"Ryan is Ryan, (it's) typical that he loves to get into things, he just loves life," said Trish McGary, describing her 7-year-old son.
At 18-months-old, Ryan was given a diagnosis that would change the family dynamic.
"The words disappeared," McGary continued. "He didn't respond to his name or just say his name, he would not turn his head. (Our doctor) did an assessment and ... gave me the diagnosis of mild to moderate autism spectrum disorder."
Dr. Ted Carr, a psychologist from Stony Brook University, is working with a new treatment method for autism called positive behavior support. It works to re-program the way a child with autism behaves.
An estimated 1.5 million Americans and their families are affected by autism. And with no cure, many parents are left searching for answers on how to get their children the best treatment to help them live somewhat "normal" lives.
"The basic thrust of positive behavior support is to improve the quality of life for people with autism and their families," Carr said. "It's not just about the kid. The end point won't simply be a child who doesn’t have problems anymore, but rather a family that could do things together, go to the movies, restaurants, they can go bowling, miniature golf, all the things that other families do."
Parents learn to reinforce positive behaviors and slowly integrate certain daily activities and social interactions. With the help of Carr and one of his students, the McGary's have been working on this new method.
Carr explained how it works. "So the family eats in the kitchen, (but) Ryan would eat in the living room," he said. "So the question is, how do you get him to move from the living room into the kitchen, eating food with his family? It has to be done gradually. So what needs to happen? First of all, we need a hook to get him involved and focusing on something other than eating, which he doesn’t like. But he does like video tapes.
"So we say, Ryan you can watch your favorite video tape in the living room if you eat a little bit of food. As soon as you stop eating, the video tape will be turned off. And so they would turn it on and off, on and off, depending on his eating. ... So we’re gradually getting closer and closer to where the family is eating and where the video tape is accompanying him (and) easing him back into the kitchen.”
Carr said this method is not a cure and it could take months to see results. But it is helping to bring families back into the community and regular family activities.
"It's still a work in progress but it's like little baby steps as I say," he said.
Symptoms of Autism
There are three features of autism:
-- The most central feature is deficient social behavior. The child will seem to be unattached or indifferent, even to their own mother or, if the child is higher fluctuating, they may be interested in people but in an odd way.
-- The second problem is communication. The children are often very poor communicators. They don't really get their message across. They don't read queues or body language.
-- The third feature has to do with what is called narrow, stereotype or idiosyncratic interests. A child may take little toy cars and line them up over and over, or collect 100 pencils and line them up in rows.