Both Guy and Gilles, who founded Transforming Autism, have had experiences of dramatically improving the prospects and the quality of life of their autistic children beyond what would otherwise have been possible, through Early Intervention - providing treatment to the child at a very young age.
Unfortunately, despite the growing body of evidence confirming the power of Early Intervention, it is not yet widely recognised, and parents who suspect autism in their young children are very often told not to worry for a while and come back months or even years later if the concern is still there. As a result. the critical early years of childhood development, when it is possible to make profound and powerful changes, are lost.
A large part of our mission at Transforming Autism is to give hope, confidence and direction to parents and carers who would like to intervene early in the life of their autistic child.
As well as raising awareness of the power of Early Intervention to change an autistic child's life, we also plan eventually to ourselves provide treatment to very young children with autism and their families through our own very specialist autism clinic in the South East of England, based on and in association with the Mifne Clinic, where Guy's family was treated when his son was 2.
Why Early Intervention?
When a child has autism, they become very sensitive not only to certain sensory inputs (and different ones for each child), but much more importantly to their emotional environment. Reactions and behaviours that might seem completely unremarkable to a non-autistic person, might be the source of deep pain, doubt, confusion, uncertainty.
The result is anxiety, which them becomes central to how an autistic child continues to develop and attempt to cope with this confusing world around them. Arguably, it is this anxiety which informs their "coping strategies" (such as the stimulatory behaviours that are commonly seen in children with autism) and intensifies the acute inconvenience of their sensory sensitivity, in the same way that a certain sound might normally be barely noticeable to someone until they have a couple of days of scarce sleep and poor eating during a challenging emotional period, when it might then become a source of frustration.
If the anxiety that is becoming established in the very young autistic child can be soothed and eased before it becomes entrenched, then that child has a much better chance of going on to lead a fulfilled life and remaining connected to the world around them.
That is why treatment of a child with autism that begins when the child is very young and in the early stages of their formation can lead to far better outcomes than waiting until later.
As well as the great changes that families who have undergone such treatment have found, there is now a slowly building body of research that backs it up. We reported one one such study recently (the original research paper is here), and the Mifne Centre in Israel has also run a comparative study on families treated at their own clinic demonstrating significantly increased effectiveness of treatment in children treated between 12-24 months as compared as those treated between 24 and 36 months.
Beyond the studies, it makes clear sense that if a child is given the support they need before they establish potentially undesirable behavioural tendencies, develop and entrenched anxiety and fall further behind developmentally, they will have a much better quality of life and enhanced future prospects.
Early Signs of Autism:
A list of eight markers was determined stemming from the research results at the Mifne Center between the years 1997-2007, and is the first of its kind globally.
Lack of crying, lack of movement, and lack of interest in surroundings – often the baby seems comfortable, showing no sign of distress, hunger etc. Sleeping all night long during the initial months of life.
Continuous crying, lack of physical tranquility (unrelated to any medical cause). Research has found that babies who cry a lot during their first year are more likely to become hyperactive during childhood.
3. Resistance to Eat/Feed
A high percentage of children within the autistic spectrum exhibit eating difficulties at different levels: refusal to breastfeed, refusal to transition to bottle feeding, or to transition from liquid to solid foods. In many cases these difficulties can already be seen during the first months of life.
4. Lack of Direct Eye Contact with People
A baby with an attachment and communication developmental disorder has no difficulty watching an object but does have difficulty forming direct eye contact with people. Nevertheless, there are babies who need a longer period for the maturation of their channels of vision (at the age of 4-5 months).
5. Lack of Reaction to the Voice or Presence of a Parent
There is no turning of the head, no response to his/her name, no smile or babbling. A distinction should be drawn between a lack of reaction to a voice and lack of reaction to the presence of a parent: even if a baby does not hear, he/she will react to the presence of a parent. In any case, a hearing test should first be conducted before drawing conclusions.
6. Withdrawal from Parental Touch (or Touch of any Other Person)
Some babies experience sensory-overload, so that any physical contact may disturb them. This obviously engenders very difficult feelings for the parents, but it is important to explain that the baby is not rejecting them, but has real difficulty with his tactile sense and regulation.
7. Delayed Motor Development
There are babies with attachment and communication development disorders whose motor development is swift, but very often babies exhibit hypotonia (low muscle tension) and their motor development is delayed. This sign is not conclusive for autism.
8. Accelerated Growth of the Circumference of the Head in Relation to its Starting Point
A study conducted by Courchesne (2003) found that, in certain cases, children diagnosed with autism were born with small head circumferences, but within two years the circumference grew rapidly so that it reached larger dimensions of head circumference in comparison to typical development of children. This sign is not conclusive for autism.
It is important to note that each of these symptoms may indicate other disorders not related to autism, and so other medical examinations to negate these possibilities may be advisable. Once this has been done and two of the above-mentioned symptoms persist over time, the possibility of a development disorder linked to autism should be more seriously investigated.
What Action to Take?
We will shortly be launching an Awareness Campaign on the importance of Early Intervention, and there will be a section on this website giving guidance on many aspects of caring for a very young autistic child, including diagnosis and support interacting with the medical and educational authorities. We aim to get our own UK-based Mifne Clinic operational by 2020.
In the meantime, the book, Transforming Autism, provides a detailed description of Guy (our CEO)'s journey taking care of his own autistic son following treatment at the Mifne Clinic when he was 2. It is written with the intention of being genuinely useful in terms of providing tangible principles and behaviours that families can practically use (and which would otherwise be unavailable) to give some level of support to their young children.
The Mifne Clinic
For 30 years, the Mifne Clinic in northern Israel has been treating ever younger toddlers (currently up to the age of 2) with the Reciprocal Play Therapy which they have devised and evolved.
At its core, this is about engaging the child in communicative activities, by first providing a safe environment for them and then evoking their natural and innate sense of trust and of wanting to be part of the world around them, at an age before they properly detach from it.
It is about giving the child a very real sense that everything is okay, that they can manage, that nothing terrible is going to happen, even if things seem to be going wrong; and thereby alleviating the deep anxiety that is at the heart of why autistic children do tend to separate themselves from their surroundings.
It is a parent/family/carer-led approach, and depends on a suitable physical and (more importantly) emotional environment being created around the child in their home. The 3 week-intensive clinic treatment (for one family at a time) is an immersive start to this programme in which the whole family is coached to be able to create this environment.
This is the treatment that we will be offering at our own UK-based Transforming Austism Mifne Clinic, and it will be closely supervised by the clinic in Israel.