Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome & Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)

While each diagnosis has its distinguishing characteristics, in all three there is impairment in social interactions and enjoyment resulting from social interactions with others. The inability of a child whose behaviors fall within these areas to socialize is the result of an inability to interpret verbal and nonverbal communications, as well as their own difficulties in communicating verbally. Each of these difficulties varies from child to child. Moreover, each child’s level of cognitive functioning can vary from well above average to significantly below average. The above-average intelligence differentiates Asperger’s Syndrome from autism.

With these factors in mind, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is utilized heavily on a discrete trial basis. ABA and discrete trials teaching have almost become synonymous. ABA’s teaching principals apply on a macroscopic level, as well. It is important to address the child’s needs beyond the long, multiple discrete trial goals many children work thru in a day. What happens when all the clinicians go home? Parents have to be part of the team. They need to know the goals, understand the interventions, and master them if they are going to support learning, be the “lead teacher,” and facilitate generalization of the goals once mastered. This is understood, in most cases, by any good behaviorist.

What I also look to examine and address is how the parent, the emotional model of the children, is being impacted by their child’s lack of response to their love, anger, and other feelings. Parents have children for all kinds of reasons. What happens when the child is not going to fulfill those reasons, wishes, and dreams of their parent(s)? What happens between the parent(s) and the child? What happens between the mother and father? In too many cases the “happenings” are not noted as having a typical happy outcome. (Note: Not all cases.)

The complexity here is the implementations of the technical interventions. For instance, ABA might not be implemented, or only partially implemented, because the parent(s) are not able to emotionally deal with their special child. Or, in some cases, the technical interventions are being implemented without emotion. How is this impacting the child?

Feelings and thoughts are complicated and not logical linear concepts. The ability of each parent to address their child’s special needs varies from parent to parent. We have to understand that most of us as parents pass along our family quirks and idiosyncrasies in spite of ourselves. This is really okay most of the time. We wish our children to have children like them! And guess what? They do!

The problem is that while we “would have been a good enough parent” with a typical child, this might not be the case with a special child. Why? Well depending on the nature of the disability, all the minute, sub-conscious and unconscious interactions between parent and child get muddled by the compromised mechanics of the special needs child. If the child cannot process all of the verbal, sensory, auditory visual, or olfactory input in a typical manner, the input comes in but is not organized in a meaningful manner. The trick for the parents is to adjust what they do and how they do it so that the child can internalize the interaction(s). If it is not organized sufficiently the child remains dependent on the environment and not independent.

Note: Selected information presented here is taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington D.C., London England, 2013.