When we talk about autism we hear a lot about universal impairments and core deficit areas.

When you take a closer look at the research and what autism really is, you realize that a lot of what are called ‘impairments’ are really just missed opportunities for development.

There’s only one universal impairment of autism: the loss of dynamic developmental opportunities through a MindGuiding relationship.


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Full Transcript

Kat Lee: Welcome back to ASD, A New Perspective, the podcast show that helps you understand what is going on in the mind of your child. We always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. In this very important podcast, Dr. Gutstein talks about the need to redefine autism. Let’s listen.

Dr. Gutstein: We talk about a lot of the problems or impairments of people with autism, especially when you start to talk about older children and adolescents and adults. The researchers don’t talk about this at all, but what I think is very, very important to talk about is when you look at the opportunities in typical development through the guiding relationship and later the MindGuiding relationship that typical children have and also the affordances that they’re given to make mistakes and to look … And the low expectations of a young child and the thousands of opportunities they get to practice and get better at things.

Dr. Gutstein: In simpler environments and in guided environments, you realize that a lot of the things that are called ‘impairments’ are missed opportunities for development. But the problem is then when we try to … In the autism literature, when they try to teach these children or adults, whatever these things, they make no allowances for this need for the gradual development and to increasingly add complexity, to have increasing speed after lots and lots and lots of practice where you, one step ahead, increase the difficulty, increase the rapidity, the complexity, whatever.

Dr. Gutstein: They make no allowances for that, right? It’s like a skill, a discreet skill that you’re supposed to learn. Not something, not a process of shifting like that, that you have to … It takes a long time to develop the type of automaticity you need to even engage in a regular conversation or a lot of other things that require that type of what we call ‘updating’ or sampling your own feelings and then going back into the world and then sampling your own thoughts and going back and sampling somebody else’s.

Dr. Gutstein: All that shifting and all that fluidity. Now, that’s just one example and there are a host of examples, whether we’re talking about constructing narratives about what your experience has been or considering multiple futures. All of these things are the product of complex processes that are built from the bottom up over a period of many years.

Dr. Gutstein: For the person to be able to engage in them autonomously, requires years and years and practice and practice, first in very simple environments. First as a mental apprentice, where you’re getting to see how. ‘See’ is a funny word, but you get to experience how the more experienced person thinks about and makes judgments and then you’re given a small part of that to do, a small part of the mental work to do. Then a larger and larger part in more complex situations.

Dr. Gutstein: Anyway, it’s a process that goes on and on and on, little by little over years and years and years. That’s the reality of it. It’s not a theory. That’s just the way it is. Instead of thinking about these as impairments, we have to rethink about this. We have to start talking about these as missed developmental opportunities. I think that’s a very important distinction to make.

Dr. Gutstein: Because an impairment in the way it’s being used in the literature implies the person is incapable of doing something. Basically says, “Don’t bother doing this process of long-term developmental process. This is what defines people with autism. They can’t do this, they can’t do this, they can’t do this. They don’t do this, they don’t do this.” Whatever.

Dr. Gutstein: It misses the point that autism is … The common feature of autism is the host of missed developmental opportunities due to the inability to form the guiding and then later, MindGuiding, which turns into a MindGuiding relationship. Then being able to take that and start to internalize it and become self guided because if change is only occurring … If growth is only occurring within that engagement with a parent or somebody, it’s never going to be fast enough.

Dr. Gutstein: One of the critical goals of any kind of MindGuiding relationship is for the mental apprentice to gradually take on more and more of the responsibility and excitement and motivation for their own development away from those guiding engagements and to start to use their mind guides more and more as people to announce a lot of reference points, bringing in things that they’re troubled with and trying to make sense of, right?

Dr. Gutstein: But to have those experiences outside of the actual engagement with someone and that of course creates an exponential leap in growth and development. When we read any of the intervention literature on autism or treatment literature, there’s absolutely no discussion or no inference at all of the need for a long-term developmental process and giving people the opportunities to develop complex mental processes in the way that everyone needs to do it over the period of years, over a period.

Dr. Gutstein: By the way, we can shorten it because we can do it in a more mindful way. We don’t have to do it the same way it happens in natural situations. But still, there has to be a very gradual step-by-step process of building upon building, of building components onto other components, of building more sophistication, of extending their utility and of gradually building in the complexity, the elements of complexity. Being able to apply things in more complex, more unpredictable, and more stress producing situation, but doing that in a very gradual … Adding those variables in a very gradual basis, just like we would in typical development.

Dr. Gutstein: We wouldn’t assume that a young child can handle all the things that an adult can handle in a conversation or in a situation, a challenging situation, or difficult situation. I just wanted to make that point because I think everyone, all of us, should be aware of that. All of us should be talking about that and redefining autism as, autism is a condition whose unifying principle is that it robs people, it robs children of the most important developmental opportunities they need for dynamic mental development through experience based development.

Dr. Gutstein: To learn how to manage their past, future, current experience, on how to manage their shared experience, on how to manage their imagined experience, the ultimate experience, their multiple experiences. Because they’re robbed of those opportunities for development, they look quite impaired in those areas, but those impairments are not due to autism itself.

Dr. Gutstein: Anybody who talks about, these are the impairments of autism, these are the universal impairments of autism, is really missing the point. There’s only one universal impairment. People with autism have other problems just like anyone else. They can have sensory problems and motor problems. Nobody is saying that’s not true. But the universal impairment, which has nothing to do with the sensory issues or the motor issues or any of those issues, is the loss of dynamic developmental opportunities through a MindGuiding relationship.

Kat Lee: Thanks for joining us for ASD, A New Perspective, a podcast show where we help you understand the mind of your child and we always encourage you that growth for your child is possible. I’m Kat Lee. See you next time.

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