Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: The Loving Push by Temple Grandin and Debra Moore

The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help Spectrum Kids become Successful Adults
By Temple Grandin Ph.D and Debra Moore Ph.D.
Future Horizons 2015.

The Loving Push is a very different type of autism book. It's aimed at the parents of teens and young adults with autism (or Asperger's syndrome) and it concentrates mainly on what comes after school. I've found very few books aimed at this audience and this one is undoubtedly the best. 

At 200 fairly densely packed pages, this is a moderate read which unlike other books of its kind does not frequently retread the same ground.

The opening chapter talks about real people with autism and/or Asperger's syndrome who have transitioned to adulthood with varying measures of success.  This is not a book of stories about geniuses and many of the young adults in the first chapter simply have "independence" as their main goal. It's a very sobering and realistic look at what comes next.

The second chapter outlines three of the biggest factors on the road to success;

  1. Avoiding Learned Helplessness
  2. Learning Optimism and Resisting Habitual Negative Thinking
  3. The Critical Impact of Mentors
It's in this chapter that the book really clarifies its title; "The Loving Push".  It can't be emphasised enough that sometimes as a parent you need to back off and push your kids to do things for themselves. 

Chapter 3 covers breaking bad habits, like being unmotivated or reacting badly to problems and failures. This chapter also spends some time comparing the lifestyles of young adults with autism and neurotypical "normal" young adults. It's a great comparison which will have many parents nodding their heads as the realisations hit.

Chapter 4 deals with stretching your young adults beyond their comfortable boundaries while chapter 5 deals with apathetic or anxious people. These chapters are full of great tips and real life examples, many of which are from the parents and kids in the opening chapter.

It's Chapter 6 that really is the eye-opener in this book. As a person with a long history of computer gaming, I've always had issues with Temple's crusade against gaming. I'm pretty sure that I was tensed up ready to reject the whole chapter as "a worry based on her age".  That's not the case. This is a really scary chapter which goes into a lot of detail on the mechanics of gaming addiction and the reasons why our children, with Asperger's syndrome or autism, are particularly at risk.

There were many parts of this chapter which had me acknowledging not only my kids behaviours but those of their friends ... and indeed my own behaviour in my younger days. One thing is for sure, we'll be looking more closely at how gaming occurs in our family in the future.

Chapter 7 is all about teaching vital life skills to your child before they become an adult. It covers chores, breaking steps down, using technology to better manage oneself, driver education, interactions with the police and even romantic entanglements. It's a very good chapter but to be honest, my mind was still reeling after chapter 6 and I'm not sure that I took it all in.

There's a great example cited by a professor in chapter 7 where he talks about kids who attend college but have never had to use an alarm clock.  Normally their mothers wake them, find their clothes, remind them to get dressed and to have their breakfast. This is great while they're at home but parents who do too much for their kids at home actually put them at a disadvantage.  The loving push is what is really needed.

The loving push is hands down, the best autism book aimed at late teens (through to mid-twenties and sometimes beyond). If you have one of these kids already, this is the book to get.... particularly if they spend "too much time" on the computer and/or in their bedroom.  If you don't have a teen yet but have a younger child, this book is still a great one to get.  It will become increasingly valuable as your kids get older and the earlier the techniques in the book are applied, the better.

I really can't praise this book enough. 

The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help Spectrum Kids become Successful Adults
By Temple Grandin Ph.D and Debra Moore Ph.D. is available from;

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: The Spectraland Saga 2: The Mystery of the Moonfire by Brian Tashima

Back in September 2012, I reviewed book one of the Spectraland Saga, The Secret of the Songshell and now, after about 3 years, the sequel is finally out and I'm pleased to bring you a review of it. 

The Spectraland Saga is a young adult series by Brian Tashima The books are probably aimed at the better readers in the young adult market as they're about 300 pages each. The genre is fantasy and the reason why they're being reviewed here is because they contain a main character with Asperger's syndrome (in fact, it's quite likely that they contain two main characters with Asperger's syndrome). 

The Mystery of the Moonfire starts about six months after the end of “Songshell” and it more or less relies on a good knowledge of Spectraland. If it's been a while since you read the first book, you might want to re-read it before venturing further.  If you haven't read the first book at all, I think it's a pre-requisite. 

The second book in the saga feels longer and more action-packed than the first with the wave bows being out of action for a large part of the story, reducing the reliance upon magical solutions. In my opinon, this grounds the story and makes it a whole lot better.

Joel and Felicity spend a lot of time with the natives but there are also a lot of quiet moments where they rely more upon each other. This was a big change from the first book and personally,I thought these moments were the highlights of the book.

The characters of Joel and Felicity have Asperger's syndrome. Joel is clearly diagnosed and a lot of his self-talk reflects this, there's real examples of concentration techniques, anxiety-breaking distractions and most of all, the questioning of social behaviours and body language.

Felicity’s Asperger’s seems to be undiagnosed. It's never stated in the book and it may be a figment of my imagination but I've noticed that a few other readers have made the same connection. It's pretty likely that she has Asperger's.  Felicity traits are more typical of females with Asperger's which makes it less detectable and usually less limiting but it nevertheless comes into play at opportune (and sometimes inopportune) moments.

I love what Brian is doing with these books, spinning a fantasy with main characters that people on the autism spectrum can relate to.

In terms of fantasy, the books lie somewhere between “the Enchanted Wood” and “Harry Potter” and seem well suited to a young to mid teen audience depending upon their reading levels.

The Spectraland saga 2: Mystery of the Moonfire by Brian Tashima is available from Amazon and Goodreads. You can also follow Brian's activities on his blog.

I'd recommend this book to lovers of Fantasy in general but particularly to kids on the Autism spectrum.

Honestly clause; I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Why Do I Allow Offensive Comments on this Blog?

I'm often asked, since I moderate comments on this blog (require approval before posting), why I allow comments which are harmful but block some comments which fight back. Surely here, of all places, I should be standing up for people, like myself who are on the autism spectrum?

It's a good question and it’s one that I still struggle with constantly but I thought it would be worth posting about because it says a lot about me, about my intentions and how far I will go to ensure that the messages are understood.

What does Get Blocked….
First of all, one of my aims in comments is “protection”, so any comments which mention email addresses, surface mail addresses or phone numbers (of individuals) will automatically get blocked. It's simply too dangerous to post these things.

I've had people on the spectrum leave comments about loneliness and their hope that someone nearby will connect with them - and then they leave personal contact details. This is downright dangerous. The proper place for those sort of interactions are via PMs (personal messages) on message boards such as

I also block comments which explicitly attack individuals, particularly other commenters. Sometimes these comments can be really nasty and hurtful but more importantly, they can lead to legal trouble.  It’s one thing for a commenter to generalise about a group of people (which is bad enough in itself). It’s another thing entirely when they attack a specific person.  This is one area where things don’t look so good on the blog; A typical scene goes like this….

Person X says something bad about everybody on the spectrum - and that comment is allowed because it’s a general one.  Person Y says something in defence of people with autism but specifically targeting person X.  

It’s a good comment and it's something I believe in but suddenly I have to block it because the poster has broken a major rule of engagement. It's really frustrating. 

The other group of comments I regularly block is advertising; particularly spell caster advertising campaigns which prey on weak and/or emotional people.

What do I Allow?
Basically everything else is allowed provided that it is on-topic. In particular, I allow comments that I disagree with (and often restrain myself from commenting on them too). This is an intentional attempt to keep the material here balanced; to make sure that my own point of view doesn't dominate the comments.

I'll even allow a small amount of "trolling" through  -- at least until it becomes obvious that a poster is trolling.

Why is this Important?
Sometimes commenters manage to change my mind about things, sometimes they widen discussions, draw parallels or contribute to new theories or new posts. I love those kinds of comments.

Sometimes when someone attacks a post, they play the "devil's advocate" and expose weaknesses and holes in theories or perception.  Knowing about these can often allow you to strengthen future arguments.

Finally, and probably most importantly; people with Asperger's syndrome, myself included tend to be a little naive. I certainly like to believe that the world is full of good people -- and for the most part, my particular little world is.   Every now and then, I get a comment (or a real-life experience) that reminds me that the world has teeth ... and that's a good thing.

I want the world to see what we (the people on the autism spectrum) are up against. If we're constantly suppressing the bad comments then nothing gets discussed and it becomes hard to explain to others that, as a group, we're frequently bullied.

I like to think that I am a compassionate person and I would love to remove the "hate speech" from my comments section but it's too important in highlighting our struggles to remove. I'm not sorry that it offends people because it deeply offends me too. It needs to offend us.

If some of the negative comments get you riled up, then that's great because it means that you see them for what they are and you're seeking social justice.  It's good because you're going to need to defend yourself for the whole of your life from these kinds of attacks.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: "Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio

"Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio is a children’s picture book based on Temple Grandin’s seven life rules for growing up with autism.

If you don't know who Dr Temple Grandin's is, she's arguably the leading authority on “autism on the inside”. An amazing and very knowledgeable woman whose story is told very well in the HBO biographical film “Temple Grandin” (2010).

(I reviewed the Temple Grandin movie here back in June 2011)

Temple’s seven life rules are very good ones which still hold up well today though I have often thought that sometimes her words betray her age, in particular her obvious dislike of computer games and her preference for outdoor activities.

The book more or less tells a “lite” version of Temple’s story and at 25 pages, it's clearly aimed at young readers. There are two fonts used throughout the book, on for the story and the other for Temple’s words.

When it comes to the rules, the book addresses the reader directly giving both the rule and advice for following them.

Lynda Farrington Wilson’s illustrations take a little getting used to but suit the book perfectly. They are filled with interesting details and illustrate not only Temple’s life but also her dreams. If you have children on the spectrum, you may recognise the level of detail in these drawings.

At the end of the book, there are some questions aimed at getting the reader to think about how they can fit Temple’s rules into their life goals.

All in all, this book serves as an excellent introduction to this extraordinary woman and is a great starting point for helping kids with autism to get their life goals and actions aligned.

For those of us who are already very familiar with Temple’s work, it offers less (but we're clearly not the intended audience).

I noticed in the end notes that the Author, Jennifer Gilpin Yacio has a brother on the spectrum and was a little disappointed to not read anything about his life in there.

"Temple did it, and I can Too: Seven Simple Life Rules" by Jennifer Gilpin Yacio is available from Sensory World, Amazon (in Kindle and Hardcover formats) and the Book Depository.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Conversations with People with Asperger's Syndrome can leave you with a Wrong Impression

People with Asperger's Syndrome often come across in conversations as very self-obsessed and this is reflected in “Aspie-type” personalities in the media, such as “Doc Martin” in the British TV show of the same name and “Sheldon Cooper” from the “Big Bang Theory”**.

The question is whether this is a reputation that we deserve. It's certainly true that conversations with people with Asperger's can be an “experience” but is this a self-centred superiority complex or simply the way that a bunch of traits appear to others… and if so, what can be done about it?

One Sided Conversations
People with Asperger's often seem to dominate conversations, turning the topic to things that interest us (special interests) and then talking until the listeners make their escape.

To an outsider, this appears to be “conversation dominance”. It suggests that the “aspie” is not interested in the opinions and subjects of other people.

People with Asperger's are constantly thinking about their interests and apparently this isn't the case with “normal” people. When you're talking, you tend to say what you're thinking- and for us, it's pretty obvious what that is. In fact, it's hard for us to concentrate on other topics especially if, like “today's weather” or “last night’s sports game”, they seem to lack conversational depth.

This is an area where we can improve simply by trying to rein in our exposure of the special interest and trying to listen to others. It takes practice but it's an important skill to learn.

Being Direct
People with Asperger's often ask very direct questions, for example asking an elderly person exactly how old they are or aggressively asking multiple questions about a given purchase which interests them.

Other people can interpret this as being “nosey”, pushy or simply rude.

People with Asperger's see this quite differently. It shows interest, engagement and sometimes honesty, all traits that we admire in conversation.

Personally I've always been proud of my honesty but over the years I've learned that there are some things that you just can't say. I now refrain from personal comments of any kind to such an extent that I've been accused many times of “not giving compliments”. In fact it's arguably the most difficult part of my marriage.

Too often my most well-meant comments are taken completely the wrong way. It's easier to completely avoid all personal comments than it is to say things that are intended as compliments but could all too easily have unintended consequences.

This is an area where others need to change their unrealistic expectations of us. Of course over the years, I've learned through trial and observation to avoid specific types of comments and questions - and my reading of body language has improved significantly. It’s probably safe to say that these problems should decrease over time with familiarity.

Blurting and Interrupting
People with Asperger's syndrome are often seen to interrupt the conversations of others, simply blurting out what seems to be random facts. This leads others to presume that they consider their conversations to be more important or at best, that they are simply rude.

Blurting can be a symptom of “over-excitement” in a topic or the urgent need to convey some information before it is forgotten. People with Asperger's usually have great long term memory but short term tends to be poor.

More often, blurting is the result of difficulty locating simple entry points into a conversation. It's not uncommon for a person with Asperger's to walk up to a conversation and watch it like a tennis match for a few minutes before silently walking away. This isn't rudeness, simply the person being unable to find the right “gaps” in which to enter a conversation. After a few such attempts, blurting is only to be expected.

In General
There are many other nuances in “Asperger's conversation” but the answers usually boil down to the same things. Some things, the person with Asperger's needs to work on, some things develop naturally over time and sometimes others need to be more understanding and more accommodating.

The more time you spend listening to a person with Asperger's syndrome, the more you'll find yourself "acclimatizing" to their "peculiar" speech and world-view. If you're a regular watcher of either of the shows I mentioned earlier, think about how you feel about Doc Martin or Sheldon Cooper now versus how you felt about them in their earliest episodes.

The rudeness and the superiority complex that people with Asperger's syndrome often project is rarely intended as such.

** Neither Doc Martin, nor Sheldon Cooper are specifically identified as "having Asperger's syndrome". though it has certainly come up on one, maybe both, shows. They're both characters based on real like people who are known by the actors and/or writers. Nevertheless, the characters they portray are very "aspie-like".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: "The Saga Of Santa Claus" by M. D. Couturier

It's probably still a little early for Christmas but it's not too early to start doing a little shopping preparation. Today, I want to review a book written by Mark Couturier who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at 19 years.

Mark was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in Greenville, Michigan. I earned a B.A. in history at Grand Valley State University and briefly worked as an aid worker in Kabul Afghanistan. The Saga of Santa Claus is a seasonal tale aimed at the young and the young at heart.

Over the years, there have been many retellings and versions of the origin of Santa Claus, the reindeer and all of the various Christmas traditions. My personal favourite will always be the Bass and Rankin "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" TV movie from 1970. Of course, that's because I watched it every year as I grew up. Kids are always interested in Santa's origins and these quite often become a family annual tradition which stays with you for your entire lives.

While there are plenty of movies on the subject, there's not a lot of books - and nearly all of the books are picture books.

The Saga of Santa Claus is not a picture book. It's clearly aimed at young children but there are a couple of more mature themes (two characters who die). While this is important to the story, it does mean that the reader/listener's age probably needs to be around six to eight years depending upon maturity.

At 40 pages, it's a little too long to read aloud to your child in one sitting but it is broken up neatly into chapters and this would make it an ideal book to read to the kids at bedtime in the week leading up to Christmas.

While it covers the usual topics, how Santa got his name, his reindeer, the elves, the north pole location and the sleigh, it does so in a very unexpected way. It's a much more sobering story than what they show on TV and it's full of emotion. You won't be able to read this without a tear in your eye.

There's one section, right near the end of the book, where just prior to his annual journey, Santa reads out a letter from a chosen child. If you're reading this book to your kids, this is the ideal spot to swap the books' words out for your child's own letter for a bit of "home magic".

The Saga of Santa Claus presents an unexpected and deeply emotional story of the origins of Santa. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone with young kids aged around six and up. It's a great book that will quickly become an annual tradition in your house.

The Saga of Santa Claus by M. D. Couturier is available in Paperback and Kindle format from Amazon.and from Good Reads.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why are Schools so Unprepared for Autism?

In Australian news this week, there was a story about a school principal who was fired for attempting to use a cage to restrain a child on the autism spectrum who was experiencing meltdowns.

You can read about that story here and here.

Why This is Wrong
There's a lot to be said about this situation but first things first; was the education minister right to fire that principal?

While I hate to see anyone out of a job, my answer here is an unequivocal "yes!"

There's a few reasons for this;

  • Human Rights
    First of all, any form of incarceration is a matter of human rights. You simply can't detain people, even if they're clearly in the wrong.  When I was doing scouts we were told about a park ranger who caught someone defacing park property and detained the person on site. He (the park ranger) was arrested.

    If the matter of human rights is made clear to volunteer groups who look after children, then I'm pretty sure that we can expect it to have been covered many times during the syllabus of any degree or other qualification held by teaching staff.

    A school principal is generally expected to be among the more highly educated members of a school's teaching staff, so certainly they at least should be well aware of the situation.

  • Money
    I don't have much to say on this matter other than the fact that the cage was built using $5,195 of school funds and for a single child. Apart from the fact that the principal didn't get approval to use those funds for that purpose, it also seems pretty clear to me that if you were going to spend that much on a single child, you could invest in a wiser choice of educational tool.

    In fact, with school expenditure so tight, a principal is expected to be very certain before committing to an amount of that nature.

  • Failure to use Existing Resources
    For me, the biggest failure was the failure to use resources which were apparently readily available.

    A report on the incident "notes that support services are available to schools, including behaviour specialists and counsellors, but the principal did not make a request for such assistance before the 'inappropriate' structure was installed".

We are not Experts 
No person is an expert on all of the different kinds of problems experienced by school children. In fact, no person is an expert on the autistic behaviour of all children. We can advise but it's long been said;

If you've met one person with autism, then you've met ONE person with autism.

People with autism are individuals FIRST and "autistic" second. Their many differences make it impossible to use a single theory or working practice to address all of their needs and quirks. The best that you can do is try a common therapy and if that fails, try a different one.

Sometimes when a person with autism exhibits a particular set of behaviours, such as a meltdown, they can present as "dangerous".  Sometimes they really are dangerous but most of the time, if given appropriate space, they can calm down. Over time, with care, most people with autism can learn to control these meltdowns -- or at least reduce their severity.

I'm sure that the principal of the school in question had a reason for thinking that the cage might work but such an idea is easily trialled with a single room.  If placing the subject of the meltdown into an empty (of other people) room did not quell the meltdown, then it's unlikely that a cage will succeed. More importantly though radical and dangerous new therapies should not be tried without appropriate expertise. If the school had support services available, they should have been consulted. It's likely that they could have prevented both the trauma and the expense.

If in doubt, call in the experts. When it comes to autism, money spent on appropriate personnel is far more valuable than money spent on equipment.

What is Needed in Schools
Although they made it clear that there was a special needs taskforce which was ignored by the principal, I believe that it's simply not enough.  There really needs to be local and roving resources with lots of experience with autism who can be called at a moment's notice to deal with problems which are too far outside of the experience of normal teaching staff.

Meltdowns are something that really needs to be handled by very experienced personnel.

In addition, the taskforce should be given the job of looking over and approving modifications for students with special needs. It should not be possible for teaching staff to design and implement their own solutions without an independent review.

Not only will this prevent "crazy solutions" such as cells, but it may help to "socialise" clever solutions to allow good ideas to benefit more than one school.

Let's hope that nothing like this happens again.... of course the reality is that it's only a matter of time.