The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1008: Overcoming Autism

Research shows that early intensive intervention with ABA (applied behavior analysis) can help some families with overcoming autism.
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Overcoming Autism

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The proportion of children with autism has increased dramatically over the last several decades. The CDC estimates that 1 out of every 68 American youngsters could be diagnosed as belonging on the autism spectrum. While most parents assume that this disorder is irreversible, there are some children who no longer fit the diagnostic criteria after early, intensive intervention.

Find out how early intervention can help achieve an optimal outcome for a child on the autism disorder spectrum. What treatments make a difference?

Overcoming Autism with ABA:

We talk with a psychologist who has studied kids overcoming autism, with a parent whose son Jake was able to reverse his diagnosis of autism and with a therapist who explains how applied behavior analysis (ABA) works.

This Week’s Guests:

Deborah Fein, PhD, is the UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor at the University of Connecticut. She is also head of the clinical division in the department of psychological sciences and professor in the department of pediatrics in the School of Medicine. Her forthcoming book (December, 2015) is The Activity Kit for Babies and Toddlers at Risk: How to Use Everyday Routines to Build Social and Communication Skills.  The photo is of Dr. Fein.

Karen Siff Exkorn is founder and CEO of Speak On, a division of her corporate training company KAS Consulting Inc. Her book is The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping and Healing–From A Mother Whose Child Recovered. The Autism Sourcebook 

Rebecca MacDonald, PhD, BCBA-D, is a licensed psychologist and board-certified applied behavior analyst. She is the Senior Program Director at The New England Center for Children, Inc.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Agree totally with Chuck. I am ADHD to the max, and it’s my super-power.

However, on the spectrum, as they say, I have only relatively mild autism. I hope that severely autistic people, or parents/carers with severely autistic children, can benefit from the podcast when it comes out.

Something else that might help: a lot of evidence supports the link between diet and autism. The GAPS diet has been shown to be very successful in managing the worst of the symptoms.

My son was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as a child. He has progressed through and graduated from High School. he failed success at additional education and also at any job placement with the department of rehabilitative services without a successful outcome. He can drive locally now at age 27 he would like to to do something with his life but has not found any where he can succeed. his days are filled with staying at home watching tw0 dogs, tv and video games. Are there any resources to help him toward a more socially productive life?

I am listening, and the show on autism is not being aired. I want to know when it will be aired.

While I am opposed to exposing children under the age of ten to computers,
as is the view of many of the IT elite, studies have shown amazing progression by students having various degrees of autism who have the use of an iPad.

This may be the only application of IT that has benefit in education other than the incredibly effective Kahn Academy, the no cost, world class tutoring web service that brings master of topics in the STEM arena.

This is not to say that computers cannot be helpful in education; this simply relates that our current understanding of the Web combined with human dynamics has not yet resulted in a universally compelling educational product.

If Tim Berners-Lee were to focus his enormous talents on this, we would have it quickly, but apparently he has better things to occupy his most fertile mind. (Look at his wiki if you want to be astonished with innovations.)

Pharmaceutical induced epigenetics is probably the cause of autistic spectrum disorders and associated neurological disorders! There is no other answer than damage to genetic information when such a broad spectrum of the population is effected. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of over the counter as well as prescribed medications that cause mutations and or damage to the mitochondria and a recently released study pointed out that up to 40% of diagnosed autistic children suffered from mitochondria damage and or disease. The only reason this has not been confirmed by scientists is that it would devastate the entire pharmaceutical industry!

Autism is not a disease that needs to be cured. It is a neurological difference. If it were not for autism, we would not have Vernon Smith, winner of a Nobel Prize in Economics, and Temple Grandin, the great animal scientist. They both attribute their success to autism.

Personally, my autism has given me tremendous pattern recognition, pattern thinking, hyperlexia (early reading, tremendous ability to learn multiple languages, natural and computer), intense creativity, powerful long-term memory and so on. My pattern thinking, when combined with a framework for analysis, enables me to complete the big picture when given a few small details or know that I need more information to complete the analysis. Autism has given me a huge vocabulary and a succint writing style. I was my previous work unit’s unofficial editor. Researchers at the University of Montreal even developed a term for autistic strengths: “autistic intelligence.” Using a nonverbal IQ test, a man who had been considered intellectually disabled came out a genius: verbal tests discriminate against him by design.

ABA itself has severe ethical problems. Its goal is to change “undesirable” behaviors, not improve the quality of the patient’s life. Where it succeeds, it does so by suppressing autistic behaviors but not changing the underlying autism itself.

Given the plasticity of the brain, it does not surprise me that some children can “outgrow” autism. As their brains develop, some (but not all) of their autistic traits can be lost, causing them to no longer be diagnosed as autistic. Still, they will have autistic traits. The ABA cure claims in these instances are examples of the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy, which had led people to erroneously believe that vaccines cause autism.

Chuck, a huge thank you for your intelligent response.

My 3.5 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with high-functioning autism (formerly known as Asperger’s syndrome). I have noticed many Asperger’s traits in myself since learning of my daughter’s diagnosis. I have not yet pursued a formal diagnosis.

My mother’s friend sent me a link to this podcast. I bristled upon reading the title of the podcast. As Chuck mentioned, autistic individuals are responsible for countless important inventions and advances. While we will never know for certain, it is probable that Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Mozart were on the spectrum. It has been proposed that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have (or had, in the case of Jobs) autism.

We were fortunate to have been referred to a brilliant, yet quirky, pediatric behavioral MD who also has Asperger’s syndrome. We learned this after the fact. However, I believe that other clinicians, not as intimately familiar with autism, would have missed her diagnosis.

Autistic individuals have superpowers! What’s important is capitalizing on them.

I have a beef with flashy titles, such as “overcoming autism”, “curing autism”, “beating autism” or “reversing autism”. We know that individuals with autism have differences in structure and function of the brain. Once autistic, always autistic. However, the key difference is that with therapies, they may better be able to fit into a neurotypical world. That, in my opinion, is very different that overcoming, curing, reversing, or beating autism.

I think differences should be celebrated. However, I know that my daughter’s success may hinge on her learning to function in an NT world. Someday, perhaps people will proudly celebrate their neurological differences.

Oh and by the way, preliminary data look to be shifting to show that 1 in 45 people have been diagnosed with autism, as opposed to 1 in 68. The new prevalence is not yet official, however.

Chances are pretty good that your quirky aunt or super-smart boss who lacks people-skills or your doctor, dentist or optometrist are affected by autism. It’s a lot closer to home than most people think.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^