What is Autism?

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Autism is a complex developmental disorder that can begin at any point in childhood, from early infancy onward, and which can last throughout a person's lifetime. The term "autism" is used to designate a group of disorders known as "autism spectrum disorders."

Individuals suffering with autism disorders characteristically withdraw inwardly and experience difficulty in communicating and interacting socially with others. The symptoms of autism range from mild to severe. In its most severe forms, autism manifests in extreme withdrawal, with little or no social interaction and the repetition of obsessive routines and behaviors. In its milder forms, autism is evidenced in symptoms such a pervasive developmental disorders, Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorders. Some individuals diagnosed with mild forms of autism can lead relatively normal lives, but have moved inward and experience difficulty making friends and manifesting their potentials.

The incidence of autism is increasing on a yearly basis. Today it is estimated that one in 15o children will be diagnosed with some form of autism. The first signs typically emerge when children fail to meet appropriate developmental benchmarks. Later, it can be diagnosed when children experience extreme difficulty socializing and interacting with others. Some parents comment their child seemed to be "different" from birth, while others say their child was developing naturally and then lost their ability to interact at a later age.

Currently a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the question of autism. The medical literature offers no explanation for its possible causes. There are no known means to prevent it, no entirely effective treatments, and no cure. The available programs focus on developing communication, social, and cognitive skills using behavioral or educational methods. Although these early intervention methods have proven a certain measure of success, they have not been entirely effective in overcoming the disorder.

SIGNS OF AUTISM:
The following are signs to look for to determine whether your child may be developing autism:

? Your child does not smile or exhibit joyful expressions by six months or older.

? Your child does not imitate sounds, smiles, or other facial expressions by nine months.

? Your child does not babble or make efforts toward verbal expression by 12 months or older.

? Your child does not imitate gestures, such as pointing, showing, reaching, or waving by 12 months or older.

? Your child does not form words by 16 months or older.

? Your child does not construct two word, meaningful phrases, without imitating or repeating, by 24 months or older.

? Any loss of speech or social skills at any age.

EIDETIC IMAGE PSYCHOLOGY AND AUTISM:
Dr. Akhter Ahsen, the leading theoretician, researcher, and developer of Eidetic Image Psychology, has made profound advancements in researching the causes and cures of autism using the tools of eidetic imagery.

An eidetic image is a bright, lively picture seen in the mind, much like a movie image or a film strip. It is different from other types of mental images in its unusual clarity and its ability to reproduce important life events with exact detail. These special images are neurologically recorded in the brain and systematically stored away for future reference. They contain information about our genetic wholeness as well as the impact of our personal history upon it. Through his scientific research, methodology, and clinical practice he has discovered a methodology that has proven highly successful in the treatment of autistic disorders.

IMAGING YOUR CHILD:
Here is an eidetic imagery exercise, which will help you ascertain on an empathic level, whether your child exhibits any signs of autistic withdrawal. Simply close your eyes and allow the images to form in your mind. As you Follow the instructions, allow all the nuances of information to come to you.

See your child somewhere in the house.
Where is he or she?
What is your child doing?
Notice his/her moods, actions. What do you see?
How do you Feel as you see your child?
Look into your child's eyes. There is a Feeling or story there. What do you see?
See through the eyes of your child. What does he or she see?
Even though you may have already sensed your child might be demonstrating autistic symptoms, this exercise should allow you to enter intuitively into his or her experience and way of viewing the world.

SENSITIVITY AND AUTISM:
In his research, Dr. Ashen illustrates that humanity exists along a bell curve, with the most sensitive and highly intelligent individuals at one end of the spectrum and with those of lower intelligence and more blunted sensitivity on the other end. Most people fall somewhere along the middle of the bell curve. Dr. Ahsen's research indicates that the children who develop autism spectrum disorders are among the most brilliant and sensitive on the bell curve. These highly sensitive children are especially susceptible to the impact of the world around them. One way to consider this type of finely tuned sensitivity is to compare these children to a Stradivarius violin, which, unlike a normal violin, resonates at even the slightest touch and can be easily injured through overly vigorous handling.

In this way, Dr. Ahsen locates the cause of autism in faulty early social interactions that impact neural pathways in the brain. It is easy to comprehend that exceptionally sensitive children require equally sensitive interactions to nourish and support them. These children need slower time to absorb all of life and its flow. They require that the adults around them meet their own pace and interact with their cues in a meaningful way that nurtures their essence. When children with such acutely heightened sensibilities are not met with empathy at an early age, the psychic pain associated with this lack of connection causes them to retreat internally and develop the symptoms of autism.

One highly sensitive girl who I treated using eidetic imagery had withdrawn socially and interacted inappropriately with her peers and with adults. On a diagnostic test developed by Dr. Ahsen, it was found that her symptoms first developed at age two, during the time of her parents' divorce. She only related to animals. Her play-time consisted of obsessively interacting for hours with a hand-held computer game. In one of her sessions, she told me, "I don't like people seeing me in class because I might mess up. I like to be in the back of the choir singing because I am afraid that people will see me." The emotional and mental distress caused by her parents constant fighting caused her to avoid engaging with the external world.

Our modern, fast-paced world of television, video games, and an encompassing lack of "connected" communication only compounds the symptoms exhibited by such children. We are increasingly losing the ability to "be" with one another in a deeply meaningful and empathic way. A new approach to the treatment of autism must take into account the need to meet the specific needs of our most gifted and sensitive children.

IMAGERY AND REBUILDING MIRROR-NEURONS:
Recent scientific research points to new methods of working with autism through evoking mirror-neurons, the neurons in the brain that are involved in human interaction. Located in the amygdala center of the brain, these mirror-neurons Function by allowing us to empathically process and absorb the social cues sent by other people, whereby we naturally understand their expressions, intentions, and nuances of interaction. Dr. Ahsen describes the function of these mirror neurons in relation to the treatment of autism in the following way:

Mirror-neuron templates are a sophisticated cognitive apparatus that elaborates upon information processed by the senses so that the underlying motive and emotion underscoring an action can be non-verbally absorbed and understood. There is an ease and a speed with which these simple actions are contextualized and understood by one another. Language develops later to communicate the implied aspects of empathy and knowing. With an autistic child, the people surrounding him or her are too hurried, too rushed, and too demanding in their efforts to connect with them, perhaps using too much logic, which tears them away from the natural shades of intentions and emotions.

Through precise mental imagery techniques, Dr. Ahsen's approach re-evokes these mirror-neurons in the brain, changing brain functions in the amygdala and inciting a shift from autistic withdrawal to outward expressiveness. His method involves working with a set of four photographs to initiate social interaction in individuals who demonstrate symptoms of autism. One photograph, for example, depicts a campground setting, replete with many objects strewn around the campground. The pictures are designed to evoke the imagination and the exchange of dialogue. Through exchanging ideas, thoughts and feelings and by going back and forth into the picture and utilizing his or her imaginations, the autistic person gradually learns to relate to others without obstruction.

The practitioner is trained to interact in a deeply empathic manner, responding to the nuances of expressions of the autistic person and guiding them along to deeper exchange of communication in an open, explorative and totally accepting manner. During this process, the mirror-neurons are activated and re-grown, resulting in enhanced awareness, expression, and social skills. This social exchange, along with imagery techniques, provides direct access to the individual's internal experience, treating the whole person and bringing forth natural potentials.

Unlike behavioral or educational methodologies, which focus upon eliciting a single response, this image-based approach offers a much more powerful and dynamic way of engaging with autistic individuals. In this manner, Dr. Ahsen has successfully treated people suffering from autism and helped them emerge from isolation and social withdrawal.

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By Jaqueline Lapa Sussman

Author, psychotherapist and lecturer, Jaqueline Lapa Sussman is the Director of Projects for the International Imagery Association and one of the world's foremost practitioners of Eidetic Image Psychology. For more information on Dr. Ahsen's work, please visit her Web site: www.jaquelinesussman.com.

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