The Most Dangerous Myth About Autism!

Speech Therapy
The Most Dangerous Myth About Autism!

Autism is characterised by an inability to make social interactions, social communication and stereotypical behaviours. These behaviours often stem from an inability to communicate or express their needs optimally due to difficulties in motor planning and sensory processing.

The most dangerous myth about autism is - “The Inability to Love"

Leo Kanner, known as the father of Autism conceptualised the condition as the child’s inability to relate themselves to others, an inability to love and form loving relationships as a part of his theory. Since then this notion persists that autistic children prefer close relatedness with objects as compared to people. We also see that they prefer solo play or to be on their own. This does not mean that they prefer aloneness! In fact, not being able to socially interact has been found to increase stress levels in autistic children.

Evidence from the work of Dr. Stanley Greenspan and his team shows that post interventions ­­–autistic children feel a personal sense of love specifically with their parents or primary caregivers and did not prefer to be alone. In typically developing infants, the first element that develops is not language or speech but a sense of relatedness. This is true with our autistic children as well. The problem is that we grown-ups – parents and professionals fail to read their cues such as eye gaze, body language and vocalisations that point towards this relatedness. Consequently, we often miss out on opportunities to build social interactions and our children get adapted to being alone and retort to self-stimulatory behaviours to keep themselves engaged and occupied.

So what must we do to help our children feel loved and express love? 

The answer to this pressing question is: to help children build loving relationships that they are deeply looking for.

Here are three course of action for parents and professionals.

1. Learn to read your child’s emotional signals: I often see that therapists and parents strive too hard to bring the child to meet their expectations. This often stems from an interest to help the child to function optimally as per their age. What is often overlooked is the child’s emotional needs! A majority of our children use a limited vocabulary and some are not able to verbally communicate. As a result, we fail to understand if the child is emotionally overloaded or feeling overwhelmed for any reason.

Nevertheless, if we are careful not to miss out on a child’s cues (eye gaze, body language, voice),            we are sure to be more successful in reading and understanding their emotional signals and build two way emotional connections leading to our children feeling safe and secure by our presence and our love. This can further help our children to respond and express their affections optimally.

2. Tune in to your child’s nervous system, by embracing what deeply interests him/her. I often hear parents complain that their child does the same activity over and over again, repetitively or aimlessly. For example, a child may open and close a door or watch the wheels of a car for a prolonged time. During such moments, it is important for parents and therapists to tune in to the child’s repetitive play and turn it into a shared interaction. What you could expect is to see the child brighten up (feel a sense of relatedness and acceptance), show pleasure and even seek out a parent/therapist for play and affection

3. You become the child’s toy:  Eliminate gadgets and toys from your environment for at least 20 minutes a day. This will help you and the child focus on each other rather than be distracted by objects. The child may want to horse ride on your back, play rocking - like you were some see-saw or just hug you and be in your arms. Let the child take the lead. Become so engaging and exciting that your child prefers you over anything else.

Myths surrounding autism can lead parents and professionals to undermine our children’s abilities and result in our children feeling stressed. Busting them and embracing neurodiversity can sure take us a long way in interventions. 

Please do follow the course of action recommended and let us know your experiences. 

By,

Chitra Thadathil

Speech-Language Pathologist

Founder & Director

Dimensions Centre for Child Development

 

Reference

"Engaging Autism" by Dr. Stanley Greenspan

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