The painful truth, right now, is that we can’t solve autism. So how we can better support children with autism and their families today?
Distinguished autism scientist Bryna Siegel, Ph.D. has devoted her career to this question. Her answer, as laid out in her new book The Politics of Autism (Oxford University Press, September 3, 2018), includes resetting today’s misguided priorities to better meet the real and immediate needs of most most individuals and families living with autism.
Here are 3 fundamental changes in mindset and policy she recommends:
1. Acknowledge that autism doesn’t disappear after childhood—but for most, will require a lifetime of special help.
All too often, parents hold onto the belief that a fully functioning child is locked away inside their child with autism and can be coaxed out with techniques such as rapid prompting (RPM) or, facilitated communication (F/C). Investing all of one’s hope and energy in attempts to “cure” a child’s autism can deflect from steps that will help improve a child’s—and a family’s— present and future quality of life.
2. Approach autism as a family wellness issue—not just one child’s treatment checklist
Beyond selecting treatments and chauffeuring between therapies, parents need to understand how their child on the autism spectrum operates. With the right training and support, they can then better integrate the child into the flow of family life, which will help reduce anxiety and depression, foster a stronger relationship between spouses and create a better environment for siblings.
3. Provide job training, not special education
College is not the right path for all pupils, even if they’ve received special education throughout school. Above all, we need to improve the chances of future independence for children on the autism spectrum. This begins with employment. Instead of focusing on education, it’s time we figured out how to provide vocational training and apprenticeships to prepare individuals on the autism spectrum for work that leverages their unique strengths and is adaptable to typical autistic social weaknesses.