9 Jan 2008

Neither therapy nor treatment required

Not for autism anyway.

A few weeks ago I got a comment on a post I wrote about a year and a half ago. The post called Novel Treatment for Autism, was about how Duncan's natural maturation coupled with parenting appropriate to his learning and living styles, was responsible for his development, as opposed to any 'treatment' or 'therapy'. The comment writer, Lynne, had a major problem with my attitude towards my son. She wrote (referring to my post);
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.

I doubt that Lynne, having been so scared and cracked up by what I had to say, will be back to see any reply I might make. It's odd how she makes the leap from what I wrote to calling me a lazy mum who makes no effort. She seems to have real issues with my son's use of TV as one of his learning tools.

It's like this Lynne, and anyone who might think she's right. Duncan is a highly visual learner. TV and DVDs are great tools that optimise his individual learning style. The worst thing for Duncan would be for me (or a series of strangers) to sit across a small table from him, armed with a bag of sweets, training him to respond to a series of discrete trials in exchange for a reward. For Duncan, the rewards are intrinsic to the task. He wants to find films about cuckoo clocks, so he has to spell the words properly on YouTube, rewarding him with a fun film about the manufacture of clocks in the Black Forest of Germany, or whatever he digs that day.

Duncan plays and ponders much. I came across him sitting on the floor of my bedroom this afternoon, dressed only in a pair of pants (he was playing at being Tarzan) and staring into space in a daydream with a pile of Lego spread out in front of him. Who knows what he was thinking about just then. I left him alone to his thoughts, and turned quietly away. He was standing beside me soon after helping me cook a fried egg.

In the past few years Duncan has continued to develop and I stand by everything I wrote in that post. I no longer have to lock any internal doors. I can trust him not to stuff food or toys in the DVD player or to throw something at the expensive speakers. I have moved all the boys' toys into their own room so he can access whatever he wants. He no longer throws every single toy on the floor when he's playing. He can help me put them away at the end of the day too, though he doesn't like doing this!

He now enjoys books and will frequently approach me with a book to read to him. His computer activities, including looking up his topics and characters of interest on YouTube and Google, his CD Roms and online games, together with a few short teaching sessions with myself have all helped him learn to read and write. Yesterday, he read a Hansel and Gretel story for me. It was entirely new to him, and he was able to decipher and understand almost all the words himself.

His speech has come on so well. Repeating scripts from films and games has helped him make sense of different words and sounds. He used to try to say the lines, in a garbled, mixed up way. Once I figured out what lines he was on about, I would say them for him, slowly and clearly, giving him time to hear the components of the words and learn how to say them for himself. That, combined with lots of time spent together, playing and getting on with life, have given him many chances to hear words, for me to listen to him and to interpret and if needed show him how to pronounce things. I'm now finding that his writing, much of which is still using 'invented spelling' ie, phonetic spelling, is showing me what words he has heard wrong. When I show him correct spellings, he gets a better idea of how to say these words. His reading, writing and speech are all helping each other and are going to make communication much easier and more successful for him.

He plays more complex games, enjoys being with his siblings and extended family as well as a few close friends. He has developed an individual and amazing ability for computer produced art, creating a few lovely pictures every day.

All in, he is a great boy, loving and mischievous, clever and committed, with a love of learning about so many divergent topics. He makes me smile, laugh, worry, rant and proud, sort of like how all children affect their mums.

This process is called parenting and education. There's no need for therapy.


Anonymous said...


You sound like you have your son figured out. Therapy is something you do TO your son, living is something you do WITH your son. I wish I'd have been as wise as you earlier...but we are very similar in our parenting styles now.

I am much, much happier, and happy with, Ben now!


Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon, I hate those commenters that show up in a blog for the first time with that holier-than-thou attitude... I can totally relate to using DVDs and TV as a learning tool. That's how my autistic toddler learnt how to read, count and draw. And he does not spend a lot of time in front of the TV; he plays with toys, colors with crayons and reads.

Sometimes I think about making a video of myself teaching him things - it will probably be very effective!

How old is your son now? My boy is 4 and relies a lot on scripted language. But his pronunciation has always been good. It's just taking a long time to develop to a point where he's really talking consistently in sentences, and back and forth.

Club 166 said...

Oh, dear.

The commenter would undoubtedly have also cast aspersions at the lack of formal education of Abraham Lincoln (the 16th president of the US), who only received less than a year of formal education, but went on to work as a surveyor, successfully obtain a patent on an invention, and pass the bar exam to become a lawyer before being elected president.

Sounds like what you're doing is the epitome of "unschooling", and it sounds like it's working out just fine.


Susan Thomas said...

hey there, I completely understand where your coming from with this post. I am the mom to 2 boys with Aspergers under the age of 5 and they are all about the VISUAL. You do what you have to do and to the mom that posted that comment: Shame on you. If you are the parent of a child with Autism, Shame on you even more. PS, I take portable dvd players to the restaurants when my husband and I attempt to act like a normal couple and go out to a restaurant. You have to do what you have to do.

Sharon McDaid said...

It's good to hear that you and Ben are happy with things Rose. I doubt that I'm all that wise! You see, that Lynne had me pegged when she described me as lazy; I like things to be as easy as possible and working against what's natural for our individual situation would be so much extra work!

I could organise a team of therapists to make sure that every minute of Duncan's day is planned and structured with people working on him. How much nicer to sit at the kitchen table beside him while he Googles and let him show me what he's up to.

Leila, Duncan is 7. He started saying single words now and then, when he was 3. So to hear him speaking in sentences is still a great thrill.

The video idea sounds good. Would you put it on YouTube or something?

Joe, nice anecdote about Lincoln. There are a stack of similar stories about notable people's lack of 'schooling' on various home-education sites.

Hello Susan. I totally agree, you do what you have to do, what works for you and your family, so long as it's hurting no-one.

Brett said...

We've long faced similar criticisms (for us it is the video games instead of TV, but basically the same) from various folks. I've never been quite able to explain to those people what it is we do, and why we do it, and how it works.

When we try to explain that watching TV, using the closed-captioning, helped our sons learn to read, or when we try to explain how the role-playing involved in so many (age-appropriate) games helps them understand social interactions a bit better, they just don't seem to get it.

You've given me some good ideas of how to deal with these folks in the future, thanks.

Ed said...

Just caring (like you do) leads to all kinds of creativty and imagination that will lead to how a person learns and what they want to learn. This always leads to what they need to learn just as the lack of caring and the "hollier than thou" rigid conformity to popular veiws of what people should and shouldn't do leads to the opposite.

You are doing a great job, Sharon. You are right on target.

J said...

I absolutely agree, Sharon, and appreciate your courage in allowing and responding to the comment.
Yesterday, I talked to the father of Peyton Goddard - a young auitistic woman with many challenges and even more successes - and he stated that among his greatest regrets is that they spent so long trying to "fix" their daughter.

Alyric said...

Hi there Sharon

You know that commenter is probably unaware of the Science - yep real peer reviewed Science that seems to be becoming convergent, that is, it's coming to the conclusion that it's not the intervention that has anything to do with the outcome but the natural talents and other innate qualities of the child - fancy that:) It seems so counter intuitive but it's not really. Not when you put this together with the other misconception the commenter has that you're not doing anything. True - you aren't following a 'proper' intervention sanctioned and paid for by da govmint, but that doesn't say you are doing nothing - far from it. Seems to me that you took Duncan's learning style into account and the results have been as good as a 'proper' intervention and probably just as much work come to think of it. I don't like being accused of doing 'nothing' - not considering the thousands of hours I spent making up for the deficiencies in the education system. The sixty four thousand dollar question is what happens if you really do nothing - in my book a denial of education? Probably not all that much if the child has unlimited access to materials and is autistic. It would be unethical to try this on a kid that wasn't autistic. Mostly, I'm for intervention - and mostly because a sizeable slice of parents really take the 'you need a village to raise a child' attitude to heart and they need all the support (extra parents) they can get.

I've thought and thought - should I or should I not rake the Academy of Paediatricians over the coals for uncritical support for one therapy combined with misrepresentation of data and basically perpetuating a very unsatisfactory status quo in the teeth of the National Research Council conclusion that it is a very unsatisfactory status quo. It seems like being overly picky but, heck they should know better being so into 'evidence based and all.

Sharon McDaid said...

Hi Brett and thanks for commenting. I suppose we shouldn't ave to worry about explaining it to people who just don't get it. I'm thinking of other parents who worry unduly about allowing their children to use computers/dvds/computer games as learning tools as they see these things damned in so many places.

Thanks Ed. Duncan has the creativity all inside him. It's just my role to allow him to express it, and to make sure I don't quash it.

Hi Steve, it would be nice if more parents make that step faster, to realise they don't need to (and can't) 'fix' their autistic children.

Alyric, I have read some of this work and I can see how it ties in with allowing the child to learn implicitly. This is what I'm trying to do. You're right, it's not about 'doing nothing' but thinking about what the child is interested in and making resources available. The playing and living with the child comes easily!

Anonymous said...

My goodness, I can't believe that someone would leave such a rude comment, especially on such an old blog post.

It is really good to hear about your parenting approach and how it is so obviously working for all of you.

mjsuperfan said...

I frequently think that most of what my sons have learned in the past two years has come from Signing Time DVD's and the Wiggles, etc. Not to mention lots of family love and fun, of course.

The therapy hours, I'm not so sure what that's given them.