Lately I’ve been working with some of my families on school matters. While there’s no doubt that our school system is well meaning, there’s also no doubt that many of the strategies in our schools simply enable children with ASD to cope. I decided to write this to help clarify the notion of compensation versus remediation – a very important distinction indeed.
ASD Therapies – There are So Many!
Since my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome almost 10 years ago, I have come across numerous tools, interventions and therapies developed to help children and their families. Each of these has a purpose – an end goal. Some, like visual schedules, are designed to reduce a child’s anxiety by providing information about what’s coming up next in the course of the day. Time-timers, which give a child a visual representation of the amount of time remaining before a transition, have a similar goal. They are designed to compensate for the child’s challenges. They support the child, and enable him or her to cope in their environment. They fall into the category of “compensations” and can be considered “work-arounds.”
This tends to be the general approach to helping individuals on the spectrum who are challenged in the areas of socialization, communication and often struggle with behavioural issues. Those who have read my blog know that these issues are by-products of deeper processing challenges that stem from atypical neural connectivity in the brain. In other words, the “triad of impairments” that we often hear about are not the autism itself.
So, what do most autism interventions aim to achieve? Widely accepted strategies enable children to “fit” into typical environments – to sit still in school, wait in line without becoming upset, or to behave in a way that looks typical… to greet people appropriately, and to learn “skills” that enable the child to function on a surface level.
So what is remediation and how does it differ?
The dictionary definition of remediation is “to remedy a problem; the act or process of correcting a deficiency.” Dr. Gutstein, the founder of the RDI Program refers to it as “correcting a deficit to the point where it no longer constitutes an obstacle.”
RDI is an intervention based on recent research in the fields of developmental psychology and neurodevelopment – research that takes into consideration how typical children develop and what types of experiential stimulus pushes children along the path of typical development. It assumes that over time, and with the proper experiential stimulation, brains can change. It assumes that we can actually develop an ASD child’s capacity to understand how to think flexibly and problem solve in a dynamic fashion. It remediates their weaknesses, working directly on the areas of cognitive deficit, rather than teaching to their strengths in learning rote, static information.
It’s time to think beyond compensations, and to raise the bar!
It is possible to strengthen areas of weakness in the brain and give children (and their families) quality of life rather than just enabling them to cope. This is the focus of the RDI Program – and remediation is a very real possibility!
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