Autism Awareness – Part 2

This blog is a continuation of our last blog entitled “Autism Awareness Month”.  We were presenting the findings of Dr. Dan Siegel along with highlighting April as being Autism Awareness Month.  Our last blog left off with a summary of the wisdom of clinicians (along with the input of people who have been living with individuals that are on the spectrum).

Dr. Siegel points out there are 3 major issues with autism: 

1. Social communication

2. Sensory Integration

3. Emotional Regulation

These three may be best understood as versions of the same fundamental issue.  One way to understand their interconnections is described by people who have written about their inner experience of “being on the spectrum”.

With input to the senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) creating an overwhelming flood of input all at once. Anything that can decrease that flood of automatic over-arousal can be important.  This is particularly true in social experiences.  We are social creatures, and the social world of others is registered in the brain in ways that, if not filtered and processed, can be overwhelming. 

This sensory input can lead to avoiding direct face-to-face communication and eye contact and diminishing social situations in general. In other ways the input drives people to find sensory stimuli that can be controlled, like twirling objects or staring at lights.  These atypical behaviors called “self-stimulation” may actually be a form of self-soothing.  The isolating behaviors that are thought of as social avoidance may actually be adaptive strategies for self-regulation.

Without the experience of social interactions the needed knowledge gained from repeated contact with others leaves someone on the spectrum without the practice they need to develop needed areas of social communication.  Studies have suggested impairment to social areas of the brain such as the mirror neuron system may in fact be caused by a lack of use (this system would help to reduce all the overwhelming input – Susan Bookheimer).

Using these scientific findings, we can begin to develop new approaches – helping those with these three challenges (social communication, sensory integration, and emotional regulation) to find a way to have the constructive social engagements that will build the brain, supporting healthy development from the earliest years onward. Dr. Siegel states “The time is now to make such strides in both our cultural understanding and practical application of science to support our human family across the spectrum of our varied and challenging lives.”

The Center has 2 clinicians who specialize in treating children and teens with autism, Dr. Brie Turns (PhD, LAMFT), and Pam Bonilla (MS, LAC, AutPlay). If you would like to read more about the Centers work with autistic children please click on the link.

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