Psychological Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents

Archive for the Developmental Disabilities Category

Published on: September 18, 2013  

Effective Treatments for Autism

Over the last several weeks, we have been talking a lot about Autism Spectrum Disorders: the signs and symptoms, how they are diagnosed, and one very effective treatment (i.e., Applied Behavior Analysis therapy). Today, we will continue our discussion of effective treatments for autism while also answering some “frequently asked questions” about treatment services.

Is there a cure for autism?

This is a hotly debated topic these days, especially in the media, and even doctors disagree about the answer to this question. Because there has been no identified cause for autism, there also is no single identified “cure.” However, most doctors agree, and research does suggest, that children with autism have a much better prognosis the earlier they receive intervention. To learn more about Early Intervention and ABA therapy, see last week’s post.

What specific therapies are available and effective?

Speech/Language Therapy

Because one of the core deficits of autism is related to social communication, many children with an ASD benefit from individualized speech-language therapy that directly targets those skill deficits. Speech therapy can happen at your child’s school or in a private setting outside the school. It may be conducted individually, in a small group, or in the child’s classroom, depending on his/her needs. Speech-language therapy includes more than helping your child form words verbally; it can also help with establishing a language system that is nonverbal, such as using gestures, sign language, and picture exchange systems.

Social Skills Interventions

Programs that use an ABA approach often integrate individual social skills interventions that are individualized for your child. Some local schools or doctors’ offices, like Gyro Psychology Services, also provide social skills group therapies that can help your child learn some basic skills for interacting with their peers. Contact your doctor to ask about social skills groups in your area.

What other, related services are available and effective?

There are several other “related services” that may be helpful for your child, and these services are therapies that address symptoms commonly associated with autism but are not necessarily specific to the disorder:

  • Occupational Therapy, to address difficulties with fine motor skills (e.g., using writing utensils), basic self-care skills (e.g., getting dressed or eating with a fork), or basic play skills. Sensory Integration Therapy is often conducted by an occupational therapist, and is targeted at reducing difficulties with processing sensory input with the use of calming activities like brushing, swinging, or using weighted vests. However, despite decades of scientific research, studies on the effectiveness of Sensory Integration Therapy are insufficient and it is not currently considered a standard treatment for children with an ASD.
  • Physical Therapy can be used to target specific gross motor skill deficits (e.g., walking or climbing stairs) in children with developmental delays.

What about other medical interventions, like special diets?

While there have not yet been sufficient scientific studies to support this theory, many families report that dietary elimination of gluten and casein has helped reduce some of their child’s symptoms. Research studies have found that removing gluten/casein from the diet of a child with an ASD did not improve social skills or communication, nor did it lessen activity levels or improve sleep duration. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist/dietician before implementing any kind of restrictive diet with your child.

What treatments are not effective and should be avoided?

Because no single cure has been identified for autism, it is understandable that many parents over the years have sought out a variety of treatments that might be able to help their children. There are a few therapies that scientists have proven to be ineffective, and potentially harmful. Therapies to avoid include:

  • Chelation (a potentially dangerous treatment which involves the binding of heavy metals in the body and allowing them to be excreted through the urine)
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (a potentially dangerous treatment with several side effects, which includes placing the patient in a large container and increasing air pressure and oxygen levels)
  • Secretin (a hormone that controls digestion, which has been shown to be ineffective)

Whatever you do, know that family involvement is key.

We cannot stress to you enough how important it is that as parents, you are actively involved in your child’s treatment. Parents should have regular communication with their child’s teachers, therapists, doctors, and other care providers to ensure that maximum benefits are received from any treatment approach you take. Children’s learning does not stop when they leave school or the therapist’s office, so parents who are “in the know” with each child’s provider can help their children by extending learning opportunities at home, too.

For more information on effective treatments for autism, we recommend the following resources:

CDC website on autism

ASDs: What Every Parent Needs to Know (published by the American Academy of Pediatrics)

If you have questions about a particular type of treatment for autism, please talk with your doctor or talk to us here at Gyro Psychology Services. We are here to help you!

Warmest Regards,

Gyro Psychology Services, Inc.

Olympia, Washington


866.616.GYRO (4976)

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Published on: September 11, 2013  

Effective treatments for Autism: Spotlight on ABA

If you are a parent of a child who has just been diagnosed with autism, we understand that you probably feel confused or even worried for your child’s future. It is not an easy thing to hear that your child has a disorder that will likely change the outcome of the life you expected for them, and for you. Rest assured, though, that there are many parents out there who are just like you, and there are an abundance of resources available to help you. Thankfully, too, there is a great deal of research being conducted every day that is helping us better understand this disorder so that we can treat it effectively.

If your child has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), hopefully you have been able to talk at least briefly with your child’s pediatrician or psychologist about what this diagnosis means. We have posted several blog entries here on our website, too, which can serve as a general foundation for your knowledge on ASDs. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing more information about effective treatments for autism. Today, we focus on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

The first thing to know is that Early Intervention is the best hope for your child’s success.

The earlier we know that a child has autism, the earlier we can intervene to make sure that the child learns the skills necessary for success. A good early intervention program will help your child build on his or her strengths to teach new skills, improve behaviors, and reduce areas of weakness. Generic early intervention programs are great, but programs targeted specifically for children with autism are even better.

  • Talk to your doctor about enrolling your child in an Early Intervention program through your child’s school district, preschool, or other agency.
  • Early intervention programs vary by state and local districts, but in general, they include partial day programs that function like a school, and/or home-based programs that involve teachers or therapists visiting your child at home.

What is “Applied Behavior Analysis” (ABA) Therapy and how can it help?

One type of service that could fall under the category of “Early Intervention programming” is ABA. ABA is a somewhat broad term that encompasses a field of psychological science which views behavior as being linked to the environment in which it occurs. When people talk about “ABA Therapy,” they are typically referring to a subset of treatment approaches that stems from this philosophy. ABA programs are highly structured, intensive programs that are sometimes referred to as the “Lovaas Model,” named after Dr. Ivar Lovaas, who pioneered the first of such treatments. You may also hear this treatment referred to as “Discrete Trial Teaching” (DTT). Here are some basic ideas behind this type of treatment:

Who provides ABA?

  • A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who specializes in autism will write and maintain the child’s individualized program. BCBAs are licensed professionals with at least a Master’s degree.
  • ABA programs often are conducted in a one-on-one setting with an individual therapist or “trainer” and your child, and this trainer is supervised by the BCBA.

What do they do?

  • Skills to improve (e.g., speech, social skills, etc.) are targeted with an established curriculum
  • Each skill is broken down into small steps, taught using prompts, and practiced frequently
  • Each time the child achieves the desired result, he or she is rewarded with positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise or some other highly motivating reward
  • Problem behaviors can also be addressed with individual behavior plans, and positive (alternative) behaviors are introduced

How is it done?

  • ABA therapy sessions can vary in length from short, half-hour segments, to a few hours in total.
  • Sessions include time for breaks, free play, and practicing learned skills in new environments
  • Depending on your child’s needs, he or she may receive ABA therapy for up to 40 hours per week, although many ABA therapists and agencies have found great success with less of a time commitment per week.
  • Families are encouraged to use principles of ABA throughout their daily lives at home, too
  • Other types of treatment that stem from an Applied Behavior Analysis approach include Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and Verbal Behavior (VB) therapy.

We hope this information has been helpful to you. Here at Gyro Psychology Services, we provide assessment and treatment services for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Although we do not provide ABA therapy here like the services reviewed in this blog entry, we do work closely with children and their families using principles of ABA to help bolster their success. If you suspect that your child is showing signs of an ASD, or if your child has been diagnosed with an ASD and needs individual attention, call us today. We’re here to help!

Warmest Regards,

Gyro Psychology Services, Inc.

Olympia, Washington


866.616.GYRO (4976)

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Published on: September 9, 2013  

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Here at Gyro Psychology Services, we see all types of children, ranging in age from 2 to 25. We see youngsters who come in for a variety of reasons, and one of the common questions we are asked is, “Could it be that my child has autism?”

If you are a parent who has wondered this about your own child, or if you know someone with a child diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you probably know how confusing and difficult it can be to obtain the services that are needed for a child suspected of having autism.

We have presented previous blog posts about the signs and symptoms of autism. Now let’s talk about what goes into a comprehensive evaluation for an ASD. Here are some things you should know about how autism is diagnosed:

  • There is no medical test for autism. Unlike many other diagnoses in the field of medicine, there are no blood tests, DNA tests, or any other direct medical assessments for “confirming” or “denying” that your child has autism.
  • A diagnosis of autism requires careful observation by a qualified professional. Typically, a psychologist, psychiatrist, developmental pediatrician, or neurologist would be the one to issue a diagnosis of autism.
  • Oftentimes, a team of qualified professionals works together to evaluate your child, and the team may include: an audiologist (to rule out hearing loss), a Speech & Language Therapist (to determine language skills and needs), and an Occupational Therapist (to evaluate physical and motor skills).

How does the evaluation process work when there is a concern for autism? Here is an example of how many children with ASD are diagnosed:

  • From birth to at least 36 months of age, every child should be screened for developmental milestones by their doctor. If any signs or symptoms of an ASD are detected at an early age, a doctor will perform additional testing and then refer the child out to another qualified professional, such as a child psychologist or developmental pediatrician.
  • Additionally, if a parent believes their child is showing signs or symptoms of an ASD, they should tell their child’s pediatrician as early as possible, so the doctor can make appropriate referrals for further evaluation.
  • A qualified professional, or team of professionals, then conducts careful observations of the child or adolescent suspected of having an ASD.  These observations will likely include:
  1. Clinical interviews with the parent(s), including a full developmental history
  2. A direct assessment of the child’s social skills and language/communication skills in interactions with the examiner
  3. A direct assessment of the child’s intellectual functioning
  4. Rating scales (i.e., questionnaires) given to the parents, so that the child’s behaviors can be compared to other children of his/her age
  5. Additional information from teachers or other care providers
  • A comprehensive evaluation for a diagnosis of autism should include multiple informants. That is, doctors should not rely on only one parent’s report, or one teacher’s report, because a child may behave differently in different environments.
  • A comprehensive evaluation for a diagnosis of autism should also include multiple methods of assessment. This means that doctors do not rely on only interviews with parents, or only on one observation of the child’s social skills, when coming to a conclusion about a diagnosis of an ASD. Rather, doctors use rating scales, observations, interviews, and direct skills measures to come to a conclusion.
  • The doctor or team of doctors assessing your child will inform the parents of the conclusions from the evaluation. At this meeting, the doctor(s) should talk with the parents about the child’s strengths and weaknesses, what a diagnosis of autism means, and provide recommendations for helping the child reach his or her full potential.

We hope it is clear that an evaluation for autism is a complicated process that includes the input of many people, including, of course, the child himself. Autism is being diagnosed more frequently in the last decade, with recent estimates from the CDC stating that as many as 1 in 55 children are diagnosed with an ASD. Because this diagnosis is very meaningful and has incredibly important implications for a child’s (and family’s) life, we do our best to make sure that no child falls through the cracks, while also ensuring that a diagnosis of ASD is not given when it is not necessary.

If you suspect that your child may be showing signs or symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, please contact us at Gyro Psychology Services. We conduct comprehensive evaluations for ASDs, and we will work closely with your child’s pediatrician or PCP to ensure that your child is receiving the support that he or she needs to live a happy, healthy life. Call us today to schedule an assessment with one of our trained psychologists: 360-236-0206.

For more information on autism and how it is diagnosed, visit these resources:

Autism Speaks

CDC website on Autism

Warmest Regards,

Gyro Psychology Services

Olympia, Washington


866.616.GYRO (4976)

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Published on: August 22, 2013  

Sign & Symptoms of Autism

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by difficulty in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The most obvious signs of autism appear within the first 3 years of life. Each individual with autism is unique as each falls at a different point on the spectrum. Many have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music, and academic skills while others with autism display significant disabilities and are unable to live independently.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified is often referred to as atypical autism. Children diagnosed with PDD-NOS show autistic features and meet some criteria for autism but not enough to be fully diagnosed as autistic.

How is it Diagnosed?

To test a child for autism, autism-specific behavior evaluations are administered because no medical test exists. A typical diagnostic evaluation involves a multi-disciplinary team of doctors including pediatricians, psychologists, speech and language pathologists, and occupational therapists. These specialists will evaluate communication, language, motor skills, speech, and thinking abilities.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms vary across three core areas: social interaction difficulties, communication difficulties, and repetitive behavior. Some common signs:

Social Interaction:

  • Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate for developmental level
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  • Prefers to be alone, rather than with others
  • Impairment in the use of nonverbal behaviors such as eye contact, facial expression, gestures, and body posture to regulate social interactions
  • May withdraw from physical contact because over stimulating


  • Develop language slowly or not at all
  • Cannot start or maintain normal conversation. Difficulty with give and take.
  • Repeats words or memorized passages
  • Inability to understand body language, tone of voice, and expressions that aren’t supposed to be taken literally

Repetitive Behaviors:

  • Preoccupation with one or more areas of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
  • Unusual repetitive body movements and a tendency to engage in restricted range of activities (hand flapping, twisting body, repeating words or sounds…)
  • Inflexible adherence to routines or rituals
  • Gets stuck on one topic or task (Preservation)

Other common behaviors:

  • May find normal noises painful and hold hands over ears
  • Short attention span
  • Has heightened or low senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste
  • “Acts up” with intense tantrums

What Treatment is Available?

Children benefit most from early, intensive, and individually appropriate treatments programs. Common treatments are:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)- used to increase useful behaviors and reduce those that cause harm or interfere learning.
  • Cognitive, behavior, and talk therapy- helps children mange emotions, repetitive behaviors, and obsessions.
  • Physical/Occupational Therapy- helps with motor skills and sensory problems. Goal is to increase functional abilities.
  • Medications- medicine cannot treat Autism directly but may be used to treat symptoms like anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, or obsessive-compulsive behavior. Please consult your physician about what medications, if any, are best for your child.


Books for Parents:

Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger’s, Pervasive Development Disorder, and other ASDs by Chantal Sicile- Kira and Temple Grandin

Children with High-Functioning Autism: A Parent’s Guide by Claire E. Hughes-Lynch

Books for Children and Teens

Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears and Karen Ritz

Ethan’s Story: My Life with Autism by Ethan Rice, Melissa Ringsted, and Crystal Ord

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon

Please check out our Resources page for more information, book recommendations and uploads on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

You may also give us a call if you suspect your child has a social skills problem and might bee in the Autistic Spectrum. Our Child & Adolescent Psychologists are expertly trained to assess and treat children with Autism and related developmental disabilities.

Call our office at 360-236-0206 or toll free at 866-616-GYRO (4976).

Warmest Regards,

Gyro Psychology Services

Olympia, Washington

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