I regularly receive notifications from Google alerts regarding articles related to Asperger’s Syndrome. An article from the LA Times entitled, “Parent training boosts medication effect for autism.” recently caught my eye. This article cites a study instigated by the National Institute of Mental Health and published in the Journal of the American College of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry. Recently, Risperidone has been used to reduce increased levels of irritability, impulsive behavior and obstinacy commonly found in children on the PDD spectrum. This study compared the effects of the drug alone and the drug used in combination with parent training sessions targeting coping with and reducing these behaviors. Not surprisingly, they found that the children who parents received the training improved significantly more than the children who were just given the medication.
I was encouraged to see the medical community making efforts to support and encourage non-drug options in cooperation with recommendations for medication. However, I wonder what would have been the difference between a child whose parents had received the training only and the child who was just given the medication.
Although there may not have been a significant difference, I think this study highlights an important aspect of raising an atypical child. There is always a hope that a particular therapy (pharmaceutical or otherwise) will close the gap between your child and the typical child.
I think most conscious parents understand that there will be struggles when raising a child. I do not wish to dismiss or belittle these struggles. However, I have found a sharp contrast in raising an atypical child vs the typical child. With the typical child, there is an expectation that within a reasonable amount of time, the child will meet the developmental milestone anticipated. This is especially true, when it comes to emotional and social milestones. Even when there is regression and milestones are temporarily “lost”, the re-achievement of that milestone is relatively quick. Although, many parents may feel overwhelmed there is the hope that with consistency, there will be the encouragement of witnessing timely progress.
There is a distinct prolonging of time between these encouraging moments when it comes to raising the atypical child. My experience has been that a milestone will be achieved and lost many more times before it become a permanent fixture. The frustration of trying to work on the next lesson in the midst of the third or fourth period of regression can be confusing and frustrating. In addition, the heighten sensitivity of my atypical child and the increased levels of irritability and obstinacy (perfectly identified in the article) make a lesson that should be a 100 yard dash into a 3 mile run. The encouragement of evident progress is significantly delayed.
I know people for whom a big piece of the puzzle has fallen into place early on. They witness to a specific diet, occupational therapy, sensory diet, social practicing, music, or even a specific medication cocktail that has been the key to their success with their child. This has not been my experience. Daniel and I have found individual ideas that have worked. Some have worked on an ongoing basis, others only for a time. These have been small pieces. There have only been hard-won victories and carefully searched out answers to individual questions. None of them have been the huge “Ah-Ha” that changes everything. Maybe I have just read too many success stories attached to various therapies, etc. Maybe I have not met enough parents of special needs children.
The key for me has been realizing that there is no specific and final answer. With each piece to Daniel’s specific puzzle, there has been new revelations regarding Daniel and with that a need to re-learn my child. To assume that I can simply implement a new strategy without furthering my education, is horribly faulty.
This article reminded me that every parent, but particularly the parents of atypical children, must keep in mind that their education is never-ending. Remembering that it is the journey that matters not the destination enables us to keep our crucial flexibility, continue to discover our children, and not give up the quest for the next stepping stone we must take with our child.