Feature

Treating autism with attention

Autistic children, like workers, are more apt ro respond to &ldquo;positive attention and interaction,&rdquo; said Sydney Spiesel<strong> </strong>in <em>Slate.com.</em>

Sydney SpieselSlate.com

Parents with autistic kids will try anything, said Sydney Spiesel. “Medications, new styles of teaching, classical psychological conditioning, physical manipulation, vitamins, diets, special eyeglasses”—all these and 100 more have been promoted as viable means of bringing autistic kids out of their shells and lessening their compulsiveness and explosions of anger.

Some parents swear by intensive interventions that include a lot of interaction between kids and adult therapists. But these treatments may work only because of the “Hawthorne effect,” named after an attempt to improve morale and productivity at a manufacturing plant in Hawthorne, Ill. Industrial psychologists provided improved lighting, and it improved employee productivity. So did dimming the lighting. So did shortening the workday, and lengthening the workday. Workers were actually responding to “positive attention and interaction,” not specific policies.

So it is with autism. Some treatments help simply because they treat autistic kids as human beings “who might have an inner life,” and are “worthy of attention and interaction.”

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