3 Breakthrough Steps for Helping Your Child on the Autism Spectrum

We need to stop trying to "fix" the child and start creating conditions that help the child's own brain to do its job better.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the alarming statistic that one child out of 88 is diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder, a huge increase over the past 10 years. Are these children doomed? Absolutely not. A variety of behavioral therapies and other interventions can help the child on the Autism spectrum make great strides. My message to you is that there is hope for even greater outcomes for these children than we have come to expect. New scientific research has created breakthrough possibilities of helping the child on the Autism spectrum by reducing the brain's compulsivity and helping it become the brilliant brain it is built to be.

For that we need to stop trying to "fix" the child and start creating conditions that help the child's own brain to do its job better.

The brain of every child needs to do two somewhat opposing things. The first is to constantly seek new ways of doing things through the creation of new neural connections and patterns. The second is to groove in and turn into habits the effective new patterns, be it in movement, thinking, feeling or emotion. This is what is happening in the brain anytime a child learns something new, such as walking; what was at first impossible or difficult becomes "second nature" as the child's brain refines the patterns to perform that activity well. Typically, the brain of the child on the Autism Spectrum tends to create a limited number of very powerful habits and to have great difficulty with the complementary, open-ended process of creating new patterns and new possibilities, resulting in the rigidity we often see with children suffering from this condition.

The following helps to illustrate how we can help the child with Autism transcend his or her current limitations.

I first saw Jonathan when he just turned two. He recently was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. In addition to making no eye contact, he was not speaking nor did he respond to his name. He had difficulty eating and refused most foods, and when people were around he tried to hide under furniture. During his first session with me, while sitting in his father's lap, he repeatedly arched his back, threw his head back and let out a cry as if his brain was stuck on an automatic loop unable to do anything else. I saw in Ryan a brain that was having great difficulty making sense of all the input and stimulation coming in.

I began very gently and slowly to move Jonathan's pelvis and back. In the beginning, he didn't seem to notice himself or me. A few minutes later, as I very gently and slowly moved his foot, Jonathan became suddenly very still and began staring at his own foot, then straight at me, then back at his foot as if he was feeling it and seeing it for the very first time in his life! Jonathan was coming home to himself. As "small" a change as this might seem, it was a moment of transformation for Jonathan, changing the way his brain had been working. After this first session Ryan's parents reported significant changes in his behavior. After two weeks of sessions he was eating much better, beginning to talk, interacting and playing with his brother and eventually with other kids.

What happened and how does this apply to you and your child?

Every child's brain is like an information "Cookie Monster" -- the brain needs lots of new information to grow and develop new skills. The source of new information to the brain is through the perception of differences. Until a child feels and notices a change or a difference in what they feel, hear, see, smell, or taste, their brain has nothing to work with. Before this differentiation takes place, it's all a blur, like background noise, no matter how clear it might seem to be to us. We can drill the child for hours with some, or little outcome. But when we help their brain get better at noticing differences, almost anything we do with the child will help them improve and almost always at a staggering rate.

Here are three ways you can help your child's brain get better at perceiving differences and getting the new information it needs to heal and learn:

1. Movement With Attention: Take a few minutes, 3-4 times a day, and guide your child to pay attention to what they feel as they move. As they are doing this, observe the immediate and remarkable changes beginning to happen in your child. Automatic, repetitive movement provides little new information for the brain. When your child is attentive to what they feel as they move -- their brain begins forming new neural connections at a staggeringly rapid rate -- that is when transformation happens.

2. Slow: Whenever you observe that your child has a difficulty or seems to "not get it", slow him or her and yourself way down. This change alone can bring about remarkable transformations. Fast, the brain can only do what it already knows. Slow gets the brain's attention and provides the time for the child to feel themselves and for the brain, once again, to notice differences and get new information to work with.

3. Variation: That means instead of trying to have your child do things the "right way", become playful. Guide your child to make lots of mistakes - to do the same thing in many different ways. That provides the brain with lots of opportunity to perceive differences and get the information it needs.

Anat Baniel's newest book, Kids Beyond Limits, is available on Amazon.com or at your favorite independent bookstore..

Learn more about the Anat Baniel Method: www.anatbanielmethod.com