Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association used to diagnose mental disorders, people with ASD have:
Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people.
Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life.
Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups. Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. (“NIMH » Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Last Revised - March 2018) Treatment for ASD is uniquely tailored to each child or adult meaning that each, each intervention should be planned to address the individual’s specific needs.
Intervention can involve behavioral treatments, medicines or both. Many persons with autism have additional medical conditions such as sleep disturbance, seizures, and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Addressing these conditions can improve attention, learning and related behaviors. (Learn more about Treatment of Autism’s Core Symptoms and Treatment of Associated Medical Conditions.)
Early intensive behavioral intervention involves a child's entire family, working closely with a team of professionals. In some early intervention programs, therapists come into the home to deliver services. This can include parent training with the parent leading therapy sessions under the supervision of the therapist. Other programs deliver therapy in a specialized center, classroom or preschool. (“How Is Autism Treated?,” 2012)
A novel treatment approach referred to as Reconsolidation Enhancement by Stimulation of Emotional Triggers (RESET Therapy), was utilized with a six-year-old boy (Ty) whose mounting anxiety and depression interfered with his adjustment to his new kindergarten setting. The rationale behind the decision to utilize this intervention was that it was a non-verbally based treatment that elicited calmness at a subconscious level through the use of binaural sound. The hypothesis was that if Ty’s fear reaction to new circumstances could be checked, his innate curiosity would permit him to adjust to his new circumstances.
Case Study – ‘His Own Little World’
Ty is a bright boy who had been in a public pre-school and reportedly had progressed normally. There had been no prior suggestion that Ty was on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) scale. This youngster eagerly looked forward to the first day of kindergarten, but following this monumental day, Ty told his parents that he did not want to go back to school. Consequently, this child was seen for psychotherapy after about three weeks of continued school distress. His teacher reported that Ty seemed to be “in his own little world” and would not interact with other children or respond to her. He was not learning!
Due to the severity of the child’s anxiety and depressed mood, he was placed in the one-half day homebound program and referred for a brief psychological evaluation. Diagnostically, he easily met criteria for ASD and ADHD. A teacher consequently worked with him at his home after school twice weekly, as he could handle the kindergarten setting only until after lunch. His involvement in therapy was designed to improve socialization abilities as well as to stay on task and follow instructions. He attended a socialization program for children on the Autism Spectrum on a weekly basis. Following 5-months of intervention, Ty had not shown significant progress and appeared more anxious and depressed. Even more crucial, he was not learning in the classroom! He refused to respond to his teacher, and he would not play with the other children. The school administrator questioned whether he could continue to remain in the classroom.
Due to his lack of progress, the use of an experimental treatment was discussed with his mother. The intervention referred to as RESET Therapy was described which utilized a bio-acoustical utilization device (BAUD). I had previously and successfully used this intervention with adults, teens, and children who had PTSD, anxiety disorders, and depression. Based on my prior success, I asked Ty’s mother, “Why not try to use this treatment to calm Ty’s fiery brain?” Ty’s desperate mother wholeheartedly agreed to the suggestion. A session was scheduled immediately after his next school experience and then again, the following morning before school.
Consequent to his first RESET treatment, his teacher noticed an immediate and major difference. Three additional sessions were completed with the first two on a weekly basis followed by a two-week lapse. Shortly after the first two sessions, the homebound instruction was discontinued, and Ty was able to attend school all-day. In the interim, his mother underwent major surgery in another city. His teacher consequently noticed some regression, primarily manifested in increased anxiety and again “making noises” in the classroom. (Due to mother’s inability to drive and Ty’s improvement, he was not seen in therapy after the five RESET sessions until the semester ended). Amazingly he made honor roll the next 6 weeks. From the first treatment session to the end of the school year was only 14 weeks.
Impressively, it was only six weeks after receiving his first two treatments that Ty made kindergarten “honor roll” for that grading period. He was learning! He was reported by his teacher to be more sociable with peers and relational with his teacher. When we met for his fifth RESET session, Ty wanted to tell me the good news, that he would be promoted to first grade! Three months following the first two treatment sessions, Ty also received three certificates at his school’s Awards Ceremony: “Most Improved,” “Good Citizenship,” and “Promotion to First Grade.”
Both his teacher and mother reported that Ty’s academic, interpersonal, and behavioral improvements, “were the difference between night and day.” Ty now looks forward to regular playdates at his cousin’s house. He has so much fun playing while there; he wants his parents to allow him to stay longer! Only four months ago he stood by and watched other children play, and if offered a toy, he took it to another room to play with it alone. He goes fishing with his father, and when he returns home he does not just say, “I caught a fish,” but he tells his mother every detail of the fishing expedition. He follows directions and, without being asked, he helps his mother fold clothes, and he uses a small broom to sweep.
He reportedly told his father, “I’m the man. I have one hundred girlfriends. You ain’t the man because you only have one (Mom)!” Ty went to a skating party, and his Dad observed that he seemed to be talking to “all the girls.” Mother reports Ty has matured so much. Now he is animated and shows expression.
Recent psychological testing shows that Ty still meets the criteria for ASD, but now he has a new “lease on life.” His anxiety no longer blocks his ability to learn. What an amazing transformation for this child. From my perspective, I have another tool in my kit to assist these children in their adjustment efforts. Even better, I get to hear the good news of their successes rather than their previous failures.
Susan Parcell Bindewald PMHCNS-BC
Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist