This is a subject about which I try to be very careful, since it is hugely emotionally charged for the parents involved.
I have in past put my foot in it when discussing the issue with a friend, one of whose children is autistic. To my surprise, he was firmly of the view that vaccination was the culprit, and that Andrew Wakefield was misunderstood. Of course, no matter how much skepti-babble I threw at him, his view was firmly entrenched. At that time I realised the difference between an academic view of the world, and one in which you were so invested emotionally, and backed off to the point of apologising for challenging his views.
I have blogged in past about the antivax crowd and their exploits, but have not really looked at the autism side of things in any great detail, other than as a vehicle for debunking miracle cures and other nonsense (search on ‘autism’ here on rationalbrain for a selection of these).
Unfortunately, the nonsense keeps coming, so in this article I think it’s timely to contrast it with an approach which seems to promise some real progress in treating the effects of autism.
The latest nonsense is administering bleach to kids, based on the theory that autism is caused by gut bacteria. Yes, the new Miracle Mineral Solution is actually 28% sodium chlorite. Bleach. Orac has a detailed discussion of it here. Children are now being tortured with this stuff as we speak, aided and abetted by the usual suspects.
Needless to say, MMS is just another quack cure, with no basis in science and absolutely no trials to assess safety or long term benefits. Just more anecdotes from quacks, preying on desperate parents.
And the irony is stunning: after whining about the ‘toxicity’ of vaccines for so many years, the anti-pharma crowd is now embracing one of the most toxic substances as its miracle cure. If ever a ‘WTF’ is appropriate, it is now, right?
So what’s the alternative for parents seeking to address autism? Firstly, a bit of lay advice: it’s not your fault. You did not cause it by making bad decisions. But there is something you can do about it. Try ABA. According to wikipedia:
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a science that involves using modern behavioural learning theory to modify behaviors. Behavior analysts reject the use of hypothetical constructs and focus on the observable relationship of behavior to the environment. By functionally assessing the relationship between a targeted behavior and the environment, the methods of ABA can be used to change that behavior. Research in applied behavior analysis ranges from behavioral intervention methods to basic research which investigates the rules by which humans adapt and maintain behavior.
Why do I recommend this treatment? One of my correspondents, rationalfollower, is trained in neuroscience and is a practitioner of ABA. Rationalfollower has had fantastic success recently in assisting a 3 y.o. child. I know what you’re thinking (because I’m rationalbrain): but all you have is an anecdote – right? Well, yes. But the stunning and objective improvements achieved for this young patient are worth raising, if only to encourage others to try this approach, rather than subject their children to poisoning via MMS, colloidal silver, or other crazy torture. Here’s the story of ‘J’, in rationalfollower’s own words:
I am currently working as an ABA therapist with a 3 year old high-functioning autistic child, J. We have been working on the pre-requisites to future learning- we call this ‘learning to learn’. Since I started introducing ABA to J a few months ago, I have seen an amazing progression.
When I first met him, J would refuse to walk anywhere: his mother had to carry him, or else he would scream bloody murder. This was the case anytime they had to go anywhere.
When I first attended kindergarten with J, I was shocked to see how much time he spent wandering around, completely unengaged. He was not motivated to do anything and didn’t seem to know what he was supposed to be doing (no wonder he hated kinder – how confusing it must have been!).
There was virtually no engagement with any of the other children. J would refuse to sit with the other children at mat time, instead he’d be running around while teachers frantically tried to control him.
I began by introducing a cool walking program. After only a few months practicing and reinforcement, J will now jump out of the car and walk into kinder or the psychologist’s offices by himself.
Through focusing on engagement and attention, J (after walking into kinder on his own) will now run straight to the play-doh table, or straight to the pasting, and sit down to play… appropriately. As the weeks go on he spends a little longer engaged in each activity.
I also introduced a mat time/good sitting program, involving role playing at home. J will now sits cross legged, facing the teacher, looking at the book the teacher is reading for a few minutes at time. If he is ever going to be able to comprehend the book being read to him, he first needs to be able to sit quietly, attend to the book, and listen to the words.
Another step forward is that J is now required to tell me when he has finished with an activity rather then just getting up and leaving. J has to use his words for communicating as I no longer tolerate grunts and tantrums. Instead of throwing a tantrum, J is encouraged to say “I don’t like it” or “Help please”.
A week or so ago, another key aspect of the work, the Communication Temptation program, paid off, as I saw a little girl approach J and hand him a shape. J looked straight at this little girl, and clearly said “Thank-you”. This was a completely appropriate social interaction between J and another child.
This is a work in progress. ABA does not cure autism, but it is a way of helping that child to be the best they can, and to prepare them as best as possible for life. ABA works on reinforcement principles, and seeks to replace self stimulatory behaviours with more productive/socially appropriate ways to meet that same function. It is important to remember that any one behaviour can have many different functions or purposes, so it is important to do a ‘functional behaviour assessment’ before trying to introduce replacement behaviours.
This is certainly an uplifting story, and I have been privy to regular updates on J’s progress. Reports of the mother’s tears of joy at simply seeing J walk into kindergarten are heartwarming, and real tangible evidence that this child is becoming better prepared to learn and participate in all that lies before him.
And to be clear, this has happened over the course of a few months this year, with rationalfollower spending only 1 hour per day, 5 days a week with J.
For those of you seeking answers on what caused your child’s condition, or who/what is to blame, ABA cannot help. On the other hand, if you are seeking to try to improve their (and your) quality of life, it may be the way to go.
Look it up, and talk to a trained practitioner. Save the bleach for those stubborn stains.