Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Review: The Littlest Inventor by Mandi C Mathis (Illustrated by Danielle Ragogna)

The Littlest Inventor by Mandi C Mathis (Illustrated by Danielle Ragogna)

The Littlest Inventor is a children's picture book which tells a story about adjusting to sensory difficulties with some very sensible "inventions".

These days, I'm finding myself reading a lot of really thick textbooks on the subject of autism and sensory processing disorder.  As a children's book with limited text and some gorgeous illustrations, this was an absolute breeze to read. 

I really enjoyed it.

At around 30 pages with one or two lines of rhyming text every couple of pages, it's the perfect size for a bedtime story or to read in the classroom.

The story is about a boy who goes shopping with his parents and experiences a sensory overload.

(Mild spoilers follow)

The senses covered include sight, flickering lights, sounds in the form of chatter and smell. The ordeal in the shopping centre leads to a meltdown.

When the boy gets home after the experience, he heads up to his bedroom to "invent" his way out of the problem.

His inventions deal with the sensory problems and also provide him with sensory stimulation options including a weighted vest and chew toy.

Danielle Ragogna’s illustrations are great and recall the style of my favourite children's book artist (Raymond Briggs). They're bright and colourful, simple but full of interesting details. I love the way the littlest inventor and his parents are fully drawn but the other people (that he doesn't know) are drawn as sketchy blue or purple blobs. It really gives you the little inventor’s perspective.

If you have a young child with sensory issues, (or if you have an older child whose issues you need to explain to your younger children) this is a great book to get.

If you have a elementary school or preschool library to stock, then this book belongs there.

The Littlest Inventor is a great practical book with twin messages of "acceptance" and the will to overcome difficulties.

You may well find that the littlest inventor inspires you or your children to come up with similar inventions -- and that's a great thing.

The Littlest Inventor by Mandi C Mathis (Illustrated by Danielle Ragogna) is available in paperback from Amazon.

You can also visit Mandi's website here for more purchasing options.
http://www.mandicmathis.com/


Honesty clause; I was provided with an eBook version of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Book Review: Self Reg: How to Help your Child (and you) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life by Stuart Shanker

Self Reg: How to Help your Child  (and you) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life by Stuart Shanker

Self reg is more of a textbook aimed at professionals than a book aimed at parents. It contains a lot of general theories and a whole lot more specific real-life examples but it doesn't have step by step problem solving procedures. It acknowledges that all problems are different and it’s trying to teach parents and professionals to “problem solve” using the Self Reg framework.

The book starts off with some theory exploring the various systems at work in a growing person’ body. 

There's a lot of detail on various social experiments, marshmallow theory and various experiments aimed at exploring the relationship between parent-child interaction. It's all quite fascinating and there’s more than a few “ah-ha” moments as Stuart points out the flaws in these experiments.

From here, the book talks about change but what makes it radically different from most books is that the direction of the change is very much in the opposite direction to what is recommended in most books. In fact, from a parent’s point of view, many of the changes will feel like “giving in to the child”.

The Mashmallow Test


Stuart explains this difference stating that the aim of the change is not “control” but “regulation”. He tells us that we’re always telling children to “control themselves” but that control is not like a muscle. It doesn’t grow stronger the longer you exercise it. If you successfully delay gratification, such as eating food, it doesn’t make you “starve-proof”.  In fact, the longer you delay food, the hungrier you’ll get. Eventually you’ll give in and eat.

Self Reg is about knowing your body and regulating your body’s responses to your environment. For example; a child who is about to have a meltdown is encouraged, not to “control themselves” but to regulate their surroundings and interactions to reduce the likelihood of a meltdown occurring in the first place.

Parents are encouraged to stop arguing with their children and instead work on ways to soothe them and to calm down their environment.

It's all very different and quite exciting. I can't wait to try out some of the theory on my own kids.

Of course, it's going to be a stretch to get parents to interpret real-life events in the context of this book and that's primarily the reason why I feel it belongs in the hands of academics and professionals more than parents.

Self reg is a very interesting read which challenges current practices and brings some exciting new techniques to child-raising.

I'd recommend this book to anyone involved in behavioural sciences or working with difficult or different children. It's particularly suitable for children with stress and/or sensory issues, including children on the autism spectrum.

Self Reg: How to Help your Child  (and you) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life by Stuart Shanker is available from Amazon (in Hardcover, Kindle or Audio CD), Goodreads (in Hardcover or Kobo), Booktopia (Hardback) and the Book Depository (Hardback or Audio CD). It will be available in various eBook formats, including Google Play from 30 June 2016.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with an eBook version of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why do People with Asperger's Syndrome find it so difficult to Say "I Love You"

It's not uncommon for people, males in particular, to have major difficulties with the words “I love you” but in neurotypical (normal) males, this tends to be related to a commitment issue rather than a problem with the concept of love. 

People on the autism spectrum, particularly those with Asperger’s syndrome have rather different problems with the words both in terms of honesty and understanding.

Honesty

People with Asperger's are often meticulously honest. That's to say that they go out of their way to be honest about things, even when honesty really isn't the best policy.

It's not that people with Asperger's cannot lie but simply that many, not all, feel very uncomfortable about lying.

If you ask a neurotypical person if they love you, you’ll generally get a “yes” response (if they're going to give you one), immediately - even if they don't actually "love you".

This is because a neurotypical person is fairly comfortable with the concept of love if they DO love you -- or they're comfortable with lying if they DON’T.

A neurotypical person will understand that a “yes” answer is their best chance of manipulating their partners into something, usually sex or money.

A person with Asperger's however won't usually lie to protect your feelings or to manipulate you. It's not that people with Asperger's are “Good people by definition”, just that they usually lack non-verbal communication skills to manipulate anyone.

A person with Asperger's will tend to give a "no" or an indefinite answer if they're struggling with definitions (ie: if they really don't know) - or they'll give an honest answer even if it means that they lose certain privileges on offer.

Definitions 

As people get older and more “worldly”, social customs start to become second nature.

If you approach a well-integrated but "unwell" person with Asperger's and ask "How are you?" and "Are you sick?" You'll get the correct contradictory answers of "fine" and "yes". These answers are of course, quite silly.  After all, how can you be "fine" but still be "unwell".  It's a social thing.

If you ask a younger person with less social integration, they'll often respond to the first question with a statement of Ill health.

The same goes for "I love you".

Older and more experienced adults with Asperger's are better equipped to answer the question while younger, less experienced people with Asperger's will struggle.

Unless you're very familiar with the feeling of "love", it's very hard to be entirely certain that you're "in it". It's kind of like showing someone something turquoise and asking them if it's blue. They know that it's similar but they're not ready to say that it's the same thing.

It doesn't help that cartoons lead young people to assume that they'll see love-hearts in people's eyes or a heart shape jumping out of your own chest.

It's not that people with asperger's believe in the silly literalisms of cartoons, it's just that cartoons and books and movies make it seem that you'll know for absolute certain when you're in love.

As a result, a person who thinks in "black and white" rather than shades of grey will doubt that they are in love because they don't KNOW for certain.

A person with Asperger's will often slip into a major pause when asked if they love you. This doesn't mean that they don't or that they're looking for an excuse. It could mean that they're being totally honest and that they simply don't know.

Perception 

Many years ago, my wife and I did some counselling sessions. I can still remember the thing that shocked me the most. It was when the counsellor asked us each what we thought love was.

I described it as being when a person looks at you and smiles in such a way that it feels like a warm summer's day. When that warmth is so tangible and so precious that you feel like could stay there forever. I went on with a few other descriptions, all of which I believe in today as much as I did back then.

For me that's what love feels like. It means that on days when I love my wife. I absolutely love her with all of my being.  It also means that there are days when I don't love her.  It's not that I ever stop loving her really, it's just that on some days, when I'm tired or when she's angry, that warm sunshine feeling just isn't there. 

I was heartbroken when my wife answered the same question with statements about what her lover does for her. Her answers felt "material" to me. Our perceptions of love couldn't be further apart.

It was a long time, years actually, before I understood that important lesson. Love isn't something that is defined externally. We all have our own perfectly valid definitions of love. It's very much an individual thing - even for a couple.

Is it any wonder then that some people have more trouble with the concept of love than others? You're comparing abstract concepts like the feeling of a sunset with solid ones like "he brings me flowers".

No two people are going to be totally in agreement as to what love is - and that means that their agreement (that they love each other) isn't necessarily going to be balanced either.  It's not wrong... it's just the way things are. 

As a result, your lover with Asperger's may love you as much (perhaps even more) than you love them but they may still not use the words "I Love You" because they're not sure if they're supposed to be feeling something different.

Sometimes words aren't the most important thing. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Where have all the Jobs Gone?

The world of employment today seems to be obsessed with university degrees.When I was starting out it was okay to just have one but today, employers are expecting two or three.

There are a few problems with this approach;

The World of Paper Qualifications 

First of all, degrees (and indeed all forms of tertiary education) are now very expensive. They were government sponsored in the recent past but now it seems to have gone back to the idea that only rich people can have degrees. Even then, it seems that most people have to take out loans for their education, meaning that they have to spend years paying them off when they really need to be saving for a home.

Secondly, degrees, particularly multiple degrees, take years to complete. That means years spent in academia learning what usually amounts to outdated concepts instead of getting useful experience in the real world.

Finally, there just aren't the jobs for degree-holders today. Employers are requesting degrees but they're quite often non-specific about their nature. It feels like the degrees are just a box to tick on the form.

Times, they are a-changin’

The workforce of today is quite different from the workforce of twenty years ago.

Back then, the big fear was that computers would take everyone’s jobs - and that did indeed happen with some areas like banking and retail being decimated.

What was unexpected however was that the massive increases in global communications would cause all the mid-range jobs to be outsourced to what essentially amounts to overseas slavery (given the barely survivable wages and poor working conditions).

Sure, local employees can do a much better job but who cares when for the same cost as a single employee, you can throw 5-10 overseas employees at the problem.

We've lost most of the Low and medium band jobs and of course only a few people can work in the high-end jobs - and since those jobs are mainly about “meetings” and “team management”, they're not particularly suited to people with Asperger's syndrome.

People with Asperger's have Normal IQs

It's part of the criteria for Asperger's that the subject is not significantly behind (or ahead of) their peers.  People with Asperger's often seem to be more intelligent than their peers but that's usually just down to focus, special interests and co-conditions such as OCD.

In reality people with Asperger's have more or less "normal" IQs with the majority of the differences being due to other factors including socio-economic factors and co-conditions such as learning difficulties and ADHD.

Many people with Asperger's simply will not have the opportunity to go to university.

Finding the Job Market

So, where are all the non-degree jobs these days?

Believe it or not, there are many job opportunities for school leavers without university degrees, you just need to know where to look.

The key to identifying these jobs is to eliminate the two major threats; computer technology and outsourcing.

Removing outsourcing is easy. Just ask yourself, would it be possible for someone overseas to do this job. If it's a job that involves paperwork, typing on a computer (including programming), team meetings or taking or dispensing money, then yes, it's in danger of outsourcing.

If it's a job that needs "hands on" interaction, such as surgery, dog washing, aged care or landscaping, then there's little chance of it being done remotely.

Eliminating technology is a little harder. Many jobs thought to be safe, like fast food ordering and cooking and supermarket checkouts are now replacing people with technology. Delivery services, including Amazon and the postal service are also being replaced by robot-drones and email.

To be truly "technology-proof" a job needs to be sufficiently different on a daily basis that it is not worthwhile programming a computer to deal with it.

For example; building a new house off a plan is fairly structured and could possibly be done by technology particularly as new houses increasingly use emerging technologies such as “smart walls” where the wiring is already built in.

Working on the electrics, or plumbing of an old house however introduces too many variables to make it worthwhile setting a computer up to do the task. So long as there are still old structures to support, "tradies" will be needed.

The same applies to many “personal” services such as hairdressing, childcare, pet services and aged care.

The job market is still out there, it's just a matter of making sensible future-proof choices.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dealing with Sensitivities and Triggers when the Whole Family has Autism Spectrum Disorders

These days, Autism Spectrum Disorders aren't uncommon.  In fact, it’s pretty clear that there's a strong genetic link. 

People with ASDs Collect Together 

If you have autism in one form or another (or if you have a sibling on the autism spectrum), there's a better than average chance that you will have at least one child on the spectrum.

It's not vaccines, it's not head trauma or defective parenting. It's genetics, pure and simple. The apple really doesn't fall too far from the tree.

What's less well documented is that people with autism seem to prefer the company of others on the spectrum. In fact, it seems that we have an arguably better sense for detecting individuals like ourselves in social situations than regular people.

The odds of a person on the autism spectrum partnering with another person on the autism spectrum seem to be higher than most.

The upshot of this is that there are many families out there which contain more than one person on the autism spectrum. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest that it's more common to have more than it is to have just the one.

Navigating Triggers and Sensitivities 

One of the toughest parts of being a parent in a family with a single individual on the spectrum is “navigating the maze of triggers and sensitivities”.

Triggering 

Many people with autism walk around on the verge of a meltdown (an explosive state) or on the verge of a shut-down (an implosive state).

All it takes is a “trigger”, to set them off. The triggers are generally undocumented and are quite often unknown - even to the people who have autism. They aren't big (or even bad) things. Nearly anything can be a trigger depending upon the life-experience of the person.

As a parent, one of the most important tasks in your life is to identify these triggers and find ways to avoid them.  If you're an adult with autism, then it's also your mission in life to identify your personal triggers and sensitivities.

This is easier said than done because triggers often run deeper than you'd expect.

For example, a child may have a meltdown when asked to clean their room - and you might start to identify the trigger as a “room-cleaning” issue - when the real issue is more to do with how (or when) you asked the child to clean their room.

In fact, ask as child, even a non-spectrum child, to do anything while they're engaged in playing a video game and you're sure to get a negative response.

The only way around this is to keep trying to identify triggers and to look for patterns.

Sensitivities 

Triggers are frequently “the final straw” in a long list of sensitivity tripping events.

The same triggers may (or may not) cause a meltdown depending upon how many sensitivities have already been tripped.

For example, if your child has had a good night's  sleep, a trigger like spilling milk in the morning might not have the same impact as the same event after a long and difficult day at school.

As such, it helps if you can also identify your child's particular sensitivities and try to avoid, or at least reduce them.

This isn't too hard for most sensitivities, such as cooking ingredients, itchy clothing, specific smells and the sudden re-scheduling of events but sometimes the sensitivities are centred around (or tripped by) other individuals - particularly family members.

Dealing with Family 

As I mentioned earlier, it's becoming increasingly common to find families where more than one individual has an ASD.

One of the big problems with this is that quite often, the things that calm one member of the family trigger other members. For example; verbal stimming (where an individual makes a constant noise mainly because it feels good).

In short bursts, verbal stimming is tolerable but over longer periods it becomes a major issue.

Like any family issue though, this needs to be solved via compromise. 

If possible, alternative forms of stimming should be suggested but of course, not everyone can change their stims. Sometimes the change has to come from elsewhere (noise blocking headphones,spending time in open spaces or perhaps covering up the noise with a louder one).

Family Meltdowns

The worst problems occur when the meltdown activities of one family member triggers a meltdown in others.

If you don't catch a meltdown before it starts, you generally can't stop it and just have to see it through to the end. If reactive meltdowns are common in your household then you need to work out a good “meltdown procedure”.

All people who feel a meltdown state coming on need somewhere to retreat to (somewhere they can be alone). Different individuals need different places because the last thing you should do with an individual in an uncontrollable state is to put them with someone else in a similar state.

The process for dealing with meltdowns  for multiple individuals becomes the same as the process for dealing with single individuals once they're isolated. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide: Handbook for Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Learning Disabilities & More! By Cara Koscinski MOT OTR/L (The Pocket)

The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide looks like a thin book but it has one of the highest “fact per page” scores of any of these types of books. It's really packed with information. It’s not the kind of book you can simply read cover-to-cover. Instead, you’ll find yourself wanting to stop every few minutes to note an activity that you might want to try or a web site you might want to visit. 

The book focusses on the resolution of school problems for kids with many different kinds of special needs. There's some information for parents, particularly in the early sections but the bulk of the book seems to be aimed at teachers and school occupational therapists.

The first chapters deal with the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the 504 plan. The book covers what they are, how they differ, how they work and what parents and teachers can expect to get out of them.

From there the book dives into occupational therapy in school in detail, In particular, it covers exercises which can help specific areas of academic and social learning and provides many links to diverse and relevant information sources on the Internet.

Early chapters cover many different aspects of handwriting including pre-handwriting preparation, letter reversal, pencil grip and techniques for dealing with left handers. There's also a good chapter on fine motor coordination.

Each chapter contains loads of tips and therapies, most of which don't require any significant resources. There are also plenty of “out of the pocket activities” (tips).  Nearly every chapter ends with a long list of relevant URLs for further reading.

The author, Cara Koscinski, has a children on the autism spectrum as well as OT qualifications - and it shows in her writing. She writes both as a parent and a teacher. She discusses her personal experiences with other OT’s and highlights the problems and benefits associated with various therapies. She makes some very interesting personal observations, particularly relating to “letting your child spin”.

This is a great book for teachers and OTs and it's ideally suited to people who encounter lots of children with various differences every day. It has lots of good information on identifying specific conditions including co-morbids and there are entire chapters dealing with some of the major differences. In particular, the chapters Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and ADHD are particularly good. They contain some very good insight (particularly from the point of view of the child).

The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide: Handbook for Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Learning Disabilities & More! By Cara Koscinski MOT OTR/L (The Pocket) is published by Future Horizons and is available in paperback from Future Horizons, or in paperback or Kindle format from Amazon.

Cara Koscinski writes for the Pocket Occupational Therapist at http://www.pocketot.com/ it’s a great site with lots of good information and freebies.  Well worth a visit.

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



Thursday, April 14, 2016

Autism, Asperger’s and Surviving in the Workplace

For many people with autism, getting a job is a pretty difficult prospect in itself but once they have one, the difficulties shift towards keeping the job.

Keeping a job when you are on the autism spectrum seems to be a matter of maintaining the delicate balance between being largely invisible and not being too quiet.

Hiding in Plain Sight 

For many people, the word “autism” conjures up bad images. At one end of the spectrum, people assume that they are hiring a person who will need babysitting rather than someone who will perform their allotted tasks independently. At the other end of the spectrum, people think of the high school shootings or computer hackers and sense danger in employees on the spectrum. 

Of course, we've just had “autism acceptance month”, so everyone is fine with it all now right? Wrong. What people say and what they do are very separate things. If it was that easy to conquer fear and discrimination, there would be no reason to discuss racial issues any more.

We can control, to some extent, what people say and do but we don't have any power over their thoughts - or the things that they say and do in secrecy.

For the time being, until you are an accepted and valued person on your own merits at your workplace, it's best not to disclose that you have autism - unless of course your traits are significant enough that most people will notice them without you having pointed them out.

It's not legal to get rid of employees simply because you discover that they have a medical condition but that won't stop a determined employer from finding or arranging another excuse.

Hostile Workplace Environments

When you start a new job, you generally start at the bottom of the corporate ladder doing the most menial jobs. This is true whether you're a school leaver or a university graduate.

Everybody has to start somewhere and unfortunately, the lower positions can be fairly competitive in terms of promotion prospects. They're also positions which are filled by less educated people or by other school leavers who are just getting their first taste of freedom and don't know how to behave in the workplace.

Consequently there is a lot of teasing, jostling and bullying happening in the lower levels of every workplace.

Bullying in the Workplace 

Different Jobs come with different levels of professionalism. For example, you have to expect that a job at a fast food outlet won't command the same professionalism from fellow employees as an office or bank job.

Your fellow workers at fast food outlets tend to be young and inexperienced. They're less likely to be understanding of people with differences - and of course due to the noisy, smelly and greasy environment, fast food outlets are more likely to trip autistic sensitivities than most jobs.

That's not to say that there's no bullying in office environments. Sometimes office bullies are worse because office bullying tends to be done by adults with a long history of manipulating people to achieve their intentions. Office environments in particular tend to attract sociopathic workers.

Hardening Yourself 

In the school yard, you can report bullies to the teachers and occasionally things don't go worse for you.

In the workplace, despite all of the laws and social commentary that says otherwise, it's almost impossible to report a bully and survive, particularly if you're a junior.

The answer is to harden yourself against the bullying and attempt to shine through. Note that hardening yourself means to refuse to allow the bullying to affect you, rather than to attempt to fight back. If you fight back in the workplace, you may spur the bully into further acts and if you come off as aggressive, you will be caught by management.

Harden yourself by trying to think positive. In particular, don't take all corrections as criticisms. Some people sound nasty in your own head when you read their emails - or even when you listened to them but they don't always mean to be that way. Some people simply have angry sounding voices or "angry-looking" faces.

You have to be mindful that much of what you get out of communication depends on what you bring to the conversation. 

Of course there are other people DO mean to be that way but there's not a lot you can do about them.

One of the best things to do is to try to only provide positive reactions. Remember, if you “lose it in a job”, you generally lose the job. Be nice and "presume" no matter how wrongly, that people mean the best. It will help you be happier and for the most part it will make people at work happier to interact
with you.

Being pleasant to work with will attract other pleasant colleagues and positive mentors. Eventually, these people will make it hard for workplace bullies to ruin your day. 

Find Happiness

You can't undervalue happiness. If you're sad or depressed at work, it will be noticed and your colleagues and supervisors will assume that you don't want to work there and get rid of you.

It sucks but it's true. No matter how much pain suffering and trauma you have in your life, the workplace is generally unforgiving. Your issues will be tolerated for a short period of time, depending upon your popularity, how long you have worked there and how valuable your contribution towards the workplace is.

You're not irreplaceable however and that means that you need to give the impression that you're happy -- even when you're not.

Practice fake smiling, avoiding overly emotional discussions and keeping "bounce" in your voice. 

You're going out into the world of “plastic people”. Sadly, this means that you have to appear to be a bit “plastic” like them in order to survive.