Autism: how new therapies are beating the condition

Autism: how new therapies are beating the condition

Animal therapy

Many parents of children with autism have noticed that their children respond better to animals than people. In 2012 Marine Grandgeorge and colleagues at the Univesity of Bretagne Occidentale in France looked at how the arrival of a new pet could trigger positive social behaviour in children with autism. They looked at dogs, cats and even hamsters to see how children would respond.


Pet ownership was found to improve social functioning skills. Children with pets developed comforting skills and learned to share. Those children who also got their pet from the age of 5yrs interacted more with the pet, such as stroking, time spent with the pet, play, and care, were more frequently reported for those children who got their pet from the age of 5 yrs. It was suggested that the arrival of the pet may bring trigger prosocial behavioural changes, as pets have been reported to help neuro-typical children to develop prosocial behaviors through their interactions.


Many Donkey Sanctuary centres across Britain now offer 'assisted therapy' programmes for children with autism. The Donkey Sanctuary in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, offers therapy to 180 children each week.


Sara Gee, a riding instructor at the sanctuary told Autism Daily Newscast: "For autistic children we find the benefits are many. Initially the experience of stroking our donkeys can be fraught, patience whilst waiting for a ride is needed and it’s important from a safety angle that instructions are listened to and followed.


"Even the routine of wearing a riding hat in order to ride can be beneficial. The simple aim of the therapy is to teach children to sit quietly and kindly on their donkey and enjoy the ride whilst taking part in exercises that encourage listening and following, colour recognition, counting and making choices. In addition if the children are receptive, basic riding skills such as mounting, dismounting and holding the reins are taught.”


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – also known as CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Modification or CBM – is a type of psychological intervention used to change how people think and behave. It is based on the idea that how peope think, feel, and act, affect each other. For example, a person who thinks that an increased heart rate is the sign of a heart attack is more likely to panic than a person who thinks that it is just a normal variation in heart rate.


People with autism often get stuck in patterns of thinking and responding that are not helpful, partly because they filter everything that happens through mental view that is skewed or inaccurate. CBT uses a variety of techniques to help people become more aware of how they think, so that they can change how they think and therefore how they behave. For example some forms of CBT include keeping a diary in order to record feelings and behaviours.


Although traditional CBT tends to require strong linguistic and abstract thinking abilities, which can be a challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum, researchers have worked to develop modifications that render it more ASD-friendly, such as making it more repetitive, as well as more visual. Instead of merely asking children to verbally rate their anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10, the therapist might have a thermometer showing anxiety from low to high and have the participants point to the prop to illustrate how high their anxiety is around a certain situation.


Applied Behaviour Analysis

Some parents believe their children have been 'cured' of autism through Applied Behaviour Analysis, or ABA. The therapy breaks down every action into tiny, learnable steps, acquired through endless repetition and families have reported amazing progress.


Specialist provide intesive training of around 35 hours a week. From a young age, children with autism are taught not just how to use language but also how to modulate their voices, how to engage in imaginative play, how to gesture and interpret the gestures of others.


The idea that autistic people could recover first took hold in 1987, after O Ivar Lvaas, the pioneer of ABA, published a study in which he provided 19 autistic preschoolers with more than 40 hours a week of one-on-one ABA, using its highly structured regimen of prompts, rewards and punishments to reinforce certain behaviours and "extinguish" others. Lvaas claimed nearly half the children receiving the more frequent treatment recovered; none in the control group did.


His study was greeted with scepticism because of several methodological problems, including his low threshold for recovery - completing first grade in a "normal" classroom and displaying at least an average IQ. The therapy itself was also criticised, because it relied, in part, on sharp noises, slaps and even electric shocks.


Although subsequent studies did not reproduce Lvaas's findings, researchers did find that early, intensive behavioural therapy could improve language, cognition and social functioning at least somewhat in most autistic children, and a lot in some. Neuropsychologists at the University of Connecticut and Cornell have since published papers showing that ABA does work.

 

Protecting siblings

A recent study suggested that parents should avoid having children too close together, after research found that babies conceived within 12 months of the birth of a sibling were 150 per cent more likely to be autistic than others. The safest period of conception was found to be between two and five years after a previous birth, when there was no extra risk. However, after a five year interval, the chance of autism rose again by 30 per cent. A 10–year gap increased the risk by 40 per cent, the American research found.


"This study provides further evidence that environmental factors occurring during or near the prenatal period play a role in autism, a serious and disabling condition that afflicts millions of individuals and that is increasing in prevalence," said the senior author of the study, Dr Alan Brown of Columbia University.


The team, who studied records of more than 7,000 babies born between 1987 and 2005 in Finland, said it was unclear whether the increased risk was caused directly by the time between conception, or whether other factors that led to mothers to have children in quicker succession were behind the problem.





by The Telegraph


The Telegraph, Tuesday 14 October 2014



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