Category Archives: Age-appropriate play

Autism Q & A: What medications are available to treat autism?

By Daniel B Kessler

There are no medications that treat the core challenges of autism, though you can bet the pharmaceutical companies and autism research centers are working on developing some. What we do have available treats only the symptoms or behaviors but that is often so important by itself.

If a child’s behavioral (disruptive behavior or aggression) or emotional (anxiety, obsessive tendencies, sensory overload, meltdowns) challenges limit his or her ability to participate in and therefore benefit from educational, therapy or recreational activities, then these symptoms may be legitimate targets for a medical approach (that means the judicious, careful trial of medications). Medication, used appropriately, doesn’t control behavior. It should allow the child to be in control of his behavior.

The decision to use medication rests with parents. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Find someone to answer your questions and address your fears. Talk to parents who have decided to go ahead and place their child on medication and those that have not. Ask them to let you know their reasons and experiences. But be careful about third-hand accounts (“I know one parent whose sister’s kid had a really bad reaction to ____”).

No parent is excited about having to use medication. Every medication has potential side effects — even “over the counter” medications or “natural” supplements.

But there is also a cost to not getting help for these behaviors. The child may not benefit as much as he or she could. While on medication a child may do better; progress more quickly, with the ability to better regulate their behavior or emotional reactions. Once again, information helps. Ask questions. Look at reliable sources of information. What is this medication supposed to do? How does it work? How long will it take to show a benefit? Has it been studied in children with autism? Has it been shown to be safe and effective? If not FDA-approved and being used off-label* has it been used for children with autism? Has this doctor used it to treat kids with autism?

Next: What are the potential side effects? 

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.

The views he expresses in this series are based on his training, his reading of the literature and his more than 30 years of experience taking care of hundreds of kids on the autism spectrum. The series begins here.

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*Off-label use is the practice of prescribing a medication for a condition, or an age group, for which it has not been reviewed and “approved” by the Food and Drug Administration.  It is up to the manufacturer of the medication to submit an application for approval. However, the FDA does not have the legal authority to regulate the practice of medicine, and any physician may prescribe a drug off label.

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Learning to play with your baby

Pediatricians encourage child-centered play, where you follow your baby's lead.

By Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

You might be thinking, “What’s to learn? I’ve mastered peek-a-boo!” But what you may not know is how the power of child-centered play can unlock a whole new world for your baby.

The practice of child-centered play is strongly encouraged by pediatricians because we see a significant correlation between this activity and language development, increased independence and attention span, and many other cognitive benefits for your baby.

So what exactly is child-centered play and how can you harness the benefits of play for you baby?

CHILD-CENTERED PLAY

Child-centered play is a way for you to play with your baby where you follow her lead and pace in whatever activity she chooses. For example, if she’s blowing raspberries with her mouth, you want to imitate this same action and sound and narrate the activity for her.

By mirroring your baby’s actions, she is learning that she’s important and that you are paying close attention to what she’s doing. But it isn’t enough to simply imitate your baby as the narration and verbal description is the key to child-centered play.

The easiest way to master this is to pretend you are the color commentator or play-by-play announcer, on the baby’s interaction. Describe her actions and encourage her by saying, “Wow, you are making a raspberry. What a great raspberry!”

By describing the play, you are not only adding to her vocabulary, but you are also expanding her knowledge of colors, letters, numbers and the whole world around her.

And keep the conversation going! As she responds with noises and words of her own, verbally reflect your baby’s feelings by saying “you are having fun making noises and raspberries.”

FIVE MINUTES OF PLAY A DAY

Just five minutes a day of child-centered play can significantly benefit your baby’s language and development. Here are 10 simple steps to help you master child-centered play with your baby:

  1. Follow the child’s lead and pace in whatever activity they choose
  2. Get down on the ground with the child
  3. Imitate their play
  4. Describe their actions – “You are using green paint”
  5. Verbally reflect the child’s feelings – “You seem to enjoy the red truck”
  6. Encourage the child – “You threw that ball far”
  7. Be enthusiastic through your words and facial expressions
  8. Expand play, but do not change direction or theme of play
  9. Express interest in who they are and what they are doing
  10.  Listen and be present!

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.