Israel Seen – Autism: What It Is and What It Isn’t
Autism is frightening. It brings to mind a child that not only has physical or cognitive disabilities but also cannot relate to and join normal society. There is a tremendous lack of understanding about the ASD spectrum which leads to compounding the fears of the average parent.
Some parents cannot accept the diagnosis for fear of their personal relationships being its cause. Even though the other spouse or a family member or teacher strongly suggests having the child evaluated, they procrastinate or deny the need, terrified that a positive diagnosis would expose not only their child’s deficiency but also their own. The term ‘refrigerator parents’ was coined in the 1950’s suggesting that a mother who did not display warmth towards her infant was the cause of autism. This hypothesis has long been disproved by scientific studies. 1 However, its ramifications still linger in the minds of parents traumatized by the possibility of ASD.
Parents also fear raising a child who will have no interest in a relationship with either them, his siblings or the world around him. An ASD child, they believe, lacks a basic component of what makes us human. Those working in the field have discovered that these fears are unfounded. An autistic child’s need and desire for relationship does not differ from that of the average child. However, he does not have the necessary ability to spontaneously develop social relationships. With proper early intervention, these skills can be learned and the relationships that he deeply desires will become attainable. 2
The linkage between childhood vaccines and autism became another fear in the 1990’s when studies seemed to show a correlation between thimerosal, a component of vaccines and autism. Many studies have disproved this hypothesis. However, since the final word is not yet known, as an additional precaution, thimerosal has been eliminated from all but a few vaccines. 3
According to Barbara T. Doyle of John Hopkins School of Education, autism is typified by the following:
- Qualitative differences in reciprocal social interaction (inability to easily create and sustain relationships)
- Qualitative differences in BOTH verbal and non-verbal communication (not using and responding to communication signals in a typical way)
- Restricted, repetitive and stereotypic patterns of interests, behavior and activities 2
A child who presents these symptoms should be evaluated early in life in order to achieve an optimal outcome. The Advocacy Unit for Parents and Professionals, a project of Ezer Mizion’s Division of Supportive Services for Special Children in Israel, guides families of children with special needs from the earliest, pre-evaluation stage. The Center provides guidance regarding actualization of entitlements, offers information about relevant professionals in the fields of evaluation and therapy, and runs support groups, guidance groups, lectures, and seminars for parents and family members.
Once the evaluation is complete and an IEP is in place, Ezer Mizion also provides these children with a broad range of services. Its programs include rehabilitative day nurseries, customized groups for high-functioning ASD children and teens tailored to develop social skills, sport therapy, hydrotherapy and an Interactive Developmental Park. Summer camps and retreats provide enrichment activities during off-time enabling the child to function in a setting especially geared for him.
Available to each family is the loan of appropriate medical, rehabilitative, and developmental equipment in addition to the loan of AAC (alternative, augmentative communication) equipment for those who are unable to effectively communicate.
Counseling sessions are available to parents enabling them to journey through the maze that has become their new reality.
Support groups provide a milieu for sharing, deepening understanding, and obtaining practical techniques according to the DIR (developmental, individual-difference, relationship-based) method and other approaches like CBT, while focusing on improving the communication functioning of children on the autistic spectrum.
Workshops provide an opportunity for parents to understand their child’s world, enrich their own knowledge, and obtain tools to help them with coping day-to-day.
A new project entitled Mothers on behalf of Mothers is being launched. Under the guidance of professionals, experienced mothers will be paired with those at the beginning of their journey who will act as mentors, affording the new parents much needed support.
In keeping with Ezer Mizion’s ongoing aim of educating all those involved, we have operated a workshop for professionals, giving them a basic acquaintance with the DIR approach, as well as a workshop for educators on the topic of mainstreaming teens on the autistic spectrum. On the agenda is the opening of a library of helpful reading material for both professionals and parents.
The day-to-day life of the parents of an autistic child is extremely painful and challenging. It is a gargantuan uphill climb and Ezer Mizion tries to be there at their side with a variety of tools to ease their burden. Your gifts will greatly increase our ability to help. Please give generously!
Ezer Mizion provides a variety of services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually including the geriatric population, the special needs child, the cancer patient and the mentally challenged. In addition, its Bone Marrow Registry facilitates life-saving transplants for cancer patients around the globe.