As many of you know, I have a passion to fight Autism and help every parent and family member cope with this terrifying epidemic.
This following story give us all distinct hope. Please read it and forward it to everyone you know.
Brand New Hope for Autism
Amy O’Dell’s school may or may not transform the brains of autistic kids.
At the moment her techniques are more art and gut feel, than science. She works out of a house in a very woodsy area, just outside Atlanta. The upstairs kitchen doubles as an office and consultation room. Downstairs there’s a cabinet-like device with inflatable plastic sacks to simulate muscles and calm hyperactive children.
In other rooms and cubicles, O’Dell and her aides work with children forming sounds and matching colors. They are fighting the terrifying epidemic of Autism and having dramatic success, without drugs and doctors. The attached garage has also been turned into a workplace. At one end it sits O’Dell’s 14-year-old son, Jacob, who ten years ago doctors diagnosed with “pervasive developmental disorder.” Parents of kids like Jacob were told that their children could be institutionalized for life.
Now he’s sitting quietly reading a book on Ancient Greece while nearby, a girl with cerebral palsy is learning how to make “snow angels” with her body on the floor. She came to O’Dell unable to move herself around. The “angels” are teaching her brain to “know” what it means to crawl.
This is Jacob’s Ladder, the incredible school that O’Dell founded in 1999 to treat children with neurological disorders. Most of its students are on the severe end of the Autism spectrum. O’Dell takes 15 to 20 kids full time, and another 40 part-time. Some 600 families use her physical and academic exercises at home, following up via phone and video, some from as far away as Africa.
O’Dell’s form of therapy – intensive sensory and motor-skills training to help the brain build and strengthen neural pathways – has never been subjected to an unbiased clinical trial or peer-reviewed by a medical journal. Nor have her results been replicated by
others. On those scores, it is not different from discredited Autism therapies such as chelation-therapy, listening to Mozart, gluten-free diets and swimming with dolphins.
But there is evidence that the theory underlying her work has some scientific validity.
In the gigantic fight against Autism, it behooves all of us to at least look at every tiny clue or snippet of information because that is how breakthroughs occur. Her theory is that the brain is, to a degree, not appreciated by medical doctors. Just a few decades ago, neurologists termed it “plastic”, and able to adapt to neurological deficits.
- Michael Merzenich, a San Francisco professor, has developed computer games that might help Alzheimer’s patients improve their brain function.
- A California woman, who was born with atrophied frontal lobes, is nonetheless attending college.
- Robert Coben, a neurophyschologist on Long Island, has recently published a study of Autistic children who, by playing special computer games, have improved connections among neurons in the frontal and temporal lobes, resulting in fewer repetitive behaviors, better socialization and improved language skills.
Harvard Medical School pediatric neurologist Martha Herbert, who has not looked at O’Dell’s school, but has published papers on brain imaging of people with Autism, says,
“We’d be crazy not to look at this and what she is doing. If you can get kids to change, and study the changes, it will tell us things about the situation, so we’re not trapped by broad labels.”
O’Dell, who has a master’s degree in education from Clemson University, began her therapy career when confronted with her infant son, Jacob. He was clumsy and unable to connect with people. He would stare for hours at a ceiling fan and wave his hands excitedly. When Jacob was 2 ½ years old, O’Dell took on his case herself. She quit working and studied brain function at neurological centers in Minnesota and Utah.
She honed in on the ability of brain-damaged people to acquire skills. Figuring the brain’s capability could be applied to a kid on the Autism spectrum, O’Dell began to tutor Jacob ten hours a day at their home. Then she took a giant step. She started Jacob’s Ladder, when the boy was 5 years old.
Within just five months, four other families there asked her to work with their kids. Treatment begins with a 500-item questionnaire for parents, covering diet, behaviors and family life. O’Dell interviews the child for a day, looking at the child’s ability to hear, manipulate things, move and make noise. Her goal is to find 100 basic exercises, some as simple as regularly squeezing knuckles or touching a right hand to a left knee that can help a child begin to organize his or her world.
Exercises tagged to whatever learning style gets results, become more complex as performance improves. O’Dell charges $900 for the evaluation and design of a system of exercises for patents to do at home. Required supplies, purchased elsewhere, run another $300 or so. The fee for the school, which has a staff of 25 of largely unlicensed aides trained by O’Dell, is $2,950 a month.
Jenne Hockaday, 5, began at Jacob’s Ladder last summer.
“She would rock, isolate herself and mostly ignore everybody” said her mother, Eileen.
She goes three times a week for two hours of exercises, from deep pressure on her arms and legs to staring at cards through glasses pierced with pinholes. She backs it up with home exercises.
“Now she engages with me and other kids, writes letters and is potty trained,” her mother says. “We’ve made her brain work harder.”
O’Dell has critics.
“There is a high probability this has contributed to Jenna’s success,” says Howard Schub, Jenna’s neurologist. But the idea that the treatment is rewiring the child’s brain, he says, “has a long way to go to be proven. This is repetitive behavior treatment with early intervention. A nice combination of other people’s views.”
Given the number of kids on the Autism spectrum, it is still questionable whether O’Dell’s methods can be captured, encoded and distributed. O’Dell’s longest-serving assistant has been with her ten years and yet she says she does not feel she could do the work on her own.
O’Dell has had discussions about creating software to standardize her system of diagnosis and treatment, but nothing has come of it so far. O’Dell tells her clients not to expect miracles. But we all do. Maybe, just maybe, this is one in the making.
To learn more about Jacob’s Ladder or make a donation:
11705 Mountain Park Rd.,Roswell, GA 30075
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