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Autism Spectrum Disorder


The Jacob’s Ladder perspective for children with an Autism diagnosis looks beyond the diagnosis to the whole child. Autism is characterized by social deficits, language difficulties, sensory dysregulation, repetitive movements or fixations, and overall developmental delays. Jacob’s Ladder addresses all of these areas individually in a customized program for each child.

The Jacob’s Ladder Methodology harnesses the premises of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change based on the input and stimulation it receives. Research has shown that children with Autism typically present with different cortical connectivity than same-aged peers; areas of the brain are either over-connected, with too much incoming stimuli to process, or are under-connected, and not receiving the appropriate information. As different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions, we are able to address connectivity patterns based on how each child presents and their current level of function.

Cortical Connectivity

The Jacob’s Ladder methodology places a high value on getting a child down on a mat and working through developmental milestones that may have been missed. Activities such as belly crawling, creeping forward on hands and knees emphasize a cross-lateral pattern that are part of traditional developmental milestones. Cross-lateral movements require movements on one side of the body to be completed in opposition to the other side of the body. This harmonious movement reinforce the connections between one side of the brain and the other; connections that were not present are formed and connections that are present are refined. Cross-lateral movements are a foundational premise of the Jacob’s Ladder Methodology and play a role in determining the connectivity in the brain. Gross motor patterning sets up the foundation for learning by developing interhemispheric connections and communication.

Research has shown that early primitive reflexes also play an integral role in neurological disorders. Primitive reflexes develop before birth, directly following birth, or during the first month of life in direct relation to experiences, movements, and stimulation that is received. Primitive reflexes encompass 72 automatic movements that are directed from the brain stem and require no cortical involvements. If these reflexes are not wired, function attributed to the midbrain and forebrain will not follow. As Autism is associated with cortical connectivity, the integration of early reflexes is important for all children with an Autism diagnosis.

Sensory Dysregulation

Children with an Autism diagnosis may exhibit behaviors related to processing sensory information, either in a seeking manner to address sensory needs, or through avoidance due to sensitivity to stimulation. Jacob’s Ladder views both seeking and avoidant ways of processing sensory stimulation as a product of neural connectivity. For children who are avoidant of sensory information by showing sensitivity to loud sounds, put their hands over their ears, or tend to avoid certain textures, the Jacob’s Ladder Methodology addresses the underlying neurological functioning by providing organized input to normalize the reaction to stimuli. For children who are constantly rocking or spinning or who are frequently humming and scripting and are seeking out sensory input, Jacob’s Ladder will also provide organized input to normalize the reaction to stimuli. By providing sensory input frequently throughout the day in an organized way, Jacob’s Ladder is able to address sensory dysregulation at the neurological level by using the concept of neuroplasticity. By completing activities that normalize sensory stimulation, we are organizing the brain and creating connections for functional output.

If a child is locked in their own repetitive pattern, they are using neuroplasticity in the reverse manner. Instead of wiring their brain for function, they are wiring their brain for disorganization. Even if the object or motion is removed, those neuropathways are ingrained and will replay themselves. The Jacob’s Ladder Methodology approaches Autism by replacing the pathway with a new stimuli. For some children, this may require the removal of certain items, such as electronics or a specific television show, that are allowing the pathway to be reinforced during each use. By completing activities that provides organization to the brain in order to process and integrate information, we can address a child’s overall level of function.

Language and Socialization

Jacob’s Ladder views these two areas of Autism as inter-connected. Language provides us with the ability to express ourselves, address our wants and needs, and relate to those around us. Jacob’s Ladder programming is designed to provide a child with the opportunity to socialize with same-aged peers through a variety of activities throughout the day. Children who are enrolled 1:1 can be found working with peers, completing experiential learning activities through games and puzzles, and may also participate in designated activities within our Learning Environments that address their individual program goals. Blending activities may have a social focus or an academic focus in conjunction with language, but all will hand-picked to ensure optimal therapeutic value for each child. Children enrolled in a Learning Environment setting will retain low student-to-teacher ratios and will complete all programming in a classroom setting designed to foster peer-to-peer interaction and encourage independent language output.