Thursday, August 27, 2009

Autism Spectrum

I struggled over this entry. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but this morning presented me with a "teaching moment" -- possibly the first actual instruction! In the end, I decided to put it aside for a later entry and keep on track with further background.

My son's learning disability, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, is very similar to Asperger's Syndrome. Asperger's has been recognized for several years as being within the spectrum of autism disorders, but NLD has not. About a year ago, my husband, son and I volunteered to take part in a genetic study through Children's Hospital in Boston. Early in that process, the women interviewing us for our health histories said that NLD was expected to be similarly recognized in mid-2009. I have not heard whether that came to pass or not.

With the sharp rise in diagnosed cases of social communications and autism disorders, there is a plethora of information available on the subjects. It has become common in everyday dialog to hear someone mention a child they know of that is "on the spectrum." Like other words and catchphrases that have wiggled their way into our language over the past generation (AIDS and HIV positive, Windows and Mouse, TIVO and Texting), we don't have to stop and define the "spectrum" to which the speaker refers.

Understanding the complexities of their own disability is an important step for a young adult coping with it. I should add here, that my son has yet to read the results of the neuropsychological re-evaluation that was completed over a year ago. Nonetheless, at some point, he will need to know the symptoms and hallmarks of his particular diagnosis. The answer can be different for each person, and it is complicated for our son. In addition to the learning disability, he has been diagnosed with a movement disorder (which has been well controlled by medication he has taken since before turning two), and he has a dysfluency/speech issue as well. It has been identified as "initial onset dysfluency:" not quite a stutter, more of an extended pause before he can begin speaking. One of the recommendations in his educational plan is that teachers should allow him extra time to respond to verbal questions. The social communications problems caused by the NLD are exacerbated by the dysfluency.

Our son has spent most of his life so far in speech therapy of one sort or another, most recently in a "social communications" group setting (more later). As a toddler, he worked with a wonderful therapist who used left and right brain exercises, including "cross-crawling." It was the first I had heard of this and I was skeptical. But one day as I was driving home from day care and he was about three, he said to me, out of the blue, "I love you." Wow - whatever cross-crawling is, Please keep doing it!

No comments: