Autism Spectrum Disorder: Embodying Development For Growth

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BY DR. LORI BAUDINO, BC-DMT

This article will glance at the common symptomology that links across the spectrum of children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The author will explore the varying degrees of etiology, the starting place for these children’s need for displaying such symptoms. And lastly, an approach that can aid the ASD community of parents, educators and clinicians in supporting their different treatment interventions.

This information will allow you to support your loved one from these states of chaos, rigidity and disconnect into a place of integration and connection.

As a clinician, I recall countless questions of parents asking if the ASD diagnosis can be “fixed,” “can it go away.” I am proud to say that while that is a loaded question with many variabilities, I respond by asking, “what would you like to have happen” “what are you hoping your children or your family member can achieve/experience,” and with this information together we can find important,  creative, and whole body interventions to support growth and development.
But first, let’s dive into how this works…
By being clear with what we are asking, then our supportive strategies can follow suit.
Let’s start by looking at the symptomology. (As you may know…)
The common symptoms of ASD are defined as social impairment across contexts, deficits in non-verbal communicative behaviors used for social interactions (i.e. lack of eye contact, varying limitations in facial affect, repetitive behaviors, etc.). (DSM 5, 2013)

BUT WHAT ABOUT ETIOLOGY?

It is important that as we learn more about ASD and various treatments and options for our loved ones that we also consider how this all started. The confounding events in a person’s life and even in the lives in those related. This is not to place blame but rather to develop best practices to support the foundation of the individual.

For instance, when I moved into our now one-hundred-year old Spanish style house; the quaint feel, the beautiful flow of the interior and the potential for a place to raise a family made it an immediate purchase. But what we soon learned is that the house was not secured on its foundation. Instead of being upset and blaming the original builder or leaving the house all together – we worked to find the income, to take the time and empower ourselves with decisions for best practices and we found a way to secure our house’s foundation. Interestingly, along the way other areas needed more attention because of the subtle movements of installing the stabilizers for the house, but the house continues to stand and be the place we love and find safety in every day.

If we look at the ASD population and its wide spread numbers, we can also see varying degrees of etiology. We may be able to decipher four different areas of explanation. 1. The individuals that present with autistic symptomology without the following additional impairments or challenges. 2. The individuals that had early life trauma such as but not limited to loss, acculturation, abuse, and neglect. These children while we pray are not the norm do present with this symptomology stated above, amongst other symptoms too. 3. Those with early medical needs such as seizure disorders, physical impairments/illness, otitis media. 4. Individuals that may have learning impairment, sensory deficits, and comorbid disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit disorder, to name a few.

This list is not to infuriate readers, as the author is aware of the sensitivity of exploring this topic, the emotional vulnerability and strength that family members and loved ones endure each day they are working to support the individual with ASD. This breakdown is to further bring awareness for how to collectively provide understanding and acceptance, which then promotes health and growth.

EMPOWERING STRATEGIES FOR GROWTH

When you decide what factors, stated above, play into your experience with an individual diagnosed with ASD, then you can ask the questions of your clinicians and care-providers on ensuring there is understanding of the whole child and the etiology. Then additional support can be provided for addressing medical needs, psychological care, and educational support. Again, this is not to shame anyone for the etiology but rather to address the appropriate response needed in treatment.

Next, we can address all four areas by looking at the individual diagnosed as ASD in regards to their movement preferences and areas of restriction.
• Observe when the body appears relaxed
• Notice when you see restriction – tightened muscles, flat facial affect, direct movements from point A to B, even preferences for linear play with familiar patterns and outcome.
• Notice when you see asymmetry/chaotic movements – flailing arms, limp head posture, indirect motions, drifting/floating motions without intention.
• Acknowledge whether the individual prefers moving side-to-side in rocking or forward and back. Do they sit in a “w” stance on the ground?

This information will allow you to support your loved one from these states of chaos, rigidity and disconnect into a place of integration and connection. At times, the body will react or respond with these types of preferences however, when the movement pattern does not appear to match the interactions, environment or need of the individual, then support is needed.

Once you become familiar with this observation and the preferred movement styles, you may decide to join the individual and try on their way of moving too. Practice it with your body – see what it feels like, what you notice.
• Then support the individual by practicing opportunities to move first in a horizontal side-to-side manner. This motion recreates the soothing rocking of baby and mother. The fluidity of comfort, security, and support.
• Next, explore the environment by placing objects high and low, looking up and down, and standing and sitting. This vertical motion allows for exploration, independence and self-confidence.
• Lastly, provide opportunities for intimacy and connection with moving forward and back. Reaching out towards and pulling in, high fives, hugs, and passing such as in ball play.

What this allows for is the embodiment of repairing and building that foundation. The individual is provided with a space to gradually move through the developmental stages of growth and connection. This exploration of movement provides expanded opportunities for increasing timing with speed of motions, development of weight with qualities of heaviness, strength and lightness and the directionality for moving within the body, in connection to another, and through the  environment. These movement activities can be repeated over again, an individual may stay in one pattern of movement for a while until comfortably shifting to the next, and ultimately through each range of motion.

Now with an understanding of varying degrees of etiology, how to guide discussion for best practices for your individual ASD case, and some initial steps for observation and connection – you have an expanded lens to value the competency and purpose these movements serve. and to further experience the capabilities and resilience of each individual diagnosed with ASD. •

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
003-2Dr. Lori Baudino, has been a practicing clinician for over a decade. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Masters in Creative Arts Therapy— Dance/Movement Therapy, the therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual. Through The Andrea Rizzo Foundation, Dr. Baudino brought the first  Dance/Movement Therapy Programs to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she provides bedside therapy to children with cancer, special needs and terminal illness. Dr. Baudino has specialized in supervising, facilitating and providing treatment for children with special needs and their families. She has worked in psychiatric hospitals and at rehabilitation centers for trauma, addiction and pain management. According to Dr. Baudino, “Body Knowledge enables children to focus on their feelings within the body to work through psychological challenges and integrate experiences relationships and the environment…With Body Knowledge the child feels seen, safe and able to express their inner thoughts and needs.”