The incidence of autism is continuing to grow meteorically. The CDC is now revising its figures to indicate that 1 in 100 children born in America fall into the autistic spectrum. This is approximately 1 in 80 boys. Other studies are showing that better than 1% of all American children will be classified on the autistic spectrum this year.
New problems are being met by new therapies. Drugs have long been used for unmanageable behaviors, but now with increased applicability of behavioral methods, many parents are seeing rising utility with alternative and nonpharmacological approaches.
MRI studies have long shown that the autistic brain has a very small corpus collusum. The corpus collusum is responsible for cross-talk, or communication in the brain. Hence, the autistic brain is not wired to communicate within itself.
Several new therapies seek to do just that. The Sensory Learning Program unites three modalities (auditory, visual, and vestibular) into a single 30-day intervention to improve perception, understanding and learning. During these 30 days children receive two 30-minute sessions involving intense sensory experiences where they simultaneously receive visual, auditory, and vestibular stimulation. After the initial 12 days in the sensory learning center, this student returns home with a portable light instrument to continue the program for 18 more days. The brain, now receiving overwhelming sensory data, is forced to cope with such data neurologically. It is believed new neural pathways are being engaged so that children can integrate the sensory experiences. In autistic children, this has improved their ability to “connect” to other human beings as shown by increased eye contact and an approachable personality. Some children with Asperger’s and developmental delays are now able to better process verbal information, therefore improving their speech. Long-term research is still outstanding on the Sensory Learning Program, but it appears to be an alternative method worth investigating.
Jeff Strong and Beth Kaplan established the REI Institute after over a decade of research into using musical rhythms in therapy to practice. Their Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention has been used successfully now by hundreds of speech and occupational therapists, with not only autistic children but those with language and communication delays, hyperactivity, self-stimulatory behaviors and oppositional behaviors.
Strong’s therapy is also based on the principle that auditory stimulation will improve and influence brain wave patterns. Strong bases his therapy on ancient approaches that emphasize rhythm-healing, including drumming patterns that influence the internal rhythmic patterns of the individual. It is well known that autism and ADHD are related to deficits in self-regulation with the individual’s self-control. Strong’s therapy improves internal specific rhythms, which are then used to modulate emotion and nervous system function.
This “healing music” is easy to use and only includes listening to a CD one-half hour a day for ten weeks. Strong is continuing with objective scientific research. Scientifically controlled pilot studies are already showing the following effects in autistic populations: calming, reduction of self-stimulatory behaviors, reduced aggression and improved eye contact.
Social skills training is the principal means by which high-functioning autistic or Asperger’s children are remediated. The ILAUGH model of social cognition, established by Marcia Garcia Winner, objectively teaches the Asperger’s student how to talk more appropriately about their favorite topic of interest. It emphasizes subtle body language. ILAUGH teaches how to listen with “one’s eyes.” Hence, the student is taught joint attention along with the ability to follow increasingly complex cues that eventually lead to improved body language. Latter sessions emphasize the teaching of abstract inferential language comprehension. ILAUGH can be taught by its main curriculum book or “thinking” worksheets. In other words, it can be taught in the school system just as one teaches math in a math class.
This exciting approach is already helping Asperger’s children get out of their world of self-absorption and preoccupations. With better social skills, Asperger’s children are finding themselves better accepted by peers and more appropriate for job placement.
Research is underway for all of these alternative therapies. Thousands of parents, as well as forward-thinking speech and occupational therapists, have begun to take notice. Contrary to her pharmacological approach, these therapies have curative, not palliative effects. The future of autism treatment has now broadened.
Gary M. Eisenberg, Ph.D.
Share Your Thoughts
- Have you had any experience with the Sensory Learning Program, REI or ILAUGH?
- What are you thoughts on these three alternative therapies?