ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Saturday, July 15, 2006: 12:15 PM-1:30 PM
Providence Ballroom II
#2326- Get a HANDLE on Autism: A Systems Approach to Sensory Processing Challenges
Understanding a system as plastic and interactive as the human body-brain-mind-spirit requires shifting attention from the parts to focus on the patterns that connect the parts. This presentation, via lecture and thumbnail case studies, will define many parts (e.g., sound sensitivity, tactile avoidance, peripheral vision) and examine their interconnections (e.g., how these difficulties negatively impact nutrition and the immune system). Participants will also learn a few activities to ameliorate some of the difficulties discussed.

Presenter:Judith Bluestone, Neurodevelopmental/Educational, The HANDLE Institute International, Clinical and Educational Director - Judith Bluestone combines personal autistic experience with 40 years of research, clinical experience, and teaching. She received the 2004 national Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis award for extraordinary public service for creating and sharing HANDLEŽ, the Holistic Approach to NeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency. Her book, The Fabric of Autism: Weaving the Threads into a Cogent Theory is in its second printing. Some conferences where Bluestone presented: AutCom 2005; ASA 2005 National; AutismOne 2005; International Society for the Study of Subtle Energy and Energy Medicine 2004; Beyond-the-Dura 2003 International Research Conference; 5th International CHARGE Syndrome Conference, 2001; ASA-Washington, Best of the Northwest, 2001.
Autism is an extremely complex neurological disorder. There are so many, different combinations and degrees of irregularities. Viewed separately, they leave one reeling. Taken as a whole it is difficult to see the pattern, to detect the systemic nature of the challenges people with autism experience.

Information is processed in loops and by understanding these loops we can begin to see the broader affects irregularities have throughout the system. In our body and its reaction to the total environment, nothing stands alone.

For example: What might toe walking, sleeping problems, picky eating habits and humming have in common? *You might not be able to sleep well, because you cannot trust your inner ear and your brain to keep track of your body-in-space sensations so you feel insecure and wake up in the morning exhausted. *You might not be able to tolerate the sound of your own chewing which might lead to problems with the absorption of nutrients that provide essential resources to the body and so you have digestive problems. *You might walk on your toes to protect the reflexology points that correspond to digestive organs and would exhibit digestive problems, constipation, diarrhea. *You might need to make your own "white noise" to block out the sounds that hurt your ears.

The permutations and combinations of influences are endless, but with a discerning eye, feeling heart, and analytical mind, one can begin to find connections and interrelatedness. This requires combining many perspectives: western medicine, eastern philosophies of health and healing, accepted neuroscientific principles, and extensive experience with autism.

This session will view processing difficulties from a broader perspective, rooted in neurodevelopment, and taking into consideration the total load an individual might carry. Participants will learn about environmental elements such as synthetic materials, nutritional factors such as essential fatty acids, gentle detoxification coordinated with sensory regulation to reduce anxiety since anxiety creates neurotoxicity. More than learning about the interactive causality of many of the symptoms related with Autism Spectrum Disorders participants will also get practical advise about reducing those aspects of the total load that require regulation.

Participants will also learn how the autistic experience arises largely as a result of the brain's need to make order out of chaos, and how sensory system overload and shut-down interfere with the ability to get all of the information needed to create a coherent perception of the world as others experience it. The challenge with transitions, the obsessive need for things to be organized just so, and other symptoms frequently associated with autistic behaviors stem from this need for consistency in one's world-view. The mismatch between a person's own reality based on partial information and the real world with its myriad of surprises can cause response patterns of fright, leading to autonomic nervous system sympathetic division response. This fright/flight/fight reaction in turn reduces the ability to produce neurotransmitters and enzymes and hormones needed to support the immune system since these resources are called to alleviate immediate felt threats to survival rather than long-term wellness.

Recent research on the brain and nervous systems will be incorporated into the presentation. The presenter will develop correlations between brain areas that are found to be poorly developed (such as the fusiform face area) and developmental activities that would have helped to develop those areas from earliest infancy. This weaving of information on brain areas that research finds to be deficient together with sensory processing that underlies the development of the brain will demonstrate the role of the body and its senses in molding the actual structure of the brain.

Since the nervous systems, especially weak parts in them, respond to overwhelming stimulation with stress, and stressed systems shut down, participants will learn to recognize subtle signs of stress, particularly helpful for those supporting individuals whose verbal communication skills are compromised.

The presenter will help the group analyze the root causes and interactive aspects of many behaviors commonly seen in Autism Spectrum Disorders, and to feel the power of the different senses as they integrate most common functions of daily living. Participants will walk away with an enhanced appreciation for the meaning of sensory processing in general and how it relates holistically to the autistic experience. They will also glean practical tips to gently enhance weak systems and to protect vulnerable systems. The experience may be life-changing for parents and professionals alike.

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