If you are a parent or caregiver like me with a child on the autism spectrum, you’ve probably spent an uncountable number of hours sleuthing the internet, tirelessly searching for the ‘miracle’ therapy for your child. From Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to Hippotherapy (horseback riding), the amount of therapies purporting to be the Autism messiah are endless, and not to mention expensive! I know of one family in Florida who remortgaged their house just to pay for one of these exorbitant miracle-workers! Youser!
At the last Rockaway Beach “Artistic” Families (RBAF) support group meeting, a parent mentioned a little-known therapy called, The Miller Method (MM). According to the parent, instead of working against the characteristics of autism, the MM uses individuals’ autistic behaviors to help them connect and function appropriately with the outside world.
In my challenging journey with my nine-year-old nonverbal daughter on the spectrum, the best suggestions I have received are from parents, who’ve been done there, done that and got the t-shirt to prove it. So intrigued, I had no choice, but to return to my nocturnal surfing of the Internet to find out more about this quietly innovative Miller Method.
The MM was developed by Arthur Miller, a psychologist, who with his wife, Ellen, started the school, Language and Cognitive Development Center in Boston, Mass. in 1965. From then to the present, with research and demonstration grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Millers introduced a range of innovative strategies (known as the MM) for helping developmentally challenged children achieve their fullest potential.
What is the philosophy behind MM? According to their website (millermethod.org), “We maintain that each child — no matter how withdrawn or disorganized — is trying to find a way to cope with the world. Our task is to help that child use every capacity or fragment of capacity to achieve this.
“Working on the premise that children with autism learn more effectively when their whole bodies are involved, the MM covers major issues such as communication skills and social play, as well as day-to-day behavioral issues including tantrums, aggression and toilet training. Part of MM includes guiding the child on to The Elevated Square, a device that gets the child off the floor and markedly diminishes toe-walking, hand flapping and aimless wandering. By creating a highly-defined reality that requires the child's rapt attention to traverse it, the Elevated Square helps counter some of the significant challenges these children confront.”
Even more intrigued, I watched a YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IILni8te6I) where both ABA and The Miller Method were tried on a four-year-old boy with autism. ABA, a more popularly known and well-established therapy (that is even covered by most insurance companies) emphasizes re-enforcement when a child completes a task such as building blocks or saying a word. In the video, the boy was rewarded when he said the words, “cup” and “go.” I wondered, “Is the boy just repeating or actually connecting word to object or task?” My daughter received ABA through NYC’s Early Intervention Program, and I remember questioning the act of rewarding her with a snack when she said a word, and depriving her when she didn’t say or do what was requested. That said, in the video, with the MM, the boy was placed on The Elevated Square, where he had to push, pull, place and open various items, all the while simultaneously keeping his balance and maintaining eye contact with the therapist conducting the task at hand.
To conclude, what works for one child on the spectrum, may not work for another child with different developmental needs. I liked the MM demonstration because I felt the boy was gifted a sense of competence, and an awareness of self in opposition to the other person and the general environment.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the RBAFSG meeting last Thursday! The meeting, graciously hosted by Jane Garfield Frank (thanks so much Jane!), was meaningfully different. It was the first time where folks not only shared, but brainstormed a plethora of events to promote autism awareness in Rockaway, and activities for our children. Stay tuned!