Posted: 26 Oct 2016 10:40 AM PDT
The apparent success of a new form of therapy is indeed a "cheering message for families", but there have always been good child-therapist interactions that have ameliorated the autism condition (Autism trial reports improved behaviour, 26 October). If Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron of 1800, was part civilised by the pedagogue Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, the history of successful interventions is indeed long but lacked the theoretical underpinning of proof until now. When the National Autistic Society, as it now is, was formed in 1962, in the forefront of the parents' aims was early diagnosis, early intervention, and focused therapy in the form of education designed to overcome the manifold disabilities in communication. Good teachers, good therapists, have always been few; and parents who had time, energy and application were also few. More than 54 years of autism education in the UK – by, for example, teachers in NAS schools, local authority special schools, Camphill (Rudolf Steiner) schools, often working with parents – has achieved amazing advances in behaviour, though such advances often begged the question of the mildness/severity of the disorder in the first place.
The conventional psychiatric medical diagnosis of the 1960s was too often that if an autistic child did not speak by the age of seven he or she never would. Too often it was not so much the problem of the child but of the teacher who had not yet developed the skills to understand a child with complex disorders. Film and video (in short, technology) have now come to the aid of therapists. Though autism is a lifelong neurological disorder, and outcomes vary strikingly between those classified as "learning disabled" and those who are not, the University of Manchester trial tends to prove at last the rightness of the work of dedicated, often unsung, teachers of the past. One must hope that education and therapy can only get better and more families benefit from them.
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