Saturday, January 31, 2015

Article: When Parents Disagree – Focus on Treatment

One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is that the other parent does not believe in the label. It's very common and there are some very good reasons why this is so.  In fact, believe it or not, somewhere between 2004-2005, I was a non-believer. 

My latest article at Special-ism discusses this problem.  It outlines the reasons why this is so common and what to look for in your partner's background.  More importantly though, it points out many of the ways in which you can provide your child with much needed early intervention without the need for a label.

Click on through to read the article at Special-ism.

When Parents Disagree – Focus on Treatment

Don't forget, you can access all my past articles at Special-ism here.
and you can obtain a free eBook version of my earlier articles via the Google Play store or direct link here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Interrogation: A Sci-Fi Webseries

One of the great things about the internet is that it has levelled the playing field (a little) for aspiring and creative writers, directors, actors and artists of every kind. Gone are the days when you need a huge corporation behind you in order to achieve recognition. 

Of course, transitioning from providing free to commercial content requires a little help in the form of good ratings and comments -- and that's where you come in.

Interrogation is a Sci-Fi web series which can be watched for FREE on YouTube.  So far there have been seven episodes and they're mostly around the ten minute mark.

The link is here;

This web series which is is female created and very character driven has obviously been produced on a tight budget, so you can't expect major special effects but it does have some pretty good production values.

More importantly however, the Interrogation series clearly celebrates diversity using disabled actors to play disabled characters -- something all too lacking in Hollywood.

The director of photography for all seven episodes has Asperger's syndrome, so please watch and rate the series to help support an individual on the spectrum and a group with a great future ahead of them.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Togetherness: A Dad’s Perspective on Marriage (First things First)

This is a re-post of an article from 2010 for "First things First" which was on a site which no longer exists. The "First things First" project was designed to remind parents that they need to look after themselves first in order to more effectively look after their children. This post has been lightly edited from the original content.
 - Gavin Bollard January 2015.

In traditional society, mothers and fathers tend to live in completely different worlds. The home, the kids and school are all in the mother’s realm while the father is more likely to take care of bread-winning and financial matters.

The working week has expanded to take in weekends and the hours of work have lengthened too, courtesy of the traffic problems.  Many fathers today hardly see their children and not because of the high divorce rate either.  It’s simply that they have to leave before the kids are awake and they don’t get home until after bedtime.  Some fathers have frequent out of state business which further reduces their family time.

Today’s fathers are simply fighting for free time. We are weekend fathers, trying desperately to squeeze a week of family time into a few spare hours on the weekend.

Of course, our children are “perfect” from our point of view. We only see them in fleeting glimpses and our rarity makes us exciting.  The kids tend to behave for us because we have that “less familiar” quality that mom and their teachers simply don’t have anymore.

We have no idea what our families go through from week to week because we’re simply not there. It becomes easy to turn a blind eye to the problems of school and home and to those “labels” we keep hearing about.  Let’s face it.  After a week of hard work and after we've completed our manly chores around the house, we just want some time to ourselves.

Sometimes we’ll fool ourselves into thinking that we’re doing a good thing by looking after the kids for the day while our wives go out to enjoy themselves.  Sometimes, it really is a good thing because mothers certainly need a break but sometimes it isn't.

The truth is that we’re getting stuck in the rut of everyday life and that we've forgotten the importance of our relationships.  Without love, sharing and support, our lives are empty and despite our hard exteriors, fathers need love too.

Since it’s obvious that time is our biggest enemy, it makes sense that the most important thing for us to do is to make time for ourselves.  There are lots of ways to make that extra time;

Reduce your working hours.
Seriously, work and money are very important but there are other jobs and if your workplace can’t be supportive of your needs as a family man, then it’s time to move on.  If you've taken out a giant mortgage and you need to work long hours to pay it off, then perhaps it’s time to consider whether it’s really worth the effort.  Chances are, you took out that mortgage before you really understood the demands of parenthood – certainly before you realized that you had special needs children who would require much more time and money than other children.

You weren't put on this earth to earn money for someone else’s company.  You need to put family first and sometimes that means lowering your material goals to something that allows you to “live”.

Of course, if you’re working for yourself, then you really only have yourself to blame.  It’s time to delegate the work, hire some subordinates or reduce those goals.

Get some help.
I have a real problem with some of the things that the now retired baby boom generation are doing with their lives.  They were supported in their parenthood by the previous generation. I know, I remember because I was a child being looked after by grandparents at times.  Their generation was also much more neighborly and it was quite common for neighbors to look after each other’s children.  These days, the older generation seem to be shirking their family responsibilities and taking too much time out for themselves.

Parents of special needs children have big issues outsourcing their childcare.  It’s not easy finding people who are even tempered and qualified enough to look after our children.  It’s even harder to find carers who will simply accept our child and their “faults” instead of trying to change the child by increasing discipline or changing their diets – and of course, there’s the fact that sometimes our children’s reactions (meltdowns) are quite scary.

There is help out there though.  There are some good babysitters around and there are other services like respite care.  Use them.  Don’t wait until your wife answers the door saying “how was daddy-waddy’s day too-day…”, that’s a sure sign she’s been spending too much time with the kids.

You need to be working on your relationship – and that means talking about adult things when the kids aren’t around.

 The other thing that’s critical is being supportive and working on the partnership. Here are a few tips which have helped my relationship;

Take Time Out
This one is fairly obvious.  It simply means that you need to take time out, away from the kids, to be adults. Get the kids minded and go to a restaurant, a movie or a show.  So many couples with special needs children tell me that this part of their lives is over. It’s only over if you decide that it’s over.  You need to take the initiative.

Often, even when we go out, we find it difficult to talk about anything other than the kids.  After all, that’s almost the only thing we have in common these days.  We’re too busy other shared activities.  If this is you, then it’s time you found some shared interests with your partner.

My wife and I became involved in scouting for the kids and as a result, we had a lot of new things to talk about, she was a leader in Joeys and I was a leader in cubs.  We would go to different meetings with different people but we have similar experiences and can talk about craft ideas and things which drive us. It’s great to be able to talk about something other than our own kids sometimes.

Be There
When my wife had our first baby, I was caught up with work and I think I made only one or two obstetrician appointments.  When things went pear-shaped during the birth, the obstetrician wasn't exactly on friendly terms with me and I wasn't fully aware of what my wife had told him during appointments, so I was unable to prevent him from making choices she wouldn't be happy with.

I pulled out all stops with our second child and I made all appointments except one (and I was only late once or twice).  We had a different obstetrician and I was on very friendly terms with him.  He was willing to listen when I voiced concerns and I was able to relay my wife’s wishes during the procedure – and  be heard.

I had started down the right path but I still needed to learn a lot about being supportive.  For work reasons once again, I let my wife attend one of the early school meeting for our eldest son, by herself.  I’d always thought that it was a mark of my trust that I trusted my wife to handle these meetings by herself and to make the right choices for our family.  Instead of trust, it was betrayal.  I’d once again put work before family and my wife was quickly reduced to tears by the emotional vampires at the school.

Since then, I've managed to make most of the school appointments and our lives have been better for it as a result. Now, together we’re in control of our children’s future – and we’re more relaxed because we have those shared experiences together.  We both know what the score is and what we’re striving for.

First things first is all about taking time out for yourself.  It might seem to be a contradiction that I’m advocating spending even more time with your family but what I’m really suggesting is that we need to be spending more quality time on togetherness.  We need to be pulling the focus off supporting our special needs children all the time and putting a little more effort into supporting each other.  You’ll be surprised how little effort it takes to lighten the load.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Sensitive Sam visits the Dentist - written and illustrated by Marla Roth-Fisch

Sensitive Sam visits the Dentist is the second in the Sensitive Sam series. These are great multi-level books which are suitable for reading by young children, parents and professionals. 

The book starts off with a fairly straightforward story about Sam visiting the dentist. It touches on several of his anxieties but eventually he ends up enjoying his visit.

This first section is aimed at very young children and contains easy to understand words and activities. In fact, young children are encouraged to participate in the story by tracing the line that the car travels to the dentist and choosing the flavour of the toothpaste. It's all very engaging.

Along the way, there are numbered hints to parents. These hints refer you to pages in the back of the book, after the story.  They say things like "Show, tell and do. What does a dental hygienist do? Page 23).

Following the story, there are a series of tips for parents, numbered 1-15. As you would expect, the tip on page 23 has a paragraph about dental hygienists.

The last section of the book has quotes, stories and tips on dentist visits from bloggers from all around the world. There are some very good tips there and many that I'll be putting in place with my own kids.

All in all, it's a great book and is highly recommended.

Sensitive Sam visits the Dentist is a short book jam packed with tips for parents and professionals. If nothing else, every single dental surgery should have  a copy.

If your child has problems with the dentist, then this is the book to get. 

Sensitive Sam visits the Dentist - written and illustrated by Marla Roth-Fisch is available from Future Horizons publishing and from Amazon.

Honesty Clause: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Article: Meltdown? Reduce Sensory Input, Reduce the Intensity

My latest post over at Special-ism is about reducing the intensity of meltdowns by reducing the sensory input.  Hop over to Special-ism for a read.

Meltdown? Reduce Sensory Input, Reduce the Intensity
by Gavin Bollard

Over the years, I've written quite a bit about meltdowns on this blog. For a long while, they were very regular events in my life, they "owned" me and I hated them.  They followed me from early childhood through to adulthood.

Now they're quite rare (for me personally), though they're not rare in our house. I have two kids on the spectrum and the next meltdown is never very far away.

Here's a selection of my previous posts on meltdowns;

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why it is important to keep fighting for Autism Rights

This has been a very busy week in terms of autism rights and there have been a number of incidents which demonstrate very clearly that people with autism are not being treated with the respect that they deserve. 

History is full of stories of groups of individuals who were victimized for physical, economic, social or theological characteristics and while we still have a long way to go, constantly pointing out these issues has proven to be the best way to make progress towards an all-inclusive society. 

Autism is yet another of these groups but it's still in infancy. At this point, we're still fighting for acceptance and the concept of true equality hasn't really been considered.

It's important for us to continue to point out oversights and to correct thinking patterns which can whenever they arise.

The Murder of London McCabe
Last week, London McCabe, a six year old with autism who "loved hats, loved his parents, and was ‘all smiles'." was thrown from the Yaquina Bay Bridge in Newport by his mother. It's not the first time that a parent has murdered their child and it won't be the last however our reactions to this event may well help to encourage or discourage copycats.

On the one hand, there are many people calling for more support for parents (a good thing) and making excuses for his mother Jillian (a bad thing).

On the other hand, there are people referring to this as a murder and campaigning for justice (a good thing) and rights for people with autism (also a good thing).

Sure, we'd all like to be empathetic and see the world for the shades of grey that it is but unfortunately to do so is to miscarry justice and to encourage more parents to harm their children. Sometimes you just have to carry justice swiftly and harshly for the greater good.

London McCabe joins a long list of children with autism who were murdered by parents or caregivers; Rylan Rochester (6 months), Alex Spourdalakis (14), Robert Robinson (16), Kenneth Holmes (12), Jude Mirra (8), Daniel Corby (4), Benjamin Barnhard (13), George Hodgins (22), Randle Barrow (8) and Katherine McCarron (4). May they rest in peace. 

The Event on Sunrise News 7 Australia
Like many news services around the world today, Australia has a morning television news in Sydney which interacts quite a bit with the general public. There was a report from a mother this week who took her teenage son with autism to see the news being filmed.

Her son stood next to a reporter (and didn't behave out of the ordinary apart from being obviously thrilled to be on the news).  Back in the studio, newsreader David Koch (Kochie) made a derogatory remark about the person standing next to the reporter and told him live on air, to get rid of him;

"I think we've got one shonk on your left shoulder. Give him a quick whack and tell him to nick off you idiot".

The video of the event appeared in the sunrise news feed but was quickly removed. Thanks to the anonymous reader who found it again.  It can be seen here, with the first appearance of the boy with autism at 1.40 and David's comment coming in at about 1.57.

To my knowledge, no apologies were offered.

and finally, and example of someone doing it right...
This was too good not to share (I love Doctor Who after all).  Current Doctor Peter Capaldi took time out from his busy schedule to record a special message for Thomas, a nine year old boy with autism who had just lost his grandmother. It's a very good message, pitched at exactly the right level and with a lot of care and concern.

Thomas's father commented that “This arrived just before Thomas’ nanny’s funeral and helped him to deal with his grief in a profound way. Thank you Peter so much.”

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why is Empathy so hard for people with Asperger's Syndrome?

Empathy is often the worst and hardest part of any relationship with a person with Asperger's syndrome. You might feel that your partner lacks empathy entirely but if you could see inside their mind, you might be surprised to find that they are far more emotional than you are.  Obviously this isn't the case for everyone as we are all individuals but quite often people who display very little empathy are actually full of emotion.

So why then, is it so difficult for people with Asperger's sympathy to "show a little empathy"?

There are three major problems relating to empathy that can really cause problems for people with Asperger's syndrome;

Identifying Your Emotional State
People with Asperger's syndrome have a huge amount of trouble determining your emotional state if you don't tell them specifically how you feel.  If you're crying, then most likely you're sad.  If you have a "sad face" on but no actual tears, then who knows.  

People in an upset state of mind often turn and hide their face. This makes their body language even harder to read. People with Asperger's syndrome often avoid making eye contact and frequently avoid looking at faces.  If that's the case then there's a pretty good chance that your partner with Asperger's syndrome may have no idea that you are unhappy. This is particularly true if you use a lot of sarcasm or if you wave them away with "I'm ok" or "it's FINE!"

If you start shouting, then your partner might realize that you're angry but if you're simmering or crossing your arms or doing the "angry look", it won't be noticed. 

Nobody can offer decent empathy if they don't know what is going on with the other person in their relationship. 

Providing What is Required
The needs of a person with Asperger's syndrome will be quite different from the needs of a neurotypical (normal) person.  If things are tough, people with Asperger's syndrome need to be left alone. If they're angry, they need to be left alone. If they have a problem, they usually need to deal with it by themselves. 

Neurotypical people, particularly females, need to hug and talk things out. People with Asperger's syndrome need exactly the opposite. 

For example, if a person with Asperger's syndrome goes to a hospital, then most likely they will just want to be left alone. I can remember being in hospital on a few occasions and feeling quite annoyed with my wife or my mother because they wouldn't take the hints to leave my side.  I struggled with myself because I was feeling overloaded but I didn't want to be rude. The more they stayed and talked and touched me the more stressed I became. I think that on some occasions I snapped and they went off in a huff, feeling like I'd rejected them.

Years later, my wife was in hospital and I paid her a visit and stayed and chatted a while but after a couple of hours I started to leave. After all, I knew that's what she'd want (because that's what I wanted). She became quite angry because she felt I just wanted to go and get on with my life but really I was giving her exactly what I'd need in the situation.

Sometimes because our needs conflict so much, things which look very unempathetic and self-centered are actually intended to be empathetic and caring.  

Avoiding the Urge to Fix things
People with Asperger's syndrome tend to be fixers.  They often believe that problems are there to be solved and rather than sitting around and talking them through with sad faces on, we plan and then we fix. 

It's taken me a long time to realize that sometimes my wife doesn't want me to fix things. She just wants me to understand her position and agree that she's going through a hard time. To us, this is the same as having our car run out of gas near a petrol (gas) station -- and then instead of filling it up, we stand around and shake our heads and rub and hug the car. 

It's completely crazy to us -- it makes no sense at all. 

Sometimes what others need for empathy is just so crazy for us that we can't bring ourselves to do what is wanted. Sometimes it's so reaches the point of being so crazy or weird that it becomes a little funny and we find ourselves smiling or laughing at terrible situations. 

Sometimes when things can't be fixed we start becoming agitated. Instead of being huggy or listening, we find ourselves pacing the room, becoming annoyed or simply dropping the subject altogether and finding something else to do. This will usually be related to our special interest because this interest takes our mind off things and protects us from the outside world.  

If your partner with Asperger's syndrome appears to be ignoring your feelings in favour of reading a book, watching TV or playing a computer game, it might not be ignorance, it might simply be that they've decided that the problem you face cannot be "fixed".

People with Asperger's syndrome generally respond to their problems by "fixing" them. Empathetic responses don't come naturally. It doesn't mean that they can't provide them but it does mean that they often need reminding when the urge to fix things kicks in.

Helping your Partner with Asperger's Syndrome to Show Empathy
The best way to help your partner with Asperger's to show empathy is to ensure that they understand exactly how you're feeling and what you need. You might do this by saying;

"I don't want you to fix this, I just need you to stay by my side and tell me that you understand how I feel and that you feel sad about it too".

At first, this will feel wrong, because after all you're telling your partner what to do rather than having them figure it out for themselves. You might consider this to be "cheating" because you want those feelings to come from within.  This is not cheating though, other people can read your body language but your partner may not be able to.  If anything, then telling directly will simply be "leveling the playing field" to give them a chance to respond.

The more often that you communicate in this way, the more your partner with Asperger's syndrome will come to understand your needs. You may find yourself in the future needing only to say, "I'm feeling sad" in order for your partner to start giving you the sort of empathy you asked for last time you were sad.

One final point. Now that you understand how different your partner's needs are in difficult times, do you think that you can provide them with what they need instead of what you need when the hit tough times? After all, this partner thing needs to work both ways.