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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Psychoanalysis Helps Kids With Autism

Researchers Say Psychoanalysis Should Be Part of Treatment for Children With Autism
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Is Autism Reversible?

Sherkow and others believe that autism may be reversible with early intervention -- including psychoanalysis. The theory is that the brain is more malleable than previously believed and can be reconfigured with proper therapy.

To that end, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now urging pediatricians to screen every child for autism twice by age 2. Some early red flags include: not turning when a parent calls the baby's name; not turning to look when the parent says, "Look at that" and not pointing themselves to show parents an interesting object or event; a lack of back-and-forth babbling; smiling late; and failure to make eye contact with people.

"Autism was considered a brain condition that can't be changed, and I think that is now dated and not right," says Martha Herbert, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

And this is just not the case anymore.

"I have seen enough kids do substantially better than when they came in, and I think we can no longer assume that autism is not reversible, but we don't know whether it is reversible for everyone or subgroups," she says. "The real gauntlet it throws down is that if some kids can get a lot better and you don't know which ones it will be, how do you justify limited care?"

Now if a definitive diagnosis is made, the child should be in intensive intervention at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, according to the AAP.

"We used to have soccer moms and now we have therapy moms," Herbert tells WebMD. "Moms are running themselves into the ground and yet they are not really present, so they become part of the process and not part of solution."

Parents of children with autism need to relate to the child in whatever state they are in -- and this is where psychoanalysis may be helpful, she says.

Psychoanalysts can be sensitive to the inner world of the child. "It's a skill you can't package, but it's wonderful," Herbert says.

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