Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Executive Functioning Issues and Older Teens


This post follows on from my earlier post "How a Lack of Executive Functioning May Appear in Young Adults" which actually ended up looking at children rather than young adults. (Thanks Sharon for pointing that out.) Hopefully I won't get sidetracked again.  If you haven't read that post, you might want to read it before continuing here as it provides a useful introduction to the topic.

In my earlier post I defined lack of executive function and talked about the problems it can cause in day-to-day scenarios involving simple tasks, like getting dressed.  As children get older however, executive functioning difficulties become more pronounced because they're expected to be able to take responsibility for more far-reaching decisions.

The decisions made by teens can affect lives and can result in legal action, injury and even death.

An Example;
Take, as an example, the problem of driving home after a night out.

The simplified executive functioning would probably flow as follows but each component would have a myriad of ordered sub-tasks as well;

  1. Decide - Am I ok to drive home?  
    This would require both a knowledge of the drink-driving laws as well as a reasonably accurate count of one's own consumption.  Of course, if there's a tester machine handy, this simplifies things but someone with defective executive functioning could easily miss this step and not even consider their own suitability to drive. Of course, if they're well over the limit, then their executive functioning is probably even more impaired than usual and the decision will not be made without outside involvement.
  2. Decide - Are my friends ok
    Chances are, this decision would probably not even occur to an individual with Aspergers syndrome. It's not that they don't care but simply that it takes work to put themselves in someone else's shoes and they won't pick up on subtleties. If someone's speech is slurred or if they're a little unsteady on their feet, it probably won't register but of course, if they fall over - or better still, ask directly for a lift home, they'll be helped.  Even without executive functioning difficulties, this step will probably be missed.
  3. Drive Home
    Driving is an executive functioning nightmare. There are so many sequenced tasks to perform that little things, like putting a seat belt on may be missed.  There's also the constant distraction of one's driving surroundings.  Headlights from oncoming traffic, noise from the radio or passengers, street lights, traffic lights etc. You'd be surprised at how these things can further impair executive functioning.
So far, I've hardly mentioned the worst parts of executive functioning difficulties, distractions and unexpected change but both of these can be deadly..  Driving aged teens rarely seem to drive alone and the distraction of their passengers can be enough to have serious consequences.

Change is just as bad.  You might be wondering what exactly constitutes change on the road since since everything there is in motion but I can tell you that both of my worst teenage driving accidents were the result of cars being in "unexpected places".  Simply driving at different times of the day can put parked vehicles in previously moving lanes.

In the days before mobile phones, street-side telephone boxes used to be a big issue too because cars would be unexpectedly parked there when their owners were on the phone. Although these are less of a worry now, a car turning at a rarely used intersection is enough change to cause an accident.

Beyond Driving
The problems of teenagers with executive functioning difficulties don't end with cars.  Unless they have extremely strong personalities, it's hard for them to make appropriate choices when peer pressure is applied. It's also more likely that they will react incorrectly under pressure.

For example, a person involved in a low-level crime, such as underage smoking, drinking or loitering, may not realize that the crime isn't serious enough for them to be hauled off to jail.  Instead of standing their ground and accepting a lecture from the law, they may try to run or even worse, may react violently.

This is one of the reasons why so there are so many stories about people with aspergers being assaulted by police. It's not police brutality, it's simply that these young adults react inappropriately by either becoming overly defensive or by fleeing.

Finally, the problems are not limited to legal and driving issues. They also have social consequences.  For example. a female with impaired executive functioning may go too far in flirting with someone.  In particular, flirting without a clear plan or intentions.  This can lead to unsavory and dangerous responses.  It would be wrong to suggest that a female is responsible for an aggressive reaction but at the same time, an inability to read warning signals and a failure to plan for safety significantly increases her risk.

What can be done?
It's hard to know exactly what can be done to improve executive functioning skills in young adults and the problem is twofold;

  1. How to recognize a lack of executive functioning?
    If this has been picked up in a young child, and taught constantly, then there's an easy answer.  Unfortunately however most doctors talk about autism, adhd or aspergers in general terms rather than the specifics of executive functioning.
  2. How to teach a young adult to plan more effectively
    If it wasn't difficult enough to pass on the skills of successful planning and awareness to young adults, there is also the problem that young adults are not interested in this sort of "training" from their parents. While role-playing these scenarios could be helpful, it's unlikely that it could be accomplished at home. It really needs to be done as part of their formal education.
What these young adults really need is to have role-playing (and social stories) about real-life teen situations included as part of the school curriculum.  I know that it sounds a bit "sleazy" suggesting that we teach our teenagers to flirt or to prepare to depart a drunken party but role-playing these scenarios is probably the most effective means of combating the problem.  There is also the suggestion that teens with aspergers syndrome should be registered with their local police station (or at least wear a medical band) in case their condition leads to police action.

I'll be very interested to hear what my readers feel could be appropriate solutions.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Working on Your Asperger-Neurotypical Relationship - Part 1 Talking


Over the years I've written quite a bit about AS/NT relationships. I've written about accepting your aspergers partner for who they are and how to reach them in the relationship.


I guess that it's all been a bit one-sided but today I'm starting a series which might rectify the balance. These  posts is directed at people with Asperger's sydrome and are about being the best partner that you can be.

All relationships need work. They're not "fire and forget". You can't simply say, ok we've ticked the boxes; we're married, we have a house and we have kids. That's not where the work ends.

There's a saying from Marriage Encounters which I like to repeat. "Sometimes I love my partner -- and sometimes I have to work harder at it",

Life is all about change. As aspies we often don't like change but we're powerless to stop it. Like it or not, people change and situations change. In order to adapt to these changes, we too need to change.

We may have loved our partner because among other things, she shared our love of Star Wars but that was twenty years ago. As aspies, we often retain our special interests for life but our neurotypical partners do not. We have to accept that these things change and conversations which were once interesting to them are now considered "boring".

An Example
It took me years to learn that my wife no longer loved movies. She didn't care who the director was or what else they were working on. For her, a movie at the cinemas is an "escape" from the rigurs of daily life and kids. No matter how good the movie was, she does not want to talk about it afterwards.

Of course, that's all I want to do after a film and our rides home were probably torture for her. It didn't help when she told me to stop talking about it either because she'd mostly use fake excuses like; "I have a headache".  "Oh, Ok", I thought, "I'll save this interesting diatribe for some time when she's feeling better".

It was a long time before she was honest with me about her reasons and even then I'd get it wrong thinking that she didn't want to talk about that specific movie.  After all, when her words were; "I don't want to talk about the movie!" what else can I think?

When it finally sunk in, I said "well, you talk then and I'll listen", probably quite snappily. She didn't talk though because she claimed to be busy driving and our conversation dropped into awkward silence which was only broken about ten minutes later with her saying; "so what? are you not talking to me now or what?"

I was confused. On the one hand, she wants me to talk about something but on the other, it needs to be things directly related to her - and outside the realm of my special interest.

Instead of a wall of talk, I need to be more give and take. I need to guess something that she wants to talk about and ask questions.

It's not easy. I'll ask about the kids or family or budget but I'm often met with "oh, so now you want to talk about it .... after I've been doing it for years....".  Obviously they're not the right conversations either.

It seemed that there was no easy answer but apparently there is.

You're supposed to talk about "us". When you're out as a couple, the conversation should be about "us".  The questions you need to ask are;

  • How are you feeling?
  • How was your day?
  • Is there anything that I can do to help?
  • What do you need from me?
  • Are you happy in this relationship?
  • How do you feel our relationship is going? (don't ask this one while she's driving).

Once she picks herself up off the floor and answers you, you need to think about the answer she's given you and try to find a way to work at delivering it. Also, don't be surprised if you get asked the same question back - be prepared to give an answer.

In my case, the answer was; "I want to be appreciated more" ... and I guess that's the topic of my next post.

In the meantime, if you're an aspie, then your homework is to ask your partner one of those questions.  Also... If you're a female aspie, I'm keen to know if your partners have similar needs or if they're just happy to talk about special interests?

BTW: A big shout out to Aspie Wife Aspie Mom who first got me thinking about "the other side".

Friday, December 9, 2011

Book Review: What I wish I'd known about Raising a Child with Autism by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOenellas PH D.


"What I wish I'd known about Raising a Child with autism: A mom and a psychologist offer heartfelt guidance for the first five years", Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOenellas PH D, Future Horizons Inc, 2011.

This is a mother and psychologist writing team book with a difference. This time, the person with autism is female.

The book in general is very well laid out and there is never any doubt as to which of the authors is writng at any given time.  Bobby has written the majority of the text while Kathy, the psychologist writes less frequently and always in a grey box.

There are scattered tips highlighted throughout the book and each chapter includes at least a few entitled "it bears repeating" or "what I wish I'd known".

Bobbi's writing style is breezy, funny and engaging. She covers some very difficult topics and makes it clear that as a parent nothing is ever easy.

Kathy tends to write on a whole different level and at times seems to have difficulty restraining the urge to cite all manner of research. Much of what she has to say is informative and supports bobbi's experience but I'd prefer to have heard things in her own words.

There are one or two places where the authors get side-tracked by common myths about autism but they're minor quibbles. This is primarily a book written by a mother, for a mother. It's written from the outside looking in and it tells things as they seem.

I was delighted to find Bobbi acknowledging this in a later chapter where she talks to her daughter about a long-past incident. Who hasn't had a child with asd's eat a lightbulb? I know I have. Bobbi's daughter, Grace's recollection of the incident highlights the fact that there was a lot more going on than was immediately obvious. It was a very touching moment in the book.


The book is full of great ideas and indeed, I'm already sold on a couple. It's prompted me to change my thinking on a couple of common ASD behaviours.

All in all, this book is a fun and breezy read packed with facts, experience and ideas. It's aimed at parents with children in the first five years of an ASD but I think it stretches much further than that.

It covers not only the child with autism but also the need to look after the rest of the family and the problems of dealing with others who can't accept your child. Bobbi's journey to many of these realisations is difficult and we could all benefit from the lessons she learned along the way.

I'd highly recommend this book to parents, psychologist and people supporting special needs children in general.

"What I wish I'd known about Raising a Child with autism: A mom and a psychologist offer heartfelt guidance for the first five years" is available from Future Horizons, Amazon and Bobbi's Web Site (http://www.bobbisheahan.com/).

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a review copy of this book at no charge.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TV Series Review - Doc Martin


My wife and I have just spent the last few months watching every episode of "Doc Martin" a British TV series about a Doctor (not that other Doctor) who relocates from a job as a top surgeon in London to general practitioner in Portwenn, a tiny fictional village in Cornwall. 

It's mostly a comedy series but it has some drama and romance elements as well.  The reason I'm reviewing it here however is because Doc Martin's character is, I believe, intended to "have Aspergers Syndrome" and for neurotypical adults this gives you a good glimpse into both sides of an AS/NT relationship.


Nobody does situation comedy for Television better than the British and Doc Martin doesn't disappoint in this area. Although it is very funny, it's actually in the development of Doc Martin's relationship that the show really excels.  Each story is relatively self-contained but it is strongly recommended that you watch the series in the correct order to get a good sense of this development.

The words "Aspergers Syndrome" so far have only made a single appearance in the show when a psychologist tells Doc Martin that he has it - shortly before being unceremoniously bundled out the door but there's no doubt that the writers intended it to be a talking point. Remember that there's no litmus paper test for Aspergers Syndrome and someone may display many of the symptoms without actually having it.


In Doc Martin's case, who but the scriptwriter really knows?

I will however point out a few things I've noted;


  • Doc Martin certainly feels emotions and empathy but usually doesn't show them in the way you'd expect. Some close people however are able to read them some of the time.
  • It's clear that he has an unusual gait (walk).
  • He has significant difficulty in conversations and minimal ability to small-talk. He does prove that he can "act normal" though but it's obviously an act.
  • He has two obsessions, medicine and clocks - I'm aware that you'd expect a good doctor to be interested in medicine but Doc Martin takes things a little too far at times (Series 5).
  • He's obviously quite confused at times as to why his remarks hurt other people.
  • He's clearly completely unaware of some of the signals that others are giving off (pharmacist).

If we were using the DSM IV-TR diagnostic criteria on Doc Martin, he'd arguably flag the following;  
(skip past this bit if you find it dull)


Part A
Failure to share interests, enjoyment or achievements with others.
Lack of social or emotional reciprocity.


Part B
Preoccupation with one or more narrow interests which are abnormal in intensity or focus.


C. The disturbance causes clinically significant problems in social, occupational or other areas of function.
D. There is no clinically significant delay with language milestones.
E. There is no clinically significant delay in cognitive development
F. The disorder does not meet the criteria for any other Pervasive Developmental Disorder or for Schizophrenia

But I'm not here to say whether or not he's an aspie.

It's a great show and my wife and I have gotten a lot of enjoyment out of watching him and his situations. Our discussions during and after the show have been quite good too because sometimes it's easy to see what a particular character should have done when a communications problem occurs.  It's very educational for people in mixed AS/NT relationships.

Doc Martin Series 1-4 is currently available at Amazon (and it's on special).  Series 5 is currently airing around the world and there's currently a campaign going around to get Series 6 filmed.

Honesty Clause
Doc Martin was recommended by my parents and I watched it purely on their advice. I was not given any review materials but sought the show out on my own.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How a Lack of Executive Functioning May Appear in Young Adults



You'll often hear that people with Aspergers syndrome have problems with "executive functioning" but what does it mean and how does it manifest in young adults?  In this post, I hope to give you some answers.


Put simply, executive functions are higher level functions such as planning, reasoning, problem solving, multi-tasking, attention span, inhibition, flexibility, self monitoring, self-initiation and self guidance.  I'm sure I've left out quite a few.

Executive functions are important but in an animal sense, a lack of them is usually not life threatening.  Eating, sleeping, moving and toileting for example, aren't classed as "executive functions".  While executive functioning provides many advantages, it's not so critical in the pure "animal" sense.  It's people and society that has made executive functioning critical in humans.


How a Lack of Executive Functioning Could Manifest in Young Adults
The remainder of this post will focus on an example, in this case; getting ready for school. This may seem like a single task but it is actually an objective made up of many different tasks.

A parent of a child with good executive functioning might expect to be able to say "get yourself ready for school" or even have their child realise that because it's Tuesday, they need to get ready and wear their sports uniform.  This would imply self initiation of tasks.

The getting ready for school task includes sub-tasks such as;

  1. Getting your pyjamas off 
  2. Putting your pyjamas under the pillow ready for "after school"
  3. Putting underpants on
  4. Deciding whether to wear a sports or normal uniform
  5. Putting pants on
  6. Putting a shirt on
  7. Putting a tie, headband, ribbons etc on 
  8. Putting socks on
  9. Washing Hands
  10. Having Breakfast
  11. Washing hands and face
  12. Brushing Teeth
  13. Putting Lunch in the school bag
  14. Putting Books/Diary in the school bag
  15. Putting Shoes on
  16. Getting outside on time.

A child with poor executive functioning will see these all as entirely separate tasks.  They know that "going to school" is part of the big picture but they won't be able to sequence the tasks and they won't self-start or self-monitor.  If there are any distractions available they will quickly become distracted and will fail to complete the task.

If anything changes, for example, if their favourite breakfast cereal isn't available, then they will not have the flexibility to be able to cope with change. They will not be able to do tasks out of order; for example getting their bags packed before breakfast and the entire "getting ready for school" process will stop. The inflexibility may even trigger a meltdown.

Then there is the matter of lack of inhibition. You might feel that this simply refers to states of undress, and in this example it could.  The lack of Inhibition however refers to a much wider issue.  In particular, it refers to a control mechanism which tells us when "enough is enough" or when certain behavior is unwarranted.  For example, a child lacking in inhibition may not realise when a parent is dangerously overwhelmed and may continue to "push buttons" way past a point of safety.


The Big Picture
This may sound like your child but I'm not necessarily here to offer solutions to the problems of getting ready for school. This post wasn't about that. It was about the lack of executive functioning.  Take any sequence of tasks or anything for which good planning and "common sense" is required and you'll spot the executive functioning issues.

This is what we need to be addressing with children on the spectrum.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Autism Advocacy and Points of View


There's been a lot of discussion in the blogsphere recently culmulating in this interesting and insightful post about drawing lines in the sand. 

The ideals expressed were admirable but I could see several places where the author of the post hadn't actually met them (based on things said in comments and earlier posts). Like a true aspie champion of logic, I was about to point them out when I realised two things;


  1. It's not very nice 
  2. My slate isn't exactly clean either

It got me thinking about the bigger picture and inspired me to take a look at advocacy and different points of view. In particular, I was wondering how I personally would go accepting all of these conflicting points of view.


The Indivisible Point of View
We're advocates right? We have to have a point of view. In my case, I'm advocating for my children's right to be accepted as part of normal society. For their right to do things that others do and for their right to live without being judged on their "genetic inheritance".

These are pretty important rights.

It's hard for me to find space in my point of view to accept the views of people who feel that their children have been "stolen by autism" or "corrupted by vaccines". The same goes for people who feel that other people's children simply "need a good spanking".

It's even harder when those points of view actually do damage, whether to a person's self esteem or to their well being. This happens via overly restrictive diets, institutionalisation, chelation, shock therapy and ... even murder.


Seeing and Empathising isn't Necessarily Agreeing
The point is that we simply can't agree with all of these points of view. It's impossible - and yet, until we've walked in another person's shoes, we're not qualified to pass judgement.

We need to accept that these points of view exist and at least try to understand and empathise with them. Yes, even murder - though I'll admit that's a very difficult one.

Note that I'm not saying that you should agree or even accept it as valid. Just accepting the fact that the point of view exists and that people may hold it is enough. It will help you to move on and ignore, advocate for change or provide gentle and supportive correction.


Points of view are one thing - actions are a different thing entirely.
All Points of View are "grey" even extremist ones. 

So, having accepted that a point of view, no matter how wrong, has the right to exist; how do we change it?

First of all, we should ask the question; should we change it?  Is it so wrong that the answer is black and white?

For some points of view, murder being the obvious one, this should be a no brainer. There are still some grey areas though...

Would everyone agree that the mother who deliberately drives her car into the river to kill her autistic children is wrong?

She's obviously unwell and has probably suffered a lot with her children. Her actions are likely the combination of stress with lack of support and extremes of experience.  Even when these things appear premeditated, it's unlikely that any parent with their full wits about them would want to kill their own offspring.

Then there's the question of "the more socially acceptable form of murder"; abortion.

Is the couple who agree to murder a child they've never seen on the basis of a test which could be wrong any less guilty?

Why does society deem this as acceptable and indeed for some conditions such as downs syndrome, accept it as standard practice? Perhaps the issue isn't so black and white after all.


Advocating Against Different Points of View

Now that we've accepted that these different points of view and grey areas exist, is there a need for us, as advocates to change them?

Probably - but like everything, it's a case of "pick your battles".

Case in point, the immunisation debate.

We know that mercury in immunisation shots isn't the cause of autism.  At least, it's not the sole cause.  We also know that autism tends to follow genetic lines and doesn't need a bump on the head or a refridgerator mother.  At the same time there are enough disturbing cases of children who appear neurotypical only to "become" autistic around the time of their immunisation shots.

We know that tests have been carried out to demonstrate that immunisation doesn't affect the majority of children this way but can we really be certain that a certain type of shot doesn't act in a wildly different manner in a certain type of genetic material?

It's not a battle we can win and although I'm in favour of immunisation, I think it's a perfectly good idea for a parent who has one child affected by autism (which coincides with shots) to avoid giving the second child a shot.  It's a risk but it's potentially the lesser of two risks.

A few years ago, had I been asked about this, I probably would have vhemently tried to change your mind. I like to think that I've grown since then - and that I can accept the point of view.  Perhaps by accepting that point of view, I'm keeping my mind open for future discoveries.

Other debates however are less acceptable to me and I feel that I can sometimes make a difference by "nudging".  Ignoring the big issues because we've already discussed murder, one particular pain point for me is the negativity surrounding autism.

I've read a lot of blogs with parents discussing the negative aspects of their children and wives talking about their "husband issues" and wonder what will happen when the person they're talking about eventually reads those writings? How is it going to affect their self esteem.

I can't tell anyone else what to think but I can post helpful (not judgmental) comments. I can offer support and alternatives and I can try to promote a positive view via my blog.  It's the best I can do.  I can offer change but I can't force it.

As they say, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink".


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tony Attwood's Three Requisites for a Successful Relationship

I just finished reading an Aspergers Relationship book today (it's excellent by the way and a review is coming shortly). The book had a great quote from Tony Attwood near the end and it's such a great quote that I've been mulling it over all day long.


I thought it was worth repeating here;


Clinical and counselling experience suggests that there are three requisites for a successful relationship.


  • The first is that both partners acknowledge the diagnosis.
  • The second requisite is motivation for both partners to change and learn.
  • The third is access to relationship counselling modified to accommodate the profile of abilities and experiences of the partner with Aspergers Syndrome.

- Dr. Tony Attwood, "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome"


Let's look at Tony's three requirements in more detail;

1. Both partners acknowledge the diagnosis
I know that I'm often saying that "it's just a label" and "it doesn't change you as a person" but it's still extremely important to accept the label.

An NT who doesn't accept their partner's label will simply brush off their partner's traits as;

  • Rude
  • Disinterested
  • Self-Obsessed
  • Unemotional and/or lacking in empathy
  • Lacking in Social Skills
  • Lazy
  • Whining
  • Frigid

These are all very negative and impact not only the relationship but also the aspie partner's self esteem.

In some relationships, the condition is reversed. The neurotypical partner fully accepts that their partner has aspergers but the partner with aspergers can't accept the label.  Unfortunately, if you can't even accept your own traits, then you won't be in a position to change them.


2. Motivation for both partners to change and learn
You'll notice that the second requirement specifies both partners.  Too often, change is driven by a single partner and ignored by the other.

The requirement doesn't specify that the level of  motivation should be the same and it's often the case that one partner will have to do more work than the other to bring balance to the relationship. The rule isn't about the amount of effort one puts in, it's about willingness to change - on both sides.


3. Modified Relationship Counselling 
The third requirement is a  really interesting one.  It suggests that normal relationship counselling will not work. You need to see someone who understands Aspergers Syndrome.

This is actually a very tricky requirement. You'd find it difficult to find even a local doctor who understands how Aspergers Syndrome presents in adults - particularly if the aspie is female.  You certainly won't have a great deal of luck finding a local relationship counselor who fits the bill.

There's no understating this rule. To a normal counselor, a person with aspergers may appear cold, unemotional or unconcerned about the relationship. They may appear to care more for their "rock collection"  (or other special interest) than they do for their partner.

Even if your counselor knows about Aspergers Syndrome - or Autism, it's probable that they only understand it in the classic sense.  A lot has changed over the years and the perception of aspies as people without empathy has undergone a drastic change recently.  Unless your counselor is aware of this, they won't be in a position to help the relationship.

Then of course, there's the subject of children.  Caring for children is one thing - and it puts enough stress on a relationship.  Caring for children with Aspergers Syndrome is a completely different thing altogether.  Since Aspergers is at least partially genetic in nature, it makes sense that your counselor won't really be able to understand your case without understanding how children with Aspergers are different.


So there you have it.
Tony's three criteria for successful relationships in which one partner has Aspergers Syndrome.  Have a think about it.... does your relationship satisfy all three criteria?  If not, is there anything you can do about it?

Links


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Medications and Special Needs - It's Your Choice


This is a best of the best of the best post.  Check this link after November 15 for a lot of of different perspectives on the same topic by other writers associated with Special Needs.

If you're new to the world of special needs, you'll quickly become acquianted with a list of "hot topics" ranging from debate about the use of jigsaw logos, to the words aspie, aspergian, autie and others. Of course, the biggest debate of all has always been - should we or shouldn't we medicate our children?

It's a good question and there's no easy answer.


Protest Groups
You really can't discuss this topic without talking about protest groups. There are protest groups everywhere and they all have different motivations. Some of them are against any kind of medication - including aspirin, some are based on "knee-jerk" reactions to incorrect research and some are simply reacting to "bad events" or bad press.

Of course, there are some good protest groups around too but they're usually drowned out by their noisier counterparts.

Most of the protest groups have ulterior motivations. They're often less concerned with children than with their own profits, sensationalism and beliefs.  You need to be very wary of their influence.  If you're reading an article and it seems particularly biased against medications, check carefully to see whether it's associated with a protest group before you trust its contents.

Protest groups are also responsible for "programming" friends and relatives to go on the attack against parents who have legitimately been prescribed medications for their children.  You have to watch their sources too because as soon as an anti-medications show airs on a current affairs channel, they'll be on your back again.


Pro Groups
It might sound strange to suggest that there are actually groups out there who are "pro medication". After all, who wants to medicate children unless it's necessary?  Drug companies, that's who. Unfortunately, in many countries, drug companies provide incentives for doctors to prescribe their medications to children on a long-term basis. It's in their interest to get people hooked on their product from an early age.

Sadly, there's no easy way to identify these practitioners for sure; but probably the best clue is when your doctor is constantly recommending that you try one medication after another instead of suggesting therapy and classes. For example, if your child has anger issues, it's perfectly feasible that medication could be the only answer but unless you've given the alternatives, coaching for instance, a go, you'll never know.

Medication should be one of the last resorts, with only surgery being perhaps worse.


Your Choice
The point is that not all medication is good for you but equally, not all medication is bad for you. As parents, you have to make the choice based on the available information - which is unfortunately, biased regardless of its source - and subject to change in the future.

Your best bet is, if possible, to talk to other parents who have children on and off medication and observe the differences between the children.  Note that all children will react differently and although a medication works for one child, it may not work for another.

Find out from your doctor how long it should take before you start seeing effects and stick to the timetable. If the medication appears to have no effect, discontinue.

The other thing to remember is that it's your choice every day.  You don't simply make the choice once and forget because you need to continually review the use of medication as your child gets older, as alternatives come on the market and as more research which could highlight the negatives of your current medications becomes available.

Keep an open mind but at the same time, keep a good eye out for safety and common sense.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

International ADHD Awareness Week

This week is the official international ADHD Awareness week and I thought it might be appropriate to talk about the condition - especially since it's so common in children (and adults) with Asperger Syndrome. In fact, it's very common for people to be diagnosed with ADHD first.

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and it goes hand in hand with another disorder which was once called ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). These two disorders are now considered one, though it's quite common to distingish ADD as ADHD-I (ADHD - Inattentive).

Public Perception
If you don't have children with ADHD/ADD, you're probably imagining children who are literally bouncing off walls, throwing things and jumping across furniture. Like Aspergers, ADHD suffers greatly from stereotypes.

It's quite common for people to witness televised "extreme acts of ADHD" and blame it on the parents, red cordial, too much TV, poor discipline or any number of other things. Lots of people say that ADHD wasn't around when they were young. That children "behaved" and were harshly disciplined.

I beg to differ. ADHD was around years ago. ADHD is NOT about "extreme acts" it's about smaller everyday impulses. There have always been people who are easily distracted, impulsive or disorganised. It may not have been called ADHD in the past, perhaps they were simply "spirited" children but it was no different to the ADHD being diagnosed today.


Being Distractable
A person with ADHD may seem inattentive but the truth is that they are simply too easily distracted by their senses. A child with ADHD may find that other noises in the classroom constantly pull them off topic, that movement outside a window, or even within the classroom will constantly direct their gaze away from the board or that the smell of food in the classroom causes them to think about lunch rather than the topic at hand.

It's not all jumping around behaviour. Often it's just constant but little distractions which make it impossible to concentrate. These distractions can seriously impact the learning ability of the ADHD child.


Impulsiveness
Unlike the media portrayals, being impulsive isn't about walking up to people and hitting them. Most impulsive actions are far less visible. An impulsive child may start answering a question before it has been completely asked. In the classroom setting, this is simply annoying because it seems like an interruption but have you considered how this would affect a test?

In the classroom, the teacher can correct the child, "You didn't answer correctly because you didn't wait for the entire question". In an exam situation, the child is too busy answering the first part of the question to read the fine print. They might take three pages to answer a question that is supposed to be answered in 25 words. They may miss a vital part of the question or they may complete their test without knowing that there are more questions on the other side of the paper.

Children with ADHD already have enough issues in exams due to sensory issues and inattentiveness. Misreading questions makes it even more difficult. These are smart kids but even the best special exam considerations are simply not enough.

Of course, there are impulsive physcial actions too. A child may throw an object without taking the time to check that people aren't too closely grouped around them. They might chase a ball across a street without stopping to look both ways or they might snatch something off a friend without remembering to ask for it nicely. This isn't rudeness or deliberate endangerment, this is simply the ADHD child missing steps in a procedure.

Impulsitivty manifests at home too. It occurs when the child sits down to the table without having washed their hands. When they help to carry food to the table without being careful of spillage and when they are so eager to eat that they forget to use their knife and fork.


Being Disorganized
A child with ADHD will often live in either "the moment" or a "daydream". There's not a lot in between these states. They tend to react to things going on around them and they will often withdraw into their own thoughts. What they generally won't do is plan. Even when they do plan, their impusitivity prevents them from following a strict ordered list. They will rush out of a classroom, leaving their books still on the desk. It's not laziness, it's just steps in the procedure being missed.

They'll readily agree to go to an event but won't think to write down the date or the location. They won't consider potential clashes and chances are that if they do remember, they're going to be late. It all looks like complete disorganisation but really, it's just another way to look at impulsiveness.


Adults
Children don't grow out of ADHD. There are plenty of adults with the condition. Many of them have learned to use lists, plans and other methods to get by. Some are on medications (and some apparently swear by recreational drugs).

I'm not here to propose solutions. Today, I just want to sway a few opinions. Next time you hear about someone with ADHD, try to understand how difficult things that you take for granted are for them.

Lets try not to be so judgmental.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Special Needs Family Life

This is a "best of the best post. Check the link: SOS Best of the Best Edition 11: Family Life from 15th October for more posts on this topic by other authors.

Normally I tend to keep my family life quite separate from my general aspergers posts. No, I'm not fussed about privacy, it's all there on a different blog (see:http://gbollard.blogspot.com). I just do my best to to shield my readers from the boredom of my daily life.

This month's BOB topic however is "family life" and I guess this is one of the hardest posts I've had to write. How do I make it sound interesting?

You see, apart from unexpected change, our lives are pretty much the same as everyone else's. We've got things down to a routine.

It wasn't always like this. We had years of terrible struggle until we developed all of the rules. As parents, we've gotten very good at predicting events and distractions.

For example; We can now look at food with the eyes of my eldest son and know that the texture will set him off. We're prepared. Sometimes we'll give him an alternative and sometimes we'll simply give him a smaller portion, carefully selected to avoid triggering his texture sensitivities.

We can anticipate the problems that change will create and begin warning and preparing well before the event. If classes at school are going to be largely disrupted or if there's a large unstructured and loosely supervised event occuring (like a swimming carnival), then we can simply keep the kids at home that day.

Then there's disappointment. We've learned to deal with it. Instead of shamfacedly saying, "oh well, you got an E in writing... at least it wasn't an F", we dismiss the reports and concentrate on effort rather than performance. Our kids are trying and that's all that matters. We say; "did you do your best? Well done then. Good effort".

Then there's worry about the future. It used to be part of our lives but now we're all Hakuna Matata (thanks Timon and Pumbaa). Our aim is simply happiness.

We've learned to not only accept the weird but to openly embrace it. Sure, we still have some crazy moments, like when Kaelan (10) whipped out his camera at customs and started taking photos of the officials, or when Tristan (7) booked a wedding for himself online. We still have our meltdowns, our car fights and crazy misinterpretations.

We've learned to live with those weird moments - and to celebrate them.

Every family has those things though.

So, our home life is sweet now - at least until the next meltdown, holiday or unscheduled event.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Less Confrontational Strategies for Approaching Children with Asperger's Syndrome during a Meltdown Event

In my last post, I looked at less confrontational strategies to approach children with Asperger's syndrome under normal conditions. In this post, I want to look at how it's done during a meltdown.

A Brief Look at Meltdowns
I'll begin by defining a meltdown. Meltdowns are generally violent and loud events which look very much like temper tantrums with one very obvious distinction. Meltdowns are "out of control" events. The aspie is not using the meltdown as a means of getting what they want - in fact, they want the meltdown to stop more than you do.

Of course, not all meltdowns actually are violent but all have the capacity to be violent. An aspie in a meltdown state is not responsible for their actions.

For this reason, it's important for young aspies to learn their triggers and how to avoid them.


To Approach or Not to Approach
The first question that you need to ask yourself is; is it dangerous for you, for others or for the aspie?

If the situation isn't dangerous, then don't walk into it unless you're very confident that you can provide the exact kind of support that the aspie needs. During a meltdown event, no support is much better than the "wrong kind" of support.


Different ways to Attract Attention
The techniques which work for one aspie won't necessarily work for another. Many children respond well to a calm voice repeating something like "it's alright". In fact, most people with aspergers seem to respond best to "the calm voice" but as I found out during one incident, it's not for everyone.

If your technique isn't working - and particularly if it seems to be irritating the aspie then stop. Some children respond better to a stern voice or even a snap of the fingers. It's important to discuss control techniques with the parents to find out what works best for a particular child.


What not to do
Don't become part of the meltdown. The child may be using violence, shouting and abusive language but you should not. For the most part, the aspie isn't in control of the situation but you, the adult, should be.

Don't turn the aspie into a spectacle. As I mentioned before, the child in a meltdown state isn't putting this on. They're" out of control" and they really want the meltdown to end. It's very much like being a helpless observer in someone else's body. They're going to feel bad enough about the situation after the crisis without you drawing extra attention to it by pointing, laughing or taking photos/video.

Don't attempt to lecture or accuse during the meltdown. The aspie isn't in control and won't be able to process information. Save any recriminations and discussion until the meltdown is over.


What to do
  • Make the situation safe
    Take a good look at the meltdown and the objects/people around. Look for anything which is unsafe, such as glass objects, dangerous things which could be thrown or used as a weapon and move them safely out of reach. If others are in harms way try to get them to maintain a safe distance and if you have extra supervision, have that supervisor clear them from the area.

    Watchers, particularly youth watchers can often contribute to a meltdown by teasing and laughing. You'll also be helping the aspie to keep their friends if you can isolate them in times of crisis.

  • Remove the trigger
    Although meltdowns usually serve a longer term and less visible "feeling", there is usually a trigger for a given situation. Sometimes this will be something simple, like building blocks and sometimes it will be a person. If it is possible to remove the trigger safely, then do so. If the trigger is a person, then remove the person from the room or at least out of reach/sight of the aspie.

    Sometimes it will be better if the aspie is escorted away from the trigger. If that's the case, you'll need to entice them rather than attempting to drag them.

  • Attempt to get the aspie into a stationary position
    If the aspie is moving about they're far more likely to cause harm to themselves, others or objects. If you can get them stationary, you'll be more able to control the situation.

    There will be times when you do need to chase them to intercept, such as when they're heading towards a busy road. In general, however, you should allow the aspie to separate from a situation provided that they stop a short distance away. One of the cardinal mistakes that police make with aspies is chasing them or restraining them unnecessarily.

    Often, if you sit down, the aspie can also be convinced to sit down - albeit, some distance away.

  • Desensitize the Environment
    It should come as no surprise that meltdowns occur more frequently in noisy, overcrowded environments. Don't forget that aspies have a lot of sensory issues. If you can reduce these by turning off any background music, bright lights, sound etc, then it will often reduce the intensity of the meltdown.

  • Co-habit but don't touch
    If it's safe to do so, you might want to sit near the aspie who has had a meltdown. Your presence may be enough to calm them down. Note however that if you're wearing strong scents, you could pose a sensory issue. Most importantly however, don't touch. You can tell the aspie that if they want a hug, they can have one but don't initiate. Touch is a very critical sense and during a meltdown, those senses are already on overload.

  • Forgive and Move On
    When the aspie has calmed down enough to participate again, please don't hound them with recriminations. You'll want to discuss the incident but give them time to get over it and process what has happened before demanding apologies.

  • Be a Mentor
    When the aspie has calmed down, discuss with them how they felt and what they could do better next time. Ask them what they think they need, what made them feel better and what made them more angry.

    We need our young aspies to learn how to deal with meltdowns, and how to recognize and avoid their triggers. After all, there's a big difference between a child's meltdown and an adult one.

    You might even like to practice some scenarios and develop some code words so that the aspie can leave the room safely before a situation explodes and without their classmates noticing.

    Your advice as a mentor will make a huge difference.

For more information on meltdowns, you might want to read some of my earlier posts on the subject;

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Less Confrontational Strategies for Approaching Children with Aspergers Syndrome

For many people, particularly teachers, the first real experience with Asperger's syndrome comes as part of an intervention in a "situation". After all, aside from odd mannerisms and odd comments, many children with aspergers can appear quiet and non-participative - this can easily be mistaken for shyness.

The real problems begin to surface when an extraordinary event, such as a meltdown or shutdown occurs. Even if no such event occurs, a simple friendly intervention from a teacher can sometimes result in a unexpectedly nasty response.

When such events do occur, they can "sour" the relationship between teacher and child - and sometimes between the parents and school too.

Recovery is a long process of "walking on eggshells" for which most teachers don't have the time or patience,

In this post. I want to look at some of the ways that you can modify your approach to children with aspergers syndrome to reduce those ill effects. I'll be concentrating on an approach under normal conditions, perhaps to encourage participation in an activity. I'll look at approaching an aspie in a meltdown condition in a later post.


Body Language
Before approaching a child with aspergers, take a moment to study their body language. It's true that children with aspergers have a great deal of difficulty expressing themselves non-vebally but in general, their body language can still be read. Most of what you've probably heard about the difficulties of non-verbal aspergers language deals with facial expression. Those bits are true. You can't be sure that the facial expression of an aspergers person is really communicating their feelings.

For example, if the person is grimacing, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're in pain - or frightened. It could mean that they're thinking about something entirely outside the situation, that they're stimming or that they're actually happy. Tears and anger however can usually be trusted to be correct.

Take a careful look at how the child is sitting or standing and watch how they react as you draw nearer. Try to look at things other than their face. For example, are they holding a wall, bannister or some other part of furniture? Are they attempting to withdraw into it? Perhaps they're even hiding under a table. These are clear signs that a normal "front-on" approach will end in disaster.


Approach Carefully
Instead of approaching them front-on, try to approach them gently from the side. If they're under a table or sitting at a desk, it's a great approach to sit beside them - not opposite them. This significantly reduces the issues of eye contact. If possible, reduce yourself to their height to avoid being confrontational.


Don't touch!
Don't sit too close. Aspies usually like their space and especially, don't like a light touch. I had a counseller once ask me if it was ok to touch me on the arm. It was nice to be asked first but I felt like I needed to say "yes". Touch to us usually doesn't convey reassurance. It often simply increases the irritation of tactile stimulii. If you're touching the aspie, chances are, you're doing it for your own benefit/reassurance rather than the aspie.


Converse Carefully
As a general rule, many people with aspergers aren't too concerned with small talk, so there's not a great deal of benefit to be gained from saying "hello" because you're obviously already there and hello is implied by the fact that you just sat down next to them. Of course, if you feel that you need to teach the basics of small-talk or manners, then a couple of conversation starters can be used. Just don't expect a major response.

Many people with aspergers have quite stilted conversation. They may not handle high-speed talk even though they often talk fast themselves. They may also take longer to reply than neurotypicals because they want to think about your question and their answers. As most kids "how long have you been sitting here" and they'll say a "a while". Ask an aspie and they're likely to calculate the time.

Don't rush them. People with aspergers aren't stupid and there's no need to talk super slowly. Just enunciate well and try not to rely on variations in tone so much as content. Be direct too. While people with aspergers have little difficulty understanding metaphors and "sayings", they won't necessarily know when you're using them. If you tell them that you're "going to see a man about a dog", they're going to assume that you're going to a pet shop. Say what you mean and you'll be understood.


Direct Questions are Attacks
If you're approaching a person with aspergers syndrome and they seem agitated, don't sit next to them and start hammering them with questions such as; "Why aren't you playing the game with the other kids?". Try a more oblique approach first. For example, sit down and say; "That looks like a cool game that the kids are playing doesn't it?". The response you get might clue you in to what the problem is; for example, "It looks fun but it's very noisy".


Be Sensitive.
Aspies often have high sensitivity to noise, smell, light and other environmental factors. It isn't fair to force a child with such sensitivities to join in an activity which ignites those senses. If you can find a way to reduce these sensitivities, then great. If not, just accept the situation and wait for a less sensory moment to include the aspie child. Perhaps you can speak to the parents about the sensitivity. For example, if they are sensitive to noise, they may want to try cancelling headphones or perhaps you can find quieter ways to engage the child.

Of course, the reasons for non-participation will vary and it's difficult to decide when the child is simply being lazy or wilful versus an actual sensory issue. The only clue is continued conversation.

If your initial comments don't provide you with an answer, slowly direct the questioning towards the activity without being accusatory. As the child warms to you, you'll find that the information they provide becomes more relevant and useful.

Next time I'll look at ways to approach a child in a meltdown state.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: "Blazing My Trail: Living and Thriving with Autism" by Rachel B. Cohen-Rottenberg

"Blazing My Trail: Living and Thriving with Autism" by Rachel B. Cohen-Rottenberg is a "sequel" to "The Uncharted Path" which I reviewed here and followed up here.



When we last left Rachel's story, she had fully accepted her place on the autism spectrum and was making plans to take control of parts of her life. The plans weren't big plans but every long journey begins with small steps.

At times, it feels like an entirely different person has written this book. This Rachel is capable, confident, assertive (without being nearly so argumentive) and full of promise.

Yes, it is a sequel and indeed in the first chapter or two, it feels like you need to have read the first book - but then it all changes and from then on, whenever it references past events, it provides a handy recap.

I feel that the titles of the books were very well chosen, with "The Uncharted Path" being about taking uncertain steps into unknown territory and Blazing My Trail being about running with full confidence along that path and leaving a trail for others to follow.

I get the feeling that Rachel's experience with medications had a lot to do with this positive turn of events and she spends a bit of time talking about their effect. Unlike many people, I'm not a "hater" of medications. I've seen them doing good under the right conditions. Rachel's medications however are a good reminder that regardless of how many second opinions you get, not all drugs are suitable and all must be strictly monitored with specific measurable goals in place. Some types of drugs shouldn't be taken except in the most crucial of situations.

The book provides a lot of practical and ready-to-use advice and insight for adults on the spectrum (and parents of children on the spectrum). In particular, Rachel talks about ways to overcome the sound and spatial sensitivities which are obviously the issues which give her the most trouble. Rachel also covers everyday events such as standing up for your rights as an individual - something that I, and many shy(?) aspies have a great deal of trouble with.

The second half of the book is more of a discussion of "bug bears". Rachel's feelings about the social constructs around the autism community and their perception by the wider community in general.

A lot has changed. The "old" Rachel would have written this aggressively like a lone revolutionary out on a crusade but this "new" Rachel is quietly persuasive, tolerant and altogether more worldly. She is not afraid to change her opinions or to challenge the deep seated beliefs of the wider autism community. The result is some pretty engrossing reading.

I also noticed that Rachel uses the word Aspergers more often than Autism in this book. This was strange because it felt like the word "Aspergers" had been purged from her last volume in favor of Autism. I'm sure there's an interesting story behind the turnaround but sadly it's not covered in the book, though there seem to be some tantalizing hints.

Rachel raises some absolutely brilliant concepts and covers various subjects including abelism. the puzzle piece metaphor, the theory of mind, the perception of "autism as a sickness" and label-grief.

I enjoyed this book even more than the Uncharted Path, mainly I think because of the positive outlook. This is a brilliant book by one of the most individual writers in the autism community which will have you pondering the issues it raises long after you've put it down.

Blazing My Trail is available on Amazon.


Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of this book at no charge for review purposes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Calming Techniques for the Special Needs Child

This is a "best of the best" article. Check back here after September 15 for more articles by other authors on this topic.

There is a saying about Aspergers which I believe applies equally well to most, if not all, other special needs - to paraphrase; "if you've met one person with special needs, you've met ONE person needs".

Just as all special needs people are different, the calming techniques required are also quite different. Techniques which calm one person may simply infuriate another.


Trial and Error
In this post, I plan to cover a few approaches but the application of these is very much a matter of trial and error. If your actions seem to be worsening a situation then stop and try a different approach.


Getting Attention
No technique is going to work unless you have attention. It doesn't have to be total attention, part attention is fine. Don't forget too that many special needs children have issues with eye contact, so "attention" doesn't necessarily mean "looking at you". In fact holding your hand out wide and saying "look at my hand" can often be more effective. In particular, if your child is holding an object which is causing an issue (Nintendo DS, I'm looking at you) then it's imperative that he puts it down before you try talking to them.

A Calming Influence
When my eldest son goes into a meltdown state, he responds best to a calm voice. I simply repeat reassuring phrases such as "it's alright" and "that's ok" in a quiet calm voice.

He'll usually try to shout over me but I won't engage him in conversation when he's melting down. Conversing with a melting down individuals will only bring insults and hurt which will be regretted later.


Touching
You may be tempted to pat the anxious or otherwise stressed individual on the back or arm. Be very sure before doing this as many individuals on the spectrum have issues with touch. Back off immediately if the child reacts badly and if possible, get them to come to you rather than approaching them. Putting your arms open wide and suggesting that a hug might help is a good way to do this.

If you're dealing with an adult, make sure that you ask them for permission first.


Authority
Some children react better to authority voices than to calm ones. An "authority voice" is always calm and mostly emotionless" but it has a stern edge to it and carries orders. For example; "Put that down - right now".

Some children react to a countdown, "three, two, one" but others will continually wait until the last number or will even worsen their misbehaviour as the countdown progresses knowing that so long as they stop before it ends, they'll be ok.

If your child is doing this, then the countdown method is not working and should be discontinued.


Shouting and Negative Reinforcement
Shouting almost never works unless perhaps your special needs child has a hearing loss. Seriously though, shouting can sometimes make you, the parent, feel better but most of the time it only worsens the issue.

Shouting at children only teaches them that shouting can be used to get others to do what you want. Shouting parents are more likely to have shouting children though of course, shouting behaviours can be learned in the playground too.

I'm not going to say much about violent methods of control here except that fear and violence usually bring the opposite of calm - and when they do produce calm, it's not a good kind of calm.


Following Through
For some parents, calming times are "promise times" and parents will often promise their kids "the earth" for just a little calm.

If you promise your kids something, then follow through and deliver on it - good or bad. If you say "no dessert tonight" then don't give in later. Similarly, if you promise a toy for good behaviour, then you should provide it. Being consistent and predictable will lead to a much calmer life.

One thing to remember though, promise easy and inexpensive things like a walk in the park. It doesn't take much for these promises to become routine and I know parents who have to buy toys and/or sweets everytime they go out shopping.


Relating
When my kids are having a tough time, I'll often talk about my childhood. For example, if they're being bullied, I'll talk about when I was bullied at school. It's important to keep things positive but you shouldn't try to make out that things were tougher "in your day" or that you were a hero.

The object of the conversation is to relate - not make your kids feel more inadequate.


Comedic Performances
For the most part, reacting with humour to any meltdown, anxiety or stress event is a big "no no". While these outbursts may look like simple temper or "cry-baby" issues, the fears, anxieties and reactions of special needs children are very real to them. Not only is it impolite to laugh but it's also damaging to a child's self-esteem to reduce their issues to comedy. It is never ok to laugh at these children.

Of course, there are occasions during panic attacks and meltdowns where a bit of impromptu comedy can work wonders. In particular, where a distraction is needed to prevent fears from building up. For example, while waiting in a queue at an amusement park.


Out of Sight
If an object or a person is driving an issue, then it's important to get them/it out of sight as quickly as possible. If the child is having an issue with a computer game, then simply talking to them with the game playing in the background isn't going to help matters. Get them out of the house and onto outdoor play equipment. If their issue isn't staring them in the face, they'll get over it more quickly.

Keeping things out of sight is particularly important where meltdowns are concerned. I find, as an adult that if I'm overly stressed, the best thing to do is to be alone. If the child is too distressed to go into their room then it helps if those around him retreat to another area (or at least avoid looking at the him).


Changing Plans
Don't be afraid to change plans. My eldest son recently went on a caves tour which ended in a boat ride. He became agitated about riding in a boat in the dark and refused to board. We changed plans to allow him to walk back through the caves with a guide. As a parent, you need to pick your battles. Sometimes you can convince a child to conquer their fears - and sometimes you can't. When you can't, you change the plan.


Being Prepared
My last point is simply to be prepared. Try to see the danger signs before your child begins to stress out about them. If you can jump in and defuse the potential situation before it escalates into one, then you'll have saved everyone a great deal of trouble. For example, when eating at a friend's house, consider asking the friend to let you prepare your child's plate. That way you can ensure that it only has the things that they'll eat on it - and you can make sure that no foods are touching each other.

Being prepared is probably the best form of avoidance.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Answers to some Questions on Cyberbullying

A friend is doing a talk on Cyberbullying and asked for some suggestions. Unfortunately I'm not the sort of person who can write "just a little" and as it turns out, my response is too long for Facebook. As such, I've decided to "post here and link there". In any case, she may find your own comments/responses to be better than my original statements;

So here are the Questions;
  1. When does freedom of speech cross over to cyberbullying?
  2. What productive strategies have you used when encountering online bullying?
  3. Parents/Teachers: Do your school districts have a cyberbullying policy or guidelines which they enforce?
  4. Psychologists/Therapists: How serious can this kind of trauma be to individuals enduring online attacks?


When does freedom of speech cross over to cyberbullying?

For many people, this threshold is reached shortly after the person being attacked starts complaining. For people on the spectrum however, this threshold may be reached quite some time before they even notice that they're being attacked.

People on the autism spectrum can be extremely naieve and will sometimes not see the difference between a "friendly joke" and an attack. By the time they realise that they're being attacked, the damage is usually already done.


What positive strategies have you used when encountering online bullying?

There are four main responses and I feel that all of them are valid, often in conjuntion with each other;
  • Regulation
  • Blocking
  • Positive Propaganda
  • Counselling

Regulation; All systems, societies etc have at least some form of legal protection against harmful activities. Most of these exist primarily to protect the system itself (ie: The school system, the Facebook system etc). That doesn't mean that you can't lean on their legality in the fight against bullying.

Just like normal bullying, you should not let cyberbullying be ignored. You must "stand up to the bullies". One way to do this in the cyberworld is to ensure that the bullies are made aware that they are in breach of regulations. If that means posting a legal warning notice on their facebook page for all to see, then so be it. Perhaps their friends will talk some sense into them.

It's very important for victims of cyberbullying to stay on the correct side of the law. Don't attempt to abuse or bully back. Stay calm and stay legal. Here's a sample message you could use with facebook;

You are being placed on formal notice that your online behavior towards constitutes a violation of Facebook's anti-bullying behavior and will not be tolerated.

If you continue this behavior, the authorities will be notified and legal steps will be taken.

By doing this, you've alerted the person (and their friends to the cyberbullying issue). You've given them fair warning and you're now in a much better legal position (even if they delete the message).

Also, don't forget to register with your service's anti-bullying support page and do a search on Facebook - there are plenty of anti-bulling groups on there too who are very willing to help.


Blocking; Most systems these days have an unfriending or blocking service. Use it to block those bullies out of your life. In real life, you wouldn't hang around the same areas that your bully does - so don't do it online.

Positive Propaganda; The internet is forever. You can't erase part mistakes but you can rise above them. Find positive things about your life and post them. They may not necessarily overtake the negative but they can cetainly change the tide.

Here's an example; You should remember the Star Wars kid, one of the most famous viral videos on the internet. If not, go to youtube and search for Star Wars Kid to see all the different versions of his video. It doesn't matter how many times the videos are taken down, they just keep popping up again. This poor boy spent a while in a psychiatric ward after this issue but he's now a lawyer - Google: "star wars kid lawyer" to see positive propaganda in action - his "good news" is mentioned on several sites.

Counselling; Everyone who has been through a difficult experience needs counselling. In some cases, good counselling could have made the difference between life and death. Even if your child isn't showing obvious signs of reacting to a bad bullying experience, why take the risk? Send them off to counselling (and parents, don't go with them). Let them get it out of their system and learn their own strategies for dealing with it.


Parents/Teachers: Do your school districts have a cyberbullying policy or guidelines which they enforce?

Like all systems, schools and districts have cyberbullying policies. Unfortunately, they're in place for their own legal protection - not really for the protection of students.

My son's school has every student sign an anti-bullying policy. This is great legal stuff but when a friend was badly cyberbullied, the school did nothing. When it eventually became a police matter, the school was forced to act on their policies. Don't wait for things to become bad. If local cyberbullying occurs, alert the local police.


Psychologists/Therapists: How serious can this kind of trauma be to individuals enduring online attacks?

Every single bit of online (or otherwise) bullying is doing damage. We've all heard about students who snap and take their own lives - or those of their fellow students. These are the stories which get the real publicity.

For every real case of fatal violence, there are hundreds of other cases of kids taking weapons to school (arguably for self-protection). Each of those incidents only needs the right conditions to turn from precautionary to fatal.

Then there are the kids who self harm and the kids who take their bullying experience and internalize them only to bring them out in agressive episodes (often directed at their own children) in later life.

Every single instance of bullying has the potential to be a life-damaging experience.

The Value of Special Needs Therapy

This post is part of Best of the Best, Edition 9: Special Needs Therapy. If you check the above link from August 14 onwards, you'll find a whole host of similar articles by other authors.

Introduction
I'm presuming that most people will be writing from the point of view of parenting their own children. I could do that. My children have been through speech and occupational therapy (both of which were excellent), listening therapy (which quite frankly I found unhelpful) and a couple of other formal therapies. They've also had plenty of chances for informal therapy - did you know that simply owning a dog can be theraputic too?


As usual though, I'm going to try to be different. I want to talk about what it's like going through therapy and how it helps.


Speech Therapy
When I was a child, I went through a couple of different types of therapy with the two biggies being speech and occupational therapy. I wasn't diagnosed with aspergers then but simply had a hearing loss (speech therapy) and was somehow recognised as "different" (occupational therapy).

I don't remember a huge amount about the speech therapy because most of it happeneed in my very early years but I can tell you that without it, I'd be a very different person.

The speech therapy got me enunciating my words correctly and gave me the opportunity to participate in discussions. In later sessions, they tried to work on my flat tone to give it more of an emotional base. Unfortunately, my parents like most other parents - even today, didn't have the money to continue the therapy once I could talk normally so I didn't get enough lessons on tone.

I've tried for most of my adult life to get my tone working better. Even before aspergers, I knew that there was something flat about my tone. If I'm reading a book to someone, my words and tone are exaggerated but in normal speech, it still falls quite flat. I think that permanent tone adjustment really needs to happen when you're very young.


Occupational Therapy
I'm not entirely sure how and when my mother twigged that I was different but as a parent, I know that mothers develop a sense about these things usually between the ages of two to five. In my case, the realisation may have been early but the occupational therapy came much later.

I remember coming home from school only to have to go to a lady at our local hospital. She would put me through a series of fun exercises (which my sister longed to do but wasn't allowed). I'm sure that the exclusivity of these exercises was part of the attraction for me. The exercises included walking along a rope on the floor, swinging, climbing, crawling through tunnels, skipping and stretching exercises.

The therapist would do all of these exercises with me. It was like having my own adult playmate - something that I loved because I really didn't have a lot of friends back then.

It was all quite different from the subdued occupational therapy that I see my kids doing today but perhaps, being at the hospital, my therapist was just so much better set up in terms of funding and equipment.

It wasn't until years later that I realised just how important and beneficial that therapy had been. Obviously I had been recognised as having low muscle tone, motor control problems and balance problems - all things which affect children on the autism spectrum today. My therapy gave me the tools and confidence to take those beginnings and to press on with unofficial therapy in the playground.

In other words, I learned how to climb, play and balance on play equipment in the park. Doing this on weekends helped me to build up core body strength and overcome some of my natural weaknesses.

There's just no underestimating the value of good therapy.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: Active Imagination Activity Book by Kelly Tilley

Active Imagination Activity Book
50 Sensorimotor Activities to improve focus, attention, strength and co-ordination
Kelly Tilley. MCISc. OTR/L
Published by Sensory World

There are all kinds of different therapies for children on the autism spectrum but in my opinion, two stand out head and shoulders above the rest; Speech Therapy and Occupational Therapy. Both of these are expensive and even with government support, it's unusual for parents to be able to continue beyond one or two terms at a time.

You won't become an occupational therapist simply by using this book but you will learn a lot of fun and simple techniques to achieve many of the same things that occupational therapists work toward.

This book is intended for use with children and adults who need help with attention, calming down and energizing but I can see that it will also provide a lot of benefit for people with poor co-ordination and/or low muscle tone - two things which affect many people on the autism spectrum.

The Book
The book itself is spiral bound and set up so that it can be folded to "self-display". This is a really useful feature for this type of book.

Even better, the pages are all plasticised which not only provides better protection but also keeps them shiny and bright. In fact, these pages are so shiny and bright that they "leap out at you". The great use of colour makes this a fun book to use.


Page Layout
Each page has coloured tabs at the bottom which tell you which of the four categories a given exercise belongs to. Usually they belong to more than one;
  • Energizing
  • Upper-Body Strengthening
  • Core-Body Strengthening
  • Calming
It's all quite subtle and I missed it at first assuming that it was part of the page design but it's a very useful set of criteria. You'll want to use particular types of exercises with your child at different times during the day.

There is also at least one or two very relevant illustrations on each page. If an activity is "complicated", then multiple postures are shown.

The activities are all described in a few simple sentences which means that even the kids can self-pace themselves through activities.


The Activities
The activities all have great names, like "The hot dog", "Cotton candy" and "daddy long legs" and they're all quite achievable and look like a lot of fun.

The activities sensibly avoid any major equipment requirements and if you've got floor space, little bean bags (or something else, like tennis balls or balloons), then you've really got what you need to do most of the activities.

In Short
This is an extremely well thought-out, well laid-out book which contains 50 very relevant and easy (and did I say fun!) exercises for children and adults. If you're an occupational therapist - there's absolutely no excuse to not have this book - it really is that good.

If you're the parent of a child with special needs, or if you're an adult with sensory or muscular difficulties, then this is the best way to address them at home.

Finally, if you're a teacher, particularly a physical education teacher at a primary/elementary school or kindergarten or if you interact with groups of children in other ways and settings, then this book will come in very handy. As for myself, I'll be taking this one off to Joey and Cub Scouts.

The "Active Imagination Activity Book: 50 Sensorimotor Activities to improve focus, attention, strength and co-ordination" by Kelly Tilley. MCISc. OTR/L is available from Amazon and other good book retailers.


Honesty Clause: I was provided with a review copy of this book at no charge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Temple Grandin's three types of Thinkers in Autism

I've looked at a lot of Aspergers theory over the years and while I agree with some of it, I find that I disagree with other bits. One theory that I really like is Temple Grandin's observations on the three different types of thinkers;

Temple claims that there are three types of thinkers in Autism and while people don't exclusively belong in a single group, they usually lean towards one set of patterns more than the others.

Temple's three types are;
  • Visual
  • Music/Maths
  • Verbal

Visual Thinkers
The idea is that the visual thinkers are those who need to "see" things in order to understand them. They're more likely to draw a picture or build an object when trying to work out a problem. Temple herself seems to be a visual thinker, her photographic memory clearly supports the idea.

Young visual thinkers tend to be keen on building blocks such as lego and possibly on woodwork or other craft projects.

Music and Mathematical Thinkers
These types of thinkers find patterns in everything. In fact, I'm surprised that Temple didn't refer to them simply as "pattern thinkers". They could be very good at music or mathematics, both of which are full of patterns. Of course, they might be good at one and not the other.

Verbal Thinkers
These are the thinkers who like words and speech. They love to make lists and will often memorize things such as train timetables & routes, stories in alphabetical order and even mundane things like software product codes. There doesn't need to be a pattern, there just needs to be words.


Finding a Home
In thinking about Temple's theories, I naturally felt the urge to try to find my place. It was difficult at first because I felt that I fell across all three types. I'm very visual and will often draw during lectures rather than take notes because I can look at my drawings and remember what was being said while I was drawing a particular thing.

I'm also quite pattern-centric and I find patterns everywhere. I try to resist putting things in order but I can't quite help myself and will often sort Books or DVDs into their correct order - even in a shop. It's embarrassing and I try to be discreet but I sometimes have trouble breaking out of chaos.

In the end, I looked at my writing, my books, my word-for-word recall of conversations (and things I've read) and the fact that I have several lists, literally hundreds, in storage on my computer which I refer to regularly. I'm obviously primarily a verbal thinker.


Why does this all matter?
I know that some people are already thinking, "No, not another label!", people are individuals and they're right of course. People really are individuals and as the saying goes, "If you've met one person on the autism spectrum, then you've met ONE person on the autism spectrum".

That's all well and good and it's nice to play the politically correct card every so often but the fact is that this label could be quite helpful. You see, as parents and teachers, we want our children to learn. Understanding that there are three major types of learning and that a child may lean more towards one than the others is important. It helps us to choose the most effective teaching patterns for a given child.

For example, a visual learner will get the best results from history lessons if they watch Historical Movies, they'll do best at reading if the words and their meanings are shown to them and they'll do well in mathematics problems like geometry where shapes are involved but won't do so well on abstract theory. Color coding things will also help pattern learners as will labelled Polaroid shots.

Pattern learners are more likely to excel in mathematics problems for which there is an established pattern. This includes multiplication tables and algebraic formulae. Their history lessons could probably benefit from a layer of abstraction and perhaps they would do best to examine the similarities and differences between similarly aged civilizations. Other good patterns occur in Science and language structure.

The verbal learners will handle prose much better than the other types of learners. They may be more able to deal with prose based mathematics questions, will be able to memorize lists such as the periodic table of elements and may find that rote learning works better for them.


Figuring out your child's preferred learning types could enable you to better address their academic needs.