The title text on a pink background: 10 autism interventions for families embracing the neurodiversity paradigm

10 ‘Autism Interventions’ for Families Embracing the Neurodiversity Paradigm

In most places, as soon as a child is identified as autistic, they are funnelled straight in to early intervention therapies. Based on a medical model of disability, these therapies see autistic children as disordered, and aim to change autistic children so that they will play, communicate and move more like their ‘typically developing’ peers.

In contrast, the neurodiversity paradigm* views autism and other neurodivergence as a natural and valuable part of human diversity. There is not an ‘ideal’ brain or correct style of neurocognitive functioning; all are valued. There is not an ideal or correct way for children to play, communicate and move; all are valued.

If families, caregivers and health professionals accept the neurodiversity paradigm, ‘autism early intervention’ looks very different. The target of intervention is not autistic children, but their social and physical environments. Autistic children are supported in families and communities to develop as unique and valued human beings, without conforming to the developmental trajectory of their neurotypical peers.

1.  Learn from autistic people

Learn as a family about autistic ways of being and autistic culture, neurodiversity, and disability. Autistic people are the only experts on autism; find us and our work. Don’t ask us to educate you, but listen and learn.

2.  Tell your child they are autistic

Tell them now, tell them early. Talk about autism matter-of-factly. Explore what being autistic means for them. Teach your child about disability and how they are disabled by society. Build pride and an understanding of human rights from a young age.

3.  Say NO to all things stressful & harmful

Say no – to quackery, to intensive normalising therapy, to excessive socialising, and to inappropriate school environments. Say no to anything that causes stress or harms their bodies. Say no to anything that will interfere with their ability to say No themselves in the future. Model self advocacy early.

4.  Slow down your life

Autistic children need time and space to develop in their own way at their own pace. Ideas about happy ‘productive’ childhoods are based on neurotypical norms. Cut out all of the extra activities and socialising, and busyness of life. Discover the pace that works for your children. You might find that lots of downtime at home is vital for their healthy development.

5.  Support & accommodate sensory needs

Observe your child closely, talk with them, and tune in to their sensory needs. Meet their sensory needs creatively (you don’t need to spend lots of money). Defend and protect your child from sensory assaults. Frame this as an accommodation they require as a child with disability, in the same way other children require ramps or interpreters.

6.  Value your child’s interests

There is no right way to play. Special interests are good for autistic brains, and a natural way that autistic children learn and develop. Don’t use them as a ‘way in’ for other learning, therapy or change. Don’t attempt to broaden their interests, or restrict access to special interests. Join in, learn about and share their interests; but also respect your child’s wishes for time alone with their favourite things.

7.  Respect stimming

Stimming (self-stimulatory behaviour) is like breathing for autistic children and adults. It feels good, helps us feel connected and focused. It is harmful to interfere with children developing and enjoying their own stims. Unless children are hurting themselves or others, respect their need to stim; never shame them or stop them. Stimming is beautiful!

8.  Honour & support all communication

Don’t overly focus on the development of verbal speech. Human communication is much more than speech, and many autistic people are non-speaking. Honour and respond respectfully to all communication from your children. Support your child to access communication supports such as symbol-based AAC, sign language, typing, or RPM so that they have access to alternative ways to communicate with family, friends and others.

9. Minimise therapy, increase accommodations & supports

Intervene with therapy only for issues impacting health and wellbeing. A good question to ask: “Would my non-autistic children access this therapy?” Focus your energy and advocacy efforts on accessing accommodations and support for your child to participate in family and community as they choose. Autistic children may require 1:1 support more often or at different times than other children. They also have a right to accommodations to enable inclusion in school and community.

10.  Explore your own neurocognitive differences

Explore similarities between you and your child’s sensory, cognitive, and social needs. Accepting and valuing your own unique brain, goes a long way towards respecting and accommodating your children’s needs. Many autistic children have neurodivergent parents; exploring your differences might help you identify something really important about yourself!

– Briannon Lee


*
For more about neurodiversity, the neurodiversity paradigm and movement, please see Nick Walker’s succinct and clear definitions – http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/

For those who prefer visual presentation of information, Michelle Sutton’s neurodiversity infographic is a great primer on neurodiversity – http://michellesuttonwrites.com/66-2/the-basics-of-neurodiversity/

33 replies
  1. Nellie Moore
    Nellie Moore says:

    Thank you! Thanks to SWAN for directing me to this. I am autistic, diagnosed last year at age 53. This is so important for our children, and for those of us who are adults with autism. I can relate to everything on this list and these things are as important for me to honor in myself as they are in what we do for our children. Thank you for adding my journey.

    Reply
    • Sharon
      Sharon says:

      Not to be pedantic (oh how my husband would laugh) but one IS autistic, one doesn't HAVE autism. "Person with autism" implies that it is a separate, pathologised condition.

      I just thought that in a piece about correct use of terms, its worth mentioning 🙂

      Reply
    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Sharon, since Nellie herself is autistic, I don't think it's up to you to decide how she should describe it (and she does call herself "autistic" in the third paragraph). While most of my autistic friends do prefer the descriptor you mentioned, which is part of their identities, others feel that it boxes them in and defines them primarily by their autism (or autistic-ness, if you prefer), and thus would rather go with the "with" way of referring to it. It's not up to you to decide.

      Reply
      • Anonymous Too
        Anonymous Too says:

        Annonymous – it’s also not up to you to say “that it is not up to another’ – simply leave it as a difference of opinion. My lads hates it when others say “oh so your autistic” cause then he has to engage into the conversation “No I don’t have autism. I’m placed upon the ASD Spectrum” Please cease referring to one as all.

        Reply
  2. Yvonne Morentin
    Yvonne Morentin says:

    I have always done this for my two… didn't know i was on to something way back then 20 years ago, but all I knew is my two are fine just the way they are., they are loved, they are supported, healthy and happy.. and if you ask my daughter, she will tell you… telling her she is broken, damaged and needs a cure, is telling her she is broken, damaged and sick… I totally support neurodiversity… and i have always taken my cues from my kids…

    Reply
  3. Marci Lebowitz
    Marci Lebowitz says:

    This is an extraordinary article, Briannon. You so eloquently describe many things I feel. May I write a blog post about your article, citing and referencing you and your work? I'd love to see this go out to the world even more! Warmly, Marci* Lebowitz, OT and Autism Specialist (www.marcilebowitz.com)

    Reply
    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Marci, thank you for your kind feedback and enthusiasm for sharing this piece! As it is in the public domain, anyone may reference this article, provided standards around citations and referencing are met, including linking back to the original content. However please contact Respectfully Connected if you intend to use any of our work for pay-to-access/view content on your website. We are contactable via our Facebook page. Sincerely, Briannon

      Reply
  4. Chaoticidealism
    Chaoticidealism says:

    My aide, who works with autistic children and a few of us autistic adults, always said that a lot of her job involves training the parents, because the children are often doing just fine. I wish I'd had someone to train my parents.

    Reply
    • Briannon Lee
      Briannon Lee says:

      True, sometimes us parents need support more than our children! I'm so relieved I found other autistic people early in the piece who could set me straight and have helped me figure things out

      Reply
  5. laurel
    laurel says:

    Thank you! This was such a well written, transparent, direct and logical piece of info. This really just hit me! I am in the midst of an out of state move- been relocated 3 months. Son went form self contained to mainstreamed with resource – change change change– my poor kid is havinggenuine melt downs which we have not seen in AGES> I appreciate this simplistic reminder of WHAT IS REALLY important to simplify and make happier all of our lives! LOVED IT! Powerful!

    Reply
  6. Kris
    Kris says:

    Bookmarking! I love how succinctly you've listed such crucial points to well-being. Perfectly timed reminder for me. We are planning to discuss with our 8 year old autistic son figuring out a new balance for activities/commitments. It's an area that is super challenging for us, even with the flexibility of homeschooling. He told us months ago that he needs more structure, but it seems to increase his anxiety to the point that it's counterproductive. Trying to fold in his passions with the rest of the family's needs is really challenging to strike a balance.

    Reply
    • Briannon Lee
      Briannon Lee says:

      Thank you very much for the feedback, striking a balance between everyone's needs is tricky in families. Hope you all figure it out together, sounds like you are taking his lead and that is so great to hear.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed reading this, but I do have to express some slight disagreement – I think much of this depends on your child. My daughter is autistic and greatly desires socialization; she loves and is thriving on therapy that I suspect you would consider "normalizing", because she enjoys learning a framework that helps her socialize easily. Similarly, there are things she wants to do that require her to habituate herself to some sensory input that she finds difficult. Obviously, in the case of my particular child, these things aren't painful/highly stressful; another autistic child (or adult) might find things quite different.

    While I support accommodation (like using typing instead of handwriting where necessary), I also feel it's important to point out that many children find some of these physical skills difficult – but in the case of neurotypical kids, they are encouraged to develop the skill, while I'm already seeing my daughter be excused from similar challenges because of her diagnosis. I never want her to get the message that autism makes her less capable of learning or handling difficulties than a neurotypical child. Again, in the case of my particular child, she has the ability to learn many of these things with extra practice, and seems to find it empowering and encouraging to know she can do so.

    Granted, I'm new to this (diagnosis less than a year ago), and my daughter is young enough that she has less input in what we choose to do simply because she can't yet understand the long-term, but we try to be very respectful of what she needs. At the same time, we are trying not to assume that she can't do something or will have difficulty with something. I'm hoping that will strike the right balance between providing accommodations as needed but still letting her know that her voice and needs matter.

    Reply
  8. Ann
    Ann says:

    #6: There are two sides to the idea of “broadening interests” and linking learning to a child’s interests. If done to make a kid “more normal”, to coerce learning, or as an attempt to replace an “odd” hobby with a “normal” one; no one should not do that, for those reasons. Linking a child’s interests to similar subjects and learning is part of unschooling: teaching a child how to learn, based on their interests. Showing them various careers related to their interests-with respect-can lead to jobs or careers, friendships, or just learning in general. The goals for and attitudes behind the methods are what matter in my book.

    Reply
  9. Nicky
    Nicky says:

    I love your blog and especially this post. Having 6 autistic in my house abd the daily struggles we all have. My daughter didn’t get her first job or even an eftpos card or mobile phone until she was 19 now 20 and everyone thought she was a freak. I love been at home so do my youngest boys ages 11 and 3 but because of expectations on mr3 we have to go to therapies and we hate it. I took Mr 11 away from therapy with a psychologist as I felt it was not doing him any good but got told I would regret it as a teen and we will need crisis help. I really struggle been Aspie myself between what everyone else expects me to do and what I want to do. Sorry for rambling.

    Reply
  10. Han-Lin
    Han-Lin says:

    Temple Grandin did mention that even with ASD, it’s still necessary to get out of their comfort zones. Her mother stretched her slightly out of her comfort zone. Stepping out of my comfort zone isn’t easy for me.

    Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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