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. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Article: Change Your Child’s Behavior to Attract Less Attention

My latest post out at Special-ism is about changing your child's behavior to attract less attention. I'm always encouraging people within the autism community to be proud of themselves and to be themselves.  The problem is that behavior that is too far "outside the norm" can draw a lot of unwanted attention.

The best thing to do is to tread a cautious middle-ground and that's the point of the post, to show ways that normal autistic behaviors can be modified to become less noticeable.

Hop over to Special-ism for a read;

Change Your Child’s Behavior to Attract Less Attention

Friday, September 19, 2014

Asperger's Syndrome and Religion

One of the strange things that I've noticed about people with Asperger's syndrome is that when it comes to religion, they often fall into the categories of all or nothing.

Of course, there's a plethora of individuality out there and not all people with Asperger's syndrome sit at extremes but there does seem to be a bit of a trend nevertheless.

The aim of this post is to highlight some general themes and trends that I've seen. I'm not sure how much of what I've seen is down to Asperger's versus general opinions on religion but I'll be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Highly Religious 
A highly religious person with Asperger's syndrome tends to be focussed mainly on the inward aspects of religion, such as prayer and good moral values. They may spend a lot of time perusing, memorising and quoting religious texts.

I've noted that direct involvement with the church, synagogue or clergy tends to be in the form of very small on-topic discussions rather than fully-fledged social events. This is only natural given that people with Asperger's usually feel uncomfortable in crowded social settings.

One darker aspect that I have also seen is; dubious morality where a person holds true to certain moral aspects of their religion, for example, covering their eyes during risqué scenes in a movie but then proceeds to accept less savoury experiences, such as paedophilia within their church or bullying, with fewer qualms.

Quite often, these highly religious people become "self-censors" and choose their information sources very carefully. Anything which contradicts their personal take on their own religion is rejected and they pick and choose sources, including people to ensure that only their version is supported.

This is very different behaviour to the normal all-consuming special-interest absorption favoured by people with Asperger's.  

The Atheist
Atheism is rife within the autism community and it seems, at first glance, to be far more widespread in comparison to the ratio of atheist/believer in the wider population.

It's not that these people don't think about God, in fact it's more often a case of "overthinking". Atheists on the autism spectrum quite often lump the image of God in with Santa Claus and the Easter bunny. The physics of it all simply don't add up and coupled with the difficulty of staying still and quiet in church, this drives them away.

The normal rules for special interests apply with atheists on the spectrum and if religion ends up becoming a special interest, you can expect them to delve into historic and scientific texts in order to find evidence.

Atheists with Asperger's syndrome also tend to be more vocal about their beliefs and will happily explain why religion is false to anyone who dares to suggest otherwise. This can sometimes cause social problems, particularly when they are unaware that their comments are causing distress.

The Middle Ground
Of course, not all people with Asperger's are consumed with religion, history or science and there are certainly plenty of people who occupy the middle ground. It just seems to me, that those without an opinion on religion are in the minority.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Choosing a New School for your Child with Asperger's Syndrome

Unless you were lucky enough to enrol your kids in a school which streams kids all the way from kindergarten to college and you remain in the same geographic area throughout these years, you will probably be faced with the prospect of selecting a new school at some point in your child's education.

It's not an easy choice to make under any circumstances but with a child on the autism spectrum, things are a little more complicated.

In this post, I hope to take you through some of the factors that you need to consider;

Qualities of the School
The size of the school is always a difficult choice because on the one hand, you tend to think that your child is less likely to get lost in a smaller school. That the teaching staff will pay more attention to your child and that class sizes will be smaller, allowing more"one-on-one" teaching. There's also the fact that smaller schools aren't so overwhelming for your child. 

Unfortunately though,  smaller schools help your child to be noticed by more than just teachers. Smaller schools seem to attract more bullying issues than larger ones - and they have less places to hide. Smaller schools often have more crowded classrooms than their larger counterparts because there is a lot more pressure on them to accept "just one extra child" in the class.

Larger schools can offer more in terms of lasting friendships because although kids with Autism or Asperger's syndrome can be friends with anyone, "like tends to attract like" and often the best friendships are with other children who are similarly "outcast" or who have similar drives and interests. If you consider that autism rates are currently thought to be around one in eighty-eight and that average class sizes are about  thirty pupils, this means that in a school with two streams (60 kids per year) there is a probability of only one or two kids with autism compared to about three or four in a four stream school. It might not seem like a big deal but in a school catering for six years, this also means the difference between catering for the needs of 12 versus 24 kids with autism.  It means that larger schools are significantly better resourced and that their teaching staff are likely to be much more experienced with autism.

Another point in favour of larger schools is that they often have more diverse subjects, particularly in areas such as woodwork, photography, cookery, and metalwork which require more space and specialised equipment. This means that your child has better chance of finding subjects which pique their special interest. Also, if you child is not academically inclined then a school which has subjects covering trades would be beneficial.  

Different schools have different priorities and focus.  Some schools are very academically focussed which means that if your child is bright, they will flourish.  Of course, you need to bear in mind that schools with this kind of focus are often picky about their students and if you have other children who are less academically inclined, there is a good chance that the school may not accept them. You need to decide whether it is important to you that both of your children to attend the same school. 

Some schools pride themselves on sporting rather than academic achievements.  If you child isn't very sporty, then no matter how academically inclined they are, they may feel out of place.  Some schools are way too focussed on their own reputation and will attempt to suppress the results of children who under-perform. You can usually spot the schools from their reports but sometimes it's not obvious until you get a note home saying that your child doesn't need to sit for a particular exam. 

No matter what, the key is to understand the school, the size, facilities and their teaching aims.

Personal Factors
There are lots of personal factors to consider as well when changing schools;

You need to take into account your child's existing friendships. Your child may not necessarily talk about "friends" but that doesn't mean that your child isn't comfortable with those familiar faces. Before you risk taking these away, you need to assess their value to your child. 

The other side of the coin however is all about "enemies". These are generally bullies or children who simply do not want to associate with your child. If you child feels disturbed by these "enemies" then perhaps a change of schools would be a good thing. 

If your child is transferring to a new school in order to attend higher classes, then presumably the rest of the year-group will be transferring as well. Encourage your child to talk to their friends about where they're transferring to and you should talk to the teachers too.  You'll then be able to decide whether to go to the same school to retain friends or to go to an entirely different school to start afresh. If your child has been the victim of bullies, sometimes starting at a new school in a different area is a very good idea. 

Another thing to consider is whether to send your child to a co-ed or single-gender school.  Some schools are single-gender until the last two years of schooling too. There have been studies which show that girls under-perform in co-ed schools because they're distracted by the boys but that boys over-perform in the same environment.  Depending upon your child's gender and academic disposition, you may want to consider this when selecting a school.  

Of course, the other gender consideration for children with Asperger's syndrome is "relationships". Kids with Aspergers are notoriously poor at initial relationships and have a great deal of difficulty talking to people of different genders. Sending your child to a co-ed school could provide a great deal of social experience which could reduce problems on the dating scene in later years. 

Distance and transport are also important things to consider.  If public transport is involved, you will need to determine whether your child can safely negotiate the trips and ensure that if they miss a train or bus, that they can catch another one. If your child is very impulsive, for example, trains may not be good idea.

Home or Distance Schooling.
I would strongly recommend that parents do not send children with Asperger's syndrome to boarding schools as these make it difficult to monitor them.  Children with Asperger's syndrome need adults that they can trust to put their interests first. In particular, situations such as meltdowns really need parents to intervene on a direct level. Boarding schools tend to deal with these issues internally and will often "cover up" the events.

The other option, home schooling, is particularly suitable for children with Aspergers.  Of course, if you choose to home school, you will need to talk to other parents who are doing this to find out the best methods as surprisingly, they don't involve simply sitting down with books and doing tutorials. Home schooling is very hard work and it's not a commitment that you should undertake without due consideration.

Whatever path you follow, changing schools is not a simple matter. I hope this this post gives you a few things to look out for.