“Is there a cure for Autism?”
“How long will my child have to be in therapy?”
“How long until they’re like other kids their age?”
Each week I speak with 10 or so parents, most of who have newly diagnosed autistic children.
These are questions that many parents ask. It’s so difficult to ask these questions and it’s equally difficult to answer them. I am always honest when I answer. I tell them that I believe that each child can make change and learn new skills but that there is no cure for autism. It’s not for me to say how ‘normal’ they will become. I try to stress to these parents that their child has so much potential and with the right mix of learning opportunities they will grow into incredible little humans.
Taking the expectation of being ‘normal’ off the table is a relief for some parents. Others aren’t ready to hear my message. They’re still grieving the loss of the child they thought they’d have. One of the most difficult things for people to handle is uncertainty. Humans are hardwired to have a plan or at least a destination. We dream of the future. When your child is diagnosed with a special need your journey takes a turn. There is a wonderful poem that conveys this message so beautifully. It’s called ‘Welcome to Holland’ and it was written by Emily Perl Kingsley in 1987.
(I need to say that no one poem or piece of writing will perfectly sum up the experience of the entire special needs parenting population. This poem should be taken for what it is, one woman’s perspective, at one point in her life. Some people will identify with it and others will not.)
What Should Parents Do?
There are a number of evidence based treatments for autism. Research the options that are available in your area and decide which aligns with your beliefs and goals. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) has the most research backing it’s effectiveness for autistic children. There is also Speech Therapy that can be essential for autistic kids as well as Occupational Therapy. There is a lot of overlap between the disciplines. Sometimes your child’s needs can be addressed by the ABA team alone, but sometimes the expertise of a specialist is required. Any therapy team you work with should be open to collaboration with other disciplines that provide evidence based therapy.
Alternative Cures For Autism
As with any issue that affects a group of people, there will always be bad actors who try to dupe vulnerable people. I always caution my clients against spending resources on non evidence based interventions. Resources can be money, time and energy. Very few people have unlimited resources. When you devote resources to one treatment, automatically you’re taking resources away from the others. You want to ensure that you’re putting your resources where you’ll get the most benefit. Some examples of non evidence based interventions are: biomedical interventions (chelation therapy, autism diets, supplements) or other treatments like swimming with dolphins or hyperbaric oxygen chambers. While these treatments may have many glowing reviews look for peer-reviewed, double blind controlled studies to use as your base of information when determining if something is evidence based.
Here is a list of evidence based interventions for you to consider with your child.
Come back next week as I discuss if we should even be trying to cure autism.