My Experience Helping My Grandchild
By Denis Rogers
We have a grandchild who was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum at around eighteen months. She is now seven and has shown amazing improvement. Her stimming has ceased. She now functions in school in the appropriate grade and shows continuous improvement in social integration. For us the diagnosis brought with it, as I'm sure it does for many, an initial reaction of despair and a sense of helplessness. We desperately wanted to attempt to walk with her in her world, to help her and us in understanding that world, and to show our love, and to do something that might help.
In addition to the A.B.A. program, we started her on an intensive program of activities aimed at facilitating coordination and motor skills development. Eventually she was engaged in swimming, dance, acrobatics, gymnastics, ballet, skating, soccer and bike riding. Initially, we got her a small indoor trampoline, which seemed to channel her stimming in a useful direction. Now, she has a larger outdoor trampoline, and is an expert in cartwheels and flips!
As a doctor, I was aware of a relationship between some developmental problems and a failure, in some instances, to establish normal hand dominance. For this reason, we also consistently encouraged her in the use of her right hand. Hand dominance usually becomes established around the age of four, although hand preference may be seen much earlier.
While the root cause of autism is still unknown, a result of it seems to be some abnormality of communication between the two hemispheres in the brain. With this in mind, I reasoned that facilitating right hand dominance, together with an intensive physical activity program, would facilitate, or perhaps "wire", pathways between the left hemisphere (which controls right hand movement) and the right hemisphere. Dr.Gillian Forrester, a Ph.D from Oxford, is involved in this type of research in England, and I had written her a letter asking her opinion regarding the possible therapeutic benefit of aiding hand dominance in Autism. I am pasting her reply below.
I realize that every child on the spectrum, as a separate individual, reacts differently to intervention. For us, however the above interventions enabled the wider family to become involved in a program that has seemed to be helpful to our grandchild. I do not know which of these interventions, or perhaps some combination of them, has resulted in our grandchild’s improvement but thought that perhaps this might be of interest to others with children on the spectrum.
On 12/11/2016 6:05 AM, Gillian Forrester wrote:
Thank you so much for your email. It is really interesting to hear about personal accounts of behavioural development in children with autism that relate to motor ability. While it is impossible to disentangle the influence of the A.B.A., motor training and heightened carer responsiveness to your grandchild's attenuation of autism symptoms, it is nonetheless fascinating and amazing that she has shown such positive improvement. I am very interested in motor interventions and have just recently submitted a proposal to the ESRC that has a two-pronged strategy for long-term cognitive benefits. It will implement both a motor enrichment element and a carer responsively element. Research suggests that therapeutic interventions that require the infant/child to motivate to perform their own explorative motor actions have the longest acting benefits. I believe that encouraging a dominant hand for object manipulations is an important part of this process. It is also been noted that parents/carers can scaffold these behaviours by being extra responsive to their child's direction of attention and then encouraging the child to initiate their own motor actions towards the goal state. The idea of encouraging a dominant hand is important. For 90% of the population the left hemisphere is dominant for fine motor control of the hands and mouth - playing an integral role in the development of both object exploration and speech production. From my research into the evolution and development of human cognition, I believe that early object manipulation to achieve a goal state acts like a physical proto syntax that primes the brain for language development. There is now much behavioural evidence that indicates that strong hand dominance is associated with typical language development in children, while ambi-preference is associated with atypical language development. And, neuroimaging studies indicate that the neural areas that control fine motor articulation of the hands and mouth are overlapping and dominant in the left hemisphere. Thus, it is not surprising that 90% of the typically developing population demonstrate right handedness. Children with autism have been a particularly interesting patient population for laterality research because research suggests that ambi-prefrence significantly rises in this population suggesting a lack of hemispheric lateralisation. I definitely believe that motor dominance training could be an important intervention that can build and strengthen hemispheric dominances. Additionally, I believe that the earlier the motor training begins, the long-term the cognitive benefits will be. Although it will be a slow process, I would be very happy to keep you up to date with our research. Additionally, I would be very happy for you to come along and attend any research talks on the subject that we conduct over the coming months/years. I am also happy to send you references for literature in the area. Thank you again for your message. It is really wonderful to hear that your granddaughter is doing so well.