Teaching Educators and Parents Alternative Approaches to Treating Autism
Rather than take the road more traveled, Melissa Nickert (MA ’09), alumna of the master of arts in education with an emphasis in psychology, chose to complete an independent study course that would have her travel across the United States, educating educators about working with autistic children.
As an early childhood educator, Nickert has taught many children who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and she knew she needed to do something to help them. “The epidemic of autism is not going away; it is getting worse. It is time that educators got educated on this subject,” she said.
From Los Angeles, California, to Cincinnati, Ohio, Nickert conducted informational meetings for teachers, parents, and doctors on the biomedical approach to treating children with autism, which aims to alleviate the physical and behavioral symptoms of the disorder by using medical and dietary interventions. Nickert’s interest in the biomedical approach began when she was a first grade teacher, and six of her 22 students were suffering from some sort of disorder on the autism spectrum. After conducting some research, she discovered that 80 percent of all children with autism have a compromised immune system, which can account for some typical autistic symptoms such as gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and aggressive outbursts.
Nickert’s research came to life when she noticed that one of her students exhibited increased behavioral problems each time he deviated from his biomedical diet, even for a few days. “At its worst, a biomedical intervention will lessen your child’s symptoms and improve their quality of life,” Nickert said with optimism. “At its best, it can cure your child. What is not to try?”
However, aware of the many misconceptions about alternative treatments for autism, Nickert decided to use her final project for her Teacher Symposium class to dispel those rumors. Building on the project theme “Educators Advocating for Hope,’ Nickert developed a presentation on the importance of educators knowing about the various treatment options for children with autism. This is an especially pertinent subject since teachers are often the first to notice any challenges a child might be experiencing behaviorally or academically.
Nickert received such positive feedback on her final project that she desired to take her show on the road. Having connections in Cincinnati, Nickert thought that that would be a great place to start. Furthermore, Cincinnati is an area where autism is not given as much attention and funding as in Los Angeles, so Nickert felt that both parents and educators would appreciate the information.
In order to make her presentation relevant to the Cincinnati community, Nickert interviewed local parents and physicians, and contacted Dr. Patrick Baker, a chiropractor in the Cincinnati area, to help her make her presentation. She also drew on the knowledge of Dr. Maureen Pelletier, a medical doctor committed to the biomedical approach to autism intervention. Thus, the program consisted of these two doctors, a parent advocate for children with autism, and Nickert, all working together to educate the public about how the biomedical approach can drastically improve a child’s experience in and out of the classroom.
The first workshop was such a success, Nickert plans on returning to Cincinnati to conduct quarterly workshops on this innovative approach to treating children with autism. In addition, she has been preparing for future presentations in Cleveland, Ohio.
Nickert explained her passion: “When it becomes personal, you have to jump in with both feet and your whole soul. I hope to raise awareness and encourage social changes to support educators, parents, and the children whose lives are changed by autism and other spectrum disorders. All of us will be touched or know someone who will be touched by this, and we can no longer ignore this need.”