April is Autism Awareness Month

NACD Autism Awareness MonthIt’s Autism Awareness Month, so let’s talk about ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and awareness.

They say you are what you eat. They should also say you are what you attend to and can process. What you perceive, the quality of what goes into your brain through your sensory channels, what you pay attention to and how much of it you can process essentially determines what and how much you learn. In turn, it determines how you can think, what you know, how you develop and ultimately your quality of life.

One way to gauge the level or degree of involvement of those on the autism spectrum is to look at what they give their attention to, their overall level of awareness and the degree to which they are present and engaged. As we look at individuals with sensory issues, which is generally how we refer to those on the spectrum internally at NACD, we start with observation and understanding that individual for the purpose of providing strategies to improve specific and global function.

We can observe virtually any child, watch what they are paying attention to and see how much they are attending to what is happening around them. This gives us a fair sense of what and how much they are learning and developing and what issues need to be addressed. Everyone essentially attends to what is meaningful to us and ignores what isn’t. We can observe any number of children who are on the autism spectrum or who have developmental delays, look at their behavior and develop insight as to their needs. For example, if there is a child staring at a ceiling fan rotating over and over, or a child who is in the corner waving their hands in front of their face and making repetitious sounds, or a child sitting quietly sucking on and smelling their fingers, or a child who is pacing around the room, relatively oblivious to anyone or anything going on in the room, then we know we have children who are essentially not present, not learning and not developing. We could also observe other children who are trying to get our attention, or are going around the room investigating and getting into things, looking at this and that, touching or banging things, knocking things over—children who are much more present and are learning and developing at a much higher rate. The varying degrees of a child’s involvement and of being present is essentially a representation of their level of severity and where they are on the spectrum.

The first group of children are not only not learning, they are engaging in behaviors that are making them more and more isolated, further delaying the normal development of their sensory channels and teaching their brains to ignore more and more of what is in their world. For their brains, the meaningless is meaningful and significant to their brains, while what should be meaningful is essentially meaningless. The exploring child is looking for meaning, for significance and that child’s brain will continue to do this with every new opportunity. The degree to which any child is inquisitive, attending to the right things (be it making eye contact because they know there is something to learn from observing your face and listening to your words, or looking at the people and things in their environment and interacting with that environment), the more present they are, the better and higher their level of function, the more and faster they are learning and developing.

Neuroplasticity, that thing which permits the brain to change and develop, occurs through input. It does not simply develop because we are getting older. The quality and quantity of the input the child’s brain receives determines not only how rapidly the child develops, but also how they develop. Good input generates good change and development, while bad input produces negative changes to the brain and impairs development.

Awareness, being present, is that which determines the direction and rate of development. For any child with a developmental delay, normalizing sensory function, redirecting them when they are “stimming” or engaging in DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Addictions or sensory addictive behaviors) and providing them with as much specific, appropriate, targeted input as possible is the formula that can produce the desired results and foster development. Positive neuroplasticity occurs when we provide the child with specific, targeted input that is delivered with sufficient frequency, intensity and duration.

For those children on the lower end of the spectrum, intensive neurodevelopmental intervention is needed to help bring their developmental pieces together. For any child with lesser issues or with a developmental delay who cannot process information or coordinate movements well enough to play independently, they are at risk of getting too good at infantile sensory play, getting developmentally stuck and need intervention to rapidly develop their sensory function and processing. Every child needs attention. Every child needs specific appropriate input and opportunities to maximize their potential. As parents, educators and those assuming various roles in helping children become all they can be, we need to perceive every child as having unlimited potential and do all we can do to provide them with opportunities commensurate with that perception.

All parents should be aware of what your child is and isn’t attending to. Pay attention to how present they are and be proactive. Bring them into this world or they will go into their own. If they have a problem, don’t perceive it as a disease, let alone an incurable disease, perceive it for what it is—one of many developmental steps that you need to help them achieve on their way to achieving their unique potential.

—Bob Doman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autism Awareness Month – Should we really be using a disease model?

Bob Doman Autism Spectrum Disorder Disease Model NACDI am opposed to labels in general and “autism” is no exception. I am also generally opposed to looking at most developmental issues as diseases and again “autism” is no exception. The label and perception of autism as a disease leads to the perception that there is or that there needs to be a cure, that there is a pharmaceutical cure—a magic pill. I have also believed, having dedicated my life to understanding how to help all people achieve their innate potentials, that our strength as a species lies in our uniqueness as individuals—in our diversity. Every child has developmental needs and the better job we do at addressing those needs, the better job we have done at helping them achieve their unique potential. With those on the spectrum, our job is not to cure, nor to merely teach them skills that we feel are commensurate with the limited potential associated with their “disease”, but to assist in the developmental process. As with all children, we need to assist in developing their sensory function, their processing ability and as much as possible provide an individualized education in a positive, supportive, “typical” environment while simultaneously celebrating their uniqueness and ability to contribute to society. I have been very privileged over the course of five decades of work with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to have assisted thousands of individuals ascend through levels of the spectrum to become happy, successful “disease-free” members of society. Our job, our role for those on the spectrum and for that matter all children, is to understand and assist them in their ascension to a full and happy life.

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

You don’t have to be perfect.

This insightful and profound statement is coming from this soon-to-be eighteen-year-old lovely, trilingual, beautiful and wonderful young lady who just happens to have Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome)—Arianna Dinwoodie-Palmes.

Arianna lives in Barcelona, Spain. She reads and speaks fluent Catalan, Spanish and English. She attends a school where classes are taught in Catalan and Spanish. She learned English from her dad, who is from the United States. She takes a theater class once a week with “typical” kids, personally takes care of enrolling in the course every three months and pays for all her classes. She also does gymnastics with kids who have some learning challenges. She lives in an inclusive world. She navigates the very big, chaotic city of Barcelona on her own, taking public transportation to and from school while meeting with friends for movies, lunch and other social events. She loves Zumba, singing and doing research projects on the Internet and is very concerned about ecology and pollution. She is finishing high school this year and is looking forward to trade school next year, focusing on administration, sales and customer service. She is a happy, caring, typical teenager, who also happens to have Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome).

The video (see above) was Arianna’s idea and she wrote her own scripts. These are her unedited thoughts and words—in three languages! Arianna’s level of function makes her normal. Arianna’s insight, personality, smile and overall goodness make her exceptional—exceptionally wonderful!

You don’t have to be perfect.

Such a simple, obvious, but profound statement, particularly when viewed in light of the still staggering numbers of fetuses identified as having Down syndrome that are aborted. Recent research states that in the U.S. there is a termination rate of 67% of fetuses following a prenatal diagnosis of DS. None of us are, none us will ever be and none of us need to be perfect.

Somehow our enlightened, educated and politically-correct society has created and perpetuated the myth that some of us are not miracles of creation, that we do not have limitless potential and thus are condemned by myopic prejudice to be deprived of the right to live; or are often condemned by perceptions of limited potential and given limited “appropriate” opportunities that are commensurate with the perceptions.

Arianna is one of our NACD kids. She has been on one of our TDI Targeted Neurodevelopmental Intervention Programs since she was a year old. She and thousands of other NACD kids are reflections of what can be, given the opportunity. Defining opportunity as having dedicated proactive parents who, when given the tools and the vision, can truly provide their child with an opportunity. We all need to be perceived as having unlimited potential and giving the opportunity to achieve, but we also need to realize that, “You don’t need to be perfect.

After all, isn’t being less than perfect what defines us as being human?

—Bob

He Has Down Syndrome B’Gosh

I saw this great story about cute little Asher and his wonderful mother Meagan Nash. Our children with Down syndrome and other developmental issues have a place in our world, can develop beyond most peoples’ expectations and can make contributions. For most of these individuals, it’s not the government, the institutions or even society as a whole that really makes the difference. It’s mothers—mothers who assume the primary responsibility for their children, who work with their children, help them develop their potentials and who realize they need to be not only their child’s cheerleader, but their advocate. Proactive mothers and fathers make the difference—for all children.

What Do Behavior Development, Social Skills and Maturity All Have in Common?

NACD Blog Behavior, Social, Maturity & Splinter SkillsA great deal of time and effort is spent attempting to teach children, particularly children with developmental issues, skills that will assist in their daily life. Many of these attempts are actually attempts to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are specific skills that do not generalize because they are not developmentally based. To generalize means that something taught specifically can be used and incorporated throughout overall function. If something cannot be generalized, it has very limited value and more often than not fades away. Whenever possible we want to dedicate the majority of our time and efforts to building the neurological foundation.

As children advance in their global development and function, they will generally acquire a vast array of associated skills commensurate with the advanced global/cognitive function. If we look at children from birth to five, where the development is typically the fastest, we see that the children over the course of each year acquire a broad range of new abilities that cover the full range of human function. These include the development of receptive and expressive language, gross and fine motor functions and skills, along with social interaction. In typical development, we essentially start with an infant who cannot control any part of their body and cannot interpret anything they see, hear, feel, smell or taste. In five short years, this same individual can run, jump, climb, take care of most and possibly all of their personal needs, carry on a conversation and interact socially. They have knowledge of everything from the name of an insect to the quarterback for the Rams.

Most of what the typical child has learned they were not specifically taught—they have learned what they have simply because they could. As their brains have developed—as their processing, short-term memory, working memory, and executive function have improved—their brains have simply been able to absorb more, understand more and do more.

If we are intelligently and wisely teaching a child or a young adult, whether they are two or twenty-two, we are teaching them things that are commensurate with their global neurological function or maturity. If we are attempting to teach specific skills that are not appropriate for their global function, we are actually attempting to teach splinter skills. Splinter skills are very specific situational skills that do not generalize. To some degree this can be done, but rarely well or quickly and rarely does it stick.

Many of the functions that we would love to see change, the appropriate behavior social skills we would be delighted to see emerge and the maturity that we hope for, are really reflections of what is termed executive function. If we understand executive function and how it develops and is built, we can dedicate more of our time to what works and not so much to what doesn’t.

If we are to be successful in helping a child develop and gain foundational skills including behavior, social skills, and maturity, we must first establish the neurological and cognitive foundation.

And now for the rest of the story…

—Bob

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