Autism is estimated to affect one in every 150 births in America according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Autism Association of America reports that autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S. In Minnesota, we have an even higher rate, anywhere from one in 81 to one in 56 – three times the national average. In the local Somali community, the rates go up even higher to 1 in 28 – more than five times the national average.

These figures are shocking and are attracting media attention. Meanwhile, families of children with autism have to figure out how best to help their children.

While every child with autism is a unique individual with his or her own particular personality, set of behaviors and degree of severity of delay, there is a fundamental pattern that is part of the autism spectrum. Challenges include difficulties with making friends and being accepted in peer groups, awkwardness and lack of ease in communication, avoidance of eye contact, over-attachment to routines, over or under-sensitivities to touch, pain, movement and sounds. Motor problems are common in autism, including toe-walking, asymmetrical gaits, midline crossing difficulties, hunched shoulders, and low muscle tone.

An increasing number of occupational and physical therapists are looking for answers beyond what their training has given them and are seeking to gain a deeper understanding of how best to help these children. Many of them are turning to the field of infant reflex integration and to the work of Dr. Svetlana Masgutova who teaches the integration of childhood reflexes.

Movement and Thinking
Cognitive function, or what we call thinking, involves the coordination of multiple sensory channels in the brain with complex perceptual processes. Traditionally, we have thought of the parts of the brain controlling thought and emotion to be distinct from the parts of the brain controlling movement. However, over the last few years, as modern brain research has incorporated neuroimaging techniques, we have exponentially expanded our knowledge of how the brain functions.

There is now a growing consensus that, in order to understand how children with autism think, behave and function, we must understand how they develop movement, posture and muscle control. Symmetry of early developmental movements is an important key in the early diagnosis of autism, according to movement disorder experts. Therapies that incorporate whole body movements are becoming more and more popular.

Some Excellent Therapies
Dr. Blomberg, who has worked with children with autism for more than twenty years, has developed a program of rhythmic movement training that takes the child through a program of movement development that can take anywhere from six months to two years. The movement training is designed to produce greater symmetry, smoothness, fluidity and coordination of movement. This, in turn, supports behavior and learning.

The late Judith Bluestone was director of the HANDLE Institute (Holistic Approach to Neurodevelopment and Learning Efficiency) in Seattle, WA. Her model provides another very useful sensory and motor-based program which has proven effective for children with autism.

Dr. Svetlana Masgutova, a Russian psychologist and founder of a method of childhood reflex integration, has done extensive research into the infant and childhood reflexes. Her research has made a significant contribution to the existing body of knowledge of how motor patterning stimulates brain development.

As director of the Svetlana Masgutova Educational Institute in Poland, Dr. Masgutova and her trained specialists, see children with a wide range of challenges, including autism. She runs camps for these children in Poland and throughout the world. These camps have produced remarkable results and many families fly internationally to receive Dr. Masgutova’s therapies. Therapies include neurostructuring, tactile integration, facial reflexes, archetype movements, audio-visual reflexes and repatterning of dynamic and postural reflexes.

The children receive six hours of motor and sensory reeducation over the course of a week. Using isometric muscle patterning procedures, the children are taken back to earlier developmental patterns which they may have missed. Through this reeducation, they are able to retrace and fill in some of the missed pathways, allowing them to learn new behaviors.

For the first time in the Midwest, Dr. Masgutova’s International Camp for Children with Autism and Other Challenges will be presented July 12-20 in Excelsior, MN. This internationally-renowned Camp will provide the highest level of neuro-sensory-motor training under the guiding hand of Dr. Masgutova and her team of trained specialists. This inaugural Midwestern Camp will give local families the same access to the program that historically they would have had to fly to Poland for. Parents are trained in how to work with their child for continued and progressive development. Information on the camp is available at www.mn.childwithchallenges.com and at 952.892.1883.

As scientific research begins to unveil the importance of the role of the parts of the brain that govern movement for learning and behavior, more and more parents of children with autism are seeking these therapies. In my practice with children with challenges, I have found that the combination of childhood reflex integration, rhythmic movement training, HANDLE and some good nutritional inputs provide a worthy framework in which the parents I work with can navigate their own individual journeys to higher function with their child with autism and other challenges.

RESOURCES
www.masgutovamethod.com – Dr. Svetlana Masgutova’s work with the childhood reflexes
www.rhythmicmovementtraining.com – Dr. Harald Blomberg’s work with the rhythmic movement training
www.handle.org – The Handle Institute

To apply for Dr. Masgutova’s International Camp for Children with Autism and Other Challenges on July 12-20 in Excelsior, MN, visit www.mn.childwithchallenges.com or phone Suzanne Amanor-Wilks at 952.892.1883. Places are limited to 20 families.

Suzanne Amanor-Wilks is in private practice as a Neurodevelopmental Learning Specialist at the Center for Alternative Healing, Apple Valley, MN. She uses a multidisciplinary approach based on her training in Childhood Reflex Integration, Rhythmic Movement Training, HANDLE (holistic approach to neurodevelopment and learning efficiency), Educational Kinesiology and Montessori education.

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