This is one of my first philosophical pieces. It has been said that the order of therapy is often more important than the actual therapy utilized. This article explores the holistic approach to autism.
Is the Approach to Autism More Important Than the Therapy?
With the initial diagnosis of autism, generally speaking the first method of treatment is behavioral therapy. In fact, behavioral therapy has some of the most research behind it. Most pediatricians state that it is the only “proven” method to treat autism.
But is behavioral therapy truly beneficial or detrimental? Should it be the first step just because it has the most science behind it or are there other things we need to think about?
My personal belief is that we need to take a better look at what we are dealing with before just diving in. I believe that behavioral therapy should many times be the adjunct to autism therapy rather than the core. In fact, behavioral therapy could actually lead to a future decline in your child’s health. I will use a few examples to try and illustrate why I think this is so critical to look deeper, take a holistic approach and make wise decisions rather than fast decisions.
If you were walking in the forest and brushed your arm against some poison ivy, eventually you would start to itch. If you brushed against poison ivy every day, you would itch every day. Poison ivy can get extremely itchy and this will lead you to eventually scratch your arm. If you scratch your arm too much it will begin to bleed. So now you have an itchy arm that is bleeding.
How should we treat the itchy arm?
We could solve the bleeding problem by putting you in behavioral therapy. In behavioral therapy we could teach you not scratch your arm even though it is still very itchy. Eventually you would learn that it is inappropriate to incessantly scratch your arm in public and that there are times and places when scratching is allowed.
In this example, the bleeding arm is the symptom caused by the scratching. So behavioral therapy could help you to stop the scratching, then everything would be better…right? Not quite, you see the problem is that you keep touching the poison ivy. So while you can take classes on how not to scratch, if you could stop brushing your arm against the poison ivy, there would be no need for behavioral therapy because your arm would not itch.
Are you with me?
In too many cases, behavioral therapy for autism is just that, a controlled behavior that doesn’t address the underlying problem. Too many of us are satisfied with controlled behavior. Instead in a holistic approach we should be searching for something more fundamental to address, so that the behavior corrects itself.
Without trying to offend any women, an example I often use is that of the symptoms of PMS. Many women suffer from PMS symptoms monthly. If you are someone that gets impatient or even angry each month associated with your cycle, then like you already know, “it’s the hormones.”
So if you know it is the hormones, you have two options, fix your hormonal imbalance or use behavioral/anger management classes to teach you how to cope with your monthly anger or impatience.
If you fix the hormonal imbalance, the anger/impatience will go away spontaneously without other intervention being necessary.
If we choose the behavioral management option instead, the underlying problem of hormonal imbalance remains indefinitely and you have to dedicate time and attention to learn skills to manage your symptoms. Even worse, if the underlying hormonal balance is severe enough, it may actually seem or even be impossible for you to utilize your coping skills during times of extreme hormonal imbalance because your internal biochemistry can’t actually perform the proper processes even if you wanted to.
When we look at autism in this light, in cases of autism remission, where underlying imbalances can be identified, social skills, language and communication, imitation, play skills, daily living and motor skills can be acquired spontaneously without additional intervention.
But is it really detrimental?
Yes and No. I feel that behavioral therapy can be detrimental in at least two major ways.
The first is financially. I have seen many people spend countless dollars on behavioral therapy. The new rage is to put your child in a specialized therapy school which can cost between $15,000 and $30,000 per year. This would be an acceptable fee if remission was guaranteed, but it definitely is not.
In fact if there is an underlying biochemical or nutritional problem, disabling the body from healing and learning, then minimal improvement would be expected. Another problem is that when the caregivers, usually parents, run out of money, it usually signals the end of searching for answers.
The second often detrimental part about behavioral therapy is that if it doesn’t work, many people lose hope because it is the most scientifically supported therapy. We all have a different amount of hope in our gas tanks. I have noticed that parents can only try so many times until the hope in the gas tank runs out, and once it runs out, many never are able to regain hope. My intent is not to say that parents are giving up hope, but rather marketers and people in search of a quick dollar are actually fooling too many people by offering “miracle” remedies that simply don’t live up to their claims. My goal is to try and persuade you to use a holistic approach that considers more than just one therapy, in this case we are talking about behavioral therapy.
The “NO” part is simple, behavioral therapies have been shown to help, period. So wise decision making on the parents part needs to be utilized. You should question whether the program is cost effective or if you could accomplish the same things at home or in a local autism support group. You should find out which program is the best for your individual child. Just like taking random supplements isn’t beneficial, neither is a generic program for all autistic children. You should go and observe multiple therapy sessions, see if it is a cookie-cutter program or if it is individualized for your child’s needs. There is nobody that will understand your child like you. Even with my 1-2 hour appointments, it is difficult to get a full picture of a patient the way their parent can.
Lastly, behavioral therapy can be more beneficial if you combine it with a good treatment protocol that also addresses underlying root causes. A short list of some common root causes that should be assessed in autistic individuals include the following:
- Brain inflammation
- Fungal infections
- Digestive Disturbances
- Leaky Gut
- Leaky Brain
- Methylation Disorders
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
- Folate Deficiency
By addressing the underlying root dysfunctions combined with specific, individualized behavioral therapy, you will have the most success in helping your child.
While I don’t even slightly discourage parents from utilizing behavioral therapy, I do caution anyone dealing with autism, or any other health malady, to consider using a more holistic approach. The holistic approach to autism should include checking the entire list above and many other possibly related dysfunctions in the body.
Too many times we are only looking at symptoms of WHAT and ignoring the reason for WHY the symptoms are there.