Do you take your child’s autism in your stride, seeing it, simply, as a different way of being: one that is very much part of him? Do you see treatments and therapies as unnecessary; believing that autism is just a different way of learning? Or are you a ‘warrior mom’ who, feeling your child has been poisoned or injured by external factors like vaccinations, has set out to rescue your child from ‘his’ autism: something you see as separate to the child himself? Do you search the Internet avidly for new ideas? Or simply feel you must try every new thing that comes along?
Sadly today, once a child has been diagnosed, parents can feel as if they had just landed in a crowded bazaar where they are beset on all sides by people plying their wares, touting a bewildering array of treatments that they say will help the child (and, sometimes, part parents from their money). Some are certainly real and serviceable although, sadly, others are just plain wacky. Some vie for attention by telling you ‘how it will be if only you try this’ whilst the less scrupulous opt for coercion, by using a ‘how it will be if you don’t try this‘ approach.
To make matters more complicated the effects can vary widely: so that one child is seemingly cured while another seems to gain only a moderate or minimal benefit from a similar approach.
If you are looking at treatments/therapies to determine which are worthwhile perhaps I can help you by offering an unbiased view of some of them: assessing the truth behind some of the claims. My interest in autism began in the late 1960s and led me to spend several years working with people with ASD. I then began to research the subject in the late 1980s, publishing my first book in 1990. A born skeptic, over the years my ongoing research has led me to investigate a variety of approaches, including some that would be considered alternative. Most importantly I have also experienced the effects of mild sensory differences myself.
So let’s begin with something that even those who shy away from treatment cannot ignore: physical problems of any kind. If so you will need to seek professional help, for these can have a real impact on his well-being and also his development.
First epilepsy, which is more prevalent among children with ASD than their peers. This results in seizures or periodic loss of consciousness caused by a disturbance in the electrical activity of the brain. There are several different types of seizures commonly found in children with autism some of which can be ‘triggered’ by certain situations from lack of sleep to stress, illness or flickering lights. They include:
• Infantile spasms. These usually begin within the first year of life, often between the ages of 3 to 8 months. Spasms often occur several times in a row and such clusters can occur several times per day. These spasms can disappear by the time the child is three or four years old but even so some children will continue to have neurological problems.
• Atonic seizures – (‘drop attacks’) in which the muscles suddenly relax making the child floppy – something that can be dangerous as he could fall and injure himself.
• Absence epilepsy (also known as petit mal) in which the child becomes unconscious for a short time. He may look blank and stare or flutter his eyelids and will not be able to respond to things happening around him.
• Complex partial seizures leave the child confused. He may make purposeless repetitive movements (called ‘automatisms’) and wander around or behave strangely. He will also be unaware of what is happing or to respond to your voice.
• Generalised tonic-clonic seizures (also known as grand mal). These are the seizures most people think of as epilepsy as the child becomes unconscious and then begins to convulse ( jerking and shaking as their muscles relax and tighten rhythmically).
Record the times/dates and lengths of seizures plus their effects and other relevant information like illness or the situation, as that will help you avoid any triggers and could help the child’s doctor too.