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Recovery from Autism?

Recovery from autism may be best understood like recovery from alcoholism, in the sense that you probably will need some sort of management or self-awareness tools in the long run.

That said, if autism is understood as comprised of disordered communication, behaviour, adaptive functioning, cognitive processing, and social skills (for example), then there are interventions that can improve those to a degree that a formal diagnosis of autism no longer is possible, and that our conceptions of autism no longer describe the individual.

It is common to think of autism as only a behavioural disorder, and therefore the logical path that is open for intervention is through behavioural interventions. But the behavioural path can only take one so far.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, therefore no single approach appropriate for every individual because of the spectrum of presentations across individuals. As a friend of mine with two young adults on the Spectrum says: “Well, when you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism”.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that interact with each other. Epigenetics is the term to describe how environmental factors can ‘turn on or off’ our genes that affect our genetic expressions. Our gut biome (the bacteria and enzymes) is directly connected to our brains, in what is referred to as the Gut-Brain Axis. Each individual’s genetic, environments and gut profiles are unique, and yet together they directly affect our brains, and the expression of autism. In addition, because of neuroplasticity, our brains are constantly changing (if you want to see more about this, check out my post: Good news for anybody with a brain: We can change our brains and our lives!  Neuroplasticity tells us that you really can change your brain through a range of ways. Because of the interactions between epigenetics, the Gut-Brain Axis and neuroplasticity, what we do, what we think and what we eat can radically change our lives, and dramatically affect the patterns of autism.

These paths are ones that can take an individual (and a family) to new places that were previously unseen from one's previous vantage point. The published literature is clear that having a strong clinical alliance, and matching interventions to families' needs, values and lifestyles drastically improve clinical outcomes. Clinicians and professionals are often unaware of the evidence beyond their particular specialization because they are from other disciplines and because articles are parsed from database searches. These are issues that were discussed widely endorsed by CASDA (the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Association)  at their annual Summit in Ottawa this year, and at other academic conferences I’ve attended recently.

With autism, there is never any guarantee. But if you’re struggling on your current path with autism, then perhaps you might be open to trying a new path, or to combine it with what is currently working well for you. Many people don't know that other paths exist. Some have taken other paths and been satisfied with where it has taken them. Often new paths towards recovery are not visible from one's current vantage point, but can emerge once you make it part way up the mountain.

This is the approach that we have taken as a family, and clinically that I have supported with others. This is not a path for everyone (but no single intervention is), and the literature is clear that a range of interventions are needed to address the needs associated with autism. You have the authority to choose the intervention modalities that best fit your needs, values and lifestyle. It’s up to you. What paths are you going to choose? What do you have to lose? What do you have to gain?