photo credit-Staci Peters
Lately my two selves have been somewhat at odds with each other-my science educated self and my parent self.
As a person trained in the scientific method and believing in things that I can test and measure, one of the first things I did when we got a diagnosis of autism for Buddy Boy was to immerse myself in reading as much research as I could get my hands on. If there were things out there that were proven to help, then I would find them and get that help for him.
One of the first things I discovered was that there was a bunch of new age, hocus pocus kind of stuff out there that had absolutely no science behind it. Sure, on an initial scan of some of the literature talking about causation and "cures" there were things that seemed to make some sense. But when I looked with a critical eye, looking for hard data, there was just no "there" there for most of this stuff.
My reading did seem to indicate that we had "missed the boat" by not instituting ABA therapy before the age of three (Buddy Boy was almost 4 when doctors stopped talking about sensory integration disorder, probable ADHD, and language delay and finally uttered the "A word"). I read up on ABA therapy anyway, and quickly realized that classic ABA therapy consisted of basically putting my kid into a Skinner Box, which I wasn't really too fond of (note: I know that all "ABA" isn't created equal, so don't all pounce on me if it's working for you).
The parent side of me has always wanted to protect my son, nurture him, instill a love of learning and an ethical base, then turn him loose on the world to do great things (what I'm sure we all want, basically). Upon getting a diagnosis, and as Buddy Boy's OCD behaviors and touchy temperment became more evident, the parent in me has wanted to put emphasis on getting the best supports educationally and socially that I can for my son, so that he has the best chance of living independently and being a productive member of society.
I have thus become much less enamored with research, especially into causation. Forget population statistics, genetics, and the environment. I have an "n" of 1 to take care of. If something isn't directly helpful to us in caring of our son, then it's a lot less interesting to me. Sure, I still follow all types of research when I come across it, but following most research has become a side issue rather than the main event.
So it was with some interest that I read this announcement from researchers at Georgetown University.
Using advanced brain imaging techniques, researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center have watched how humans use both lower and higher brain processes to learn novel tasks, an advance they say may help speed up the teaching of new skills as well as offer strategies to retrain people with perceptual deficits due to autism. ...
Rather than being aimed at isolating 100's of genes that contribute to autism (important stuff, just not too helpful in the here and now for me), they looked at something that is going to be important to Buddy Boy for the rest of his life, learning.
...In the March 15 issue of Neuron, the research team provides the first human evidence for a two-stage model of how a person learns to place objects into categories discerning, for example, that a green apple, and not a green tennis ball, belongs to "food." They describe it as a complex interplay between neurons that process stimulus shape ("bottom-up") and more sophisticated brain areas that discriminate between these shapes to categorize and "label" that information ("top-down"). ...
I've always thought that Buddy Boy's inability to remember the names of any of his classmates (with a couple of notable exceptions) was at least partly due to the way his brain filed away peoples' faces. If these researchers can shed some light on how we file away things in our memory, then concrete methods at assisting those with trouble with these pathways could be designed.
These kinds of studies are, to me, the kinds of studies that will shed some light on what specific kinds of supports are the most helpful in preparing my son to live independently. And that's a great thing, no matter how you slice it.
Joe is 210