Autism: What Works and Why

I was pleased to see that the theme for the upcoming annual Interdisciplinary Council on Learning Disorders (ICDL) Conference is “Autism:  What Works and Why.”  I’ve been to too many government meetings on autism that focus on the size of the amygdala or genetic components rather than treatments, therapies, and services for children and adults with autism.  The ICDL does an excellent job of working to help improve the lives of children with autism.  I’ll be attending the three-day conference from November 6-8 for the third straight year.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan is the author of the book “Engaging Autism” and the founder of the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model of autism therapy.

The DIR model aims to improve social, emotional, and intellectual abilities in a way that is meaningful for the child rather than focusing on isolated skills and behaviors.  I wrote about the DIR model three years ago on my website,

The DIR method focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships, and individual differences. DIR is based on following the child’s lead and enables the child to learn by doing what he or she likes to do in a fun and meaningful way that resonates most with the child. DIR focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness and attention. The DIR method can also help a child generalize skills initially learned through drills.

There are imitators who switch the DIR letters around, but DIR is the original.  I picked up Greenspan’s “Engaging Autism” again recently and looked at a few of the parts I underlined.  Here are a few of them that are certainly worth repeating:

  • We now understand that the lines of early development are interrelated.  Rather than assessing language skills, motor skills, and social-emotional skills separately, we should look at how well these abilities are integrated, how they work together as a whole.
  • Emotion always comes before behavior.  The child needs to enjoy relationships with parents, peers, and teachers in order to learn. Emotion is critical to brain development.
  • We always recommend that kids have at least four playdates a week, so that their main source of companionship begins shifting from parents to peers…Mommy is still important for security, warmth, and problem solving, but not for going out and riding bikes together.
  • We have never worked with a child or adult who didn’t have a desire to relate to others.

Other than the courses I took at Johns Hopkins University in its Graduate Certificate program in Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, the ICDL training is just about the best that I’ve experienced.


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