Treatment Of Autism
The treatment of autism is a tough subject. I know there are some therapies out there aimed at autism, but I have to admit, there is nothing to which I would subject myself or my kiddos. A bold statement for the beginning of a post, I know.
That to say, I also think which path to pursue is up to each individual, and so you will find no judgment here if you have chosen to pursue one of the existing therapies. If it helps, do it!
I do, however, have a strategy for managing my own treatment of autism. I often do things differently than others, and the use of this strategy seems backward to many.
Let’s start at the beginning. If you are not familiar with just what autism is, it may be helpful for you to just take a second to read the official diagnostic criteria – the definition of the DSM V. The reason understanding this definition is so important is that many, many people (professionals and laypersons) now associate with autism symptoms of comorbid (concurrently occurring) disorders.
So if you are going to understand my strategy, you first have to have some idea about what autism is and is not.
Most people think my key “issue” is my autism. It might be, though who’s to say as we don’t know enough about autism in women (I don’t think) to even make that conclusion at this time.
To understand the importance of what I am about to say, you also have to understand the concept of comorbidity. I wrote a post not long ago on comorbidity, “Comorbidity: Life with Autism and Its Closest ‘Friends,'” which you can read.
When we talk about comorbidity, we talk about autism and the physical and mental conditions that often come with it. So if someone is autistic, they may also be depressed or anxious. In fact, most people with autism have a comorbid disorder.
For many people and providers, autism is the stand-out primary diagnosis, whether formally or informally.
The problem with this mentality is that the focus or the emphasis gets placed on autism, a “disorder” that we don’t know how to treat, and we consider other diagnoses that we at least have some knowledge of how to treat as secondary, and we don’t focus on those.
We kind of say, “Well, the anxiety arises because they’re autistic,” or, “The depression comes from being autistic,” when actually we can treat some of these other things and go right back to focusing on autism.
But when I flip the mentality that my primary problem is autism, and when I treat all the other things that I know about, actually my autistic symptoms sort of start to fade.
In fact, before I knew I was autistic, I of course focused on my other issues as primary, because, to me, they were. I saw better progress and improvement, had better relationships with providers, and found it easier to turn attention to these other problems. After my diagnosis, not so, at least initially, until I returned to this philosophy about the treatment of autism.
I, for example, have trouble with some foods. There are foods, like chocolate, that cause my behavior to change. I have allergies to things like mold that destroy my health and make some of my autistic symptoms more predominant.
Yet, providers don’t get excited about those. In fact, they discount the severity of these issues.
Gluten is another one for me. That’s really tough because I want gluten in my diet.
Who doesn’t like foods like pizza and donuts!?!?
But when I consume a lot of gluten, my mind and body don’t work right. More than that, if everyone in my house is gluten-free, our home magically becomes clean.
Nobody’s thinking about cleaning or picking up or mopping or dusting or vacuuming. It just suddenly kind of magnificently gets done.
So, donuts or a clean house? (I know how we generally come down, but I will leave it to you to make your own choice!)
If we were to focus on say, for example, my executive function issues (which are considered to be part of autism or a secondary function of autism), rather than a sensitivity to gluten, I would see no improvement.
But no gluten = improvement.
We don’t really know how to handle executive function disorder. In fact, we struggle to separate it from ADD/ADHD issues, but if I focus on not eating gluten, suddenly those executive function problems start to disappear.
Anxiety issues require a number of strategies, but so far, I have avoided medication. When my anxiety levels rise, autism symptoms increase, interfere with my productivity, and become visible to those watching.
Sleep issues I manage by controlling anxiety during the day.
See how this works?
So many would say that it is a gluten sensitivity and not executive function disorder, but if we focus on my being autistic, we don’t even FIND the gluten sensitivity.
Many of these other issues and sensitivities are ignored or discounted or swept under the rug because we don’t really want to talk about or acknowledge the fact that there may be gluten intolerance. (A part of that may be because honestly we’ve tinkered with our food supply, and who wants to admit that we did this to people? Just a side note there.)
We do know how to treat these other things, at least some of them, but they are often ignored and placed under the larger autism umbrella. A gluten sensitivity is actually easy to treat – avoid gluten. Depression and anxiety are more difficult, but we are still farther ahead in terms of understanding and treatment of those than autism, and yet, we ignore those and lump those symptoms into the autism bucket.
In fact, many providers fail to even diagnose conditions like anxiety or depression once an autism diagnosis has been rendered.
And, these examples are just a FEW of the types of issues that come up.
Treat Everything Else
But what if?
What if we take the approach that identifying and treating everything else is paramount?
I know if you have autism, especially if it is significant, that this seems backward.
But, what if after identifying and treating everything else, suddenly AUTISM becomes autism in your life?
Now, I am not a doctor or medical/mental health professional of any kind, so you should not take this as medical advice or quote it as such. I just want to give you food for thought or something to talk to your providers about.
What if you know you have allergies and so you treat them and minimize their impact?
Do you have sensitivities to things in the environment that you can avoid?
What if you have anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc., and you are rigorous about sticking to the plan you and your provider crafted?
I think you will start to see autism get a little smaller, and some of the “autism” symptoms you were having that had been fit under the autism umbrella start to fade away.
I also think that, and I’ve mentioned this before in a post, “The Best Free Resource for Autism Diagnosis and Management,” that if we start using logs, keeping a diary of our day, and tracking how issues manifest, we can start to see patterns. Causes and effects become clearer.
In a recent article, “Most Alternative Treatments for Autism Showing Inconclusive Benefits,” Dr. Shafali Jeste points out that not only are the treatments that we have for autism not really working, but that autism really seems to be a disorder that is a result of lots of different things.
When we start peeling back all those layers, the autism becomes easier to deal with, or at least easier to live with.
Treat the Bad, Keep the Good
Being totally honest, there are things about my autism that I like. There are a lot of people who don’t think the way that I think. There are a lot of people who can’t pick apart problems the way that I pick problems apart. My mind runs quickly and is full of ideas.
In fact, I didn’t realize how busy it is until one day I tried, at the encouragement of a psychiatrist, some ADD medicine. For the first time in my life, I experienced extreme quiet. That to say, I could create nothing. It tidied up my home, but could not write anything. So I don’t generally take the medicine, as I prefer to have the ideas and creativity over silence and a clean house (just maybe not a donut!)
If I treat everything else, what seems to go away are the things about my autism that I don’t like. And typically speaking, if I focus on everything else, if I treat everything else, the things I do like don’t go anywhere. I get to keep them.
Why is that you might ask?
Pretty simply, I think it is because I am not seeking treatment for the things I like! HAHA!
I don’t go to the doctor and tell him/her that I think differently than others and even though I like it, I want to be more like everyone else, though you could do that and it would be up to you to decide what is right for you.
If I seek a professional, it is for the things that bother me. If treating those things interferes with the things about me I think are good, I seek an alternate treatment.
A Word of Caution
Just a quick note, even though I am suggesting that you treat everything else, and I have given isolated examples of issues that can be treated, keeping an eye on the whole of your health conditions/considerations remains necessary. While you can sometimes get unexpected benefits from treating each of these other issues, they all still do occur in the context of your entire body/your overall health.
Also, keep in mind that the process of finding and resolving these issues is iterative (repeatable) in that once you find an issue, it is good to revisit it as you get new information or resolve other issues. Just because you have a solution that works doesn’t mean you have the right one or the BEST one! Keep focused on being the best you can be!
So this “treat everything else” mentality that I employ is simple. I work to control all of the health issues I know I have and that the medical community knows how to treat, and I separate out from my autism the things I think can be handled independently and go after them.
Doctors resist this strategy with some regularity. I have had to hold my ground with a few providers, but on the whole – totally worth it.
When you pick apart these problems, step by step, you find that things that someone would tell you are not treatable, are actually treatable.
Thus, for me, the treatment of autism starts with the treatment of everything else.
My encouragement for you today is that as you go and you work with doctors and mental health providers and school professionals or personnel, you start pulling these things out from under this big umbrella of autism and start pounding away at one “little” thing after another.
That you treat everything else.
If you can pull it away from autism and call it something else and have it treated, you’re going to start to see that the autism itself is maybe not the big issue, or maybe it is a big issue, but smaller than when you started.
It’s maybe the just overwhelming layers of stuff that kids with autism or women with autism seem to experience that is actually what makes it so very difficult.
In many cases, treating everything else first, and letting go of the assumption that autism is the root or cause of it all, will not only place the focus on ways to minimize the impact it has on your life, but it will also enable you to OPTIMIZE your health and what you are able to do and accomplish.