Editor’s pick: The best autism intervention is based in attachment

Attachment Parenting is based on more than 60 years of solid, interdisciplinary research into parent-child relationships, from infant bonding and breastfeeding to nurturing touch and discipline. We have a long line of researchers — and advocates helping to incorporate their findings into society — to thank for how we look at families today: that how parents interact with their children matter, in real time and over the lifetime, in child development.

stanley greenspanOne of those scientific greats — recognized by Attachment Parenting International (API) during our 20th Anniversary celebration in 2014 — was the late Stanley Greenspan, an American child psychiatrist who redefined child development. His work led to a change in how parents view the value of nurturing — encouraging them to cultivate connection with their children, excite their child’s interests, and value creativity and curiosity.

Dr. Greenspan also developed Floortime therapy, a treatment approach for children with autism and developmental disabilities that addresses the speech, motor and cognitive skill delays of affected children holistically, via emotional development and interpersonal communication, through the parent-child attachment relationship.

Very simply, Floortime happens when parents get down on the floor and engage with their children through play. Key to Floortime is that the parent enters the child’s games at the child’s development level and follows the child’s lead in those games. A therapist is then able to guide the parents on how to encourage their child to increasingly complex interactions. For example, if the child is tapping an object, the parent could join in by tapping the object in the same manner. To encourage interaction, the parent might then introduce a new object and eventually add a language element.

In observance of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, this week’s featured article is “What We Know About Autism: Separating the Science From the Scandal” in Vogue, written by health journalist Lauren Mechling.

In the article, we learn that autism is no rare medical condition. In fact 1 in 68 American children — more often boys — is on the spectrum. While it appears that the disorder is much more prevalent than it was 40 years ago, high detection rates rooted in being better informed of early signs is at least partly behind this trend.

While the cause of autism remains largely unknown, researchers agree that it is likely a complex mixture of genetic and environmental factors.

Treatment options seem just as vague, with no drug treatments developed specifically for core autism symptoms. The article continues on, identifying that the most effective treatment currently is early detection combined with intervention therapies aimed at helping young children build neural pathways through face-to-face interaction with a caregiver during Floortime.

And that’s thanks to Dr. Greenspan.

API Resources for Parenting & Autism

Many parents of children on the spectrum find attachment-based parenting choices to be critical to developing positive relationships with their children. API has many resources for parents of children with autism, including:

Personal stories on APtly Said, API’s blog —

Mothering autism

Attachment Parenting and autism

Today is World Autism Awareness Day 2010

Saved by Attachment Parenting

How not to practice positive discipline

Professional insight and a few more personal stories on The Attached Family, API’s online magazine —

An Attachment Parenting approach to autism

Autism: Interview with pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears

From heartache to hope: Interview with Leisa Hammett of The Autism Society of Middle Tennessee

A boy brought back from autism

Different, not disordered: Interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

Additional resources from API —

bob searsAudio recording with Dr. Robert Sears about treating autism — only $9

kidswithcamerasThe documentary, “Kids with Cameras,” following children with autism as they learn how to express themselves through films, poems, painting and music — now just $15

Saved by AP and now 8 kids later: An interview with Margie Wilson-Mars

family heartThrough APtly Said, I have had the privilege of meeting Margie Wilson-Mars of Salem, Oregon, USA. A parenting writer and blogger, Margie and her husband of almost 20 years, Robert, have eight children ages 27, 25, 23, 21, 14, 12, 9 and 8—seven sons and one daughter, three of the boys who are on the autistic spectrum. Margie and Robert also have three grandchildren ages 7, 6 and 3.

Now there’s a full household! I could hardly wait to share her Attachment Parenting (AP) story.

RITA: Thank you, Margie, for your time. To begin, how did you decide to first try out the AP approach?

MARGIE: By the time I found out there was an actual thing called AP, I had already been practicing it.

I was only 19 when I had my first son. My mother-in-law had been an oddity in the very early ’60s and breastfed her boys. My mother, who was 15 years older than my mother-in-law, was in my ear constantly with, “You just have to nurse for three weeks and then it does no good.” It was simply a reflection of her generation.

Even in 1987, I was the odd one out breastfeeding and refusing to let my son cry it out. I watched Dr. Jay Gordon on “The Home Show” on ABC—so radical then! My mom told me I was punishing myself.

RITA: Your mom didn’t agree with AP?

MARGIE: For the record, she was legitimately worried about me. It’s just what she knew. She was an amazing mom.

By the time my mother passed away, she was finally comfortable with my parenting style. Acceptance means the world to new moms, to all moms.

RITA: So who did you lean on for AP support?

MARGIE: When my daughter was born 19 months later, I found La Leche League meetings. I am a very solitary person, so in hindsight, I wish I’d participated more, but it did give me validation for what I felt.

I just got “worse” from there! I met Peggy O’Mara, went Dr. Sears happy—yeah, I was hooked.

RITA: And your husband is supportive of AP?

MARGIE: After getting remarried, my new husband instantly accepted and participated in AP. In fact, I don’t even recall discussing it. When our first son was born, he slept with us. Well, I should say he slept with his dad because he was only comfortable on Daddy’s hairy chest! Most of them did the same, but our last, preemie Adam, was partial to sleeping on his brother Mark or his “Sissy Mama,” our only daughter Stephanie.

RITA: At one point, you mentioned to me that AP saved your life. Can you expand on this?

MARGIE: When my first baby Steven was born, we moved in with my parents because I was scared to death. When he was 2 weeks old, my older sister came upstairs into my bedroom and asked me what I was doing. Apparently I calmly answered, “I’m going to try and finish feeding this baby, and then I’m throwing him out the window and following.”

I honestly don’t remember how it happened, but I ended up at my mother-in-law’s house where she tucked me into bed for some much needed sleep and took Steven. She would wake me up to feed him, keeping an eye on us, and then send me back to bed.

Her gentle manner just blew my mind, the total opposite from my family. Even the way she bathed him was so soft and stress free. No more watching the clock between feedings or freaking out because he didn’t poop that day.

My depression ran deep, and it took getting pregnant with my daughter Stephanie before it totally lifted. Being constantly reassured that listening to my instincts was not only OK, but good, made all the difference. I have no doubt that if I’d continued on the path I was on, I wouldn’t have made it.

RITA: The quality of parent support can really make all of the difference. I’m glad you found support when you did.

MARGIE: There have certainly been huge bumps in the road since, but my mother-in-law set the tone for my parenting. No matter how rocky things got at times, our attachment was never affected. For example, when my daughter and I clashed through her teenage years, she told me she never felt like she couldn’t crawl into bed with me and know that everything would be OK. Her grandmother is truly the one to thank for that.

RITA: I’m thankful for her, too. The world needs more parents like you—and her! So how has AP worked out for your family as it has grown?

MARGIE: I think the best thing was the ease of taking care of the babies when they were little. When the oldest four were teenagers and the babies were little, we had a gigantic cushy spot—spots are very important in our home—in the living room where I could just be with all of the boys, yet stay accessible to the older ones. It also forced my autistic boys to be social with their brothers.

People are still astonished when they see how cuddly our autistic sons are.

RITA: What is it like seeing your oldest children becoming parents themselves?

MARGIE: Even though we still have little ones at home, seeing our daughter with her children—just wow! She’s the best mother, so instinctive and giving. Our oldest son is a newly single dad and so intensely bonded to his son.

The evolution of parenting, seeing them working so hard to correct the mistakes we made and become even better, closer parents to their children: It’s a beautiful thing to see.

We’re really doing the same thing with our younger boys—improving and evolving. It can be a struggle to stop feeling sorry for yourself and just move forward.

The bigger the family, the more you need Attachment Parenting.

RITA: You mentioned that AP seems to be helping in parenting your children with autism.

MARGIE: This is huge for us.

My third child, Mark, has Asperger’s Syndrome. He is from the first wave of autistic children born in 1990 when it started to skyrocket. When he would nurse, he would pull his entire body away, trying so hard not to be touched any more than he had to. The more I’d pull him in, the harder he would fight. Autism wasn’t even on the radar. Mark self-weaned at 8 months old, and I was crushed. He was happy as could be as long as he was on his own.

When our sixth child, Nathan, was 3 months old, our oldest son kept saying, “Something’s wrong with him.” Teens are so subtle. We thought maybe he was just sensitive because he had suffered a birth trauma when my cervix was lipped over his head for over an hour while pushing during labor. An hour after birth, his face turned nearly black from the bruising.

Months later, while I was sick, my husband took Nathan for a checkup. We say that the baby we had died that day. Rob brought home this terrified, seemingly hollow baby we didn’t know. If there was something wrong before, it was a million times worse that day. While probably predisposed to autism, the vaccines finished the job.

Having had Mark, I knew that holding Nathan, feeding him and snuggling him through his fears was the only way to go. People are amazed when they see how connected he is. If I didn’t have him, my husband did. If he didn’t have him, his big sister did. He is a little cuddle monster, and while he has full-blown autism, he shows no signs of “don’t touch me, don’t look at me.”

By the time Justin, baby number 7, came along, we knew fairly early and said, “Ah, we have another Aspie!” Sure enough, he has Asperger’s like his older brother, Mark.

The parents of autistic kids I know have them in day-long therapy, speech class, tactile class, etcetera, etcetera. We could never do that. There’s even one mom I met who put her 12-year-old into a group home when he hit her 4 year old. She brings him home on Saturdays. I cried when I heard. It still breaks my heart to think about it.

The biggest difference is in how bonded we are to each other. It’s not unusual to see 140-pound, 12-year-old Nathan on his dad’s lap or mine, or finding them all in a big “puppy pile” playing video games. Our youngest, Adam, says, “My friends never sit on their mom’s laps. Isn’t that weird?”

RITA: Thank you so much, Margie, for your story. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

MARGIE: Recently, I’ve read a lot of parents online who have left AP. Most claim that AP parents are too militant and flip out if people stray from the Eight Principles. The parents that make these claims can scare off new moms who are may be only breastfeeding and want to find out more, or can’t get a good night’s sleep but feel wrong letting their baby cry. I hope that parents think about these things before they make that [judgmental] comment to a new mom.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day

Today, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. In late 2007, the United Nations decreed that April 2, 2008 would be the first World Autism Awareness Day to coincide with National Autism Awareness Month, which is recognized every April. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 110 children in the United States is on the autism spectrum. I am the mom of two of these children.

My two children on a New Year's Day hike in the beautiful Arizona desert.
My two children on a New Year's Day hike in the beautiful Arizona desert.

I was an attached parent prior to the time that my children’s autism symptoms presented and I’m an attached parent still today. I actually thank my attachment parenting style for helping me understand my children a bit more. Now this is not to say that mothers of children on the spectrum that don’t practice attachment parenting don’t understand their children but for my children, and me, my parenting style has been a tremendous help.

I’ll be sharing more of my story in an article that will appear later this month on The Attached Family online but I also want to share a bit of it here with you, the readers of API Speaks. My youngest child, now six, was diagnosed with classical autism the day before her third birthday. She had very little language and most of what she had was echolalic and not functional.
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Mothering Autism

When our oldest, Emily, was just shy of 3, we learned that she had Autism. It was such a stressful time in our little family’s life. Our baby, Alex was almost a year old and was crying all of the time for unknown reasons to us then and my husband’s job was rocky and unpredictable, therefore, so was our income. I just remember feeling like our world was falling apart. For days after the diagnosis, I mourned. I cried randomly, usually during one of Emily’s many meltdowns of the day.

EmilyAlexKissI had many afternoons on the floor holding Alex, laying next to Emily and all three of us sobbing in unison. They were crying because they couldn’t communicate and were in pain and I was crying because I thought I lost my daughter. Days later, I saw a glimpse of her, I saw a fighter. I saw who she really was, peaking through that Autism armor she was wearing. She wasn’t giving up and neither could I. Instead of “Why me? Why Emily? Why us?” my thoughts quickly became, “Autism? BRING IT.”

Previously, doctors all pointed their fingers at me. I wasn’t letting her grow up; I coddled her and treated her like a baby. She was 2 and shouldn’t be sleeping in bed with us. I was criticized for not sticking her in a crib and letting her cry herself to sleep. I was criticized for holding her all the time and even for not yet putting her in a preschool program. It was my fault; I was causing her to act this way. I gave her the behavior issues and caused her to not talk because I refused to withhold things until she “used her words”.
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Attachment Parenting and Autism

ap_and_autism_1The following post, Attachment Parenting and Autism, has been submitted by Amy as part of the AP Month 2009 blog carnival. If you are interested in participating in the carnival, view the AP Month 2009 blog carnival information post. If you’re like Amy and don’t have your own blog, you can email your submission to API and we will publish your post and include it in the carnival.

I didn’t choose AP as much as Daniel chose it for me. He was a relentless child, even in the womb, who moved, rolled, hiccuped constantly. I gave in 1/3 out of love, 2/3 out of sheer desperation and need for survival. He was only happy being held, so I held him. He would only sleep next to me, so I cuddled him. I breastfed at will and watched my son thrive. He weighed well over 11 lbs at only one month old!

He grew, beautiful and perfect. He hit milestones and we celebrated. He was very attached, as was I. I couldn’t stand to be without him. I grew weary of justifying it to the world; I truly enjoy the company of my child! We enjoy co-sleeping and breastfeeding.

ap_and_autism_2I can’t tell you when he changed. Looking back, there is no particular “ah ha!” moment. I know that one day Daniel said “Hat!” and I rejoiced. It was our first new word in months. I began to notice that my child could say “hat” and little else. He moved constantly, always on the go. He was into everything and still would not talk. When his peers were making simple sentences and observations, we still only had “hat.” Words were slowly disappearing. We justified, blaming our recent moves, new baby and changes in routine.
Continue reading “Attachment Parenting and Autism”