The Benefits of Animal Therapy For Autism

For those of us who have had pets in our lives, it’s no great surprise to learn that interactions with animals can have therapeutic and healing benefits. Many animals soothe, comfort, and calm, just by their quiet presence. And animals are now also being used as a form of autism therapy.

A New Mexico Highlands University School of Social Work graduate student named Jennifer Baról lead a research project to study the benefits and impact of animal-assisted therapies on children with autism when used as a treatment tool.

The study, entitled “The Effects of Animal-Assisted Therapy on a Child with Autism” ran for 15 weeks between July and November of 2006. It was geared toward the goal of discovering whether or not there is any evidence that therapies based on animal-assistance would be able to improve an autistic child’s social skills.

The results of the study were interesting. For example, before undergoing the animal-assisted therapy with an eight-year-old Australian Cattle Dog named Henry, participant Zachary, who was five years old, experienced a dramatic struggle in order to communicate. Zachary was prone to throwing tantrums as well as covering his ears and eyes when he became frustrated with his lack of ability to be understood. Participation in new activities was stressful to him. He couldn’t understand how to play with others and had never before uttered a complete sentence.

However, once Zachary met and bonded with Henry, he went through a virtual transformation. His self-assurance level is much higher and he is willing to experience new activities with an obvious curiosity. Furthermore, Zachary is better able to understand what is going on around him, including the needs of others. Moreover, halfway through the therapy for the research project, Zachary completed his first sentence.

In the case of Zachary, a whole new world of experiences and understanding was opened up by the animal-assisted therapy. Within the mental hospital clinical reports, there have been many reports of autistic children who have built strong relationships with individual animals, such as pet dogs or cats. When autistic children play with animals, any violent tendencies they may have will typically disappear. They take on quite maternal characteristics, taking special care of the animal including feeding, cleaning up after them, and interacting with them.

The blood pressure of autistic children will also usually be lowered when experiencing an animal treatment. Furthermore, symptoms such as insomnia and headache can be eased with this treatment.

The companionship of animals can help reduce any lonely feelings in autistic children, promoting a base of healthy character development within them, including personality traits such as being respectful, trusting, contributing, committed, self-confident, and responsible. Autistic children can also learn decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, and both language and social skills through interactions with animals.

This kind of therapy can be beneficial overall, as well as in times of greater trial, such as puberty – when your child will go through many changes and have many questions and will be in need of greater stress relief.



Source by Rachel Evans

Autism Therapies – Effective Ways Of Treating Individuals With Autism

It might come as a major shock to parents to find their child being diagnosed with  Autism   Spectrum  Disorder (ASD). Most of the times, they are left with an overwhelming query as to what should be the right treatment approaches that would adequately improve their development and behaviors. While there are various education programs and treatment procedures that can contribute immensely to the growing and learning of these individuals with special needs, it is extremely important that the treatment courses are started as early as possible to produce the best results.

Apart from medicines and behavioral training, there are various  autism  therapies that can prove to be highly beneficial in the all-round development of an individual on the  autism   spectrum . Some of the therapies include:

Occupational Therapy: This is highly beneficial in developing coordination and motor skills.

Speech Therapy: This helps in improving language and communication skills.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Training: This is a useful treatment method for  autism  and associated behavioral problems such as slapping others, head-banging etc.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) Training: This is a recently invented treatment approach that is used to develop in children the ability to socialize with other people.

Sensory Therapy: Children with  autism  can have various sensory problems. While some of them are highly sensitive to external stimuli like light, sound and touch, some do not respond at all to these stimuli. Sensory therapies help considerably in improving and stabilizing such sensory problems.

It has been demonstrated in various scientific studies that autistic children who are subjected to early treatments show considerable improvement in communication, learning and social skills. With this aspect in mind, researchers have designed a number of  autism  therapies that can help individuals immensely. Though the effectiveness of these therapies may vary in each individual, there are certain important aspects that should be present in any good therapeutic program.

  • Any child on the  autism   spectrum  should be subjected to the therapy sessions for a minimum of 25 hours per week.
  • The therapists or teachers conducting the sessions should be highly trained, skilled and qualified. It is also beneficial to have trained paraprofessionals working under the guidance of knowledgeable professionals having expertise in  autism  therapy, to support the program.
  • The therapy programs should contain clear and precise learning goals with appropriate techniques to assess, evaluate and record the child’s ability to meet the goals.
  • The therapeutic sessions should be designed in a way to focus on the main aspects of the child’s personality that have been majorly impacted by  autism , including language and communication skills, social skills, motor skills, play skills and the abilities of self-care.
  • The programs should provide a platform for the child, where they can interact with a peer group with the same development issues.
  • The programs should allow parents to take active part in both decision making and implementation of the program.
  • The therapy sessions should integrate an entire team of professionals including a physician, a speech therapist and an occupational therapist.
  • The therapists should exhibit an adequate level of compassion and understanding of the child and their family.

Source by Ryan Judd

The Evolution of Autism

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that begins early in childhood; it is usually noticed in children by age 3. Defining characteristics of autism include communication deficits, poorly developed reciprocal social interactions, stereotyped behaviors, and restricted interests. These deficits occur at different levels of severity which has evolved into the contemporary view of autism as a spectrum disorder, and it is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Autistic Disorder (AD), or Autism.

Traditionally, the autism range has included Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).

Autistic Disorder is sometimes called classic autism. It is characterized by:

  1. Significant language delays including reduced instances of language that has communicative and reciprocal intent.
  2. Minimal reciprocal social interactions. For example, avoidance of eye contact, lack of appropriate facial expressions, inability to appropriately communicate emotions, lack of understanding of shared emotions, and inability to use verbal and nonverbal behaviors for social interchange.
  3. Stereotyped behaviors and restricted interests. These may include unusual sensory interests toward objects, unusual or repetitive hand and finger movements, and excessive interest or reference to either unusual or highly specific topics or objects.

Asperger Syndrome, while somewhat milder than Autistic Disorder, has both similar and distinct characteristics including:

  1. Difficulty with the social aspects of speech and language such as limited range of intonation, one-sided conversations, literal interpretations, and inability to shift topics. Vocabulary development is usually advanced while understanding of figurative language is a weakness.
  2. Difficulty with social cognition a lack of social and/or emotional reciprocity, eye contact, and friendships. Social awkwardness such as not reacting appropriately to social interactions and not recognizing other’s feelings or reactions. Difficulties with social cognition may result in behavioral rigidity.
  3. Restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. This may result in inflexibility in regard to routines. Preoccupation with a narrowed topic of interest which often dominates conversations and thoughts.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified is used to categorize those individuals who meet some, but not all, of the criteria for Autistic Disorder or Asperger Syndrome. PDD-NOS is usually marked by fewer and milder symptoms than Autistic Disorder or Asperger Syndrome. Pervasive deficits in the development of reciprocal social interaction, communication, or stereotyped and restricted behaviors are apparent.

History of Autism

Assuming that Autism is a neurological disorder and not caused by “bad” parenting or environmental toxins then it has, most likely, always existed among human beings; however, it was not scientifically described or empirically researched until the 20th century.

Early 1900s

In the early 1900s autism was thought to be a form of childhood schizophrenia, feeble-mindedness, or childhood psychosis.

The term autism was first used by the Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler between 1908 and 1912. He used it to describe schizophrenic patients who had withdrawn from social contact, appeared to be living in their own world, and were socially disconnected. The root of the word autism is derived from the Greek “autos” which means “self”. That root is combined with the Greek suffix “ismos,” meaning the act, state, or being of. Bleuler used the word “autism” to mean morbid self-admiration and withdrawal into self. It suggests a state of being absorbed by oneself, lost in oneself, removed from social interaction, and isolated from social interaction. While Bleuler described and documented characteristics of autism, his adult patients were diagnosed as having schizophrenia and children were diagnosed as having childhood schizophrenia.

1920s and 1930s

In 1926, Dr. Grunya Efimovna Sukhareva, a Russian psychiatrist described what would later become the core deficits of Asperger Syndrome in boys that she labeled as having schizoid personality disorder of childhood. In 1933, Dr. Howard Potter described children who would now be identified as autistic as having a childhood form of schizophrenia.

1930s and 1940s

The two main pioneers in autism research, Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner, began working separately in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In 1934 Hans Asperger of the Vienna University Hospital used the term autistic and in 1938 he adopted the term “autistic psychopaths” in discussions of child psychology. However, Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins Hospital began using the term autism to describe behaviors that are now recognized as Autism Disorder or classical autism. Leo Kanner is the one who is usually credited for using the term autism as it is known today.

Kanner’s 1943 descriptions of autism were the result of his observations of eleven children who showed a marked lack of interest in other people, difficulties in social interactions, difficulty in adapting to changes in routines, good memory, sensitivity to stimuli (especially sound), and a highly unusual interest in the inanimate environment. These socially withdrawn children were described by Kanner as; lacking affective contact with others; being fascinated with objects; having a desire for sameness; and being non-communicative in regard to language before 30 months of age. Kanner emphasized the role of biology in the cause of autism. He felt that the lack of social connectedness so early in life must result from a biological inability to form affective relationships with others. However, Kanner also felt that parents displayed a lack of warmth and attachment to their autistic children. In his 1949 paper, he attributed autism to a “genuine lack of maternal warmth.”

In 1944, working separately from Kanner, Hans Asperger described a “milder” form of autism, known today as Asperger Syndrome. Asperger also studied a group of children who possessed many of the same behaviors as described in Kanner’s descriptions of autism. However, the children he studied demonstrated precocious vocabulary and speech development but poor social communication skills. These children appeared to have a desire to be a part of the social world, but lacked the necessary skills. He also mentioned that many of the children were clumsy and different from normal children in terms of fine motor skills.

1950s

During the 1950s, Bruno Bettelheim, a University of Chicago professor and child development specialist, furthered Kanner’s 1949 view that autism resulted from a lack of maternal warmth. Bettleheim’s view of autism being caused by emotionally cold and distant mothers became known as the Refrigerator Mother Theory of autism. The idea behind the theory was that children became autistic because mothers didn’t interact, play, or them; in a sense, they were “frigid.” He published articles throughout the 1950s and 1960s to popularize this position. Proponents of this view were searching for a place to lay blame for autism.

It was also during this decade and into the next that parents were counseled to institutionalize their children in order for them to receive appropriate treatment.

1960s

Beginning in the 1960s there was increased awareness within the professional community that the refrigerator mother theory did not adequately account for autism. The theory ignored the fact that siblings of autistic children were not autistic despite having the same mother, and scientific advancements began to suggest more biological causes.

In 1964, Bernard Rimland, a psychologist with an autistic son, stressed the biological causes of autism in his book “Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior.” The publication of this book directly challenged the prevailing refrigerator mother theory of autism. In 1965, Rimland established the Autism Society of America, which was one of the first advocacy groups for parents of children with autism. He established the Autism Research Institute in 1967 to conduct research on treatment for autism.

In 1967 autism continued to be classified under schizophrenia in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. This promoted the view that autism was a mental illness rather than a developmental disability.

1970s

There was a push during this decade to better define autism and, with scientific advancement, there was better understanding of autism as having a neurobiological basis.

1980s

The publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980 finally set autism apart from schizophrenia as it was now categorized as a neurodevelopmental disorder. Autism research continued to increase during the 1980s along with recognition within the scientific community that autism resulted from neurological disturbances rather than pathological parenting.

It was during this decade that Asperger’s work was translated to English and published. The term, “Asperger’s Syndrome” was first used in 1981 by the British psychiatrist Lorna Wing. She also developed the Wing’s Triad of Impairments, which is Impairment in Imagination, Impairment in Social Communication, and Impairment in Social Relationships to describe autism.

1990s

In 1994 Asperger’s syndrome was officially added to the DSM-IV as a progressive developmental disorder. Two nonprofit groups, the National Alliance for Autism Research and Cure Autism Now, were founded to stimulate autism research and raise awareness about the disorder. Research starts to suggest that autism is a spectrum disorder. Near the end of the decade, as autism rates rose, it was speculated that autism was due to mercury in vaccines.

2000s

In 2000, vaccine makers removed thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, from all routinely given childhood vaccines. Public fears were that exposure to the preservative were related to autism. The National Institute of Health estimated that autism affected 1 in 250 children in 2001. The Institute of Medicine found no credible evidence of a link between thimerosal or any other vaccine and autism in 2004.

The prevalence of autism increased significantly during this decade as a result of better detection, broader diagnostic criteria, and increased public awareness. In 2007 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with autism. Part of this increase is a result of better understanding of autism as a spectrum disorder.

2010s

A hundred years later, the term autism describes a neurodevelopmental condition that results in significant social cognitive and social communicative impairment. Current research is focused on identifying biologically distinct subtypes of autism. The belief is that once subtypes are understood advance can be made in regard to understanding cause and developing effective treatments. The ultimate goal of this line of research is to eventually find a cure and be able to prevent it.

Until that time, the prevalence of autism continues to increase. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that approximately1 in 88 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

The upcoming publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) in May 2013 will remove Asperger Syndrome and PDD-NOS as separate from autism. Instead, diagnosis will be autism spectrum disorder in an attempt to more accurately reflect the continuum and severity of the types of symptoms and behaviors displayed.

It will be interesting to see how these diagnostic changes and research into the biological subtypes of autism impact the future evolution of this neurodevelopmental disorder.

Source by David Pino