You and Your Crew – World Autism Day
In 2007 the UN General Assembly established a day for the world to come together to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This day also unites, at an international level, those individuals and organisations working tirelessly toward genuine understanding and acceptance for people with Autism and their support networks.
As our knowledge of the brain and its complex inner workings grows each week, so too does the dialogue and language used to define the differences in human brains we see being revealed. ‘Neurodiversity’ is a term that directly acknowledges the huge variations in the human brain, removes the pathology (wrongness) of this difference, and steers us to think how these differences are entwined and essential in the long history of the development of the fascinating human genome. We should be proud of this diversity, and be inspired to look even more deeply at how these differences have shaped history and human development.
ASD has only had a standard classification of symptoms, indicators of this neurodiversity, since the 1940s, and the ‘spectrum’ of definitions have changed significantly over time being informed by research and clinical experience (particularly in the last 25 years). These criteria or definitions will continue to change as neuroscience advances, just as the mainstream evidence-based treatment options will also change.
Autism Speaks provides a long breakdown of the criteria used as the standard reference for health professionals responsible for diagnosis. While it is full of important detail, it does not necessarily represent the exceptional personhood of the individual in front of you while you are ‘ticking boxes’. It does not begin to describe the gorgeous, honest, wide-eyed boy…who seems to be the sunshine he feels on his skin, as he expertly rebuilds the precise track for the ant trail to follow in the backyard for the 100th time…who can dance magnificently to the ‘Happy’ song – as long as no one tries to join him…who will heartbreakingly hurt himself, and bears the scars on his arms and head, if anyone interrupts the intensity of his focus.
These definitions can also fail to describe the remarkable changes and adaptations that happen to the networks of others that extend from this young boy and don’t even start to capture the unique brilliance, enthusiasm or fun. This year Autism Awareness Australia invites Individuals on the spectrum, the Family and Friends who love them and those who support them to send in photos of their crew with #OurAutismCrew. See them on Facebook & Instagram
Autism Awareness Australia also highlights, regardless of when diagnosis occurs that the ‘brain is ‘plastic’ throughout life and there is always room and hope for positive changes’. Neuroplasticity is exciting new science and there is striking new evidence to support brain-based interventions not just for the complexities of an ASD diagnosis, but also to assist in the treatment of other challenges individuals may also face, such as ADHD, anxiety, epilepsy and sleep disorders (to name a few).
Behavioural interventions are described across the board as potential treatments for individuals with Autism. Did you know that there are behavioural interventions that work directly with the behaviour of the brain? Neurofeedback Therapy works within the theory of operant conditioning – trial and error, reward and punishment – to drive new learning. Through changing the way the brain behaves, improving the function of specific brain regions that are not performing optimally, and working with the innate capacity of the extraordinary brain, the outcomes can be fascinating.
Neurofeedback is directed by the unique and highly specific functioning of the person’s brain doing the training. QEEG Brain Scans reveal the intricacies of how precise areas of the brain are working, and how they are communicating with one another. International researchers continue to investigate the complexity and relevance of brain connectivity in the brains of individuals with ASD.
All of our brains are changing every day. If we can harness the potential of driving this change in the most positive direction possible, and work directly with the interests, needs and goals of the individual, alongside all of the other positive inputs in our lives - then we may also see a significant shift in understanding of the profound complexities of ASD and change how proud we all are of this human diversity.
Daniel Share-Strom wrote this short letter:
Before you go, let him charmingly pick you up:
About the author - Emily Goss, OT. Senior Clinician, The Perth Brain Centre.