Hope for the autistic
AUTISM IS NOT NECESSARILY an incurable condition.
According to doctors who specialize in biomedical treatments, the functioning and abilities of autistic people can be improved once the medical disorders that underlie their behaviours can be treated.
It is this message of hope that Deborah Thompson-Smith and her husband Larry Smith – themselves the parents of a seven-year-old autistic child – seek to share with parents of autistic children, their caregivers and doctors at a conference to be held next month.
Spectrum Possibilities, a local charity founded by the Smiths that seeks to highlight the care of autistics, will host the conference in association with Autism One, a United States-based autism charity. The purpose of the conference, entitled Biomedical Comes To Barbados: Hope For All Ages, is to highlight the research and progress being made in the biomedical field.
The biomedical approach is based on medical protocols developed by a psychologist who studied autistic children and what illnesses were occurring along with autism.
The Smiths believed it was necessary to host a conference for the benefit of Barbadians and their Caribbean neighbours because of their own experiences from attending other Autism One conferences that gave them much valuable insight into how to properly care for their autistic son. They were also able to establish contact with autism specialists.
Through these conferences, they have adopted the emerging view that autism is a medical disorder in which the behaviours or symptoms presented are caused by a range of underlying metabolic and biochemical irregularities.
Deborah said her son started showing autistic tendencies at three and a half years of age.
When the official diagnosis was made two years ago Deborah and Larry researched the condition and implemented home treatment programmes.
To effectively manage their son’s condition the Smiths had to travel overseas many times.
He now follows a fairly pristine diet of no gluten, dairy, casein or soy, nuts, dyes or preservatives.
“He had a lot of food allergies and since we have changed his diet and eliminated a lot of things, he has shown some improvements.
His ability to interact, his language and his awareness developed and has continued to do so,” Deborah said.
Several environmental factors also played a part in the behaviours he presented, she added. Loud noises such as the school bell and motorcycles were some of the sounds he could not manage. Whenever the school bell was rung, it would cause a flight response but now, with therapy, the bell and loud noises were no longer an issue.
“When a child has sensitivity to sound he makes a conscious decision to block out the world. The therapy allows them to be free to be open and interact with their world. [Listening] is important to develop speech, play, interact and to share attention with someone,” Deborah said.
Spectrum Possibilities hopes that the conference will spawn visiting clinics where specialists can visit at least three or four times a year for consultation with autistics.
“That way they would not have to experience what we did such as having to get on a plane with a family and have to deal with issues at airports. When you have a child with autism, the long lines and long waits can become challenging. Children with autism need to have a routine and if you are going to change that routine, you have to go through a period of preparation,” Larry said.
The conference will be held from November 3 to 5 at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. The keynote speaker will be Dr Martha Herbert, paediatric neurologist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard-MIT-HST-Martinos Centre for Biomedical Imaging.