In Challenging the Myths of Autism: Unlock New Possibilities and Hope , Jonathan Alderson examines seven stereotypical characterizations or “myths of autism”. He has a chapter on each of these perennially inaccurate descriptions. Each chapter explains the origins of the seven myths and discusses the evidence refuting them. The author invites the reader to put aside their preconceived notions of autism which can mislead parents, therapists, and the general public to underestimate the potential of children with autism. Read my complete book review here and Part 1 of Jonathan’s Interview here.
Lorna: I am certain your book, Challenging the Myths of Autism: Unlock New Possibilities and Hope, will help bring about more changes with its focus on a more humanistic approach to autism treatment. What are a few things that could change to make the lives of autistic children and their families much better?
Jonathan Alderson >> A key message I worked hard to weave throughout the book is ‘acceptance’ of differences. Children with autism are different from what we perceive as ‘normal’ and I think one of the most important questions parents and caregivers and educators can ask themselves is “how do I feel about these differences?” Are you comfortable or uncomfortable when the child with autism flaps their hands and wants a routine to be a very specific way? People who have read Challenging the Myths of Autism have written to me expressing how important this single message was for them to hear and how they will try to be more accepting of their child or student. If the book helps just one adult be more patient for just one minute with just one child then I feel the book has made an important difference. Now imagine the powerful changes that could happen if this is multiplied by one-hundred parents and teachers getting this message. I hope readers will think of at least one family and one educator they can get a copy of the book for to take action to challenge the myths.
Each of the seven chapters discusses one particular stereotype that if debunked could make significant positive differences in the lives of people with autism. Just as I am challenging the myths of autism, I am giving talks across Canada to challenge parents, professionals and the general public to engage in this discussion and to be proactive in debunking the myths (www.ChallengeTheMyths.com)
As I mentioned earlier, the idea to combine treatments came from listening to many hundreds of families’ experiences… Intensive Multi-Treatment Intervention pays careful attention to the ‘timing’ and ‘order’ of the many different approaches and strategies that could help any one child.
Jonathan Alderson, Ed.M
Lorna: In your book I read, “Jonathan specializes in merging educational and biomedical treatments of autism through the integrated model he developed called Intensive Multi-Treatment Intervention (IMTI).” Would you please elaborate?
Jonathan Alderson >> As I mentioned earlier, the idea to combine treatments came from listening to many hundreds of families’ experiences. I describe the principals of multi-treatment in detail in an article I wrote for The Autism File Magazine several years ago which I recommend your viewers read: http://www.imti.ca/media/documents/AutismFileFinal_Jan09.pdf
While most families these days follow their doctor’s advice to get on as many lists for services as possible and to cobble together some programming that includes behavioural therapy, socialization with peers, and some speech therapy, almost all parents also report that there is a lack of coordination between the services. They ‘taxi’ their child from one therapy session to the next and they are often left at the end of the day with little insight or training as to how to parent their child and are left wondering if they are doing the right things to give their child the best chance for development.
Intensive Multi-Treatment Intervention pays careful attention to the ‘timing’ and ‘order’ of the many different approaches and strategies that could help any one child. For example, we might agree that a little three-year old boy will benefit from both play-therapy and from behavioural therapy, but should we begin them at the same time? Is it better to do play before behavioural therapy or in the reverse order? And if we decide behavioural therapy comes first, when (timing) should we start the play? After one week, two months, or when certain developmental criteria are met? These are the kinds of questions that I’ve studied and tried to understand for the past ten years. What I’ve discovered is that when we pay close attention to order and timing we can catalyze the treatment effect of each strategy; in other words, they all become even more effective – like a super-charged program. It’s exciting to see in action and I believe this is the direction that the field needs to move in next.
Lorna: In a video about IMTI, I listened to Liam’s mom, Nancy, applaud the help you have given her son and her whole family. She says your Intensive Multi-Treatment Intervention Program (IMTI) should be taught to ALL parents, not only families with autistic children. Can you summarize Liam’s behavior “before” and “after” treatment? How long did you work with his family and what must they continue to do? This is a great photo of you and Liam reading one of my favorite children’s books, Amelia Bedelia!
Jonathan Alderson >> I appreciate your interest in this particular case because it is compelling and it was an example to me of the powerful impact that change in attitude can have on relating to a child with autism. Liam was a controlling little guy who experienced a lot of frustration throughout each day. You can hear the screaming and crying in the beginning of the video. It was a challenging situation for his mother. What we found though was that maintaining a positive attitude based on patience and not ‘reacting’ to Liam’s outbursts helped him to let his guard down and to relate to us more gently. I think the testimonial video you’re referring to provides pretty good detail visually of what he was like ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Every time I watch the five minute video myself, I am struck by the crying and tantrums he used to have in contrast to his cooperative and friendly nature now.
His parents continue to maintain a biomedical regime because his body has many sensitivities and they are now helping Liam to expand his peer-group at school.
Lorna: In other interviews we have had occupational therapists and other specialists who work with young children tell us the importance of play. I see that in your IMTI program you have, “Phase 1: Free-play and Relationship Building”. In one of your videos, I see you are playing with Liam, what are your thoughts on the value of “PLAY”?
Jonathan Alderson >> There’s no question – play is a part of development but as you point out, it is only one of six phases of the IMTI program among which are also a structured and adult-led (ABA style) phase, a peer-socialization phase, and ultimately transition into school. Play is a part of learning and of childhood. One chapter in Challenging the Myths of Autism looks at the myth that children with autism can’t pretend play and don’t have imagination. This simply doesn’t hold up. It is true that their play is often different than what we know to be social play, but I have never met a child with autism who didn’t play with the exception of a few who were acutely ill and physically not feeling playful. There are hundreds of books on the importance of play, there are thousands of research articles on the importance of play, and it turns out that all humans in every culture in every corner of the world play – it’s in our DNA, that’s how important it is!
To me the important question in a multi-treatment program is, when should we introduce play-therapy strategies, when should we stop play, for how long, and to what extent? Traditionally behavioural (IBI/ABA) programs would include a very short one to two week “pairing” segment using play strategies at the beginning of a program to gain some rapport and compliance from the student. These days, behaviourists are recognizing the importance and power of play in motivating children to learn and so many ABA/ IBI programs now incorporate play into all aspects of their programming. I’ve seen videos of behavioural programs that could easily pass for play-therapy. These once opposing approaches are beginning to merge! My multi-treatment program has been combining these opposing approaches and many others for over a decade, but it is exciting to see others beginning to recognize the power of the ‘multi-treatment’ effect.
Lorna: Thank you, mille fois merci, for finding the time for this interview. What is on Jonathan Alderson’s To-Do list for the coming months? Please tell us where we can buy your book and how we can follow you online.
Jonathan Alderson >> I am currently working on developing a comprehensive training program for therapists and educators. I have received dozens of requests from professionals all over the globe wanting training, so I will create online materials that people in other cities and countries can access.
My book is available on www.chapters.ca and www.Amazon.ca and in bookstores across Canada. It is also downloadable on various eReaders. You’re invited to ‘Like’ the Jonathan Alderson, EdM. and Challenging the Myths Facebook page. There are several free articles posted on my blog at www.JAlderson.com and I’m on Twitter at @Alderson_J
Thank you for this opportunity to share more about Challenging the Myths of Autism and my work with your readers Lorna!