Is there a ‘Magic Formula’ for Autism?

Monique Simpson

Since you are reading this I’m guessing that the subject line may have grabbed your attention ;)

which is great because….

What I have to tell you today is very important. In fact it may change the way you think about just about every aspect of your child’s treatment.

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I often get asked to give families strategies to help deal with specific behaviours such as ‘toilet training’ or ‘picky eating’ or ‘poor sleeping patterns’.

It would certainly make my job MUCH easier if I could tell each one of you that ONE particular strategy would be the ‘Magic Formula‘ for solving each of these issues.

But the truth is…

because every child with autism (like any child) is so incredibly different and so unique, there simply isn’t a ‘magic formula’ or one strategy in particular to remedy these individual behaviours.

But there is a solution… so please read on.

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After 14 years specialising in autism and treating hundreds of children, I absolutely believe that

the children who make the greatest gains (and the fastest gains) are the ones whose parents and carers fully understand the unique differences of their child and know how to work with these individual characteristics, for maximum effect to help their child reach their full potential.

I have witnessed this time and time again.

So in order to interact with your child effectively and determine the best methods for managing their individual behaviours (eg: not weeing on the toilet, not socialising with peers, not eating a range of foods etc) you really need to understand your child’s individual sensory, emotional, thought processing patterns and learning style. Without this understanding, you will simply be guessing as to the best (and most suitable) methods of addressing particular behaviours with your child.

So what do you do…?

How do we help them with these issues…??

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My “Magic Formula”

The good news is that I have developed a magic formula of sorts… although with less magic and much more formula. ;)

And although some of my clients might believe that I have a bunch of magic tricks up my sleeve,

the reality is that this formula involves no magic but rather

…a well structured, methodical and individualised process, that systematically uncovers the underlying cause of ‘problem’ behaviours, enabling us to identify the most appropriate strategies and methods for treating them.

This process can be used with any child to target virtually any kind of behavioural issue.

I have never publicised this formula or the essence of my treatment model until now…

It is something I have only ever shared with my clients and those of you who already have my Autism Essentials Training Program.

But I know that unless I do share it with you, you will never fully understand why it is so important and how it forms the foundations for everything else that I do in the treatment of children with autism.

So let me introduce you to my Magic Formula… which I call the ‘Connect Therapy Pyramid’.

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The Connect Therapy Pyramid

I developed this formula and treatment model gradually over many years of working with children with autism and now use it everyday in the work that I do with the families I treat.

Whenever we have a problem behaviour that we are trying to target with a particular child we pull out the Connect Therapy Pyramid and work out systematically what is going on for the child.

Connect Therapy Pyramid

I know it looks incredibly simple. But believe me, when used correctly it can be very powerful.

Each level of the pyramid is interconnected, starting from SENSE, then working all the way up through FEEL, THINK and LEARN, and finally arriving at BEHAVE at the very top of the pyramid.

Behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg

tip of the icebergImagine the pyramid is an iceberg. Your child’s behaviours are just the tip of the iceberg. They are what everybody sees on the surface.

But what we can’t see is the other 90% of the iceberg submerged beneath the water. What most people don’t realise is that they key to treating your child’s behaviours lies in being aware of and understanding the foundation skills and developmental deficits that make up the other 90% of the iceberg.

Example Case Study

Let me explain this by working through an example of how we would use the pyramid in practice.

Please note that even though the example I’ve chosen below looks at feeding issues, the formula can be used with virtually any challenging issue or behaviour that your child is experiencing.

Lets pretend that Jack is a very picky eater and will only eat home made chips, bread and banana. So the ‘behaviour’ we are trying to improve is getting Jack to eat a wider variety of foods.

But in order to treat the behaviour, we first need to understand why it is occurring.

It’s no good starting at the top of the pyramid, pouring all your efforts into treating the actual behaviour. We can’t waste time merely treating the symptoms of the problem (the tip of the iceberg) without actually understanding the cause of why it is happening.

For this reason, you must always start at the bottom of the pyramid with Sense, and work your way up.

As you become more competent at understanding your child at each of the different levels, the order in which you work can become more flexible. However you must ALWAYS analyse each of the lower levels first, before moving up to Behave.

  • Step 1 therefore is to take into consideration whether there are any sensory motor challenges. It could be possible that Jack has a sensory processing issue. This could be based on either touch, visual (only feels safe eating certain coloured foods?), auditory (may not like the sound of crunchy foods?) or smell related issues. It may also be possible that Jack has an oral propriocpetive challenge where he does not have a good sense of where his tongue, lips and jaw are positioned and how they move which could mean that certain types of food are more challenging to eat than others.
  • Step 2 is to consider what might be going on emotionally for Jack, what he is ‘feeling’ when he tries to eat new foods. It may be causing him an enormous amount of anxiety which means that meal time is extremely stressful for him. As we learned last week, if Jack is operating in a stressful state then he is unable to use the ‘thinking’ part of his brain to learn how to eat new foods. So until this is managed effectively there will be little change in his progress.
  • Step 3 is to understand and consider whether Jack’s thought processing patterns are getting in the way of him trialing new foods. He may be very rigid and lack flexibility in the way he thinks. In this instance it is so important to build a warm and trusting relationship into mealtimes so that Jack feels very reassured and supported to take a few risks. But when doing this, it is also vital that the family know how to create the ‘just right’ challenge for Jack. If the challenge is too easy, he probably won’t be interested. If it is too difficult he might breakdown.
  • Step 4 is to establish Jack’s learning style so that this can be taken into consideration when helping Jack work through this problem area. This is a very big area of analysis and involves understanding the auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning possibilities for Jack.

Finally, when we have dealt with each of the levels below, we can look at Jack’s behaviour and confidently choose the best strategies to help Jack with eating a wider variety of foods because we have a thorough understanding of the underlying issues causing this behaviour in the first place.

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So there you have it.

My ‘Autism Formula’. :)

I’ll be talking about it more in the weeks to come but right now this post is getting quite long, so I need to wrap it up…

I have only BRIEFLY touched on some of the possibilities for using this formula in the case study above to give you an idea of how this technique can be used to fully support your child’s development and learning. Hopefully you will have also gained a sense of how individualised and powerful this process can be for working with the unique differences of each individual child.

This treatment model is also very respectful (and fun!) for the child because it celebrates the fact that all children are unique and deserve individualised treatment and uses their natural motivations and strengths to help them learn more quickly.

complete_program_480__26519_thumbIf you’re interested in further training on using these methods to better understand and help your child then I’d recommend that you take a closer look at my Autism Essentials Training Series. I specifically developed this program based on the fundamental principals of the Connect Therapy Pyramid. It covers each level of the pyramid in detail, beginning with SENSE then moving up through FEEL, THINK, LEARN and finally BEHAVE, teaching you how to understand and help your child at each stage.

To see how empowered and confident families become when they gain this incredible understanding of their child makes my work so rewarding.

At the end of the day it does not matter whether I have the skills to help the child. I consider it my job to hand over these tools to the parents and carers so they feel that they know how to tackle the various issues that arise. Only then do I feel that I have done a good job with the child and family!

Until next time. Happy connecting! :)

Best wishes

Monique

PS: Did this make sense to you? I hope that this has really enlightened many of you on the underlying principals and techniques behind my work. I’d love to hear your feedback or comments on my ‘Autism Formula’, so please leave me you thoughts below.

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