Autism: “Correcting and repressing ‘symptoms’ only causes stress and tension” | Health

Autism: “Correcting and repressing ‘symptoms’ only causes stress and tension” | Health
Autism: “Correcting and repressing ‘symptoms’ only causes stress and tension” | Health
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In recent decades, everything known about autism has undergone radical transformations. Created by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuer in 1911, the term autism was initially used to describe schizophrenia and was only officially recognized as an independent diagnosis in 1980. If in the beginning it was seen as a disease that needed to be cured, today, the scientific community increasingly understands it as a way of being. One of the main defenders of this thesis is the American Barry M. Prizant, author of the best-seller Human in his own way: A new look at Autism (Edipro, R$89).

  • How do I know if my child has autism?

Professor of the Department of Communication Disorders at the University of Rhode Island, in the United States, Prizant worked for more than 25 years in offices serving people with autism and their families. In an exclusive interview with TO GROWthe author explains that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is broad and affects each individual differently. “It is necessary to understand the emotional causes of the behaviors of children with autism and offer tools so that they can develop in the best way possible. Attempts to correct and repress ‘symptoms’, in addition to being doomed to failure, only cause stress and tension,” she says.

1 of 3 Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is broad and affects each individual differently — Photo: Freepik
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is broad and affects each individual differently — Photo: Freepik

With many years of experience on the subject, Prizant defends an empathetic and human understanding of autism, seeking greater quality of life and integration for everyone involved. Find out more in the chat below.

GROW: Over the past 20 years, the number of autism diagnoses has quadrupled in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every 36 children is on the spectrum. How do you analyze this increase?

Barry M. Prizant: It’s a difficult question, and I don’t think anyone has a definitive answer at this point. ASD is broad and involves many people with autism and intellectual disabilities, from people who cannot speak, but communicate through technology or other ways, to people who have immense command of language.

The fact that all these people are in the same autism category, which I consider controversial, is one of the explanations for the increase in diagnoses. But it is undeniable that, despite their differences, people with ASD have characteristics in common, mainly: communication difficulties, problems interacting with others – which tend to go both ways, since those who do not have autism often do not know how to interact with those who have ASD – and the exacerbated presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. The latter cover a wide range of issues, such as hyperfocus, the need for routine to be rigid and predictable, sensory processing problems (including discomfort with sounds, touches and textures) and the use of repetitive behaviors to regulate emotionally.

2 of 3 Barry M. Prizant is the author of the bestseller Human in His Way: A New Look at Autism — Photo: Disclosure
Barry M. Prizant is the author of the bestseller Human in His Way: A New Look at Autism — Photo: Disclosure

C: In your book, you explain that behaviors considered “autistic” are, in essence, natural and common to human beings. Could you explain this point of view?

BMP: For a long time, these behaviors seen as “autistic”, which include everything from staring at fingers to echolalia (repetition of words and sounds), were considered “bad” by lay people and professionals. This led to much scolding in an attempt to get rid of them. So, if a child clapped frequently, someone would hold them and ask them to stop.

What autistic adults tell us now is that this childhood interaction was traumatic and made them more nervous and anxious. Therefore, when we come across this type of behavior, we have to question why the child is doing that. Why is she repeating what she says? Why is she spinning in circles? Often, it has to do with sensory issues, an attempt to calm down or being very excited about a situation. An autistic child, when happy, may jump and wave his arms. And what happens to the fans in a football stadium when the team scores a goal? Exactly the same thing. Or, during a conversation, she might avoid eye contact, which is also something we do when we’re upset or having a difficult interaction.

The difference is that people with autism are more sensitive, and the threshold for engagement is lower. But it is undeniable that these are normal human behaviors and, Instead of scolding, we have to understand why a person does them.

C.: Deciphering the causes of this type of reaction is not always easy, especially in those with communication difficulties. What to do in these cases?

BMP: The best way to find out is to enlist the help of people who know the child well and take a team approach. So, for example, you can have the help of a teacher, an occupational therapist, a family member, a nanny… It is important to bring together these people who live with the little one to discuss the behavior, recording the moments in which it happens. And, from there, carry out an investigation into its causes.

3 of 3 Book Human in its own way: A new look at Autism addresses autism from a new perspective — Photo: Disclosure
Book Human in its own way: A new look at Autism addresses autism from a new perspective — Photo: Disclosure

C.: What if they are harming the child, like the case narrated in the book of a girl with autism who chewed her pencil to the point of hurting herself in order to calm down?

BMP: As you mentioned, the girl did this because the oral sensory stimulation calmed her, which is common when we think, for example, of people who have a habit of chewing gum. What we did in this little girl’s case was replace the pencil with healthy, crunchy snacks, like carrot and cucumber sticks.

Furthermore, some professionals, such as occupational therapists, can provide the stimulation that the child is looking for in sessions, reducing its intensity outside of them. So, the way forward is to seek help and find out how to replace it with something that is not harmful.

C.: Another characteristic that you cite as common among children with autism is hyperfocus, a fixation on a certain theme or subject. How to use it positively?

BMP: This is very interesting, because we have to be selective when we can really support a child’s hyperfocus and when we should explore other possibilities beyond it. So, for example, I know a child whose hyperfocus is flags. She currently has around a hundred miniatures and knows which country each one is from. What parents do is encourage conversations like: “Look, this is the flag of the United States and this is the type of food they eat, the culture they have, etc.” Then they expand this hyperfocus so that the little one learns different things. Another strategy for dealing with fixation is what I call “there is a time and a place.” So, if a kid wants to talk about basketball all the time, you can say “well, we can’t right now, we have to do our math homework, but we can talk about basketball for 15 minutes when you get back from school”. With children with autism, it is very important to be specific so they know exactly what to expect. And never say “enough is enough, I can’t stand hearing this anymore”. This can create stress and tension for the child.

C.: How can parents and caregivers better communicate with children who have ASD?

BMP: In my experience in the office, the main mistake parents made was wanting their children to look and behave like “normal children”, bombarding them with negative information and phrases such as “Stop it”, “You are being rude” or

“Stay quiet”. Contrary to what some believe, people with autism are very sensitive and their self-esteem is shaken when they are unable to meet the expectations of their peers. Therefore, it is essential to support them in a positive way. This does not mean failing to correct when necessary, but doing so calmly and patiently. It is necessary to encourage children with autism to trust other people, and this is not done with negative messages, but with respect and empathy.

C.: What would you say to parents with children who have recently been diagnosed with autism?

BMP: If we support the child well, there is great potential for growth. You have to take it one step at a time. Generally the fear comes from more traditional views of autism, that it is “a tragedy”, “that the child will have a terrible life”, “that the family will never be happy again” and that, in my experience, in most cases Sometimes this is not the case. A lot of what we hear is about limitation. What your child may or may not achieve. But each child is unique. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, there is a lot of misinformation. Filter content carefully and trust your instinct. You know your child better than anyone. Also take the opportunity to connect with autistic adults and hear what they have to say about childhood. It is an invaluable source of knowledge. Plus, connect with other parents who are on this journey. Especially those who have children a little older than yours and can offer valuable tips about the difficulties and joys that await you.

Last but not least, take care of yourself. Exercise, have a proper diet and a good sleep routine, so you don’t get exhausted. When the family can integrate the child into the flow of life, that child does better.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Autism Correcting repressing symptoms stress tension Health

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