to music its mostly country or electronic. Depends what I am doing.
  • Favorite movie: Wedding Crashers or Step Brothers
  • How do you relax / de-stress outside of work? Exercise, hang out with friends, or I’m rebuilding a motorcycle so that keeps me busy and I enjoy it.
  • Coffee, tea or soda? I’ve been on a coffee kick lately, but mostly water.
  • Favorite book (either fiction or non-fiction): 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson

Next Steps

So if you are in search of help for your child, wondering if they may be on the autism spectrum. Or maybe you’re on the waiting list for one of Michigan’s 15 Approved Autism Evaluation Centers. The wait can be long… 6-12 months, but you want to start therapy for your child. We can help by providing autism testing and evaluations that complete a Bridge Authorization. Fill out the Contact Us form and we will get back with you on next steps to having your child evaluated.

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