What is Autism, anyway:
Autism can be slippery. We don’t know what it is. We give it a name. We diagnose it. Diagnoses shift (…DSM-IV, now DSM-V…) Autism doesn’t come with a set of medical charts showing where it comes from or how it does its business. We give drugs for it. But drugs are really given for something else, not for Autism. This drug may mask some symptoms for awhile in some people. That drug may cure an intestinal disease that hitchhiked in with the Autism. Neither drug changed or reduced the autism. Most symptoms of Autism don’t match up to any drug that’s ever been produced.
Love is the Drug:
The only drug that helps everyone with Autism at least most of the time more than doing nothing is …. training. We can call it therapy, or education, or play intervention. In each and every thing we do for someone with Autism, we’re pushing the individual with the disorder in a way that’s hard for them to do on their own. We who work with people with disabilities believe everything we do and do not do is changing a neural pathway, stimulating myelin production, improving coordination of the indirect pathways in the brain, and helping.
Tracking Progress = Watching Paint Dry:
Usually the progress is slow. If progress is fast, if there’s major improvement, you can bet that the person’s own neural network is healing. Even if the treatment made a difference, Autism is such a mystery that it’s arrogance to claim the treatment did it all. Give the child some credit, too, since it’s the child’s neural network that was reacting quickly to your stimulus. It was the child’s acceptance of whatever strange-looking thing you did with him.
Without Kids, Humans would be the next mass extinction:
There’s a child involved. (Whether growing or full-grown, they’re still our children!) They are unique individuals. (Grammarians, relax, it’s still a word in English!) You can’t assume that the interventionist – parent or professional – is a genius. You can’t blame the interventionist – parent or professional – for what you see as failure. Who sets the standard? What are we comparing progress against?
the boy next door who’ll get decent grades in a 2-year college?
our image we have of a “successful” disabled person?
the last kid we treated with the same diagnosis or symptom?
Parents: we all have them:
We all want our kids and students to be successful, in all circumstances, and with all kinds of people. Even poor matches between teacher and student are experiences that can help the child work through difficulty.
Let’s be kind to each other. When someone’s not kind, draw a line, but you’ll never know what the other person is going through. Behind closed doors, you don’t know if you’d ever want to switch places. I know enough speech and language therapists to say most are thinner skinned than the Wharton MBAs I went to school with once. I know lots of parents of kids with Autism, and we admit we’re often tired, worried, and skeptical.
Every one of us has limits. Some limits are regulatory. Some are fiscal or non-reimbursable. Parents’ limits are time and money and other children and maintaining a marriage. These limits are all real. Children don’t make steady progress on all fronts all the time. Regressions are normal. (Typical children lose 2.6 months of learning every summer! http://bit.ly/1ldPHjg) Focus on the child, and remember what the professional’s scope of practice is. Remember, don’t shoot the messenger.