Autism Spectrum & a Neurodevelopment Approach
Can Learn Christian Academy updated ©2022 Toni Hager
Autism is a neurological condition that causes one to become overwhelmed by sensation, be unable to connect socially with their peers, and withdraw into a world of their creation. (from aspergerexperts.com)The term Asperger's has been replaced by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but the meaning hasn't really changed. Autism is one of the most complicated and confusing labels that a child can be given. The reason it’s so confusing is that it’s an asymptomatic 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. However, current research is showing new light on possible causes. Today 1 in 68 births has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ADS) up from 1 in 150 in 2000 worldwide. According to The US CDC, Autism Spectrum Disorder Date & Statistics, while certain genetic mutations have been linked to autism, they’re thought to be involved in less than one-third of cases.
Other major causes of autism are thought to be environmental in nature, with exposure to toxins and nutrient deficiencies. The rapid increase in numbers during the last few decades supports a major role in environmental factors over genetic causes alone. The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Science found those baby teeth could be used to measure exposure to heavy metals in early life, including in the womb, shedding light on another possible cause of autism. Teeth from children with autism were found to have more lead and less of the nutrients zinc and manganese than teeth from children without autism.
There is also an entire continuum of labels related to autism such as: hyperlexic, PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder), ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), High Functioning Autism, and Asperger’s; although some of these labels have now been combined or eliminated and given levels 1, 2, or 3. IQs run from low to high as do social skills. Those on the higher end of IQs are considered high functioning or Asperger’s although Asperger’s is no longer on the DSM-IV. Sibley One of the major differences between Autism and Asperger’s is that, by definition, there I no speech delay in those with Asperger’s. Another, distinction between the two concerns cognitive ability. While some with autism have intellectual disabilities, by definition, a person with Asperger’s cannot have a “clinically significant” cognitive delay, and most possess average to above-average intelligence. It is my belief that there are as many different reasons and combinations of reasons for the symptoms as there are children labeled. This is why I do not 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 therapeutic programs work on social skills or executive function overlooking the root of ALL the symptoms/behaviors that have manifested. What children with any of these labels usually have in common is sensory dysfunction. It does no good to treat the symptoms when the underlying causes creating the symptoms are ignored. Addressing the sensory system allows the child to step out of his/her defense mode and experience success in the world! When the sensory dysfunction is addressed the other areas will fall into place without much work.
What is sensory dysfunction? It’s when one or more of the senses (vision, auditory, or tactile (touch, internal sensation, attachment, and body awareness) doesn’t perceive, process, store or utilize information from the environment efficiently. There are 12 levels of the brain with 4 sensory and 4 motor channels. Each level lays the foundation for the next. If for whatever reason, a level isn’t efficient then all the levels above it will also be dysfunctional.
Most, if not all, of these children, are living with either hypersensitive (over-sensitive) or hypersensitive (under-sensitive) senses with no ‘filters’ to the point they live in a traumatic world in a state of survival. To them the world is a traumatic place so try to find ways of surviving; therefore, live in a defensive mode 24/7. They feel like the world is out to ‘get them. Most deal with relentless bullying and teasing at school and in neighborhoods, sometimes even siblings or relatives. These children don’t feel like they fit in and everything they do is wrong or they’re a failure. So rather than the embarrassment of failing they just don’t try. They isolate themselves in their bedrooms playing video games for hours and seclude themselves from social/family events/activities. They show their anxiety, feeling out of control, or being overwhelmed by sensory play (hand flapping), repetitive behaviors, and/or meltdowns. Simply remove them from the situation and let them cool down. They aren’t trying to be anti-social they’re just surviving and scared.
So what’s the problem?
Generally, they tend to be hypersensitive to surface touch (things touching the skin) and manifest themselves in tactile defensiveness. They might not like to be hugged or to be in close physical contact with others or the feel of clothing on their skin. This isn’t a rejection of the people; it is a physically uncomfortable feeling on their body from the contact. They may also be overly or under-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 (internal sensation). If you get past the rejection of the surface touch and get deeper they may not be able to hardly feel at all Deep pressure is our awareness of pain, bladder control, attachment, knowing where you are in space, knowing when you’re hungry or thirsty and so much more. This is why it’s so frustrating, when just barely touched yell, yet when they really get seriously hurt don’t respond at all or appropriately.
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 the above functions. When the brain has received enough stimulation through the senses, it can then organize it into meaningful information. When it begins to correctly interpret sensory information, the outward symptoms or ‘autism’ begin to disappear.
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 behaviors. Even when the hearing isn’t overly 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 much 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, and 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 the 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 is 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.
Can Learn Christian Academy utilizes an auditory processing program that is based on the child’s audiogram (hearing test). A CD is made from the audiogram which the child listens to it about 20 minutes a day for six to eight weeks at which time another hearing test is done and a new CD. This process is repeated during the whole school year. At the end of the year, most children’s auditory processing is normalized.
Some children with this label tend to do strange things with their vision. Many engage in something called sensory play. This can include spinning twirling, rocking while watching something, shaking their head, tilting their heads, sitting too close to the TV screen, flipping book pages, and many other types of repetitive activities. They seem to never look right at you, but instead right through you. This is often a symptom of overdeveloped peripheral vision and underdeveloped detail central vision. Peripheral vision is the vision used to see 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 in 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. A child with poor central vision can’t see what’s right in front of their face clearly.
Peripheral vision tunes into the edges or 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.
Daily our students stimulate both the central/detail and peripheral vision channels.
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 or textures of food, and end up restricting their diets. The hypersensitive smell can also cause eating problems, as well as behavior problems in public if the smells are overwhelming or make the child feel sick.
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 on this spectrum have some type of nutritional problem and/or physiological deficits. There is a new study (April 2018) investigating the relationship between autism, the immune system, gastrointestinal issues, and gut bacteria. The article states that kids on the spectrum have a lot of internal inflammation causing everything from low good bacteria to Leaky Gut, There need to be more studies.
So what’s a parent to do? It is extremely important to address the metabolic problems since the gut (intestines) is not only our immune system but is also considered our second brain. Yes, the gut is considered our second brain, and many of our neurotransmitters are made in our gut, not the brain. You can see why it is so vital the metabolic system is functioning efficiently and effectively. First, discover what the child’s food intolerances are. Allergies affect the immune system and the child will break out with hives, a rash, and/or become sick. Intolerances are different than allergies; you don’t break out with hives or rash, you may get a stomach or headache, suddenly feel tired, or notice behaviors have changed (not for the better.) We watch for a change in behaviors since many of our kiddos can’t tell us when they don’t feel good or are in pain. Everyone has heard of lactose intolerant; but, a person can be intolerant of and/all food or food is eaten in combinations. Mine is eggs, one of my daughters is potatoes, and my husband is fruit and sugar eaten together. Try buying a fruit pie with no added sugar!! A friend’s son was intolerant of ALL fruit, which was sad since they were vegetarians. Sure it means changing how you cook or food your child should avoid but it’s the beginning of normalizing your child’s life. A second thing to change is adding probiotics, acidophilus, and healthy fats; such as avocados, seeds, and nuts; to their diet. For the brain to function properly there must be a constant efficient level of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Antibiotics and long-term use of medications sterilize the gut. There is a ton of probiotics and acidophilus on the market. It needs to be LIVE bacteria so be refrigerated. Ask the pharmacy for a good reliable brand. Homemade kefir is the best, store brands are sugarfied.
Learning & Behavior:
For a variety of reasons, most autistic children hate school. One reason I’ve been told by the children is due to their levels of anxiety. Some ASD students miss a LOT of school, we're talking overall for the year. They aren’t good test takers; therefore, appear to not be working at their potential and are placed in special education classes. Expectations and goals are lowered and the child gives up. Another reason, is they feel like failures so why try? But, mainly no matter their level of IQ they simply don’t have access to their intelligence because of the severity of their sensory distortions. If you are always in a survival defensive mode how will you know how to behave…you won’t. These kids are ‘bad’ to annoy or frustrate you, they are waving their ‘white flag’ yelling HELP I’m overwhelmed and can’t cope right now. Change the sensory system and watch them excel...meet your new child!! At CLCA we don't give "tests" but rather simply do projects or ask questions than questions from his/her answer. Take the anxiety away and their brightness shine!
If you don't know how you fit into the world and feel attacked from every direction; how will you know how to behave and interact with peers? You won't. Improve the sensory system and meet your new child! The world is a scary place; therefore' a person with ASD feels safer at home in their room. They are defensive about everything. This is called Defense Mode. They are stuck. We need to love to change how we perceive their stuckness allowing them to move on and live the life our Lord has in mind for them! Most programs focus on executive function; but, instead should focus on the sensory system and the rest will fall into place!
There IS good news!!
Eliminate it? YES! learning disabilities/struggles can be eliminated. But only when the root causes are identified and eliminated!
HOW? You ask
We offer brain-based training for children and adults with learning/focus difficulties.
A functional evaluation of your child’s sensory system, visual and auditory processing, emotional communication, short-term working memory, and motor areas of fine & gross motor skills will occur. We will also evaluate their language, social behavior, and academic achievement and present all the findings as a developmental profile.
It does not end there.
Upon finalizing our evaluation, we provide you with the results and THEN develop a customized INEP (individualized neurodevelopment-education plan)
We offer TWO GREAT TRAINING options.
1. We can teach YOU, the family, to implement the Can Learn program in-home. I provide bi-weekly phone calls/emails to check progress & answer any questions/concerns you may have. Twice a year, re-evaluations are needed to access your child’s neurodevelopment progress and modify their program.
2. Via Zoom, I oversee your child completing the individualized program three (3) days a week, two (2) sessions. A re-evaluation with program adjustments will be done.
Call today for your 30-minute free consultation
Can Learn Christian Academy ©2021 Toni, Hager
PO BOX 6701 Kingman, AZ 86402 509-362-3418