Jun 28

Helping Children with Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals

Posted by Soliloquy in Autism and Asperger's Syndrome | For parents

Bryna Siegel gives parents of autistic children what they need most: hope. Her first book, The World of the Autistic Child, became an instant classic, illuminating the inaccessible minds of afflicted children. Now she offers an equally insightful, thoroughly practical guide to treating the learning disabilities associated with this heartbreaking disorder.

The trouble with treating autism, Siegel writes, is that it is a spectrum disorder–a combination of a nu… More >>

Helping Children with Autism Learn: Treatment Approaches for Parents and Professionals

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  • Having been told that this was an improvement over the author’s previous book, I had high hopes for it. Sometimes it was: It focuses less on the differences between different autistic diagnoses, and views autism as a collection of learning disabilities, each of which can happen different amounts in different people. Siegel acknowledges that autistic people can learn and grow, which is an improvement over the pessimism of her previous book.

    The author has done direct and indirect research on autistic people. As in the previous book, detail is a strong point, the language advanced and technical. It attempts to consolidate a large amount of data into a form that parents and professionals can learn from, both in understanding the way autistic people work and in how to teach us.

    The catch: While she describes our behavior in exquisite detail, the author frequently misses the mark on the internal. Often terribly. It is not because she is not autistic — many neurotypical people can form accurate models of autistic people, if they look at all the data available. The problem is that she does not look at all the data. The biggest gap in the research for this book, as shown in the references, is in finding the reasons autistic people say we do certain things. Most of the reasons she gives for autistic people’s actions look like guesswork. These may be true for some people, but looking at what autistics write would have shown her there were more. Given the amount of literature by autistic people these days, there is no excuse for ignoring it.

    Throughout the book, behavior that may have purpose is described as unnecessary. The author writes about echolalia, rigid routines, mental downtime, and stereotypic behavior (like rocking or flapping) as if they are purposeless, unnecessary, and harmless to eliminate. Repeating the same words can aid auditory processing — I used to do it as a child until I either understood words or memorized them to understand later. Stereotypies often have sensory benefits, and can help autistic people to learn and attend to other stimuli. When it is extinguished, many parents and autistics alike have described overload, pain, aggression, and self-injury. Routines, within reason, can provide order to the environment and reduce the amount of stimuli that must be attended to, allowing an autistic person to function better. Mental downtime gives us time to process information. When professionals prevented me from getting it I could not function. This is all written about by both autistic people and parents. Yet the author often states the exact opposite, and expresses confusion about why parents worry that quelling these things could harm a child. Given how many of us have said precisely why these things are useful to many of us, and precisely why indiscriminately removing them can harm us, I have to wonder how much she is paying attention and how much is guessing.

    The author seems, in all of these examples, to be coming at autism as if these things are more compulsive in nature than useful. While some autistic people have obsessions and compulsions that control us, many have reasons for doing these things. A good deal of this book makes us sound as if we are strange moving objects that do things for no reason and need to be shaped into moving objects that do less unusual things for reasons that non-autistic people can understand. This is not who or what we are.

    Another disturbing idea here is that a fairly large number of autistic people can grow up to be ‘normalized’, and that diagnosing these people with autism would be inaccurate. This is based on the ability to pass for non-autistic and function, and has little to do with the inside of the person. I have known autistic people who fit into this category — until they had a breakdown, attempted suicide, or quit trying to function, all from the strain and overload of maintaining unnatural behavior. That is what the future holds for many of the autistic people that Siegel is claiming only have ‘minor’ problems and are not autistic. She is, in doing this and in classifying autistic people according to linear spectra like functioning level, IQ, and developmental age (I don’t seem to fit — I have an average-to-high IQ and poor everyday functioning), looking at the surface. Autism is not a surface condition. The author seems unable to get much below our surface behavior without misinterpreting what lies beneath. Perhaps if she read things by more than just one or two autistic people, and truly paid attention, she would understand more.

    Similar errors occur throughout the book, beyond the above examples, indistinguishable on the surface from the accurate parts. While it claims to offer ways to individualize things for each person, it mainly uses a lot of detailed descriptions without detailed explanations. Descriptions fit my and others’ behavior well while misinterpreting or oversimplifying the purpose. Blanket assumptions about behavior are made when there could be dozens of reasons and responses (which would be a better use for the author’s talent for detail).

    It scares me that a parent could pick this book up, see the wealth of detail and study that has gone into it, and figure that the conclusions of the author must be sound for their own child. I would not want to have been taught based on the principles in this book. When many of these ideas were applied to me, they hindered my learning rather than helping it. This book looks a whole lot more impressive and substantial than it really is. While it is sometimes accurate, I would not expect parents of newly-diagnosed children to be able to sift the accurate and useful from the inaccurate and harmful. If the author had been scientific enough to say “We don’t know why they do this” instead of guessing, this book could have been much better.

  • As an educator of children, adolescents and adults with autism for over 20 years, I read with dismay Dr. Siegel’s simplification of many behaviors exhibited by people with autism. She often makes statements as though they are fact, such as the “why” of many behaviors. At first, it seemed to be an occasional error, but after reading and reading, the book clearly makes arrogant statements about children, parents and education of those with autism which are just plain wrong or strongly misleads with assumptions, rather than factual knowledge.

    It dismays me to think that a parent, particularly a parent of a young child with autism, would take these statements as absolute fact, simply because they are written by a Dr. Too often, these highly vulnerable parents come away either with false hope, or with utter dispair about what they have just read in her book.

  • I would NOT recommend this book…it is dangerously misleading in places.

    Quote from this book: “Similarly, retrospective statistics for US sample have led

    the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of

    Health, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization

    all to conclude that vaccines do not cause autism. The “probable

    cause” finger was pointed at thimerisol [SIC! correct spelling is thimerasol], a mercury-

    containing preservative in vaccines. However, the kind of mercury in

    vaccines is different from the “bad” mercury in contaminated foods.

    Mercury is a chemical element, like hydrogen or nitrogen–which might

    be bad for you, too–and like them, it needs to be studied in the

    form of the specific compound being indited.”

    I don’t know whether she is disingenuous or just simply ignorant.

    Comparing a toxic heavy metal to hydrogen or nitrogen?? “BAD

    mercury”??? There is no GOOD mercury. Ethyl and methyl mercury are both dangerous neurotoxins. And I will not go into all the flaws in the epidemiological studies.

    Here’s another one:

    “Be aware that some practitioners have offered the idea that a child

    who eats a lot of one food is “craving” it for either some good or

    some bad reason. There is no evidence to support theories of these

    sorts. There is also no evidence to support the idea that children

    with autism have more food allergies or are more likely to react to

    foods with gluten (like wheat products) or casein(like dairy

    products). What “research” there is on these things is available

    only on the Internet and in books by parents who feel it “cured”

    their child or doctors who have “invented” a new diet. There are no

    reports in peer-reviewed scientific journals.”

    Oh, yes, there are. There are peer-reviewed studies showing that there are many more autistic children with IgA deficiency than the general public, there are studies of opioid peptides from milk and wheat, and there is the newly recognized syndrome of gluten ataxia reported in the medical literature. Gluten ataxia results from antibodies that attack not only the gut but the Purkinje cells in the cerebellum, which affect balance and are also affected in autism. I’d skip this book, and certainly not recommend it to any parent of a newly diagnosed child. It may be useful for some educational considerations comparing ABA and TEACCH and various forms of inclusion, but with the misleading information on medical issues I think this book is dangerous.

    My PhD is from Cornell, and I worked in the Department of Nutrition there as a Research Associate for 7 years. Of course, it is hard to find peer-reviewed articles on thimerasol if you cannot spell the word. If you do purchase this book, please ignore any statements regarding medical issues.

  • Definitely one of the very best books on autism!!! Every teacher, professional, therapist, and parent of children with autism needs this book in their library!

  • This book is more practical and has a professional outlook. Most of the books on autism are written by parents and offer an insight into theie plight. Yes, this book can be a bit depressing at times, but it’s better to be realistic and find a solution.

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