Welcome to Center for the Developing Mind

Center for the Developing Mind is Self-Determination Friendly

Autism and self-determination: the path towards successful citizenship

by Peter Autisme

The concept of neurodiversity (Singer, 1999) has been introduced to make us aware that conditions such as autism are not a (neurological) deficit but part of the natural neurological variation. And, as with biodiversity, we should not only acknowledge this neurological diversity but also cherish it as the basis of the rich tapestry of human variation.

Accepting neurodiversity is a noble goal and we still have a long way to go in creating more acceptance of neurological differences. However, accepting differences is only the first step towards inclusion of people with autism as full and successful citizens.

Autistic people can and should be included as valuable citizens. One way to realize this inclusion is seeing autistic people as human beings with the same psychological needs as every other human being. A useful model is Ryan and Deci’s ‘Self Determination Theory’ (2017). According to this empirically based theory of human motivation, development, and wellness, the more the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are supported, the stronger people will be intrinsically motivated to put efforts in their development and duties. how can society increase the sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness of autistic people, so that they can contribute more and in more meaningful ways to society than they do today. This includes, but is not limited to the following approaches and strategies:

  • Competence: strengths and interest based approach (not deficit oriented), functional skills training, contextualized apprenticeship

  • Autonomy: autism friendly personal future planning, person centered approaches

  • Relatedness: peer support projects, inclusive projects in the areas of free time and culture

The Problem

As of 2018, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated their statistics; stating that by the time a child is 8 years old in the USA, 1 out of every 59 children will be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. If you are navigating this website, likely you are doing so, because you are worried that either you or someone you love might be suffering from a developmental delay or regulatory disorder, like ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) or Selective Mutism.  First, know that there’s help available to find out just what the difficulties are, if any, and address those challenges.

Developmental Delays

What Are Developmental Delays and how does they manifest in young children?There are many different types of developmental delays in infants and young children. They include problems with:

  • Language or speech
  • Vision
  • Movement -- motor skills
  • Social and emotional skills
  • Thinking -- cognitive skills

What are the warning signs of a developmental delay?

There are several general "warning signs" of possible delay:

Behavioral Warning Signs

  • Does not pay attention or stay focused on an activity for as long a time as other children of the same age
  • Focuses on unusual objects for long periods of time; enjoys this more than interacting with others
  • Avoids or rarely makes eye contact with others
  • Gets unusually frustrated when trying to do simple tasks that most children of the same age can do
  • Shows aggressive behaviors and acting out and appears to be very stubborn compared with other children
  • Displays violent behaviors on a daily basis
  • Stares into space, rocks body, or talks to himself more often than other children of the same age
  • Does not seek love and approval from a caregiver or parent

Individuals impacted with developmental and/or regulatory disorders often need a variety of services when it comes to dealing with their individual problems. How often have parents expressed concern, wishing for one unified service center that approaches the healing of their child from a variety of different disciplines? My name is Dr. Esther Hess and I have listened to my families! I am a developmental psychologist and Senior Clinician for Stanley Greenspan, M.D. (the developer of the DIR/Floor Time model of intervention). I am also the executive director of our state of the art facility, Center for the Developing Mind that addresses the specific needs of children, adolescents and young adults and their families struggling with developmental and social/emotional challenges.

The Center for the Developing Mind™

The Center for the Developing Mind™, a non-public agency in the state of California, is a multidisciplinary treatment facility for children, adolescents and young adults with developmental delays and/or regulatory disorders. Clinical interventionists including mental health, speech therapy, occupational therapy and educational support not only lend their individual support towards establishing a treatment protocol, but the Center’s clinical staff specializes in combining when necessary, multidisciplinary services within treatment sessions to maximize treatment options. At Center for the Developing Mind, we pride ourselves on the taking care of the needs of the whole family. Recently the Center has been involved in a collaborative research project with colleagues from UCLA where we are looking at the feelings of neuro-typical brothers and sisters of persons with ASD.  We also work collaboratively with school districts facilitating Individual Educational Plan meetings, parent/clinician/school case conferencing and have now expanded into adult services to include individual, couple, family and group support and when applicable, supervision within the adult workplace and social skills support.

The center is equipped with a variety of rooms designed to create the right environment for different types of therapy: mental health, occupational, educational, speech and language and more. Click here to learn more about our facilities.

Dr. Esther Hess

I feel blessed that I literally have the best job in the whole world, because I get to go down on the floor every day and play with kids and toys.  And, as much as I love to be ‘on the floor’ helping  my children and their families, I am also passionate about being an author; having written numerous professional chapters and articles on how to conduct play therapy for children and adolescents impacted by ASD, selective mutism and ADHD. Additionally, I am a national and an international speaker on DIR/Floor Time: A Developmental/Relational Model of Intervention for Children, Adolescents and Young Adults Impacted by ASD and Sensory Processing Challenges. It has been my privilege to be able to combine my love of travel and teaching and see 48 out of our 50 states in the USA. Most recently,  I have expanded my reach and have taught on this subject in over 4 continents!

Advocacy Efforts

As a consequence of my ever expanding teaching on developmental and regulatory disorders worldwide, I have begun to explore the bridge between clinical practice and policy making. Over the last three years, I have visited Capitol Hill on several occasions, where on the invitation of several Senatorial and Congressional offices, I and various members of our staff have offered both education and support to push forward an ambitious new agenda to better serve children and adults on the spectrum.

In a series of policy recommendations, I have had the privilege to highlight and advocate for the needs of children and adults with autism as it deals with relatively familiar pediatric early intervention needs while expanding into the newly acknowledged lifespan concerns including learning life skills, accessing qualified support providers and obtaining funding that’s flexible.