What does Dr. Kenneth Gelfand wish parents knew about autism?
The diagnosis has nothing to do with the prognosis.
As a psychologist and coordinator of psychology services at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital (MWPH), Dr. Gelfand says oftentimes parents think that Autism is a devastating diagnosis. He wants them to know it’s not.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) really references a label or a cluster of symptoms that describe a child’s personality,” said Dr. Gelfand. Those symptoms include trouble with socialization, repeating behaviors, concentrating on certain interests to the exclusion of others, issues with language development, and struggles with transitions or disruptions in routines.
Symptoms are recognized in children as young as 18 months. Young children with ASD will have difficulty making eye contact or communicating with their parents.
There are huge benefits to early identification and intervention.
“An ASD diagnosis doesn’t change a child,” said Dr. Gelfand. “It doesn’t mean the child will never socialize, make progress, or have a successful life. It [a diagnosis] just starts them on the right path.”
MWPH evaluates 300 cases every year in their Diagnostic Clinic and treats up to 400 patients with ASD each year through their individual and group therapy programs. The comprehensive evaluation process is completed in a day, providing parents with answers quickly so that a comprehensive and holistic care plan can be developed. In addition to assessment and individual outpatient therapeutic services, MWPH offers social skills groups for all age groups — toddler through high school. The toddler and preschool groups are unique services offered to the community by MWPH. Group offerings change as their patient make-up changes and needs arise.
Parents play a key role in their child’s treatment. After all, they will be the ones implementing strategies at home.
One strategy? Providing parents with the ‘right words’ to relieve their child’s anxiety.
“If a child struggles with transition or change in plans — and their trip to somewhere fun is disrupted by bad weather — we want to help the parent have the right words to minimize stress,” said Dr. Gelfand. He emphasized that the way the child hears the news is important.
Having been at MWPH for the last 13 years, Dr. Gelfand has had the privilege of helping many of his patients navigate childhood and adolescence. The best stories? Those ASD patients with whom he’s developed relationships with and watched bloom in their own ways.
Six months ago, a former patient came back to MWPH to visit him. Dr. Gelfand didn’t recognize the patient at first, but knew him as soon as he gave his name.
“There he was. This kid who was teased and bullied, had poor language skills and was constantly in trouble. He went to college to major in theatre and was performing in a local play.”
Those stories are what MWPH is all about.
To learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder and Psychology Services at MWPH, read Ian’s story.
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This post is brought to you by Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.
About Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital: Where Children go to Heal and Grow
Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital is a specialty children’s hospital that treats more than 8,000 patients each year on an inpatient and outpatient basis. The 102-bed post-acute hospital specializes in family-focused treatment of children with serious, chronic and/or complex medical needs. MWPH has renown in feeding and sleep disorders, brain injury and rehabilitation, behavioral health and autism, neonatal transition, newborns transitioning from heroin dependence, and childhood obesity, among other service lines. Founded in 1922 as a children’s convalescent home, MWPH is a jointly owned affiliate of The University of Maryland Medical System and The Johns Hopkins Health System. To learn more, visit www.mwph.org.
Images and video provided by Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital.