Q: I have an 11-year-old son with autism. Over the years, we have tried numerous schools, doctors and diets. However, there has been no major breakthrough with regards to behavioural and learning problems; in fact, two years ago he had major regression and no longer speaks. No one seems to be able to put a finger on the problem and his mother and I are getting worried as he approaches adolescence. We need proper advice right now regarding the next step to be taken. The problems are so numerous to start to discuss here. We have had assessments from all the experts, but what we need is a plan of action that will yield results, not just descriptions of what his condition is. If you believe you can help us, please respond and let us know what you think.
A: Autism is an impairment of the growth and development of the brain or central nervous system which is usually identified by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behaviour. The signs usually develop gradually, but some autistic children first develop more normally and then regress. Although early behavioural or cognitive intervention can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills, there is no known cure. Not many children with autism live independently after reaching adulthood, though some become successful. Your plan of action now should be teaching him skills to help him for everyday living. Get an evaluation of his adaptive functioning skills, that is his communication, self-care, social-interpersonal, functional academic, health and safety skills. Then reinforce what he knows and teach him the next level. Remember you will need to be very patient.
Q: I have received the same complaint about my daughter from her teachers, since she was two years old. She is very talkative and easily distracted. She is now 11-years-old and a first-former in high school, but has carried that same behaviour with her. We have spoken to her many times about this behaviour, without success. Her school work is not severely affected because she maintains good grades.
A: You will now have to be very firm about the disciplinary measures that you will be following regarding her behaviour, when it is inappropriate. Work with her teachers regarding removal of privileges at school when she talks out of turn.
Q: I am from Jamaica, but I have been living in the Netherlands a year now with my daughter, who she is growing real fast. My daughter is seven years old and she is already growing breasts and hair. I am afraid that she will soon start with her menstruation. Is that normal? Is it because of the different kind of food? The doctor here made an x-ray of her left hand and said that the skeletal structure is the same as a child of 10 years. Now they want to do three more tests which are, Echo, LRF and an MRI scan. I am worried about her and I don't want anything bad to happen to her; but I am also wondering if they are right about everything. I think it's because of the different food, but they are saying other things. Please give me your advice.
A: I am not a medical doctor and my advice to you is to get another opinion of a paediatrician before you allow them to run the tests. If you are not fluent in Dutch, ensure that a professional translator is with you so you can clearly understand all that the specialists say and documents that you are being asked to sign and pay for.
Orlean Brown Earle, PhD, is a child psychologist and family therapist. Dr Brown Earle works with children with learning and behaviour problems throughout the island and in the Caribbean. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send to Ask the Doc, c/o The Gleaner Company, 7 North Street, Kingston.