“Nature, meet Nurture.” Attachment and Autism

Photo Credit: Nature vs. Nurture/Philosophy Talk

In general, infants with autism spectrum have eye gazes that focus more on objects than faces.

And that impacts the mechanisms of attunement between mother/father/ and child.  Less oxytocin, the “love chemical,” and less “feel-goods.”  

Unfortunately this dynamic can trigger the wounds of the parent. All parents are wounded because no parent is perfect because no parent was raised perfectly. Wounding is part of the human condition. It’s nothing to feel guilty about; it’s something to be aware of.

 Without the usual and expected validations from smiles, giggles, gurgles and reciprocal eye gazes (joint attention), the risk increases for parents to feel rejected by their own child. The result is often a subtle but very real moment-by-moment withdrawal by the parent from the child in an attempt to avoid painful feelings.  And round and round we go. 

“Nature, meet Nuture.”

What’s needed is for the parent to build a solidity and resilience of self that supports persevering through the hurt.  A great new book on what it means to develop your healthy self as the greatest gift to your child and partner is Brad Reedy’s new book “The Audacity To Be You.”Continued touching and gazing and talking to their baby will build attunement and foster self-soothing and repair when needed.  Studies show that when this happens babies and their parents increase the chemical oxytocin in their brains and with it, the feelings of healthier attachment and relationship.

There was a time when Autism was considered purely in psychological terms. At one point autism was thought to be a result of repressed emotions caused by poor parenting. Of course now we know that it’s an organic, neurobiological condition with struggles in social communication and sensory differences as primary markers. Most all efforts focus on the child and how to stimulate social learning skills. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and Social thinking and perspective taking curriculums are two examples of evidenced practices.

Findings – by Ami Klin and Warren Jones of Atlanta’s Marcus Autism Center and Emory University, appeared online in the journal Nature.

“In a ground-breaking report (2013), researchers describe measurable decreases in in eye contact between 2 and 6 months of age in babies who went on to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The babies actually started out with typical eye-gaze patterns. But month by month, they showed steady decreases in the amount of time they looked at a caregiver’s eyes in a video. Baby sibs who did not develop ASD showed the opposite pattern – with eye contact increasing month by month.”

Jones, W., Klin, A. Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2–6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism. Nature 504, 427–431 (2013). doi.org/10.1038/nature12715

“Such an early decline in eye contact would represent one of the earliest signs of autism identified to date,” emphasizes developmental pediatrician Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president for medical research. “It may also suggest a new window of opportunity for effective early intervention, as eye contact is so crucial for learning and the normal development of social skills.”

#CognitiveScienceinParenting. #AudacityToBeYou

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
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