In this week’s episode, Dr. Steven Gutstein talks about the high expectations we must have for our children with autism. He goes on to discuss how the child’s age is never an issue, as long as they are on a growth trajectory.
Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we do encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee, and this week I visited with Dr. Gutstein about the high expectations we must have for our children, and he reminded me that age is not the issue. We must know that our children are on a growth trajectory.
We have talked before about how the children will rise to the lowest expectation, and you talked about there’s no reason that the children can’t develop these things, but a of 2018, there’s so much low expectation for them. And you think of a baby … You have a grandson, I have a granddaughter … who gets diagnosed at two years old, and then is somewhat … the expectation of where that person, that little person, can go is low amongst a lot of people in the professional world, in all of these things you just talked about.
Dr. Gutstein: There’s so much misunderstanding on so many different levels that we hope to be able to describe a little bit more in this book and in the coming year. One of the things that I’m an advocate for is … We all are, you are as well … is the developmental model. And we see so often that our children start to make progress, but because the progress they’re making is not yet at what their age-mates are making, that they’re seen as a problem, or people don’t understand that it’s progress. Or they’re not given the opportunity to develop. They’re expected to go from here all the way to here without the same type of gradual stage-based progression that we provide for typically developing children.
And so one of the things I think is really important that I’d like to discuss this year is how do we provide those opportunities for these children of all ages who we should be looking at in terms of where they are developmentally, what they’re ready for, and look at their progress in terms of themselves, not compared to their peers, not compared to their age. We need to move away from thinking about age as the issue and say, “Are you moving now into this growth area? Are you in a growth trajectory?” So in other words, eventually you’ll get there, but are you starting to grow? Because we’re talking about a group of children that don’t grow. It’s not that they’re delayed. It’s that they don’t develop at all in these areas. So if they start to develop, the worst thing you can do is then compare them to their age-mates and put them in situations where they’re then going to be overwhelmed.
Now, the problem is I feel sometimes it’s unavoidable. We have to think about how we’re gonna do that. Are we gonna give them the opportunity to develop at a good pace, but not to assume they’re gonna make the types of leaps that no one can make developmentally; to give them the time to develop, and eventually to move into where their age-mates are going. As I always have said, by the time you’re 22 or 20, if you’re operating like a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old when you’re 22, no one’s going to care. This idea of catching up with age, which dominates so often in the schools is crazy because it then deprives these children of the opportunity to grow in a reasonable manner. So they start to make progress, for example, in our program, and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to be doing everything with their peers successfully.
Well, that’s crazy. What we want to see is that they’re moving towards that in a good case, but there’s no magic here. There’s a progression, building on top of foundation on top of foundation on top of foundation, and that if you just throw that out, then what you have is the loss of growth, branchout. And by the way, it’s true of neurotypically developing children. If you take a child who is just learning to read and then you assume they’re suddenly gonna read at a fourth grade level. It’s the same thing, right?
We don’t do that in other areas. If we have a child with dyslexia, for example, we let them develop gradually. We compare their progress to themselves, not to others. But if you look at the Autism literature, it’s not happening. There’s no attempt to do that, to say, “Let’s pace your progress on your own prior functioning,” and, “You’re your own, basically, comparison group.” And eventually, yes, we’ll look that you’re catching up to peers. It’s not that we discard the idea that where you are in relationship to people. We just don’t have an automatic expectation that you’re immediately going to be there. We want to see a trend moving towards that. But, still, we want to see that you’re making progress compared to where you were in the past, and you’re continuing to move into this growth-oriented trajectory.
It’s one of the things I’d like to emphasize in this coming year. I can’t emphasize it enough because I think that without that, so many of these kids in our program, then are deprived of the opportunity for growth. They start making progress, and then they’re overwhelmed. It’s assumed that suddenly they’re gonna have all these things going on and abilities that no one could ever do because growth takes time, and you have to build foundations, and there’s many different things that have to be built to get to the next stage. You can’t just go from here to there.
Kat Lee: Well, they’re overwhelmed, and their parent guides get overwhelmed because they’re comparing them to other children the same age. And so, it’s a parallel process of being overwhelmed.
Dr. Gutstein: And they’re placed in situations where they can’t continue to grow because the expectations are too high, and so they move into what we call a survival mode, or sort of an avoidance mode, which it undoes a lot of the good things we start doing, right? It works in the opposite direction, and it’s very unfortunate. So that’s one of the things … and I see that in the entire literature, not just in our own families, but I see that all over, where there’s just an ignorance or a lack of understanding of developmental growth.
And the idea of growth itself is more important than where exactly you are at a moment in time, that you’re on a trajectory, that you’re on a pathway of movement towards … an ongoing movement. And our job is to facilitate that. It’s to make sure that we help you stay on that pathway, and that by putting too much on you, by putting too much performance pressure on your expectations, environmental pressure on you, complexity, unpredictability all of a sudden in too large a dose, we’re undermining you. And we’re undermining the good job you do. So that’s a critical part of what guards… you know consultants, and needs to be infused into the Autism literature, especially because it’s just not there. It’s really unfortunate.
Kat Lee: It is, and that filters down then to family members, parent guides, and you end up in a place where the conversation that we are having never takes place about the children. The conversations go in different directions, academics and that type of thing, not to these deficits, which are gonna be the core of their issues in life.
Dr. Gutstein: That’s right. That’s right. So our job is to say, “Look. We want to see that we’re building those foundations. We’re building resources and knowledge, the mental tools, the habits and the motivations, the intrinsic motivation’s really important. We keep building those and build those in a balanced way together, and we build them in a step by step way. And we teach that child to gradually take ownership of them, of the mental tools, learn how to use them gradually in more difficult, more challenging real-world environments, and take responsibility for them. But that’s a gradual process. And then we add more complexity and more integration, et cetera and more components. We very carefully nurture the development of each child, each child’s mind and self and brain.
Kat Lee: And thanks for joining us for ASD: A New Perspective, the podcast show where we help you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. And we encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.