Tag Archives: therapies

“Mistaken Beliefs People Have”

I asked Emma what she wanted to write about this afternoon during her writing session.  She typed, “Deconstructing the mistaken beliefs people have.”

I encouraged her to continue and asked what she was thinking of specifically.  She typed, “Mostly what people think they understand there cannot be, when talking about autism, creating lots of bad ideas that attract unoriginal therapies we must put up with.”

“Wow!  Keep going,” I urged.

“Actors playing roles the audience greets with enthusiasm, but an autistic person who doesn’t speak as expected, or at all, is booed off stages throughout the world.”

“Such a great point,” I said.

Emma typed, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

She smiled and then typed, “Put it on the blog!”

And so I am.

Austin1

The Seduction of “Recovery”

Perhaps the single most insidious and ultimately destructive promise during those early years after my daughter was diagnosed was the idea of “recovery.” There were a multitude of different diets, the gluten-free/casein free diet and the GAPS diet, that some said had “recovered” their child, making them indistinguishable from their peers.  There were the bio-med treatments ranging from daily B-12 shots, hyperbaric chambers, ointments applied topically, vitamin supplements, chelation, homeopathic and naturopathic remedies to stem cell treatments.  There were the therapies that made up the center piece of books claiming full recovery and the many doctors and specialists who supported them.

In the beginning we were terrified.  I still remember that feeling.  The nights of not being able to sleep, staring at the ceiling and worrying only to finally slip into a semi-conscious state of fitful sleep.  The next morning, there were often those first 60 seconds upon waking when I’d forget the worries that had kept me up. Then reality would come rushing back and it was like being thrown into a bottomless pit of worry, stress and terror.   The fear was relentless and was fueled by just about everyone we came into contact with.  Our child was far too young to have predictions made about her future, and yet people made them and all of them except those stories of “recovery” threw me into further fear.

People compared her neurology to cancer or Parkinson’s and likened the various therapies and treatments to chemo; a necessary horror that no one enjoyed, but that must be done.   And I believed them.  I had to save my child.  I would do anything to save my child.  Various things were deemed more acceptable than others, but dig deep enough and you can find any number of people, doctors and specialists who swear by whatever it is they believe will transform a child who does not speak, who seems so frustrated and unhappy into a speaking child who is no longer in pain.  Had this not been the case, had they not claimed complete “recovery” we would not have subjected our child to any of it, but instead, we tried all of them.

So much of what we were told seemed to coincide with what we were seeing.  My daughter could not use spoken language to speak.  She seemed to be in almost constant internal discomfort.  She cried, gut wrenching screams of pain, regularly.  Her sleep was erratic, her behavior confounding, her distress with things I couldn’t understand seemed constant, her inability to communicate what was going on made it all the more confusing.  So many of the professionals we took our daughter to seemed convinced that their treatment or remedy or whatever it was would be the thing that changed everything.  I desperately wanted her to not be in pain.  I desperately wanted her to be able to communicate.  I wanted nothing more than to ease her frustration.  For years I never thought – perhaps everyone is thinking about all of this wrong.

So on one hand we were introduced to autism as a horrible thing, but that there were people and things that could “treat” it and if we were lucky she could “recover” and on the other hand we were told no one knew what caused it and there was no cure. It is this, seemingly two opposing thoughts, that many parents are introduced to.  It is no wonder so many choose to believe the former and not the later, even when, in doing so, we head into a labyrinth from which there is no end.  The third idea, that this is a different type of neurology and to compare Autistic neurology with non autistic neurology is detrimental to all involved and to suggest that one neurology can be trained to become a different one is not only an unachievable goal, but an unworthy one, was not introduced to us until much later.

There is nothing quite so awful as to see your child through the lens of those who are seeing nothing but deficiencies, challenges and problems.  Assumptions are made about intelligence based on tests used for a different neurology.   I often wonder what we would have done had we been introduced to Autistic people who didn’t use spoken language, but who typed to communicate.  Would we have been so frantic?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that rethinking everything we once believed, refusing to submit to the idea that autism is the source of all that is wrong, seeing how non autistic neurology has its own set of deficits and challenges, and finding a way for our daughter to communicate has changed everything.  If we spent even a small percentage of the money currently being spent on autism and autism research, on finding better ways to support our non-speaking kids so that they too could communicate using stencil boards, letter boards and typing keyboards, at least some of the panic many parents feel would subside.

2005

2005

What We Would Have Done Differently

What We Would Have Done Differently Had We Known What We Know Now is the longer version of the above title for this post.

Someone left a comment on a post I wrote about a year and a half ago – Want to Know About Autism?  Ask An Autistic.  In the comment they asked a number of questions and because they are questions others have also asked, I’m writing a post devoted solely to answering them.

“What would you have done with Emma if you had not fought your seven year war? How would you have spent that time with her knowing what you know now? What do you think would have been of most benefit to Emma when she was still too young to type? How would you have gone about learning assuming competence?”

“What would you have done with Emma if you had not fought your seven year war?”

The “seven-year war” they are referring to is one I describe in that post detailing all the things I did upon receiving my daughter’s diagnosis.  To contemplate what we would have done differently had we known what we know now is both exhilarating and painful, but I’m going to give it my best shot…

The short answer is – we would have done everything differently.  The longer answer is vast, so vast I don’t know that I can do it justice in just a few paragraphs, but I will try…

Once we were given her diagnosis I would not have done any of the therapies suggested other than occupational therapy.  I know this will strike many as radical, even negligent, but I am speaking very specifically about my daughter.  Right from the beginning, knowing what I know now, would have changed all of my thinking, reactions and response to my daughter.  All those years spent trying to “help” her were years marked by fear, distress and worry.

I know now how sensitive Emma is to other people’s emotions, how she picks up on all of that easily and how distressing it can be for her.  So there are things I would have done that actually have nothing to do with Emma, but that would have helped me be a better parent to her.  Reducing my fear and constant worry would have been helpful to all of us.  In order to do that I would have had to ignore pretty much everything I was being told about autism and what that meant for my child.  The information we were given in 2004, the year Emma was diagnosed, was presented as fact.  And, as it turns out, it was incorrect.  I cannot think of a single thing we were told that did not prove later to be wrong.  Think about that for a second…  Every single thing we were told was incorrect.  Everything.  (Richard, correct me if I’m mistaken about this.)

A quick aside –  this is where, the way our society is structured has done none of us any favors.  If we lived in a truly inclusive society where autism was not denigrated, but was considered just another neurology, no better or worse than non-autistic neurology, where there was no judgement placed on either neurology, but more was treated as fact, where everyone came into contact with both neurologies on any given day in a variety of settings, “autism” would not be viewed with the fear and worry and even terror that it currently is.  When I say “inclusive” I am using that word literally and not code for “tolerating” or “understanding” or even “accepting.”  I mean a society where all neurologies are treated equal, without comparison of one, which is thought to be superior, to another considered inferior.  An inclusive society would mean “accommodations” would be embedded into our daily lives seamlessly and without fanfare, just as the many accommodations non-autistic people enjoy without even noticing them, do.

I would not have sought out the advice of the slew of doctors and specialists we carted her off to.  I would have surrounded her with music, singing, dancing, lots and lots of movement, gymnastics, swimming, trampolines, trapeze, art, literature, poetry (much of this we actually did do.)  Had Soma begun her center at the time of Emma’s diagnosis, I would have begun learning RPM and implemented Soma‘s suggestions for very young children right away.   Beginning with isolating the index finger to point independently and moving on to presenting written choices, for everything and anything – “do you want some M-I-L-K or do you prefer J-U-I-C-E?”  Writing each letter, while saying the letters out loud as I did so.  Encouraging her to point to the two choices I wrote.

There were many things, looking back, that we did right, things we did for both our children, such as getting her on skis when she was just three years old, horseback riding, lots of hiking, carrying her in a back pack, Emma loved being carried in a Kelty pack so she was able to view the world at the same height as me.  We took the children to the theatre, puppet shows, kids concerts, and traveled on airplanes when they were both babies.  I began brushing their teeth the minute that first tooth came in, I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I did that.  I began flossing their teeth the instant a neighboring tooth appeared.  I read to the children and provided both of them with lots and lots of books.  We exposed our children to art and literature; these are all things I would not have changed.

“How would you have gone about learning assuming competence?”

Presuming competence is ongoing.  It’s a practice, a mind set and it requires a leap of faith.  Or at least this is how I have come to view it.  Presuming competence is less about an idea and more about doing.  It’s an action, one I must be constantly mindful of and vigilant about doing moment to moment.  My past thinking is so ingrained, changing that thinking is something I must work hard at all the time.  First I must become aware that I have ingrained thinking that is not presuming in my child’s competence, second, I must accept that my ingrained thinking is unhelpful and hurts my child, and third slowly, slowly work to do, and  think about, things differently.

I’ve written about presuming competence ‘here‘, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here,’ but I will just add that this is very much something I continually struggle to do better.  To peel back the layers and layers of misinformation and assumptions that get in the way of being completely present in a way that is nonjudgmental and most helpful to my daughter so that she can flourish is not easy, but it is the single best thing I have strived to do.  It requires actively ignoring the more common thinking about autism and what that neurology means.  It means actively questioning everything I am told by people who present themselves as experts.  It means listening, really listening to my daughter.  It means sitting with the discomfort that I have done so much of this wrong.  It means forgiving myself for my mistakes.  This is the path I find myself on at present.

And truthfully it is Emma who is leading the way, my job is to follow, listen, learn and cheer her on.

Emma ~ January 29th, 2014

Emma ~ January 29th, 2014