Are we taking the right approach to understanding and treating autism?
In an extract from his book Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism, Barry M. Prizant PhD challenges attempts to treat or manage the behavioural problems exhibited by autistic children. He advises that rather than an autistic child seeking to be intentionally disruptive, their behaviour is the result of trying to deal with “emotional dysregulation”:
People with autism, primarily due to underlying neurology (the way the brain’s wiring works), are unusually vulnerable to everyday emotional and physiological challenges. So they experience more feelings of discomfort, anxiety, and confusion than others. They also have more difficulty learning how to cope with these feelings and challenges.
Prizant alerts that behaviours labelled as autistic aren’t actually deficits. Rather, they are coping strategies that the person uses to feel better emotionally regulated.
Fully agree! With extensive experience on the topic through raising 3 kids on the spectrum, I can say without a doubt behaviours are linked to inability to comprehend or communicate needs, wants and feelings – and often linked to the child totally misunderstanding situations and motives behind actions that affect them. In addition to this, they often need to be taught how to respond in social situations, and nights are regularly late as we talk through the happenings of the day before they can wind down and go to sleep. There definitely needs to be more understanding and acceptance of these children, rather than judge and blame parents. Trust me, the parents are doing the best they can…but unfortunately many, many children go un-diagnosed so without true understanding, strategies cannot be applied for the best outcomes.
On the bright side, these kids will bring a whole new perspective of the world around us as they grow and enter the workforce. We also need to recognise their strengths and value that they bring and remind them of these.