Behind starburst eyes

Growth Spurts and Autism

on July 18, 2014

 

Growth spurts are a time of constant flux in the entire body. They are a time where all the chemicals of the body are busy creating new growth, they are a time of rapid development of bones, skin, muscle and even brain matter. When someone is Autistic their neural pathways work differently from the get go, but they are the same as everyone in the fact that their bodies are always trying to return to a state of homoeostasis. Homoeostasis is the tendency of an organism to try and maintain it’s internal equilibrium.

However during growth spurts the body is far away from it’s ideal state of homoeostasis, even during sleep.

In the brain specifically the white matter will increase greatly from ages 4 to 20. White matter is the part responsible for relaying signals and messages from one section of the brain to another, it is responsible for sending sensory and motor stimulus to the central nervous system to create a response.

What does that mean for an Autistic child or adolescent? It means that the part of the brain that sends sensory signals is rapidly growing, which means new pathways developing, and just like in a field, it takes time for a pathway to become easy to walk, and familiar.  This means their brains are trying to send signals through new channels.

It makes sense that they will have more difficulties during those times of rapid growth with many aspects of daily living that they might not have had as much difficulty with pre or post growth spurt.

 

Areas of difficulties can include:

1) Speech production such as pronunciation, and echolalia

2) Sleep patterns can be disrupted and more irregular than what is typical for that individual

3) Transitions may be more difficult and they may need more time and help to adjust to changes in activity or location

4) Repetitive and Stereotypic Behaviours may be increased as they provide comfort and self-soothing to the individual

5) Emotional Regulation may be decreased as they are already struggling to return to homoeostasis and may feel closer to being emotionally overloaded from the moment they wake up than what is typical for that individual.

 

How you can help your child:
1) Remember that this is a difficult time for them. They don’t want to feel out of control, upset, confused, agitated or anxious and yet they are right now. No one WANTS to feel those emotions, and will naturally try to do whatever they can to either get away from the situation causing them, or lash out in frustration if it’s an internal situation they cannot remove themselves from.

2) Don’t overload them. If recently you’ve been helping them to learn how to cope with a specific sensory issue, or speech production issue such as pronunciation, remember that even when they are not going through a growth spurt they have to expend mental energy to master things such as being able to touch grass or pronounce an “s” sound correctly. Don’t stop working on goals already started, but don’t add additional ones until they have mastered the goals they are currently working on.

3)  Every person has a way they communicate, listen/watch extra carefully to theirs to learn more about what ways they are specifically struggling with the most. Help them to create plans to work through such issues, or if they are too young to either make the plans themselves or with help, make them for your child.

4) Watch yourself. If you are having a difficult time staying calm remember that you have the right to feel however you do, it’s how we react to our emotions that is either okay or not. Take time for yourself, especially if you are extremely frustrated. As long as your child is in a safe environment there is nothing wrong with stepping into the next room to take a few minutes to regain your composure. Or if you can, find someone you trust to babysit and go out, even a trip to the grocery store alone can be enough to come back to your child ready to help them in the ways they need.

5) Nothing lasts forever, even growth spurts. Eventually they will hit a “lull” in their growth for a few or even several months at which time it will be easier for them to handle all that our fast-paced society throws at us.

 

References:

Billeci, Lucia, Sara Calderoni, Michela Tosetti, Marco Catani, and Filippo Muratori. “White matter connectivity in children with autism spectrum disorders: a tract-based spatial statistics study.” BMC Neurology. N.p., 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2377/12/148&gt;.

 

Giedd, Jay N., Jonathan Blumenthal, Neal Jeffries, F.X. Castellanos, Hong Liu, Alex Zijdenbos, Tomas Caron Paus, Alan C. Evans, and Judith L. Rapoport. “Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study.” . Nature Neuroscience , 1 Jan. 1999. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v2/n10/full/nn1099_861.html&gt;.

“The brain from top to bottom.” Le cerveau à tous les niveaux. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/&gt;.

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