I work with children, adolescents and adults on the autistic spectrum.
Converging evidence suggests that ASD is a potentially reversible neurodevelopmental disorder in which neurobiological factors – not poor parenting – interfere with the child–caregiver interaction. With these neurobiological factors, the infant experiences deprivation of growth-promoting parental input even though it is available. What is newer in the field of autism, is that the child’s experience of social deprivation and isolation signals threat to the child and may result in overwhelming stress with significant psychological consequences that can persist throughout adulthood. This stress plays a major role in the course of ASD by amplifying the neurobiological vulnerabilities generally considered to make primary contributions to the development of autism. Symptoms develop through maladaptive coping and neuroplasticity.
Instead of turning to others for social support, the autistic individual isolates himself. A reasonable desire for predictability and stability is replaced by repetitive behaviors and excessive demands for sameness. The individual with ASD requires absolute control instead of a realistic sense of control. Through treatment, the individual moves from a maladaptive, rigid way of coping with stress, to a more adaptive, flexible way of coping with stress:
- From isolation and aloneness – to allowing more social support from others
- From the need for repetition and sameness – to a more flexible sense of a predictable, safe world
- From complete control to reasonable control
- From excessive anger and tantrums – to constructive outlets for frustration
Successful intervention promotes adaptive coping and neuroplasticity. Factors that may facilitate adaptive neuroplasticity include providing an enriched environment, increasing social and emotional connection, and decreasing anxiety, and stress. This approach assists in uncovering the child’s inner world of feelings and meanings, an under-appreciated element in autism. Making sense of the person’s experience of isolation and threat helps the ASD individual feel understood and less afraid. For some individuals on the higher end of the autism spectrum, recovery is made more likely by increasing the sense of connection and decreasing the experience of stress.
Adapted from: William M. Singletary (2015) An integrative model of autism spectrum disorder: ASD as a neurobiological disorder of experienced environmental deprivation, early life stress and allostatic overload.
DIR is the Developmental, Individual-differences, & Relationship-based model that has been successful in treating autism, helping individuals reach their fullest potential. More information is available at the ICDL website: http://www.icdl.com/DIR