Autism is one of the most complicated and confusing labels that a child can be given. The reason it is so confusing is that it is a symptomatic label. This means there is no disease, as such, of autism, there are just unexplained symptoms manifested, and if a child displays enough of them they will receive the label.
There is also an entire continuum of labels related to autism such as: hyperlexic, PDD (Pervasive Developmental Delay), ASD (autism spectrum disorder), High Functioning Autism, Aspergers. What children with any of these labels usually have in common is sensory dysfunction. One or more of their senses are not functioning normally. It does no good to treat the symptoms when the underlying causes creating the symptoms are ignored. It is my belief that there are as many different reasons and combinations of reasons for the symptoms as their are children labeled. This is why I do no believe there will ever be a magic "cure," many circumstances and combinations are the reason for autistic symptoms. In this article we will look at some of the more common ones.
Many children with these labels function with hypersensitive hearing. They are actually able to hear more than the average person. Some of them can hear sounds at such a high level it is actually painful, and can result in covering their ears, withdrawing from the situation or responding with very negative behavior. Even when the hearing isn't overtly painful, it is often confusing. In a room full of people and activity not being able to filter out the important sounds from the background noises becomes extremely confusing. In order to learn to process auditory input you must first have access to consistent good quality auditory input. For these children they have never even had the opportunity to have good auditory input, and for many auditory input is a negative experience, therefore they learn to turn it off even more.
Symptoms of low auditory processing ability can include lack of speech, lack of communication, lack of intonation in the voice, inability to follow directions, difficulty conversing and understanding conversation. Behavior problems will be prevalent if the child is still experiencing pain with auditory pain and also if they are unable to sequential process according to their age level. For example, if you have an eight year old child with the processing ability of a two year old, you will experience the behavior problems you would expect to see with a two year old.
Addressing the underlying causes of problems in the auditory system are the avenue to pursue to eliminate the strange symptoms displayed. This may include taking care of any ear fluid or infections that could be contributing to the hearing ability. Doing daily activities that will improve the sequential processing ability and seek out methods of normalizing the hypersensitive hearing.
Some children with this label tend to do strange things with their vision. Many engage is something called sensory play. This can include spinning, twirling, or rocking things while watching. Shaking their head, tilting their heads, sitting too close to the t.v. screen, flipping book pages, and many other types of repetitive activities. They seem to never look right at you, but right through you instead. This is often a symptom of overdeveloped peripheral vision and underdeveloped detail vision. Peripheral vision is the vision we use to see out to the sides. When most people look at a picture you will notice in detail the picture, but a person with overdeveloped peripheral vision can appear to be looking at the picture, but they are actually seeing all the surrounding area and the picture itself is the background. So when a child with this problem looks at you, they are only seeing you when they are not looking right at you.
Detail or central vision is the vision we need to use to learn almost everything. When this is not developed properly a child cannot attend or process important information, but instead are focusing on the irrelevant.
Peripheral vision tunes in to edges and movement. This is why the above activities are so 'fun' for the child. They are playing with their vision---the vision channel that is working. But this is also detrimental. The more they enhance the peripheral vision or broken sensory channel, the more the central vision will suffer.
It is necessary to eliminate all visual sensory play and work to improve the ability to use the central/detail vision. As this improves you will notice better eye contact and then better tuning in visually to the environment around the child.
Often the children I see with these labels come with hypersensitive or hyposensitive touch sensations.
Generally, they tend to be hypersensitive to soft touch and this can manifest itself in tactile defensiveness. They might not like to be hugged or to be in close physical contact with others. This is not a rejection of the people, it is a physically uncomfortable feeling on their body from the contact. They may also be overly or underly sensitive to hot or cold. Some will not like the feel of water etc. On the other hand, many are not able to feel deep pressure. If you get past the rejection of the surface touch and get deeper they may not be able to hardly feel at all. This is why some children are so frustrating when you barely touch them they may cry, but when they take a fall and get badly hurt they don't respond.
Again, it is necessary to address the underlying causes of these problems and help to normalize the brain's ability to interpret touch sensations in an appropriate way. Inputting information is the key to improving all of the above functions. When the brain has received enough information through the senses, it can then organize it into meaningful information. When it begins to correctly interpret sensory information, the outward symptoms of "autism" begin to disappear.
Taste and Smell:
These can interfere with eating as well as general discomfort. Again, many children do not have a taste sensation-therefore they tend to eat anything such as rocks, dirt, etc. On the other hand, some receptors may be hypersensitive, therefore they will reject certain tastes and textures of food, and end up restricting their diets. Hypersensitive smell can also cause eating problems, as well as behavior problems in public if the smells are overwhelming or make the child feel ill.
For each function that is hyper or hypo sensitive it is necessary to identify it and make a specific plan to change it. As it changes, the symptoms begin to go away.
Almost all of the children I see with these labels are very intelligent, they just do not have access to their intelligence because of the severity of their sensory distortions.
The current research in Autism is finding more and more metabolic problems in connection with these kids. I am thoroughly convinced that almost 100% of children with this label have some type of problem with nutritional and/or physiological deficits. The problem for parents has been that there is constantly news of the new magic cure, the new magic pill to cure autism. As parents try one thing and another they become frustrated as it doesn't work like magic for their child. I am positive that the reason this is happening is because there are as many different physiological problems as there are children, so if you happen to get the right magic pill it works, but for most it doesn't.
So what is a parent to do. It is extremely important to address the metabolic problems, but how can you possibly figure it all out? I was glad to come across a program which I believe is the most individual and comprehensive of its kind for dealing with a plethora of nutritional problems-autism being one of the specialties. It is called Life Balances. It makes no magic claims, only that through individual blood tests over a long period of time they can help you to gradually balance the totality of your child's metabolic function. It fills in the deficiencies of building blocks and decreases the excesses, thus allowing the system to function normally.
The Path to Normalcy (whatever that is)
Children with this label are highly complicated. There are no easy, quick fixes. But there is hope and there is way to bring them as close to reaching their full potential as possible. It requires much dedication, consistency and hard work from the parents, but the rewards are immeasurable. Most programs available focus on one area of symptomology, i.e. sensory integration, or behavioral modification etc. But the reality is for the child to improve overall, every area must be assessed and addressed with an integrated type of program. All we know for sure is that if we do little, little will be accomplished. If we do much, more will be accomplished, the rest is up to God and his great wisdom.
by Cyndi Ringoen, BA, BS