Autism is not a disease, and therefore cannot be treated once it has been diagnosed. According to our knowledge at present, it is not a handicap resulting from the lack of a limb, or from a sensitivity, or from a failing immune system or from a metabolic problem, like diabetes. And yet, it is in a sense all of the above, because autistic people lack the capacity, which is essential in society, of knowing how to and of wanting to communicate.
Certain diseases, such as celiac disease (allergy to gluten, cereal protein)and phenylketenuria ("allergy" to milk proteins in infants) lead to forms of autism. It seems that genes are involved, those which are responsible for a mechanism blocking neurotransmission during reactions to very strong emotions (obviously, it is better not to kill each time one is angry). There is also"man-made" autism, which occurs when a very small child is not adequately cared for by those around him and takes refuge in being his own little island, consoling himself by rocking back and forth or by developing "stereotypes" (repetitive gestures). Many researchers are working to identify the causes of autism. In a few years, through progress being made in neurophysiology, we will certainly know more. As for a cure, that is still far off.
One thing is certain: the autistic person is unable to communicate his feelings of distress and even anguish to those around him, because he appears not to respond to their emotional, educational or intellectual appeals. At the age of two when children normally begin to speak, he remains silent and avoids contact with others, and so he learns nothing of what other children know fairly well by that time.
After the pediatrician has been consulted, and the patient referred to the child psychiatrist, then is pronounced the awful sentence: "infantile psychosis, untreatable", and the parents enter into a kind of mourning for their child. However, we must realize that one doesn't mourn a child who is healthy and just lacks a little sociability-- a child who seems almost normal, even if he never looks anyone in the face. Thus begins a long and desperate search by parents who cannot accept having a child that is different and who wear themselves out longing for him to be like all the others. Theirs will be a hard road until they understand that their child cannot be "cured" but can learn to live almost like others by making use of modes of education that are different from those we ordinarily practice.
In the past, "psychotic" children often became aggressive and so difficult to manage that they were shut up in asylums when their anguish became so unendurable that they wailed, injured themselves and became a danger to their caretakers. These were the true lunatics, "fit to be tied", that society was careful to keep away from good people. Needless to say, their isolation greatly increased their suffering.
Today we know that the neurotransmission disorder which prevents the child, and eventually the adult, from speaking and behaving normally in his social group can be considerably reduced through a system of constantly maintained stimulations, the first of which is the love of his parents and others. This first impetus and remedy for his distress must be linked to exercises stimulating all of the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) through the help of speech and physical therapists or of methods that emphasize (a) listening and hearing (the TOMATIS method), (b) associating words and pictures (the TEACH method), (c) understanding a given order or the right procedure (the ABA method), (d) horseback riding, swimming and certain sports such as karate and judo, and (e) contact with other children in preschool, choir or group games.
Such training requires years, patience, perseverance and courage, as the child slowly, and at first unwillingly, learns to let go of the "stereotypes" which are his refuge and discovers the freedom of knowing how to behave and obtaining what he wants, because others can at last understand him. When the autistic child arrives at this stage, he no longer needs anger or tantrums to make himself heard; he now knows some of the codes that allow the group to process information.
For the parents, who are not all born teachers, it is a long, exhausting and often lonely job, to be learned for love of their child, because there are always more techniques and methods that can contribute to his development. At the same time, they come to know other parents, equally disappointed and destitute, treading the same agonizing path, but in the end finding much joy, because "it works". We are sculpting human beings, transforming children who were often like living stones into beings who have the desire to love, in their own way, and the desire to learn, which is, in truth, the desire to live.
We have now located an office which can be set up as a TOMATIS listening center, open to autistic and dyslexic children. It will be maintained free of charge by the Association on a part-time basis and used as a center for fee-only services (language learning, work on elocution, stress, etc..) the rest of the time. ABA or TEACH seminars will be offered there, but we will use already existing facilities to hold an annual conference for the purpose of making autism and its available treatments better known. Moreover, some application seminars will be held in neighborhoods where there are a number of autistic children, in order to bring together trainers and users.