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Lopes !

Stevan Lopes
Professor David Hawkins
Writing 3018
1 December 2015

The Body and its Uses For Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

On March 27, 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data

on the prevalence of autism in the United States. This surveillance study identified 1 in 68

children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) as having autism spectrum disorder (Autism

Prevalence n.d., para. 1). Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the fastest growing mental

disorders in children. This disorder is generally misunderstood and has a lot of misconceptions

about its affects on body movement, speech, mental capacity and more. In this essay I would like

to give a brief overview of ASD, as well as treatment plans for children with the disorder, but

focus mainly on the bodily aspects of Discrete Trial Training, the childs use of their bodies when

communicating, and the use of the body as a calming and release mechanism. As well as speak

on the intimate setting of one on one training in the home and the profound effect it is having on

the childs treatment as they develop skills and behaviors that will be beneficial as they advance

and assimilate into society.

ASD has many different factors and effects on the body, as the DSM 5 describes In

young children a lack of social and communication abilities may hamper learning, especially

learning through social interaction or in settings with peers. In the home, insistence on routines

and aversion to change, as well as sensory sensitivities, may interfere with eating and sleeping

and make routine care (e.g., haircuts, dental work) extremely difficult (American Psychiatric

Association 2013). With ASD there is a learning hinderance, their mental development is not
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aligned with normal development, making it difficult for them to comprehend basic things,

things that in most children are inherent. In many instances the child needs to be explicitly taught

these basic skills in order for them to thrive in different social settings. Some of these skills

include emotion labeling, socializing skills, or in some cases even speech therapy. Along with

some of these mental effects, there are many different bodily effects as well. Some children have

difficulty with basic motor function skills, meaning they have difficulty moving limbs,

performing tasks like opening doors or jars, or even just sitting down. These are all important

skills that every person needs but in children with ASD it is something they simply do not

comprehend or their bodies do not allow them to perform it. However there are plenty of ways

these children can develop these skills and overcome these effects that ASD has on their bodies.

Some of these research based educational practices for children with ASD help them to

develop their skills and treat any negative behavior problems they might have incurred because

of the disorder. One on one behavior training (formally known as Discrete Trial Training; DDT

or the Lovaas Method) is a heavily researched topic in behavior sciences. Through this training,

they are developing social and physical skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. The

technical definition for Discrete Trial Training (DDT) is, A method of teaching in simplified

and structured steps. Instead of teaching an entire skill in one go, the skill is broken down and

built-up using discrete trials that teach each step one at a time (Smith 2001, p. 86). The

logistics of DDT aren't extremely complicated, but the main premise is as follows; An ABA

Technician (Applied Behavior Analysis), works one on one with the child in their own home.

They are given treatment plans and work daily with the child to develop important skills like

speech, fine motor development, and basic skills such as potty training and sleep schedules. The
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setting of the home is to provide a comfortable and safe learning environment free from

distractions and intimidations. With children with ASD, there are many factors that can cause

stress and anxiety in the child, and in many instances the child has no way of communicating

these feelings to others. So in order to avoid any of these issues and to not hinder the leaning

process, most ABA technicians teach the children skills in their own home. This way the body

can be free from pressure and simply absorb the information and learn the skills faster. Certain

tasks or methods can only be utilized in a one-one setting in the childs home, an environment

with less distractions or other bodies competing for attention from the child. This intimate setting

allows the child to properly mimic and understand the bodies movements and help teach

whatever skill the technician is attempting to demonstrate.

There are many interesting uses of the body and setting in DDT. For instance, the ABA

Technicians use of their body to model and teach proper behaviors or useful skills. In DDT in

order to properly acquire the skill, the skill must first be explicitly taught. There are many

different ways to teach the skill, some more beneficial than others, depending on the child and

the severity of their ASD. But one of the most effective techniques is known as full physical

prompting. Full physical prompting consists of the instructor touching the child to guide him

through the entire response The child does not independently engage in any part of the correct

response. This type of prompt can be fairly intrusive and often involves the teacher using one or

both hands to guide the child to make the correct response. Sometimes, this is called hand over

hand when the prompt involves the teacher using his or her hand(s) to carefully guide the

childs hand to complete a correct response (Severtson 2009, pp. 25-26). This means that the

technician helps the child perform the task or skill by moving the body of the child for them,
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eliminating the chance for error in the childs training process. The use of both the instructors

body as well as the childs body is very interesting. In order to teach the skill, repetition of this

full physical prompt helps them to understand what necessary motion is required for the skill and

helps teach the child. Of course, once the child understands how the skill is meant to be

performed and what is expected of them, the full physical prompt is faded or slowly removed

so the child can perform the task on their own. This use of the body is clearly integral in this

teaching method and there is a high level of thinking involved when a child can mimic these

movements from an adult and apply it to their own bodies. It is fascinating to understand how

the brain functions and although the child might be hindered by their disorder they are still able

to gain an understanding of body movement by the help of someone elses guidance.

Another use of the body is the childs use of speech or lack there of. In many cases of

children with severe ASD, they have a difficult time with using words or speaking, since their

disorder may have hindered their speech development. This forces the child to communicate in a

myriad of different ways such as body language, sign language, or even just sounds. While

working as an ABA technician I have encountered all of these different methods of

communication. What is interesting about the use of childs body with ASD in communicating is,

they all have their own methods of getting points across. Some learn sign language as a stepping

stone to verbal communication. So they learn simple phrases in ASL to communicate their needs

now, in hopes of applying that skill later when speech is developed. Or in many cases children

who have severe ASD communicate simply with sounds, they cry when something is

unacceptable or making them uncomfortable. They grunt as a sign of approval or affirmation.

Some create an intricate system of sounds each with their own individual meaning. But to me the
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most interesting is the use of the body and body language as a form of communicating. Many

children gesture or point to something they need, tense up when something is frightening or

intimidating. Others allow their whole body to go limp or sprawl out on the floor to signal their

dislike or dispassion with an activity. These children have adapted their own bodies to

communicate their wants and needs. Their brains may have not developed the ability to

communicate verbally but they have constructed a new form of speaking that utilizes their bodies

and movement, and they leave it up to others to understand and decipher their meaning. Without

it they have no other form of communicating and I honestly must applaud some of these

intelligent children for adapting to such unfortunate circumstances and creating something

amazing with what ever resources they have. The body is truly an interesting and integral tool in

the lives of these children with ASD.

The final interesting use of the body in children with ASD is its use as a calming method

or a release mechanism. Many children, especially the ones I have worked with, get very over

stimulated. This happens, When a child is swamped by more experiences, sensations, noise

and activity than [they] can cope with (Overstimulation: Babies and children 2013, para. 1).

Meaning, too many things occur at one time and become overwhelming for the child. When this

occurs, some of these kids can react in different ways. Some shut down completely, they lay on

the floor and refuse to do anything until the stimulant goes away. Others lash out and began

biting, hitting, kicking, screaming, or crying until the adult stops the stimulant. There are two

very key uses of the body when this occurs. One, how the adult can use their body to calm the

child down when they are overstimulated or overwhelmed and two, how the child reacts with

their body when these stimulants occur.

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When a child becomes overstimulated and begins attacking those nearest to them, it may

seem confusing as to why. This is how the body has an interesting use as a release mechanism.

When a child becomes overstimulated, they do not know how to properly handle the situation.

They feel overwhelmed and have no idea what is happening or why it is happening. It is a

sensation similar to an adult having a panic or anxiety attack. They feel too many things at once

and their senses begin to overload, and they deal with these sensations the only way they know

how, by using their bodies to cope with the sensations. Many children bite, scream, kick,

squeeze, or simply cry. These actions or utilizations of the body are a release from the sensations

they are feeling. They are using whatever they can to bring themselves down from the

overstimulation. To those of us observing, it seems as though they are throwing a tantrum or are

angrily lashing out at someone. It is the complete opposite, they are coping with inner turmoil

and this use of the body is the only way they know how to deal with these sensations. It might

not seem like the most productive method, but for children with ASD it seems to work. It is

extremely interesting to see how some of these children learn and understand their bodies far

better than any regular adult could. They understand how to utilize the body and its functions to

benefit them in times of crisis like this, and there are plenty of other things adults can use their

bodies for to help children who are experiencing this overstimulation.

In my field research I have found that most often this techniques is best in helping a child

with ASD relax after a session of overstimulation. The first step is to remove the child from the

area where overstimulation occurred, there is obviously something in the vicinity that is causing

this reaction so the best things to do is retire the child to a dark and quite location away from any

distractions. The next step is where the use of body comes in. Calmly and lovingly stroking the
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childs head and wrap them up in a blanket or tight cloth, this helps to lower their anxiety and

calms them down. By providing them with a quite environment you are giving them less

stimulation to focus on, and by wrapping them up in a blanket you provide the body a safe and

comfortable place that is free from too many sensations but is still stimulating (you don't want to

completely remove all stimulants or else the child will enter into a sort of shock state, you must

slowly remove stimulants one by one). When the kid has relaxed and is noticeably calmer, the

second use of the body comes into play. The adult or caretaker should allow the child a few more

minutes to regain composure, then slowly begin to stimulate the child little by little. This can

mean, stoking the childs head again, lightly tickling them, or rocking the child back and forth.

By using the body in this way, the child can reach normal levels of stimulation without feeling

shocked or anxious. This allows for assimilation back into a normal environment without causing

trauma. This step is the most important of all, since it can help prevent future overstimulation.

This is why the body is such an important part of any childs life who is diagnosed with ASD.

They need to utilize their own bodies and the bodies of others in order to cope with their own


The important aspect to understand about ASD is that one method is never the perfect

solution for every child. There are many different treatment plans, calming methods, and

communication practices that all, in their own way, can be beneficial to the child. Take, for

example, the DDT treatment plan. As Amy Mosier (2011) puts very succinctly, Some

researchers argue that children with ASD do not have the opportunity to generalize and transfer

learning across settings within the childs daily environment Although the procedures [of

DTT] have a number of disadvantages and advantages, most can be offset by using DTT in
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conjunction with other ABA methods that teach skills requiring sequential behaviors and

promote generalization of skills across people and natural context. (pp. 14-15) There is never a

perfect treatment plan, these treatment methods are best utilized in packages, using the best parts

of all of them. The same applies to many different parts of the Autism Spectrum Disorder. In

order for the child to properly assimilate into society using the skills and behaviors they have

acquired, one needs to understand that there are different ways of getting there. A child may have

to endure Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Auditory Integration

Therapy or Pivotal Response Treatment in order to acquire all of these necessary skills. These

children who are diagnosed with ASD are amazing, and have a long journey ahead but with the

use of their bodies, the help of loving and patient adults, they can achieve anything.

This topic provides an interesting alternate view on the body and how it is being used

everyday to improve childrens lives. Children with ASD utilize their bodies to communicate,

cope with the world around them, and even to treat the disorder itself. By providing a simple

view into the fascinating world of behavioral sciences, and its use of the body, we can begin to

fully understand mental disabilities and its effects, and the use of the body for children with

Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders Volume

5. Arlington, VA : American Psychiatric Association.

Autism Prevalence. (n.d.). Autism Speaks. Retrieved from https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/


Mosier, A. (2011). Applied behavior techniques: Discrete trial training & natural environment training.

(Masters Dissertation) Retrieved from Southern Illinois University Carbondale OpenSIUC, 1-33

Overstimulation: Babies and children. (2013 April 16). Raising Children Network. Retrieved from http://


Severtson, J. (2009). Self-instruction manual: Introduction to teaching discrimination skills to children

diagnosed with autism using discrete trial training & errorless learning. Trumpet Behavioral

Health, 1-54. Retrieved from https://www.abainternational.org/media/46670/


Smith, T. (2001). Discrete trial training in the treatment of autism. Focus On Autism & Other

Developmental Disabilities, 16(2), 86.