The Integrative Approach to Autism part 9: What about Smiling

Feb 05 2013

This post continues THE 3-STEP Integrative Approach to Autism series, developed over 18 years of research, experience and collaboration. Today Part 9: BEHAVIORAL requirements for growth: What about Smiling

What if your child does not smile at you?

The concept of the rewards of motherhood grows from the baby’s approval to the baby’s preferential treatment of the mother, and it keeps changing as the baby grows up. Later, the child showing selective affection to the mother not shown to other people becomes part of the maternal reward. During social childhood and beyond, the achievement of milestones including independence and excellence in social and/or academic life represent some of the ultimate rewards every parent looks forward to. Many psychologists rightfully believe that central to a mother’s ability to take on the daunting task of raising a child 24/7 is the reinforcement she gets from the baby’s response to her actions. Relatively early on, usually at about seven to nine weeks of age, babies gradually show facial and bodily features that indicate approval of the mother’s presence and actions. These changes gradually grow into overt smiles more selectively directed toward the primary caregiver (mother) than anyone else around. This is a tremendously important part of the rewards of motherhood and the consolidation of the emotional bond. However, some highly sensitive children may not display the expected signs as early as the average insensitive child does. In addition, many sensitive children may display signs of approval of the mother that are not easily discernable or that might look rather bizarre. This happens with many sensitive children. The delay is part of being sensitive. It simply takes more time for sensitive children to reach certain emotional and expressive milestones than insensitive children. Comparing the progress of a sensitive child to that of an insensitive child should only be done through comparing milestones without regard to the time needed to reach these milestones. The thorough way by which sensitive children process the world makes it more difficult to reach the expected milestones. Therefore, it is natural for a sensitive child to take a longer time.

In addition, some children may display unorthodox gestures and facial expressions to show approval of or affection toward the mother. This is simply part of learning. It only means the mother should limit access to the baby by strangers and strive to always show the same type of smile and the same type of facial expression until the baby eventually learns it. As a mother, look in the mirror, make up your mind for your best smile, and display it every time your baby wakes up. Variations can be too confusing. Strangers making faces in front of the baby can also be confusing. None of this means the child “does not have emotion” or the child may have a “low level of emotional intelligence.” These are only myths propagated by ignorant doctors who are looking for superficial explanations for mothers seeking guidance.

Whether it is a delay in interaction or a non-orthodox display of interaction, a mother is often dismayed, especially if she witnesses more orthodox mother-child interaction in other families. Many mothers often experience a decline in self-confidence and begin doubting their own nurturing competency. Some may try to distance themselves from the baby to avoid getting hurt any further. No matter what the mother’s reaction is, it may make it more difficult for a sensitive child to continue bonding and developing further skills. Mothers of sensitive children are well advised to understand that this type of situation can be one of the earliest signs indicating the baby is highly sensitive. Mothers are also well advised to continue to be close to their baby. If there were anything in the world that can brighten up a baby’s interaction with the rest of the world, it would be the mother’s consistent love, affection and care. In fact, the non-responsiveness should not become a source of panic or distance. The non-responsiveness is the best evidence a sensitive baby gives out for the need of more intense and more prolonged care by the mother. I know how tough this can be in real life but as adults sometimes, we have to substitute our rewards by ones we get from other places. This is essential to provide continuous and consistent care, which will eventually lead to the favorable response the mother is looking for. Bear in mind it may take several more months than the neighbor’s baby.

Rami Serhan, MD
Author, Psyche-Smart Autism; Integrative Medicine Consultant
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