These last years, we have learnt that the human brain answers to experiences. In a very few days, a new skill causes measurable effects on the cerebral functioning: certain regions of the brain answer to new stimulus. The first five years are crucial in term of learning for the child.
Experiences stimulate the construction of neuronal regions, which allows to improve skills and automatisms required for the execution of an action. So, we can say that experiences model the brain and, on base of our common behavior, neuronal networks of our brain are developing themselves. These networks improve response modes to the most frequently met stimuli. Experience made of rewards and reactions of the environment is also a part of this process.
From the first year of his/her life, an infant with autism reacts differently to the environment: he/she is less sensitive to the social interactions, he/she can remain excessively fixed to objects, he/she has repetitive games with objects.
Yet, daily activities of the child are not neutral: they can build a more social or communicative brain or a brain more directed to objects. In the case of an infant with autistim, his/her experiences are going to model his/her brain. He/she develops expectations of reward which stimulate formation of neuronal networks and which favor more and more neuronal networks stimulated by events connected to objects, much more than by events connected to people.
These modifications of answers and brain’s connection are said reactional (not a characteristic of autism): they are associated with experience. The child develops then a deficit in imitation, in emotional sharing and in joint attention. He/she goes further and further away from social world, he/she takes more and more delay because he/she misses interactive skills compared to these kids who reach an environment of learning. This lack of social contact affects not only the behavioral development of the children affected by autism but also the development of the neuronal systems.
These latest findings “are changing what we know about autism and, in particular, stress the need for diagnosis and treatment before age 6 when treatment is known to be the most effective. The newest research suggests it’s even possible to reverse autism symptoms in some infants and toddlers or, more commonly, decrease the severity of the symptoms” ( Glicksman, Eve, 2012).
From the youngest age of the child, professionals and parents have to watch the interactive social relationships so that the child learns symbolic communication. It is also necessary to cover deficits of learning resulting from his/her lack of access to the social world.
I would like to see more early interventions for these children (0-3 years). Team aims to be multidisciplinary, parents are led to stimulate and to exchange with their child. The spontaneous behavior of the child has to be encouraged. Every opportunity of life has to be there to stimulate the child in a positive emotional frame. The adult expresses and repeats statements in activities which are meaningful for the child.
Professional is there to support the parents or the nannys to give a place to this child in the world of social interactions.
Every opportunity has to serve to work eye’s contact, to discuss (or comment) what takes place around them and to favor exchanges during games (your turn, my turn) as in the conversation (What do you think about it?).
I have hope for a better future, a more structured frame, better professional practices,…
Nawale Harchaoui, Psychopedagogist and Psychomotor Therapist, Belgium.
Walsh, Bary. “Revving the engines. Turning everyday moments into brain-building blockbusters for young children”. http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/05/revving-engines. 7 May 2015.
Glicksman, Eve. “Catching autism earlier. A flood of new research is advancing our understanding of autism and highlighting the need for earlier interventions”. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/10/autism.aspx. October 2012.
Rogers, Sally, and Dawson, Géraldine. L’intervention précoce en autisme : le modèle de Denver , Evaluation et prise en charge. Paris : Dunod, 2013.