Friday, April 4, 2008

A cure for autism

april 4 2008

There are lots of misunderstandings about autism.

One of them is that autism can be cured.

Ofcourse I've read the sensational stories of parents who have been able to give their child a special therapy for quite some time and at the end they have cured the child.

I'm always very happy for the parents and the child.
There's nothing more fullfilling than being able to change a child into the image you want.
And we all want perfect children with just that little added imperfection that makes life fun.

As a psychologist and scientist I always want to know more.
Was the child really autistic?
Who diagnosed the child? How? When? Where? Needing how much time?
Wo were involved in the diagnosis? What was their training and experience? Etc etc.
What was the baseline of the child's development when the "therapy" started?
How was the development defined? Which areas of development were involved?
What's the description of the therapy, can anyone use it?
Etc etc.

Just claiming that a special approach helped a child might create the image of a miracle,
but even a real miracle needs clear definition, description, measurements and evaluations by experts.

Autistiform behaviour, that's behaviour that looks like it's autistic, can be the result of numerous conditions.
For example:
Children might engage in less social behaviour when they suffer certain forms of braintrauma.
And children who are neglected seem to be unable to communicate and reach out. They become apathic and turn inside themselves.
And some children with a fungusinfection in their throat stop talking and try to escape from social interaction so they won't be forced to talk and suffer pain.

Most of these children will communicate better in time with proper attention and good care.

But these children were not autistic.

Autism is a neuro-biological developmental disorder.
No cause has been identified yet.
The last years some theories have been formulated, but researchers are still trying to find enough evidence to confirm these theories.

When the causes can be formulated it will be easier to find therapies to influence the problems that are caused by autism.

Many parents and therapists are trying different approaches to influence the behaviour of their children.
But even when some children can be influenced in such a way that they behave almost normal, compared to other children of their age, they're not cured.

It's like diabetes. One can influence glucose and insulin levels with diet, medication and spending energy, it doesn't cure the disease.

Someone with autism will always perceive the world in a different way, because information is processed in a different way in the brain.

All people with autism are different.
That's why one can't say that when one approach works for one person it's also successfull for someone else.

We can try to create an environment which triggers less problems for autistic children.
We can use medication to make children less susceptible for triggers that cause problems, or which make children display less problembehaviour.
We can use behavioral training and other therapies to condition children to behave the way we want them to behave.

But there is no cure to take autism away.

I remember telling a teacher that we can't take autism out of a child, but we can take autism out of our minds.
By accepting the child is unique, and by assisting the child in all areas where support is needed, we can create the best conditions for development.

In our society children are judged in so many ways.
They need to be normal.

Well, autistic children are special.

Maybe we all should be cured from the idea that the average way of development, and that the standard way of behaviour is best.

Autistic people are individuals.

We all will be a lot happier when we start to accept this.


Laane is a psychologist (1986) who's specialized in autism spectrum disorders.
She fights for the rights of people with autism and autism spectrum disorder to receive education which fits their needs in a social environment which is safe, supporting and nourishing.
She's the founder of "Psychiatry - Individual - Education", an organization which is aimed to improve the position of people with a psychiatric disorder in schools and other educational environments.

4 of her 6 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (classical autism, Asperger syndrome, PDD-NOS).


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