A doctor’s diagnosis of a child as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder invariably scares! We’re always scared by what we don’t understand. If we realized that “spectrum” matters more than “autism” in the diagnosis it would feel more manageable. In the 1940’s when originally identified as a distinct medical phenomenon warranting a name, the root “auto” referred to the social isolation and incapacitating seeming absence of language. Now considered Low Functioning Autism, that image no longer applies to the majority diagnosed with an ASD… but elements of that image recur in varying ways. It’s inclusion in the spectrum that defines the individual when seen through a medical prism.

When seen through a HANDLE prism, quite a different picture emerges. We identify, to address, root causes of behaviors others judge as anywhere from “offensive” to “disabling” to “antisocial” or even “disgusting” – which opinion then rejects the individual, whole. We see the whole as valuable and valid, with vulnerabilities needing gentle support toward integration that lets the person feel safe in his/her own body. When someone comes to us with an ASD diagnosis, at any age, he and she does not feel safe because vulnerabilities demand prioritized attention. Sensory input and motor output defy control. The objective of every HANDLE program is for the person to feel safe.

Some of those vulnerabilities may be:

  • Hypersensitivities
  • tactility: ranges from not tolerating seams in socks or pulp in juice to preferring nudity
  • sound: ranges from not tolerating vacuum cleaners or lawn-blower machines to distressed by someone chewing gum nearby
  • sight and patterns: visual distractibility may cause preference for peripheral vision; a gift for recognizing patterns makes finding “lost” keys easy!
  • Smell: ranges from avoidance of anyone wearing cosmetics or lotions to recognizing individuals by smelling their hair
  • Vestibular irregularities [the system for modulating movement]
  • low muscle tone – difficulty with erect posture; exaggerated limb positions
  • need to move a lot – rocking, hand-flapping, running
  • motion sickness to curvy & hilly roads, abrupt altitude change (roller coaster)
  • Difficulty processing language
  • May be nonverbal; may speak in stilted phrases, very literal word-choice
  • Misses body language as cues or misinterprets them
  • Judged with low intellectual capacity because of language-based criteria
  • Social awkwardness, including inflexibility about play (children) and activity choices (adults); rare eye contact; prefers gadgets to people unto adulthood
  • Digestive system issues affecting eating habits, elimination especially of toxins, and overall nutritional status
  • Frequent ear infections and other illnesses: compromised immune system (taxed by all the above challenges!)

The HANDLE Practitioner provides instruction in why and how to gently enhance the fragile nervous system toward integration and balance; accepts moment-by-moment reality as the basis from which to move on in accord with client interests and motivation; and supports the social-emotional environment with guidance about nutrition, stressors, and interaction ploys. This Practitioner is a support system; the client is the active leader.