Category Archives: The Editor’s Desk

What Attachment Parenting is…and is Not

Maybe you never knew there was a name for it – the unique way you raise your child – but it’s in tune with your child’s needs and with your own needs, and your family lives it out daily. Or, perhaps, you do know there is a name for it, with many synonyms and variations, but you live it out without being defined.

It’s hit the news, blogs, social media, and forums where parenting approaches are more contentious than politics or religion.

Some may know what they know about it from a critique or a comment. But, every day, growing numbers of parents find the name and the communities that come with it – and breathe a sigh of relief to find welcome, encouragement, information, and freedom from judgment.

From professionals to media, it’s not just parents who are discussing Attachment Parenting.

The Latest Fad, or Something More? Time for some clarification and a reality check…

The Basics of Breastfeeding Advocacy

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Breastfeeding has seen the gamut in terms of public support. For centuries, it was the most natural thing to do, and then in the mid-20th Century, it suddenly became taboo and nearly disappeared from Western civilization. Through La Leche League International and other breastfeeding advocates, it has steadily made a comeback into mainstream family culture. But, in some respects, breastfeeding still has a long way to go — in normalizing public breastfeeding and breastfeeding for working mothers, and improving access to lactation services for all socio-economic classes by enabling lactation consultants to be reimbursed by health insurance and Medicaid.

“It’s very important that people realize they have a voice and that people will listen to that voice — and you don’t have to have a lot of letters after your name,” said Dr. Laura Wilwerding, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM, a pediatrician in Plattsmouth, Nebraska USA, and a pediatrics professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where she lectures on breastfeeding medicine, child advocacy, antibiotic overusage, and obesity prevention.

In addition to being a fellow of the International Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Wilwerding is involved in the Nebraska chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics as the breastfeeding coordinator, the Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition on the leadership team, and as a member of the Nebraska Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention Advisory Board. Wilwerding spoke during the La Leche League of Nebraska Annual Breastfeeding and Parenting Conference in May 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska USA.

“Particularly locally, you do have power, and not just with elected officials but also hospital administrators and human services program directors,” she said. It’s all in your approach. Continue reading

Peaceful Parenting Tips for the Growing Child

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Natasha Hartley doesn’t see herself as an expert in Attachment Parenting, but the many people who know her say she definitely knows what she’s doing with her four children. Hartley lives in Omaha, Nebraska USA, and shared some of her tips in APing the older child during a May 2011 La Leche League meeting.

La Leche League International promotes a Loving Guidance ideal, which is similar to Attachment Parenting International’s Principle of Providing Positive Discipline. Both focus on lovingly setting boundaries and disciplining through teaching rather than punitive correction. Much of what Hartley considers to be the overarching idea behind peaceful parenting, for children of all growth stages, is learning about appropriate child development and applying those concepts to the upholding of age-appropriate expectations.

“A lot of it is just being attentive to children and trying to be fulfilling to them,” she said. “When they’re little, parenting is a lot more physical work. As they get older, you think it’ll get easier, but instead of being physical work, it’s a lot more mental work.”

Hartley gains much of her parenting inspiration from the book, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Naomi Drew. From the 17 keys found in this book, these are the ones Hartley finds most helpful now that her oldest children, twin girls, are eight years old and many of the parenting techniques useful with babies and toddlers, and even preschoolers, no longer relate:

  • Peace Begins with the Parent — Family and personal balance is pivotal in helping parents meet the remaining Principles of Parenting. A parent must feel refreshed herself before she can give total, undivided loving attention to her children. “After eight years, I realize that I need to take some mom time. I hope I can help other [parents] learn to do this earlier,” Hartley said, advising the primary caregiving parent to take at least 15 to 30 minutes a day for some me-time. Until that time, if the home environment is getting intense, she suggests remembering to take a moment before confronting a situation to say a positive comment like “I am a good parent; I am a positive parent.” If every day seems stressful, Hartley advises learning to live a simpler life, such as avoiding over-scheduling, getting more organized, and establishing daily routines.
  • Make the Home a Place of Kind Words — Ban negativity in the home. This includes not only perspectives of people outside the home, such as the erratic driver in the next lane, but especially in how parents and children communicate to each other within the family. Examine phrases so that a behavior is addressed, rather than implying that there’s something wrong with a person; this likely means focusing on “I” phrases, such as “I need this room to be picked up” rather than “You’re so messy,” or “I need it to be a little quieter right now” rather than “You’re so loud.”
  • Encourage Positive Behaviors, but Avoid Praise — Praise, such as “good boy [or girl],” is not as powerful in teaching children as is encouraging specific behaviors through encouragement, such as “I like how you cleaned up your toys.” Hartley suggests keeping a list of positive behaviors specific to each child, to read through during times of difficulty.
  • Spend One-on-One Time with Each Child, Every Day — Each child needs at least 15 minutes a day of one-on-one time with each parent, where the parent is keenly listening and interacting positively and not trying to do a household chore or something on the computer at the same time. This time should be during an activity that the child enjoys doing with the parent, or that is entirely child-led.
  • Be Clear on Expectations, and Honor Them — Come together and decide as a family what the principles of the home will be, and then be consistent in upholding those standards. As children grow older, they’ll take more responsibility in shaping the guidelines needed to follow the standards. It’s a good idea to begin holding family meetings when the child is very young, but it’s essential as the child grows older and has more opinions separate from his parents; this doesn’t mean that every idea thrown out by the child is an option but that the child has input into family matters.
  • Say “No” When Needed, but Phrased in Options — When upholding family principles, there will be times when you will need to say “no” to your child, but rather than phrase it as a straight “no,” follow it up with options that the child can do.
  • Provide Children Empty Spaces of Time when They Can Just Be Kids — Especially when children spend the majority of their day in school outside the home, and therefore have to follow rules that may be different or more strict than what they have at home, children benefit from having time to not have to listen to any adults, even Mom and Dad.
  • Develop “Cool Off” Lists — Writing a list of ways to handle anger is great for both parents and children, especially as they grow older. Brainstorm together to come up with ideas to express anger in a more positive way, such as drawing or writing in a feelings journal or yelling into a pillow. It’s critical that parents make it a rule to resolve conflicts peacefully — telling the truth, being respectful, using nonviolent communication or reflective listening, taking responsibility, compromising, and seeking forgiveness — so they can then teach by example to their children.
  • Be a Good Listener — You want your children to listen to you, but you also need to make sure you’re modeling good listening skills to them: looking at the speaker, making eye contact, not interrupting, being open to other ideas, letting the speaker tell his story and not making it about yourself, and focusing on what the speaker is saying.

Tips to Dealing with Acting-Out Behavior

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Earlier this year, I attended a day session put on by the Appelbaum Training Institute in Omaha, Nebraska USA. The purpose of this session was to train childcare providers, but it gave some great tips for parents, too, in dealing with acting-out behavior from their toddlers and preschoolers:

Be Proactive

  • Stay calm — It’s important to QTIP (Quit Taking It Personal). Children act out for a variety of reasons, but it’s not because they dislike you. It’s because they’re frustrated, tired, not feeling well, hungry, or have another unfulfilled need.
  • Create a positive atmosphere – Children feed off of negative vibes. If you’re feeling stressed, they pick up on that and start acting out how you feel, which of course only perpetuates how you act, and the cycle goes round and round. This tip also applies to the physical atmosphere — children love bright colors and light and fun shapes and music. Decorate your house in your child’s artwork and provide plenty of opportunity for them to get involved in activities. I have a dresser filled with activities, from coloring to puzzles to ink stamps to sun-catcher kits.
  • Give compliments throughout the day — Make sure these are genuine and not conditional, so they’re not confused with a reward-based discipline system.
  • Speak in a quiet voice — We don’t need to shout to make our children hear us. They actually listen more when spoken to in a soft, respectful voice. Try whispering when you really want them to listen. Continue reading

How to Respond to the Most Frustrating Phrases Kids Say

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

“No!”

“You’re so mean.”

“I hate you!”

“Daddy lets me.”

“You like him better than me.”

“Why should I?”

“You can’t make me!”

“That’s mine!”

“I don’t want to.”

Kids say the darndest things, but sometimes also the most hurtful things. It can be surprising what comes out of your child’s mouth when she decides she wants to do something different than what you’re wanting her to do! Especially as your child starts going to preschool, playdates, and other places where they’re around other children, they start picking up on other behaviors and bringing them home. I’ve heard “No!” many times from my children, but I was shocked the first time my four-year-old daughter threw her arms up in the air, said “Hmmph,” and stomp away after a request — until I observed one of her playmates do the same to her mother. The light bulb turned on in my brain: Oh, that’s where she got it. And she’s brought home a lot of other behaviors and phrases since then.

How to Respond to Toddlers

Young children do these behaviors as they explore their independence. They are not meaning to be hurtful — just trying to find their way in the world and test out different phrases and behaviors to see what the consequences are. For my child’s playmate, as described above, her consequence was getting what she sought. For my child, her consequence was not getting it until she gave an appropriate request.

There are four tips to responding to toddlers (these are taken from the Appelbaum Training Institute) who like to say any of the variations of “No!” back to us:

  • Honor the boundaries you’ve set — Teach your child that he won’t be getting what he wants without an appropriate request (without whining, hitting, tantrumming, etc.), and sometimes not at all, depending on the request, such as eating sister’s holiday candy. But remember not to force the child to do what you want her to do; according to Attached at the Heart by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, “your goal is not to break a young child’s will, but to help instill the desire to be ‘good’ and develop his own will to make good decisions. This will mean that he can feel good about having some control in his life that can lead to better cooperation.” Try playful parenting or nonviolent communication to avoid a power struggle while continuing to honor your boundaries.
  • Focus on the positive — Tell your child what he can do, rather than can’t. Provide a brief explanation. Say what you need him to do, not what you want him to do; phrase it as “I need you to…”
  • Give your child choices — Have her choose between two toys, two drinks, two snacks, etc. I also have my children choose their shirt to wear for the day and then the choice of two pairs of pants that match the shirt. I also have them choose between two colors of drinking cups, bowls, and more. It’s sometimes better to have two choices, rather than more, so that it doesn’t become overwhelming to the child, but as the child gets older, preschoolers can often handle more choices.
  • Make transitions fun — Transitions are hard for young children, because they become engrossed in their activity and don’t want to switch. This is why any of the variations of “No!” come out often at times of transition. Try making it fun by playing the “Freeze” game, during which the children “freeze” for a moment when you call out the word; or sing a song with actions such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”; or walk like an animal, drive a car, or fly like a bird. Before naptime, demonstrate to the child how to melt into her napping surface — it makes this often-difficult transition fun!

How to Respond to Preschoolers

As toddlers grow into the preschool years, their needs become more complex, and “No!” may mean more than frustration with a transition. There are generally three reasons why your child is telling you any of the variations of “No!”:

  1. Independence — the child is learning they have a voice. This is your basic “No!”
  2. Attention-Seeking — the child is looking for attention. This can be hurtful, such as “I hate you!”
  3. Self-Protection — the child is trying to avoid the consequences of his behavior. This may include the other spouse or another caregiver, such as “Daddy lets me.”

For every behavior, there is a function. Once the function — one of the three reasons above — is identified, here are some guidelines to dealing with the behavior:

  • Independence — Don’t dwell on the behavior, but teach the child how to respond respectfully. For example, instead of “I want that now,” how about “I would like a turn with that toy”? In reply to “No!” or “I don’t want to” or “You can’t make me,” offer the child a choice between tasks.
  • Attention-Seeking — Affirm to the child that she does have value. Spend more time with your child. During discipline, be consistent and give a brief explanation of your expectations.
  • Self-Protection — Demonstrate a genuine interest in the child. Tell the child what you need, and ask the child to repeat back to you what you asked of him. When addressing comments about other caregivers’ rules, explain that right now, you need your child to follow your rule, such as “That is your daddy’s rule when I’m not home, but my rule right now is…, so I need you to…”

What Not to Do

There are five behaviors we, as parents and caregivers, should never do in response to the hurtful and defiant phrases or actions given to us by our children:

  1. Argue.
  2. Defend ourselves.
  3. Become sarcastic.
  4. Lose our cool.
  5. Roll our eyes.

Remember to bite your tongue, as children pick up on our behaviors, too, and will repeat them back to us!

Why It’s Important to Help Children Make Friends

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

My four-year-old is exceptionally smart but has a tough time with social relationships due to developmental delays spurring from prematurity. In fact, she’s in a special school program designed to teach her social skills such as initiating interaction and maintaining conversation with peers. Some progress has been made, with much more to be done before she goes to Kindergarten.

Some people don’t understand why I put such emphasis on her social development, especially since academically she is well above her peers. But I remember having a tough time in school because of my lack of social skills, and I want my children to avoid that by learning all they can when they’re young. The ability to make and keep friendships is a life skill that will go on to determine part of their adult happiness.

Research (Hartup, 1990) shows that friendship serve many purposes, including:

  • Emotional skills for having fun and adapting to stress.
  • Cognitive skills for problem-solving and acquiring new knowledge.
  • Social skills for communication, cooperation, and group entry.
  • A precursor to future relationships. Continue reading

API Parenting Support Survey: Parents Crave Local Support

A 2009 online survey by Attachment Parenting International revealed that parents around the world are hungry for support and education in their Attachment Parenting choices. Results from the survey clarify API’s role in providing this support.

This API survey was conducted to gather anecdotal information and feedback from established API supporters. API was pleased to have more than 100 responses from busy parents in the brief timeframe.

The key point disclosed through the survey is that parents want to see API have more of a local presence. Parents very much appreciate all of API’s resources, but it is the local peer support that they crave. Moving
stories and more in-depth feedback is included in “How has API Helped You” at the end of this summary.

Read the full report here: http://www.attachmentparenting.org/pdfs/API2009ParentingSupportSurveyReport.pdf

Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families: Interview with Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Having nursed one child and not the other, I can say with confidence that there is something truly magical about the breastfeeding relationship. So much more than a transfer of nutrients from mother to baby, the act of breastfeeding touches on each of the Eight Principles of Parenting from nurturing touch and safe sleep to consistent care and personal balance. Breastfeeding is, as Attachment Parenting International co-founders Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker write in their book, Attached at the Heart, the very model of an attachment bond.

author Keren Gilboa-EpsteinAnd as Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, explains through a new book intended for professionals working with new parents — Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families: Implications for Practice — the choice to breastfeed positively impacts much more than the attachment bond between mother and baby, but also among all members of the family unit, from siblings to the father, even after the breastfed baby has weaned.

A nurse psychotherapist with a long list of credentials behind her name (PhD, MEd, BSN, RN, FACCE, LCCE, IBCLC, RLC), Keren has been working with new parents and families with young children for the past 25 years as a counselor, lactation consultant, childbirth educator and birth supporter, researcher, and preschool teacher. She is also well published in scientific journals and other publications on topics ranging from pregnancy and birth to breastfeeding and early parenting. Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families was borne out of Keren’s own clinical and research experiences.

I devoured the information presented in this book. It reveals to the reader the psychological aspects of breastfeeding on the whole family, not just through the intimacy between mother and baby but how breastfeeding literally shapes family development and promotes sensitive interactions between all family members. And then, it follows up with implications for the professionals working with young families. Interaction and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families also gives another dimension to breastfeeding education for lactation consultants, counselors, and others who work with new parents in their transition to family life.

RITA: Keren, how did you first become interested in Attachment Parenting?

KEREN: My experience as a nursing mother is the basis of my interest in Attachment Parenting and interactions in breastfeeding. I parented in a style that might be defined as Attachment Parenting without knowing that there was a name associated with this behavior. My own experiences taught me the importance of mothering in tune with child needs, including cue-based breastfeeding into early childhood. I also learned how this style of breastfeeding and parenting seems to be misunderstood and is criticized by others.

RITA: What led you to write your book?

Interactions and Relationships in Breastfeeding FamiliesKEREN: Insights from my personal experience influence my clinical work and research interests. My aim is to increase the understanding and respect for physiologically based nursing and associated parenting through research. I use recognized theories of development to clarify and validate behaviors in my writing. The material in Interactions and Relationships in Breastfeeding Families reflects my first study on maternal-infant interaction during breastfeeding that was published in a peer-reviewed journal of psychology in 1993. Later training as a family therapist demonstrated to me how important it is to look at the entire family in order to understand more about the interchanges between the nursing mother and child. In 2006, I completed a study that used a family systems approach to describe the entire nursing family. The results of this study are described in my book.

RITA: How do you hope for your book to benefit families?

KEREN: I hope to help families in two ways:

  1. By providing them with information about themselves that will hopefully normalize their experience and fortify their behaviors
  2. By enriching families’ interactions with professionals by describing physiologically based breastfeeding patterns and associated parenting to services providers.

I talk about the feelings that might arise for those providing services to families whose lifestyles and attitudes might differ from their own view of family life. Many services providers in Western contexts criticize cue-based nursing, nursing into early childhood, and ongoing respect for children’s needs for closeness. I believe that helping services providers’ recognize their bias may enrich their ability to listen to and to provide optimal information to families.

RITA: How does your book fit into API’s Eight Principles of Parenting?

KEREN: I think that the work Attachment Parenting International does is very important!

My book demonstrates how families apply many of the Principles of Attachment Parenting to real life and also discusses the implications of this style of parent-child interaction for parent development, positive child outcome, and family function:

  • Preparing for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting — The book demonstrates that parents’ attitude toward birth affects their nursing behaviors.
  • Feeding with Love and Respect — Most of the families described in the book see birth and breastfeeding as a part of a physiological continuum, and this seems to facilitate cue-based nursing. Physiologically and cue-based nursing implies that parents respect and respond to infants’ and older nursing children’s needs and signals for nursing. The practice that parents get responding to infants and children’s cues for nursing seems to enhance the development of a parenting style that respects children’s needs and focuses on responding to children’s signals.
  • Responding with Sensitivity — This responsive style of interaction is called sensitive or attuned parenting in the literature and appears to contribute to healthy child development. Cue-based and child-focused parenting also implies that parents suit their interactions to children’s individual characteristic and evolving capacities.
  • Using Nurturing Touch and Ensuring Safe Sleep — The sensitive parenting style associated with cue-based actions through nursing in infancy carried on into other behaviors, including children’s needs for proximity and touch at all hours. Most of the families respond to their children’s needs for closeness by holding, carrying, and sleeping with or near their children. Children’s changing needs for proximity are respected and responded in an individual manner.
  • Practicing Positive Discipline — Open communication, sharing, and parents’ capacity to tolerate children’s unique needs, including in difficult situations, seems to be the central means that parents use to guide children.
  • Providing Consistent and Loving Care — Sensitive tactile interactions evolve into a warm communication style that helps parents meet their children’s changing developmental needs. Parents see their children as individuals, enabling them to suit interventions to the specific needs of each child.
  • Striving for Personal and Family Balance — Open communication and reverence for all of their children’s needs seem to help parents establish and also restore balance to the family system. Parents share joint values and alter couple interactions to reflect infants and children’s changing needs. Older children’s experiences of being heard seem to help them tolerate younger siblings’ needs and also enrich their capacity to understand others – an important tool contributing to family function.

RITA: What tips do you have for parents seeking a closer bond with their baby?

KEREN: Parents should use nursing as a method of learning how to read and respond to babies’ signals. The physiological and psychological meaning of nursing for infants prompts them to cue frequently to nurse. Parents may learn about their child and parenting by observing, interpreting, and responding to children’s cues for nursing. Cues include signs of readiness to commence and finish a nursing session. In addition, women in particular learn how to mother by interacting with their babies during the nursing sessions. Men internalize sensitive fathering by participating in cue reading for nursing, by observing mothers, and also by matching their supportive actions to the changing needs of the nursing dyad. Both parents may use the touch associated with nursing to learn more about sensitive parenting.

RITA: Thank you, Keren, for your time and insights. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

KEREN: I go back to my reasons for studying and writing about breastfeeding families and issues related to an Attachment Parenting style: I want to help strengthen parents and enable them to see birth and nursing as normal, rather than medically owned events. I hope to help parents feel comfortable responding to their infants’ and children’s cues, and to feel that their role as parents is important. One might recall that an important insight that I brought from my parenting experience to my clinical and research work was that professionals misunderstood cue-based nursing and parenting. Hence, I also directed my book towards professionals and dealt with the bias that they might have toward cue-based breastfeeding into early childhood and associated parenting. I hope that parents will tell their health care and other professional services providers about the book and encourage them to read it.

Latest Research on Long-term Effects of Child Abuse

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Child abuse effectsIn the United States alone, there are 3.2 million referrals to social services on allegations of child maltreatment each year — one-quarter of which are found to have a substantiated case of physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect. Seventy-five percent of these founded cases of abuse or neglect had no prior history. It’s an astounding number of children who aren’t living in safe, loving homes — especially knowing that these numbers don’t count the abused and neglected children living around the world. It’s a number that child maltreatment prevention researcher David Zielinski, PhD, wants to stick in your mind.

“I can highlight this, I can underline this — we’re talking about a huge number of children,” said Zielinski, who works with the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he addressed a wide audience of researchers, social workers, and other professionals in the field of child abuse prevention and treatment through a webinar hosted by the Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood.

That “huge number of children” Zielinski was describing translates into another sizable group – 25 million to 30 million adults, just in the U.S., who were abused or neglected as children. Research has shown us that individuals who experienced abuse and neglect have a higher risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, and other addictions. And it’s well known that adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to become abusers themselves.

“You learn what’s appropriate based on imitation,” Zielinski said.

But the effects of this abuse tend to focus on treatment, rather than prevention — on the individual, rather than society. Continue reading

The Autism Book: Interview with pediatrician Dr. Robert Sears

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

The Autism BookI have to admit that before I read the latest addition to the Sears Parenting Library – The Autism Book: What Every Parent Needs to Know about Early Detection, Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention by Dr. Robert W. Sears, MD, FAAP – that I had only a very basic idea of what autism was. The complexity of this medical disorder simply had me baffled, and because I thought I had no personal connection to autism, I conveniently stayed away from the topic.

But when you’re involved in parenting support, at some point you have to break out of your comfort zone in order to help more families. And attached families certainly aren’t immune to autism.

A few years ago, Dr. Sears wowed us with his acclaimed The Vaccine Book. The Autism Book is just as wonderful. Personally, I have received quite an education from the book. It provides a comprehensive look on this medical condition, and has the added appeal in that it offers both an introduction to autism as well as all the latest research and theories on mainstream and alternative treatments — and even a bit on the subject of prevention. By the time I finished the book, I thoroughly understood all aspects of autism. Dr. Sears has written The Autism Book to be THE handbook on parenting a child with on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Robert W. SearsIn our interview, Dr. Sears gives us some insight to what he hopes to accomplish by writing The Autism Book.

RITA: How did you first become interested in autism?

DR. SEARS: Ten years ago, a new patient walked into my office [located in California, USA] with a child with autism. She asked for help guiding her through all the various treatment options. I knew absolutely nothing about autism at that time, but I wanted to help. So, I began learning everything I could through physician seminars, books, and mentoring under other doctors who specialized in autism.

Through this first patient, and several others in the following months, I learned that there is a whole world of treatment options out there. Some treatments help most kids and some only help a minority. But, I learned that children with autism can recover and lose their diagnosis, and after I saw this happen with several of my patients, I knew that treating autism as a pediatrician would become a lifelong passion for me. I also became involved in the parent support group, Talk About Curing Autism (www.tacanow.org), which has taught me so much in ways that only parents can teach a physician.

RITA: What led you to write your book, and how do you hope for your book to benefit families?

DR. SEARS: Treating autism requires a lot of time educating parents. So, I thought I’d throw everything I know into a book so my own patients could read everything I want them to know. But, I also love reaching out to families everywhere with information I feel is important. With the continually increasing rates of autism — and make no mistake, there is definitely an alarming increase, despite the denials you see in the media — early detection and early intervention are becoming more and more critical. The sooner a baby or toddler or child is identified as being on the autism spectrum, and the sooner intervention begins, the better the chance of a full — or nearly full — developmental recovery.

Physicians used to think, and I am admittedly guilty of this, that it didn’t matter what age a child was diagnosed, because there wasn’t much we could do about it. Autism was autism, and there was no hope for treatment or recovery. Now that we know the complete opposite is true, physicians and parents need to have the tools to detect autism at the earliest possible age so life-changing treatment can begin.

But with the various “alternative” medical treatments out there, I wanted to give parents a science-based look at what integrative and complimentary treatments could help there child, along with mainstream treatments. So, I put it all together for parents everywhere to be able to read. There are some treatments that require a doctor’s guidance, but there are so many treatments that parents can do on their own without a doctor’s help and I wanted to put such tools into parents’ hands.

RITA: Your book touches on prevention of autism, which I found very interesting but something we don’t hear much in mainstream media. Could you give an overview for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The last chapter of the book deals with prevention, in as much as prevention may be possible. I address how to identify autism-associated medical or nutritional problems early on and how to fix them, with the hope that such steps may prevent or limit the autism problems. I also discuss how to approach medical care in a way that may help be protective against autism, as well as how to prevent autism in subsequent children in families who already have one child with autism.

RITA: There is a study that began in 2008 seeking to determine whether mother-child attachment can be used as prevention for autism. What are your thoughts on this?

DR. SEARS: The issue on whether or not Attachment Parenting (AP) can help prevent autism is a tough one. We do know from research that AP kids tend to grow up smarter and happier, and that AP enhances intellectual and motor development during infancy. But, does this benefit extend to autism? I don’t know. I know AP kids who have developed autism. I don’t think we can speak to this until some research is done. My opinion, however, is that the neurobiological mechanisms that cause autism are so complicated that AP practices may not be enough to overcome the autism.

It’s very important not to cast blame on any parent for their child’s autism. And to suggest that a child with autism who was not attachment-parented may have turned out better if he had been AP’d is not an appropriate statement to make to any parent. So, until we know, I don’t like to presume that AP may help prevent autism.

RITA: What tips do you have for AP families affected by autism? Are there particular principles or parenting practices that are more helpful than others, or vice versa?

DR. SEARS: Autism behavioral interventions are very unique and complex. The proper way to interact with a child with autism might not always be intuitive. Specific behavioral interventions are usually provided one-on-one with a licensed therapist, and these techniques are usually taught to the parents, as well. I recommend parents become somewhat adept at the techniques they learn from such therapists. But of course, nothing can replace the loving care a parent can provide, and from an AP standpoint, patience is definitely a virtue.

One very important concept for parents to realize is that the divorce rate in families with autism is extremely high. Perhaps the single most important factor that keeps a family together is a father who accepts the child’s diagnosis and jumps into getting involved with the child’s therapy; a dad who understands what is going on and takes part in it. A dad, on the other hand, who steps back from the whole situation, and just views himself as the money maker for the family, may soon become detached from the family unit and will find a distance developing between himself, his child, and his spouse. Becoming active in a local parent and family autism support group can really help.

RITA: Could you summarize the top two or three concepts from your book for our readers?

DR. SEARS: The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Early detection: as discussed above, this concept is key so that early intervention, and a greater chance of recovery, can occur.
  2. Causes: I discuss what we know about possible causes. Much of this is theoretical, but we are learning more and more scientifically, as well. I also go over what type of testing is useful in order to look for associated medical and nutritional problems.
  3. Treatment: I go over behavioral/developmental therapy, nutritional therapies, and integrative (“alternative”) therapies. I don’t just give general advice – I provide specific guidance on exactly what to do and how to do it.
  4. Prevention: I provide information on how to lower a child’s risk of developing autism. This isn’t always possible, but I share what we do know and what parents can do.

Readers can check out the book’s intro and table of contents at www.theautismbook.com.

RITA: Thank you, Dr. Sears, for your time and insights. Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

DR. SEARS: Autism used to be a diagnosis will little hope of treatment or improvement. Many kids were institutionalized. And although the diagnosis can be a very difficult time for families, today there is so much more hope and available treatment options than 20 years ago. There is a lot of work involved in autism treatment, but by seeking the help of other parents and the right professionals, improvement is very likely and recovery is possible.