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Eugenics

Diet

Mainstream Medicine

Alternative Medicine

Behavioural Therapy

Dolphin Therapy

Eugenics

Eugenics is a social philosophy which advocates the improvement of human hereditary traits through social intervention.

There is much evidence that suggests that there are certain genes connected with autism, both from research and family and twin studies. There are people who hope that one day this research can be used to detect autism or predisposition to autistic traits before birth so that unwanted autistic children can be aborted. It is even possible to envisage a future where the technology will exist for such prior knowledge to be used to alter unborn children to better suit their parents wishes and requirements.

Some people see autism as a devastating genetic disease that must be eradicated this way, without considering the wider implications or the moral objections. History teaches us that over and over society has been mistaken in it's interpretation and understanding of difference in minority groups, and that this 'solution' is never the right one.

Thankfully this attitude is increasingly being seen as offensive and misguided, not to mention unrealistic.

Diet

Gluten Free

While supporters of the gluten free diet vary from those who see it as a way to address specific health problems to those who see it as both the cause and a cure for autism, if you have a food allergy, autistic or not, eliminating that food from your diet is bound to improve your health and therefore you day to day functioning in life. Physical problems caused by food allergies could be things like digestive problems, sweating, hyperactivity, and sleeping difficulties.

Some people believe that  the treatment of food allergies combined with the removal of the offending foods can in turn reduce what are believed to have been behavioural symptoms of autism.

I would strongly recommend actually getting medically tested for food allergies before making any dietary changes though. It is however by no means the case that special diets help everybody on the autistic spectrum. Autistic children can be fussy eaters and it can be difficult enough to get them to eat a healthy balanced diet without having the additional worry of having it restricted.

Fish Oil

There has been research that has shown autistic people have a deficiency in crucial fatty acids such as those contained in fish oils. Increasing intake of fatty acids is reported to help with concentration, mood and sleep. You can increase your intake of fatty acids either naturally through your diet or by taking a supplement such as Eye Q.

Mainstream Medicine

The class of drugs most commonly used to treat autism are known as the serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SRIs can increase attention, decrease distractibility and hyperactivity, and increase social interaction. They can also be used to treat depression, anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive illness. Certain hormones and vitamins are sometimes prescribed for treatment too.

Drugs do not cure or prevent autism, they just influence your feelings and behaviours for as long as you take them, not even always for the better, and as with all drugs there can also be side effects. The effects of drugs on autistics are not as predictable as on NTs. There is a tendency for doctors to sometimes just see the autistic brain as a sick 'normal' brain and treat it is as such.

It should be a matter of individual choice whether or not a person decides to take medication. What I think is an area of concern is the number of children who are being medicated casually when it is not even required. Unfortunately, in some cultures, the almost hysterical prejudice against non-conformity has reduced the definition of legitimate medical need to little more than consumer demand.

Alternative Medicine

Some people like to use natural remedies and alternative medicine to help alleviate some problems. Some vitamins are also believed to be beneficial and are becoming quite commonly prescribed or recommended. While most will be aimed more at improving general or specific health problems associated with autism than the more powerful behaviour modifying prescription medications, some of the same risk factors apply.

Behavioural Therapy

This is the idea that if you can catch them young enough you can 'intervene' in autistic children's development in order to train them not to behave in autistic ways. At best it is based on the idea that the course of a still developing mind can be altered, and at worst it is simply forceful persuasion to conform.

Those in favour of behavioural therapies talk a great deal about choice... autistic people having the choice of 'treatment', but I have never heard of behavioural therapy being used on anyone old enough to genuinely choose it for themselves. There is a culture of hysterical scaremongering around 'early interventions' that encourages parents to rush into these sorts of programmes, usually on the basis of anecdotal evidence of their short term benefits.

There is no question that the behavioural method can be effective at altering behaviour in some cases, but therapies like this can sometimes take the credit for normal maturation and development that would have otherwise occurred without them, I haven't seen any evidence of any long term benefits into adulthood, and there are serious questions to be asked about whether it is even an ethical approach.

Behavioural therapy by it's very definition can only be just that. It can only ever change behaviour. It cannot change an autistic person into a non autistic person. It can be difficult and uncomfortable and even exhausting for autistic people to try and behave according to neurotypical standards and values of normalcy. A lot of people don't realise this and therefore have no understanding of exactly how much they are asking for and what it involves. Just because behaving 'normally' feels good for you and is easy for you doesn't mean that an autistic person will get the same pay back for behaving in the same way. In fact, the only pay back for behaving 'normal' that there is for autistic people is being more easily accepted. For some that is enough, but for others it isn't. When you are required to do something to please other people or out of fear of society, can that justifiably be called a legitimate medical need? I think not.

Methods of behavioural therapy vary. Some of those that are used on autistic children with more severe behavioural problems can include the use of restraints and aversives, and while it is understandable in those sort of cases that something should be done, it is hard to accept that systematic use of force is the answer to what is a complex neurological problem. In the case of children with Asperger's syndrome, such extremes are unlikely to be necessary, and behavioural interventions are more along the lines of repeated persuasions and encouragement to behave in certain ways, (a bit like training a dog). There are some people though who would still consider that abusive.

One of the most well known at present is ABA (applied behaviour analysis) - intensive, repetitive one-on-one teaching. One description I read spoke of holding a 3 year old child's chin in order to force him to make eye contact. There are more subtle approaches with other impressive sounding names, but the ultimate aim is still always to cease any expression of being an autistic person on the part of the child.

It is the sledgehammer approach. It is like conducting brain surgery with a shovel... blindfolded. The mind is a sensitive, adaptive, and complex organ, and the behaviours that these sort of therapies are trying to eradicate are an expression of an underlying difference in how the mind is functioning and experiencing it's environment. Making the behaviours disappear might solve the problem for the person who doesn't want to see the behaviours, but it could be just the start of many more problems for the mind that has to still carry on being the way it was without being able to show it.

I personally feel that the best chance a person has of adjusting to be able to cope in the world and fulfilling their potential, is to be supported in being who they are. It  is better to be a happy, confident, well adjusted autistic person than a confused, struggling mediocre copy of a neurotypical person.

These are my opinions but I am not trying to impose them anybody. They are based on my own experiences, the experiences of other people I have spoken to, and my reading on this subject. I strongly suggest that people considering behavioural intervention research it thoroughly and make up their own minds. You may well come to a different conclusion to me.

There is of course a difference between behavioural intervention and other treatments that may impact behaviour such as education or support. For me the definition of behavioural intervention is when you are applying either direct or indirect pressure on someone to be a certain way, where as education or support are given freely without expectation. Autistic children should have every opportunity to learn life skills and how to look after themselves, and it does no harm for them to be told what sort of behaviours society may expect from them and even more so what sort of behaviours they should expect from other people. I do recognise that there are many very good parents and educators around who do not impose their prejudices and expectations upon children, and these words of caution have by no means been aimed at them.

Dolphin Therapy

There are those that believe that swimming with dolphins is an effective form of therapy for autism. Dolphin assisted therapy programs can be expensive and there is debate about how beneficial they actually are, especially when compared to other fun or relaxing activities or interaction with other animal species such as horses or dogs.

What I dislike about dolphin therapy is that if you believe it cures autism then you either believe in magic dolphin brain rays (don't laugh - some people do) or you are implying that autism is just an emotional trauma or state of mind that can be recovered from with a nice happy experience or two... something which was found to be false decades ago.

On the other hand, just because something isn't an actual cure doesn't mean that it doesn't do any good. I have always found being around animals a very therapeutic experience. When I am around people I am quite often in distress... it is difficult and confusing and exhausting. When I am around animals though I feel like there is a mutual understanding. Even animals that normally hate people relax around me, and I relax around them. This boosts my confidence and does encourage me to interact more and be more responsive to people.

I would caution against rushing out to buy a pet though. Pets require a lot of care and love and attention. Very few children, autistic or not, can take on that responsibility, and parents who leave the care of a pet in a child's hands are usually abandoning it to neglect. Also a loud or excitable animal can be frightening to some children, and a loud or excitable child can be frightening to some animals. Pets, and particularly cats and dogs, are increasingly being recognised as excellent companions for adults with Asperger's syndrome though.

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