16 Jul 2006

A novel treatment for autism

It's called maturation; that is, the natural process of growing and learning.
My child doesn't need treatment, he needs a little teaching, and not even too much of that since he learns in a fairly autonomous way.

When I first learned that Duncan was autistic, I was determined to find the most effective therapy (well cure actually, but I was a lot less enlightened then), and was willing to throw myself selflessly into ensuring that every waking moment was optimised.

(That reminds me of a scary article I read recently. It describes all time a child spends outside of some 40 hours a week behavioural therapy sessions as dead time. The reader is instructed to ensure the poor child is never given a moments peace to just play or ponder, as the parent must constantly yap and sing and force new toys and flash cards and leaning opportunities on the child.)

But a few years ago; I thought that I had to be doing something, or else I was letting my son down and therefore was a bad mother. Thankfully what I decided to do first was to read widely and I came across the view that autism wasn't a terrible thing and this resonated a lot more with how I viewed my son as a quirky, sometimes exhasperating, often demanding, always loving and wonderful boy. As I've mentioned before, this growth of acceptance lead to advocacy and is part of the reason for my blog title.

What I know now, is that it is actually very easy (most of the time) to raise Duncan. We have optimised our living environment to suit his and our needs. We lock some internal doors to avoid unnecessary battles and have a safely enclosed back garden. Difficulties arise often enough, but I'm getting better at dealing with them. This weekend we were away at my brother's house and visited a crowded fair, and he was excellent. I enjoyed his company and was proud to be his Mum.

Duncan has a TV with an integrated DVD player and video which he uses a lot. He needs to watch and re-watch films to catch what is said. I hear him saying the phrases over and over trying to make the right sounds. I see it as an important educational tool for him, although I previously thought only neglectful parents allowed their children to have a TV in their bedrooms. He plays most of the day. He asks me to draw pictures and has to find words to describe what he wants. We manage to squeeze in lots of maths too, as I ask him what shape the desired drawing should be, should it be bigger, longer, are there stripes or dots, do they go above or below. He can turn on the computer and use a variety of software and websites to play and learn. He dresses-up most days and re-enacts scenes from the films. He runs and climbs, rides his bike and scooter, chases and bounces. He loves to sit on my lap for cuddles or a story.

Over the past few months, with no great effort on my part, he has continued to increase his vocabulary, his knowledge of the world, the words he can sight read and he has extended his diet. I just smile and play and keep loving him.

That's all I have to do.


Anonymous said...

I love this story...I used to be like you and now I'm like you again!

I like being laid back more than busy, and Ben just grows regardless. In fact, he is quite an idependent fellow!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I just read that article about 'dead time', laughing and shaking my head. Not laughing because it's funny, but because its just so wrong!

I feel sorry for any child who never gets down time to just sit and ponder the universe. I suspect those times are when my son actually processes a lot of stuff he's learning :-)

Sharon, I enjoy reading about your son (and family) so much. It sounds like he's having a lovely, enriched childhood. Your post here is the sort I wish I'd read when my son was first diagnosed and I was all in a tizzy of fear.

Anonymous said...

Lovely is the word for this post, and for Duncan------I have been stepping too some with Charlie. Sometimes he just wants me there, not getting him to talk or reading or whatever, he just wants me to "be there" beside him. I think he sees it as me paying attention to him, in a way he feels comfortable with.

Anonymous said...

That article should be titled "How to burn out an autistic kid".

The kind of demeaning language contained in the article is enough to make any person on the spectrum angry with disgust. For example:

"Your ASD child will just sit, absorbing nothing of value - Your ASD child is in "dead-time"."

How in the hell does he know this?

Anonymous said...

I think society in general has gotten too structured to be healthy for kids. Although the problems may be more visible with autistic kids, it can't be good for any child to be rushed around from school to sports to music lessons, etc., all day long, with no time to reflect on the day's activities.

My kids, who are teenagers now, both enjoy school and sports, and I'll admit the structured schedules have helped them to learn how to manage their time. But they have so little free time, it's hard to do anything spontaneous. We've gotten into the habit of eating dinner very late in the evening because of games and practices.

Maybe kids were just as busy in pre-industrial times, when life on the farm was a constant round of chores for everyone in a family, but these days are certainly different from the quiet days of walking in the woods that I remember when I was growing up.

Anonymous said...

"dead time" Grrh. Assumes a child does not think really doesn't it - or is not allowed to switch off like everyone does. Also who would want to be in therapy to be something they are not from the cradle to the grave which is what the "experts" would do to our childen if they had the chance. ABA is my pet rant.

Duncan's day sounds very much like my youngest twos day and they do grow and learn by the playing and "gorming" at T.V. Lovely.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thanks for all the comments.
I like to give the children a bit of space to play and day-dream, while being there when they want some help or company. It's much nicer than a constant round of busyness, and seems to bring only benefits to us all.

Joseph, the article I linked to is horrid and extreme. You are right, what they describe as 'dead-time' is most likely when my son (for one) is bringing strands together and making sense of all the information he's taken in.

Bonnie, I've taken a more relaxed route with all my children. My daughter didn't start to do organised, after-school type activities, until she was 6. She only goes to a few groups now, so she can meet other children and more importantly, so she can try new things to see what she enjoys.

All children would probably benefit from a less frenzied time-table than they often have.

Sharon McDaid said...

Hi Ruth

Didn't one of your boys learn to read using TV subtitles? Not the usual approved route, but it worked for him so, great!

Anonymous said...

Yes Sharon he did. Both have benefited that way. What seems odd can work. I thik T.V is great and did a blog about it a while back when we had some T.V sceptics on the ring.

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome entry. :) I linked one of my fellow adult auties to it and she appreciated it as well. From what I've observed in myself as well as in people I've engaged with online, those who grew up into the happiest and most competent autistic adults are those who were given some time and leeway to learn in their own way. Over-scheduling is a big problem for a lot of kids these days, and not just those on the spectrum! I've noticed parents of NT kids being competitive about how many activities they have their kids signed up for, as if somehow those who don't have every moment accounted for are "bad parents". Nothing could be further from the truth! Of course everyone needs some sort of structure and some help in learning to create structure, but it is getting pretty ridiculous in some cases.

The "dead time" thing angered me greatly when I read it. One myth that truly, truly needs to die is that autistic kids are just "blank" when they/we stare or aren't necessarily directly engaging with another person. I learned a whole lot as a child from "staring" and "perseverating on objects", and I don't regret a single moment of it. :)

Sharon McDaid said...

Thanks Zilari :-)

Yes, all children need some structure and some need more than others. It's all about observing what works best for the particular person.

Anonymous said...

This article cracks me up. The author ostensibly wants to give her child time to "just play or ponder." Then cites how her child uses a TV/DVD player which he watches a lot.

It's scary this mom is rationalizing letting her kid watch TV endlessly and then do video talk as an educational process. Wow. Yeah, I bet that is a lot more effective than those crazy moms who are trying to keep their child engaged.

Be sure to forward this article to all the lazy moms so they can feel better about not taxing themselves or their child. No need to spend your time trying to teach your child, do like her and lock those internal doors to avoid unnecessary battles. Apparently no effort is the key to expanding a child's reading ability, vocabulary and even, diet.