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Practice Makes Perfect: Autism Behavior Modification

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 9/11/2012

Practice makes perfect right? And we aren't even looking for perfection, so why aren't more people using this theory for autism behavior modification?

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    Brain Activity

    Most people don't realize that the brain itself needs to "work out" just like any other part of the body. Think about a subject you may have studied in school that you had little or no interest in. If someone asked you a question about that subject right now, you may feel completely lost, though you know that you once learned the answer. Now think about a subject you have studied with interest at length. If someone asks you a question about that subject matter, you simply answer them with as many details as they will sit and listen to.

    Now let's compare the brain to other body parts that you use in order for you to gain a clearer understanding.

    • Let's assume that you are a parent of a child who plays video games. Every now and then your child asks you to play with them. You notice that they never need to look at the controller, while you have to constantly look at it and may even feel awkward while playing because your fingers are not used to the placement and use of the buttons. Why is it that your five year old has mastered these skills and you cannot? Because they practice them and you don't. Therefore, they have developed a dexterity in their hands with regards to the controller that you have not.
    • You are in an accident and are bedridden for 6 weeks. Though you have been walking since you were a year old, when you are finally able to get out of bed, your legs are shaky and unable to support your weight. In short, while trying to walk you look like a newborn giraffe and are unsteady on your feet. Why? Because your leg muscles are out of practice.
    • Let us consider the blind person who has a surgery to be able to see. Everyone rejoices and can't wait until the bandages come of and the person gets their first look at the world around them. Imagine your shock when you see fear on their face and they close their eyes to find their way to the bathroom. This is quite normal when you consider that the brain has no concept of vision yet. The images that the brain is receiving have nothing to do with the world as is understood by the once blind person.

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    Autism and Mental Activity

    The Washington Post published an article that indicates that some of the defective genes found in those with autism may be used to promote learned behaviors as these particular genes are developed through interaction with the environment. While this doesn't offer a cure for autism, it can be quite useful in behavior modification techniques.

    Many parents of those with autism will not place their autistic child in situations that are uncomfortable for them. However, at some point this child is going to have to deal with the world, which is not going to modify itself for those with autism. Not to mention the fact that no child or human being learns anything by living in complete safety with respect to avoiding new experiences. Though it is entirely plausible that new experiences be approached with caution and at a pace that indicates "baby steps", they CAN still be approached.

    The use of mental activity to stimulate genes that will help in behavior modification is a very simple concept that only requires practice and interaction with the world. For instance, if the child who has autism is high functioning enough to have no speech barriers, yet they appear rude to you and others, practice manners with them. Do not excuse the behavior for them, because the rest of the world isn't going to. Simply practice with them. This can be done using role playing, story boards and discussions.

    In short, those with autism simply need to work the muscles that are the hardest for them to work. It really is very basic, yet it is a concept that some parents avoid in order to "protect" the child. In the end, avoiding new situations and mental activities that are not entirely comfortable may be doing the autistic child more harm that good.