Autism, now generally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, is our modern plague, affecting as many as one child in 166. No one knows precisely what causes ASD, but it can now be diagnosed relatively early, when a child doesn’t meet certain developmental milestones. Sadly for the parent, these include a lack of sociability and an inability to process ordinary “input” from others. Small children with ASD often appear cold and unloving; they often act out in extreme ways such as screaming that make a parent feel helpless, guilty and frightened.
Engaging Autism, written by two acknowledged experts, is designed to give parents practical ways to work with children with ASD and offer hope for their future. The prominent method proposed to help ASD children is called “floor time” or DIR, an abbreviation for “developmental, individual-difference, relationship-based.” It involves observing what your child does and attempting to a) understand it, and b) participate with him or her in it.
Many examples are given of how to join the ASD child in his way of encountering the world. If he is lining up objects, add something to his line. Or start a new line and engage him by saying something simple, preferably in the form of a question to elicit his verbal response. Children with ASD are generally late talkers, and it is important to begin early to set up patterns for getting the ASD child to make expressive language.
Typical toddlers can make sense out of the world around them by perceiving linguistic patterns. For ASD children, often overwhelmed by sensory input, this process is much more difficult and takes much longer. Find ways to foster some physical contact with your standoffish ASD child, even when he or she is older. ASD teens are still children in many respects and still need nurturing even though they are not as “cuddly” anymore.
Patience is perhaps the single most important element in fostering the development of a child with ASD.
Because DIR is based on the individual differences of each child and the dynamics of the child’s relationship with his unique parent, it is not easy to prescribe exactly what should happen during floortime. “The key,” the authors tell us, “is not to fit the child to the intervention, but to fit the intervention program to the child and the entire family.” Recognizing that not every community offers individual therapies for ASD children, the authors stress that a concerned parent must use floortime consistently, daily, to break through to the child, slowly and despite many barriers.
The book states that “the picture of autism has changed…all children can become warm and related and purposeful though they may have different degrees of language and thinking capacities.” ASD is a continuum, as the term implies, and the life of a person with ASD is also a continuum in which possibilities for inner growth do not diminish over time.
The book contains many useful ideas and thought-provoking theories, but is written at an intellectual level that may preclude its being accessible to less well-educated parents. It does not deal in any great detail with Asperger’s Syndrome, though the blurb on the cover promises that it does. Let it be said, however, that the method of dealing with a child diagnosed with AS will be the same, in the early stages, as that for a child with ASD.
As a general guide offering practical examples and explanations, Engaging Autism will be a welcome reference work for many, and for this reason it has been included in Da Capo’s “Lifelong” series.