Considerations in Choosing Treatments for Autism

25 Apr

Liz asked a very good question: Why is Lindamood-Bell marketed as an intervention for ASD when it’s mainly a reading program?

The answer is pretty obvious. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) hype is like a runaway freight train. Like ADHD in the 90’s, this thing is huge, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. Autism is simply the hottest thing going in health, education and now business. Once something makes the claim as a treatment for ASD, the marketers can slap a premium price tag on it, and it is going to sell, sell, sell.

I’m only now beginning to understand the vitriol that some in the autism community (meaning those actually diagnosed with ASD) treat the numbers bantered around by parents and other professionals. The whole epidemic mentality of fear has created a ripe and fertile climate for quackery the likes of which humanity has not seen since the plagues of the dark ages. I’m getting increasingly weary of it. Is it easy being a parent of a child with ASD? No, but parenthood isn’t easy, anyway.

So what should one consider when looking at treatments for ASD? Make sure to read this article first. Here are more proactive considerations:

  1. Consider monetary cost. Sorry, but cost is a consideration, even when it comes to the care of our children. Money is NOT unlimited and putting the entire family on the road to financial ruin will not save anyone.
  2. Consider the cost of time. Time is arguably in even shorter supply than money at times. Are siblings and spouses going to be sacrificed on the alter of “curing” autism? Are there other interventions that might be more efficient and effective that get sacrificed for the miracle cure?
  3. Consider the cost of effort. Time, effort and money are the three considerations that need to be put together in order to weigh benefits against investments. If you are a caregiver, and are depressed from the lack of sleep, the exhaustion, and fatigue, you are probably visiting other psychopathologies upon your family. You might treat ASD in some marginal way only to incite some sort of mental or personality disorder upon them.
  4. What works with ASD children also works with regular children. The reverse isn’t as often true, simply because NT children learn and get on in spite of what parents and caregivers do, sometimes. However, increased structure, increased diligence and increased supervision that goes on with ASD children can benefit ALL children. In fact…
  5. Consider the impact of any intervention on the family as a whole. I would be reluctant to put my ASD child through anything that I wouldn’t put my NT child through. Degrading the quality of life for the entire family in order to try some questionable treatment is not a fair trade-off. At the same time, there may be activities and interventions that benefit several members of the family. Instituting routines and consistency makes everyone’s life easier but it takes discipline to establish and stick to them. Keeping a routine can also help insulate the family from the frantic pace of life your neighbors have adopted and the stress that comes from always running. Increasing the security of a home to prevent ASD children from eloping increases the general security of the family.
  6. Protect your marriage, if you still have one. Raising a child is difficult, and raising one with special needs even more so. The statistic that I was able to find cited an 80% divorce rate for parents of children with ASD. If 4 out of 5 parents are getting divorced, this gives some indication of the stress levels involved. The chairman of the Autism Society of America, Lee Grossman, is a member of the divorce club. Marital satisfaction declines after the birth of a child in the most typical of families. The cascade with children with ASD is even more precipitous. Even if a partner is marginal in the support they are providing, it is still better than no help at all. The literature on the effects of divorce upon typical children is fairly conclusive: it is not something that is good. Having a happy marriage might be the single, most comprehensive intervention parents can offer themselves and all of their children. If someone offered you a $100,000 dollars to try an intervention that had a possibility of making everyone’s life better, would you do it? The monetary cost of divorce can easily get up to 6 figures, not to mention the emotional and physical costs involved.

I’m merely suggesting that parents lower the stress level and consider a more holistic view when it comes to treatment of ASD. There needs to be a point at which parents stop looking for causes and cures and move on to accommodation and adaptation. ASD, in and of itself, is not life threatening. It is not a death sentence. Is it a real disease or ailment? Is it something we need to “cure?” Are individuals with ASD freaks of nature that must be fixed?

I believe we are obligated to do the best we can with the time that we have. The temptation for parents of children with ASD is to allow ASD to consume every resource, every bit of time and every bit of energy that we possess. I believe that is a serious mistake that will lead anywhere but to a happier, saner place.



One Response to “Considerations in Choosing Treatments for Autism”

  1. Steve Guettler June 19, 2006 at 12:38 pm #

    Nice article. I’ve forwarded to my wife (I still have one!)

    I was looking for stats on divorce rates and autism and you’ve verified numbers that I’ve heard. It helps to emphasize
    our challenge daily to just keep our family together.

    I must be exceptionally blessed because our family (my wife and I along with three boys, ages 6,6,5) is relatively functional, with one of the twins diagnosed as autistic a few years back. My autistic son attends a structured learning lab at school and has a wonderful teacher who has worked with ASD for about 25 years. She does claim he’s the “cream of the crop” and that helps!

    My wife was a teacher for a number of years and got a jump on the problems early. She got ECI (Early Childhood Intervention) resources early and picked up that he had sensory integration problems. Thus, we started pushing Occupation Thepary, purchased a trampoline, and generally just figured out what would put him in a happy mood. Currently, he’s in 1st grade, partially mainstreamed, reads at grade level or higher, loves monster trucks & tractors, and has ridden a bicycle with no training wheels for a year. My latest extra-curricular activity with him is indoor rock climbing, something both of us get benefit from.

    You’ve eloquently expressed what I feel has been what our family has pursued with a good amount of success over the past few years. We haven’t yet embarked on any radical diet changes, expensive therapies, or other treatments that would cause tons of stress on all of us. Not to say that we have no trying moments, but fortunately these do seem to pass.

    Anyway, thanks again for publishing your comments.

    Steve Guettler
    Tomball, Texas

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