Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: Social Engagement and the Steps to Being Social by Kathleen Taylor and Marci Laurel

Social Engagement & the Steps to Being Social: A Practical Guide for Teaching Social Skills to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Kathleen Mo Taylor, OTR/L and Marci Laurel, MA CCC

I was quite looking forward to reading this book, assuming from the title that it would be a handbook. As it turns out, it's a textbook which means that it targets a very different audience.

As a textbook, the material is not aimed at parents and aides but rather, at academia. It's a well written book which covers a lot of ground in terms of establishing and improving social contact between people on the autism spectrum and others.

The early chapters cover topics including the getting and retention of attention. There are also some exercises which are designed to increase attention span.

The four sections of social learning are;

  • Self Regulation
  • Shared Space
  • Shared Focus
  • Shared Pleasure

These categories contain many sub-categories which move your child from noticing that they're someone else playing beside them, through to parallel play, joint attention and exchanges though to group co-operation and friendship.

There's a section explaining the details of each of these in groups of four... the lower, middle and upper four.


Throughout the book, there are various case studies highlighting particular techniques which have worked and in the later parts of the book, there are numerous checkboxes and surveys to help you to determine the stage that a given child is at in their social engagement.

I found the book a little too academic for family use but it is certainly useful in academic circles and I expect, also with professionals,particularly in speech and occupational therapy.

Social Engagement and the Steps to being Social by Kathleen Taylor and Marci Laurel is published and available from Future Horizons and is also available from Amazon and Booktopia. It appears to be only available in paperback at the moment, though there are hints that an eBook is on its way.

I'd recommend it for professionals and academics.


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

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Review: Stressed Out! For Parents: How to Be Calm, Confident & Focused by Dr Ben Bernstein

Stressed Out! For Parents: How to Be Calm, Confident & Focused by Dr Ben Bernstein with Michelle Packard, author of Family Ever After. 

Stressed out is a bit different to the books that I normally review on Life with Aspergers, particularly because it has no direct connection to autism.

Nevertheless, stress is something that most parents are very familiar with, particularly parents with children on the spectrum. Stress is also something that people with Autism, Aspergers or Anxiety experience a great deal.

Throughout the book, it sets up scenes of parental stress ranging from bad behaviour to unmet expectations and full-on family disputes. In those early chapters, I kept expecting the information on calming down to be followed by alternate and workable solutions.

There are no solutions to parenting problems in this book. It's simply “not that kind of book”.

This book aims to make you a better parent but not because of solutions to specific problems. Like the serenity prayer, this book helps you to find your calm centre through the recognition and acceptance of the things that you cannot change.

For example, you want your daughter to clean her room and you become stressed when it doesn't happen. The book doesn't teach you how to motivate or coerce her into doing the work but teaches you to recognise that the stress and the expectations are coming FROM you. You’re bringing those to the table, not your daughter. 

At the end of the day, it’s better to have a messy and happy family than one that is stressed.

The book covers three major concepts and presents three “tools” to help with each. I'm not personally sold on every single one of the concepts in the book but that doesn't mean that they won't be more effective in the hands of people with a less cynical point of view.  Certainly the main stress reduction concepts are valid.

With acceptance out of the way, the book concentrates on empowerment, giving parents the tools to boost their personal confidence and the confidence of their children. It’s the second part of the serenity prayer; the courage to change the things you can.

As it turned out, my review copy of Stressed Out! arrived during a particularly stressful time for me (actually, the last three years or so have been super stressful). I found it very helpful and I'm now approaching my oncoming stressful "event horizon" in a much calmer manner. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by the stress in their life, regardless of whether or not it's "parenting stress".

Stressed Out! is published by familius and is available from Amazon in Kindle, Paperback, Hardback and Audible formats. It's also available from Goodreads.


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

Friday, November 18, 2016

Book Review: My Wonderful Fran: The Biography of an Amazing Girl by Paul Spelzini

My Wonderful Fran: The Biography of an Amazing Girl by Paul Spelzini

My Wonderful Fran is a touching memoir of a very talented girl by her father.

It covers her life in a very natural and straightforward way, covering her likes and dislikes, family relationships, holidays, school and sports.

While the word Aspergers is used a lot in the book, it's really much more a study of how schizophrenia can quietly enter the lives of families and how powerless we can be without appropriate support networks.

If you're the parent of a child with schizophrenia or chronic depression or if your child has been behaving suspiciously with possible intentions of suicide, then you need to read this book.

Ultimately, My Wonderful Fran is about how even the brightest and most gifted of us, with the best of families, can stumble in difficult circumstances.

My Wonderful Fran; The Biography of an Amazing Girl by Paul Spelzini is available in hardback, paperback and kindle formats from Amazon,

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


Friday, November 11, 2016

Trump, Depression and Looking After your own

So, it's happened. Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. There's been a media frenzy and amongst it all, barely even acknowledged, a wave of suicides.

So, whose fault is it? Trump's? ours? The media? The victims? More importantly, what can we do to protect our own?

The Trump presidency is a macrocosm of the microcosm I currently find myself in. Yeah, it's all about me…. it's a similar microcosm to what many people, particularly those with differences, find themselves in every day.

...and the answers are just as simple, and elusive.

It's not the end, we're still here!

Despite all his pre-election rants, no president has the authority to take away basic human rights. They can't launch nuclear weapons simply because they don't like somebody and they're not going to wander through homes deporting or imprisoning people simply because of where they were born or what their sexual preference is.

To suggest otherwise is “fear-mongering” and it's very harmful.

The Microcosm of Depression 

I've worked in the same place for sixteen years. I'm quite comfortable there. We have taken our specialised IT systems at work to levels of complexity that the original designers never dreamed of. The stability has worked wonders for me, for IT and for the company in general.

A few months ago, my boss of 10 years left the company. He was replaced by a new one who doesn't have the time or the interest to understand our current systems but simply wants to “rip and replace” them with things that he is familiar with…. regardless of effort, security or record keeping.

My once-trusted advice is now being ignored and I'm going from a position of deep expertise to a relative “newbie” in these systems. It's all very depressing.


Of course, there are rumours flying everywhere, will I be replaced? Demoted? Rendered obsolete?

It's been affecting me badly. I've hated going to work these past months and I've found myself pondering how nice it would be to just die.

Fortunately, I'm an old hand at dealing with depression and when I reach that point I know “it's the Aspergers talking” and I have to make changes in my life and thoughts.  I have responsibilities to my family and no stupid job is worth a life.

Things are a little better now. Nothing has changed except my attitude. At this point I'm going to follow the new boss into the abyss and accept the change for what it is and see what I can learn from it. All going well, I'll be an expert in the new technology in no time.

I'm not going to keep trying to rescue the company from management stupidity. It's not up to me to rescue people who don't want to be rescued. If they fail, it's on them. If they succeed, I will have learned some valuable lessons and will probably develop new respect for the new boss.

There's no need to go burning bridges but I'll be keeping my eyes open for other jobs just the same.

The Macrocosm - It's only four years 

Back to Trump. He's the president for four years.Many of his policies might sound terrible and they may have a short term negative effect on the country but then again, they might work- even if it's not for the reasons that he intended.

At the end of the day, America will still exist in four years and you'll all have another chance to vote. In the meantime, the different management style is an interesting learning opportunity (not just for America but for the rest of the world too).

Looking After Your Own

As I mentioned earlier, it's an easy slide downhill from depression to suicide and that's a real problem. Now, more than ever, we need to be protecting our vulnerable people.

Protecting people means reassuring them that you love them, that they're not alone and that they're valuable members of society - and valued FOR their differences, not “in spite of them”.

It means that we need to think twice before forwarding on yet another fear mongering meme about Donald Trump.

Sure they're funny but they're clearly affecting our vulnerable, special people - and like jobs, no stupid politician is worth a life.

Book Review: Color my Senses: The Sensory Detective Coloring Book by Paula Aquilla BSc, OT, DOMP

Color my Senses: The Sensory Detective Coloring Book by Paula Aquilla BSc, OT, DOMP is a colouring book with a difference. It goes into detail on the human sensory system and covers not only the five “major” senses of taste, touch, smell, sight and hearing but also three less discussed senses; 


  • Proprioception; knowledge of where your body is in relation to the world.



  • Interoception; knowing how you feel inside (eg: stomach grumbling)



  • Vestibular; balance and movement 


As a frequent reader of books about autism, I'm very much aware of these other senses but I think that this is the first time I've found all three in a book aimed at children.

For me, that makes this the most accurate (perhaps the only accurate) kid's book on the sensory system today.

Having introduced all of the senses, the book uses a “crossing the road” example to show how the various senses work together. It's a very effective example.

At times, the level of detail is astonishing for a kid's book and the words used never pander to the very young but remain consistent and scientific. The words visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile are used instead of simply sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

This makes the book much more interesting and useful for older children while not excluding younger readers.

Finally, there's a paragraph on sensory modulation. It never actually mentions autism or sensory issues but it leads the reader right up to that point. It makes an ideal book for a teacher to read to the class before explaining how some children and adults can experience sensory overload.

The drawings are simple and self-explanatory. They look very easy to colour in too.

The author, Paula Aquilla has been an occupational therapist for more than thirty years, she and has extensive involvement with kids with special needs. She’s the founder of the YES I CAN! INTEGRATED NURSERY SCHOOL, YES I CAN! SUMMER CAMP and the I LOVE MY BABY PROGRAM in Toronto. Paula was also the founding executive director of GIANT STEPS, a private school for children with autism, at Toronto. She runs a private practice serving children with special needs and their families.

Color my Senses by Paula Aquilla BSc, OT, DOMP is without a doubt the best book on the sensory system aimed at young children but due to the language and detail, its usefulness extends well beyond the early years and it is equally suitable for older children who need an introduction to the senses.

Color my Senses: The Sensory Detective Coloring Book is published and available in paperback from Future Horizons. It's also available from Amazon and Goodreads.

Honesty Clause: I was provided with a copy of Color my Senses free of charge for review purposes.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Book Review: Edward Unspooled by Craig Lancaster

Edward Unspooled is Craig Lancaster's latest "Edward Stanton" novel.  It follows on from the events of 600 hours of Edward, reviewed here and Edward Adrift, reviewed here.  It's funny because I really wanted more after 600 hours but felt closure after Edward Adrift. I didn't think there was much left to write about. How wrong I was. Edward Unspooled is easily the best of the three. 

Edward Unspooled is one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read - and for that reason, I read it very, very slowly trying to enjoy every nuance of it. I've only finished it now because I've gotten a backlog of other books to review.

You don't have to have read the other Edward books before reading this one but I think it probably helps. This time, the pacing is a lot tighter. Craig has dispensed with the weather reports and added a female voice to the mix. It makes things far more dynamic and personal.

One of the things that I'm always talking about on this blog is "letter writing to your partner".  (See: Letter Writing in Relationships Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 and Marriage Encounters Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4).

If you have Asperger's syndrome, particularly if you're a "writer-type aspie" like I am, this is one of the most critical tools to have in your relationship arsenel.

Without giving too much away, Edward Unspooled takes the form of a co-written diary in which a couple talk about marriage issues during a period of significant change. There's a lot going on and given that people with Asperger's syndrome don't always handle change well, there's a lot to disucss.

Edward is a masterclass in Asperger's relationship letter writing and it's a great story with enough unexpected twists and turns and a shocking moment or two to keep you hooked.

Like all the Edward books, there are no car chases, no murders, no spaceships. It's all about family and about Asperger's syndrome but mostly this time, it's about relationships. It's about give and take, about change, compromise and forgiveness.

Edward Unspooled is available from Amazon as a kindle eBook, Goodreads as a paperback and there's an audio book version available from Audible.

I honestly can't praise this book enough. Just get it. 

I'm now planning to read one of Craig's other books; The Fallow Season of Hugo Hunter, and if you've read Edward, you'll know why.



Honesty Clause: I was not provided with a review copy of this book. I simply bought it and read it because the others were so good. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Creating Job Opportunities for Your Kids with Special Needs

I've posted a few times over the years on the difficulty of finding appropriate jobs for kids with Asperger’s Syndrome and other special needs.

There's the need to find a job that matches their special interests but also doesn't involve a lot of confrontational personal contact.

You need to find a boss that is understanding of your child's differences and who knows when to push and when to relax the rules… and of course, you need to get your young adult past the interview stage.

Sometimes it's just “all too much”, sometimes you need to create that employment environment yourself.

Picking the right career 

There are two major factors influencing the choice of career;


  • Special interests 
  • Long term availability 

Special Interests

Your young adult with Aspergers will thrive in an environment that is tied to their special interests but not all interests are career-worthy.

If your young adult has an interest in cars, woodwork, animals or computers, the career opportunities are clear but if their interests lie in less career-oriented pursuits, you might have to get creative, or you might have to look for employment opportunities outside of the special interests.

Long Term Availability 

It's not a good idea to start a career in an area where the prospects are shrinking. 

For example, it's a “given” that although they're very suitable for people with Asperger’s, jobs in libraries are becoming scarce. The same goes for general store checkout jobs as these are being steadily replaced by automated systems, and by purchases over the Internet.

Even fast food and package delivery jobs are short term with drones moving in on those spaces.

The most future-proof jobs are those which need lots of “hands on” and those with permanent or growing patrons.

Setting things up for your young adult with Aspergers 

Unless you have a lot of spare cash, you'll have to start slowly, perhaps with some volunteer work just to be sure that your young adult is interested in the work.

If all goes well, you'll want to set up a company and make sure that you have the right equipment and insurance.

From there, it's just a matter of marketing. Setting up a web site is easy and can be done at low cost (or even “no cost). Distribution of pamphlets can also be done at low cost and of course, “word of mouth” counts for a lot too if you're doing a good job.

Some Business Ideas

Here's a bunch of easy “starter” ideas to try;


Gardening

Busy business people and the elderly are usually in need of gardening and/or mowing services.

Technology

Visiting the elderly and helping them to learn how to use their devices, fixing problems and helping those who can't learn to at least read and answer their email. If you arrange visits to local retirement villages and charge a small amount per person, it could become a worthwhile activity. If you're particularly proficient in computers, you could offer support to a wider audience- or even small local businesses.

Pet Services 

There are plenty of opportunities for simply dog-walking as people these days are often too busy to walk their dogs. As you become more experienced, you could offer additional services such as washing or grooming.

Child Minding and other Child Services 

There's always a need for babysitting services but there's also a lot of opportunities for after school care. It's important to note that this is one job that you can't do alone. You'll need two responsible adults at all times.

If you're academically inclined, you could offer one on one after school tutoring, or even special needs tutoring.

Driving 

Obviously there are plenty of driving jobs for delivery companies but there are also opportunities via new services such as uber.

Hairdressing and Makeup 

If you're good with cosmetics, there are plenty of opportunities to visit people ‘s houses and help them with this sort of thing. You may also be able to sell beauty products at the same time.

Photography 

There aren't so many jobs in photography now that digital cameras are so simple but there's still a lot of people out there who would pay for quality photos. If it's something that you're good at, you might want to consider pet, child or beauty photography.

Perhaps approach the local preschools and offer to take photos. You could send low resolution images to the parents and let them decide if they want to pay for them.

Other Diverse Interests

If your young adult has other diverse interests, look for a way that they can be monetised. Sometimes this is as simple as setting them up as an eBay "broker" for the buying and selling of things.

If your young adult has an interesting collection of items or has particular skills, for example, in electronics, they may want to develop a "lesson" that they can take to scout halls. The scouts are always on the lookout for low cost activities. An electronics activity that costs $5 per scout could bring in $150 if there were 30 scouts.  If the activity is successful and well received, you could branch out to schools.

Whatever you choose, let the special interest be your guide. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

If you love someone who might have Asperger's syndrome, should you tell them?

Over the years, I've been asked this question many, many times. It is a really tricky question because you never quite know how someone is going to take the news. 

The problem occurs when a neurotypical person has a partner who displays many of the signs of Asperger's syndrome but doesn't know that they have it. In this case, the relationship can quickly become very strained. A person with Asperger's syndrome needs to know that their responses are different to a person without Asperger's syndrome.  They need to know that their emotional needs are quite different from those of their partner, more different for example, than simply the differences between men and women.

Unfortunately telling someone that they have a "mental condition" never goes down very well.

Should you tell them?

If you feel that your partner would be open-minded and willing to work on adjusting to your needs - and if you're willing to adjust to theirs, then it's worthwhile telling them. If on the other hand, you're fairly sure that your partner will simply reject the information, or that it will make them angry, then it's really not going to do any good to throw a diagnosis into the mix.

Telling your Partner

If you do decide to talk to your partner about Asperger's syndrome, consider a more tactical approach.  If you have a child with Asperger's and/or suspected Asperger's then it's easy to supply your partner with books on the subject under the guise of "divide and conquer".  If you say, "we'll each read a different book on the subject and talk about what we've learned, you'll probably find that your discussions naturally lead you down the path you expected.

If on the other hand, you don't have a child who can be discussed, things are a little different.

You could try reading out a short passage from a book or from the web and saying "does this sound like you".  If your partner doesn't realise that it's a diagnostic thing, they might be more open to talking about it. If all else fails, and if your partner is willing to give things a go, you can always try the RDOS Aspie test together.

The RDOS Quiz is here; http://www.rdos.net/eng/Aspie-quiz.php  You don't have to logon if you don't want to, you can go straight to the test.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

How to help your stay-at-home adult with Asperger's syndrome to change their behaviour and get more out of life.

So, you've got a twenty-something year old with Asperger's syndrome and they're more or less, living on the couch, or on the computer or games console.

Over my last couple of posts, I've covered some of the reasons why adults with Asperger's syndrome choose to stay at home rather than enter the workforce. I've also covered some of the skills which need to be taught and practised before they're ready for work.

In this post, I want to cover the act of "taking flight"... but first, I just want to go over a couple of points;

Education & Work Together can become “Overload”

If your young adult (YA) is engaged in tertiary study, for example at a University or College, you probably can't expect them to hold down a job as well. Remember that people with Asperger's usually need time away from others, particularly after a very "social" day.

It's not impossible but I'd advise against it, especially in the first year. Working full-time and studying part time is better but again, not recommended in the first year. Give your YA time to adjust before increasing their workload and social experience.


Get Out First, Jobs are Secondary 

Unless there's a really pressing economic issue at home, there shouldn't be significant urgency on the job front. After all, you've spent years raising your child without additional support, you should be able to go a few more weeks.

If your young adult isn't even leaving the house, they're not going to be ready to jump straight into a job.

You need to work on getting them out of the house and relating to other people. You'll have to start "small", for example; getting them to go pick up some milk and bread from the store. If they don't have a car, they could walk.

Start with a short list and add more requests and more complexity, such as specific brands. After a few goes, You might even want to ask them to find items they wouldn't normally find or recognise, this will hopefully encourage them to improvise and to ask questions or seek help.

Over time,you’ll want your young adult to develop "preemptive" skills where they start to predict what you need and/or make their own shopping lists. This is what job adverts mean when they say "self-starter".

Until your young adult is capable of doing this, work is probably not the best place for them.


Work is not for Everyone 

No job-seeking technique is foolproof and that work is not necessarily for everyone.

I covered many of the reasons in my first post but it's worth remembering that the employment statistics for people with ASDs (autism spectrum disorders) are significantly lower than the general population.

This isn't necessarily “because they have autism", it's often simply because they present differently to the other candidates for a job.

Occasionally, these differences can work in their favour and make them "memorable" to the interviewers. Usually though, these individuals come off as very introverted or very nervous.

It's not that employers deliberately exclude them but simply that, particularly these days, there are far fewer jobs than there are candidates - and employers use the interview process to select not only "the best" but also "the cheapest.

Younger and less educated people are cheaper, so if prospective employers tell you that you're "over qualified" it usually means that they want to spend less.

If you don't have a good resume and you don't interview well, then your chances of employment are very low indeed.


Changing Sleeping Patterns 

When you're not working or going to school, you tend to fall into bad sleeping patterns. These start in the teen years, where they are usually restricted to weekends and holidays but when school ends, it can become a very familiar pattern and a very hard one to change.

The specific behaviour is late (past midnight) nights and late (getting up at 11am) mornings. Unless you're looking at a career as a night watchman, this will impede the whole job process. Believe it or not, prospective employers can usually tell if you just got out of bed.

The other thing about this sleeping pattern is that there's not much to do during the majority of the waking time as more than half of it is at night.

You can't do chores at night because it will wake others up. You can't be active because walking or swimming at night is dangerous - and shops are usually not open.

This means that the activities are limited to fairly passive ones, like eating, watching TV, playing computer games or reading books. There's nothing particularly wrong with these activities provided that they're done in moderation and not at the expense of “life”. Doing this every night can lead to various addictions to foods, computer games or television.

If you're the parent of a stay-at-home adult, you have to disrupt this routine and rouse your young adults at a decent time.

Of course, that's not likely to work in the long term unless they have somewhere to be.

Becoming Busy

When your YA is functioning well with the outings discussed earlier, it's time to start developing a 9-5 work pattern. To do this, you need to find things to fill in your young adult’s time.

Unfortunately housework simply won't cut it. They’ll quickly realise that housework can be done at almost any time without the need to get up early.
The distractions need to be outside the home and productive and ideally should involve the use of transport.

Using public or private transport teaches skills which are necessary for work such as planning and dealing with sudden changes in schedules and availability.

Good “time-wasters” include; free courses such as youth vocational support programs and skills classes, gym classes and volunteer work.

The best places for volunteer work are those which support already overloaded and under-funded services.

Becoming a scout leader is a great option for youth who relate well to younger generations. The scouts are always looking for volunteers and they provide a lot of free and valuable training and experience.

Working with the elderly, the homeless, or with children or pets can be an interesting and rewarding opportunity  and, of course, volunteer work still looks good on your resume.

Reduce but don't eliminate leisure interests

The main aim of this exercise is to get your young adults to interact with people on a daily basis and to prevent them from becoming “housebound” reclusiveness.

You want the youths to adopt a lifestyle that fits in well with the way that our society operates. You also need them to interact with family, so I'd recommend that mealtimes, or at least “dinner” be held at a “family table” without devices or television whenever possible.

A certain amount of chores and personal grooming are also probably to be expected but beyond that, your young adult's right to free time needs to be respected.

Their special interests, be they television or gaming or something else, should be something that they can look forward to after a long day.  After all, it’s important that they get winding down time and/or alone time if that’s what they require.


With luck, your young adult will get tired of volunteering and seek opportunities to earn money for themselves. Ideally they’ll take more steps down the road to independence - but if nothing else comes of it, then at least you’ve gotten them out of the house. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Enabling Your Teenagers to be More Independent (Stay-at-home Adults Part 2)

Last time, I looked at adults with Asperger’s syndrome who had trouble leaving the house, and who were more often than not, video-game addicted.  In particular, I looked at the possible reasons that they could have for such behaviour.

The aim of this series of posts is not to force people with Asperger’s syndrome into jobs but to enable them to live a more rewarding and fulfilling life. At best, this means becoming financially independent but in some cases, simply feeling “brave enough” to leave the house on their own is a big accomplishment.

Taking a step back from my last post,  this time I want to look at some of the ways we can prepare our kids for adulthood in modern society.


Horror Stories of Our Generation

Every generation wants to ensure that their children grow up with less hardship than they did. When I was a child, my parents took great delight in telling me about the things they had to do as children. I was horrified to learn that things that I took for granted, like hot baths and spin dryers were huge chores for them and involved long and complicated processes like boiling water and wringing out clothes.

The "horror stories" that I tell my own kids pale in comparison. Things like having to get up to change the TV channel, having only 2 or 16 colours in video games, having to catch a variety of public transport to school and worst of all, actually being punished if you didn't do your homework. I can't help but wonder if perhaps we've made things just a little too easy on the next generation.

Back "in my day", television was considered to be the all-pervasive consumer of time but luckily we had very few shows and channels to choose from - and of course, TV only ran in the morning and afternoon/evening. It all ended in the middle of the day and around midnight. Computer gaming didn’t really start to take off until I hit my late teens (and then I was hooked).

These days there's so many distractions on TV, and enough channels and extra content via video streaming and computer games to last kids a lifetime. It's unlikely that they will ever become bored enough to leave the house.  The pervasiveness of media and the threat of addiction is higher than ever.

A side-effect of that pervasiveness is that, just like a house-cat which never gets to go outside and doesn't develop a proper "road-sense", our kids simply aren't getting enough exposure to the outside world to become fully independent adults. 

Working on Independence

In "the old days" when there were fewer distractions to keep kids off the street there was a lot of social interaction and kids learned a lot from the school of life. These days, unless you're homeschooling, those learning opportunities no longer exist.

There are a few skills that kids need to achieve a certain level of proficiency in. Of course, I’m not talking about kids with major intellectual disabilities, though if they can master any of these skills, it’s highly recommended.

I had hoped to go into detail about how exactly to teach these "missing skills" but of course, now that I've made a list and realised how big it is, it's going to have to happen in another post.

Skills for Independence

There are obviously thousands of things that you need to teach your kids ranging from the basics like "talking" through to more complex tasks like tying shoelaces, the academic tasks like arithmetic and full-on adult life skills, such as shopping for a house. These are all important skills  but at this point in time, I'm concentrating on the skills that are required for independence (and in particular, those which could help a young adult).

The majority of these "life-skills" are not usually taught at school so you need to consider alternatives such as scouting or do the teaching yourself. Of course, home-schooled kids often don't have these gaps.

To make this easier to read, I've tried to separate the skills into general areas and so, without further ado, here are the lists;

Communications Skills

You would be right in assuming that most young adults are perfectly capable of communicating their basic needs - to their parents. You might be surprised however to find that they're not quite so capable in the workplace. Many young adults with Asperger's syndrome would rather work through a lunch-hour than tell their boss that they need to stop and get some food.

The basic communications skills that young adults need to develop are as follows;

  • Stating their needs (food, drink, sleep etc)
  • Standing up for themselves 
  • Asking for help and/or directions
  • Stating their contact details, such as where they live, telephone numbers etc.
  • Saying "No" to strangers 


Hygiene Skills

You might think that you have a very hygienic young adult living with you but the question to ask is; what happens when you're not around to pressure them into various hygiene tasks? Do they change their clothes daily? Take showers? Wash? Use deodorant? Are your kids independently hygienic?

The hygiene skills that young adults most need to develop are;

  • Automatic hygienic behaviour (doing things without being asked)
  • Washing their hands properly and regularly 
  • Eating hygienically
  • Washing and grooming 
  • Deodorant 
  • Tooth brushing and breath management 
  • Dressing properly 


People Skills

People represent a vast area of unpredictable behaviour and young adults who interact with people need to be able to identify problems ahead of time and to deal with unexpected reactions from people. The main people-skills that young adults need to master are;


  • Identifying safe vs dangerous people (which people can be trusted?)
  • Relationship Dos & Don'ts (how to speak to people, how to treat people and what not to do)
  • Bullying (how to know that you're being bullied and how to react)
  • Peer pressure (how to identify peer pressure and how to choose your own path)
  • Anger management (how to avoid meltdowns in public)
  • When conversations turn bad (how to know when to stop talking & what not to talk about)
  • Taking care of others (looking out for other people's feelings)


Food Skills

Food skills is another area in which you may feel that your young adult is already proficient. Again, the test is to go away for a weekend and leave them to fend for themselves.. and then return to find out what they lived off.  If your kid lived off ice cream and cookies, you know there are some food problems that need to be dealt with. The food skills they need to develop are;

  • Knowing what is safe to eat (and when - local food quality differs from one place to another)
  • Basic eating manners 
  • Appropriate dinner conversations 
  • Food Choices 
  • Basic Cooking (steaks, salads etc)
  • Putting things away (in particular, putting things in the fridge after use).


Getting About Skills

The getting about skills are aimed at getting your young adult to and from the places they need to go. It's fairly common for people with Asperger's syndrome to be uncomfortable with driving. As such, learning to make the most of public transport is a must;

  • Working out where you are (and finding your way home)
  • Finding safe places to sleep, if necessary 
  • Understanding transport timetables
  • Using public transport and planning to be on time for appointments
  • Using Google maps and other location apps 
  • Identifying unsafe places (such as alleyways) and avoiding them
  • Confronting people on the street (thugs, police, strangers and unexpected friends)
  • How not to panic on public transport (when things go wrong)


Next Time

That's a lot of teaching but it's all very important. I've spent a lot of time going over these things with my two sons and we have regular refreshers whenever we plan day trips and other events. 

I plan to follow this post (later) with some specific posts about how to teach these particular skills but next time, I'll be covering part 3 of this series, 

How to help your stay-at-home adult with Asperger's syndrome to change their behaviour and get more out of life. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Stay-At-Home Adults with Asperger's Syndrome - Part 1 Are there Any Reasons?

It's becoming an increasingly common story, a capable 20+ year old with Asperger's syndrome, living at home with their parents, unwilling to leave the comfort of the house - or their gaming console.

There's a lot to discuss in this scenario but I want to break it down into three posts.


  • Reasons for the Behaviour
  • Preventing the Behaviour 
  • Changing the Behaviour


In this post, I want to touch on whether or not there are valid excuses for this behaviour.

Excuse or No Excuse?

For the most part, there aren't too many good excuses for this kind of behaviour in a young adult with reasonable communication skills.  Asperger's syndrome itself is not an excuse.

That said, there are actually, some good excuses for this kind of behaviour;

Lower Functioning Individuals; 

I specifically mentioned “capable” earlier as a means of “filtering out” individuals who have difficulties which are significant enough to make them a danger to themselves or others, or who for intellectual or executive functioning reasons, can't perform any job or cannot leave the house without appropriate supervision.

In adults, these traits would have to be pretty severe as there are many individuals in the workforce who are great examples of what others with similar issues can achieve.

Drug dependence. 

Some prescribed medications and some recreational drugs will prevent some individuals from going out in public.

If it's a recreational drug "habit" then, as parents, that's probably your first responsibility. There's no point in helping a person with a drug problem to get a job. You need to help them off the drugs first -- and you can't do that without their co-operation.

If it's prescribed, then there's little that you can do (if the drug is absolutely needed). Don't forget that people often grow out of prescription drugs. By that, I mean that they continue to use them long after the drug has lost its effectiveness. You may once your children reach their late teens, you should be looking at whether or not they still need to be on the medications they needed for school.  Chances are that they've learned to self-regulate -- or if they haven't yet, then with reduced drug usage, perhaps they can.

The other thing to remember is that there are other drugs about. If you find that one "necessary" medication prevents your child from functioning well, you might want to ask your doctor if there are any alternatives.

Other conditions

Asperger's by itself isn't enough to force a person to remain at home but remember, Asperger's is rarely a lone traveler. Some of the common co-conditions such as; severe anxiety, oppositional defiant syndrome (ODS), Bi-Polar, depression  or schizophrenia can make work impossible.

If your child has experienced trauma, you need to remember that sometimes this can produce a form of Post-Traumatic Distreas Syndrome (PTDS).

As the strength and impact of these varies from one individual to another, you'll need to deal with these before tackling the job situation. 


Apart from these conditions, (and probably quite a few others I've missed), there's no reason why a person with Asperger's syndrome cannot live a full and functional life after school.  Computer game addiction is obviously a significant factor, as is run-of-the-mill anxiety.


Next Time: I want to cover some of the ways in which you can enable your children in their formative years and help them to grow into independent adults. Effectively, correcting the problem before it happens. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster

Edward Adrift

The Sequel to 600 Hours of Edward
by Craig Lancaster

A Review.

It's been almost seven years since I reviewed 600 Hours of Edward on this blog. It was one of the first books I reviewed here.

At the time, I said that I finished it and wanted more. Edward is a very likeable character and I always felt that a sequel was needed.

Imagine my surprise when out of the blue, Amazon's "recommended reading for you" page offered a sequel - and at a very reasonable price too.

I really wanted to go back and re-read the first book but unfortunately I simply don't have the time these days. I guess that means that you can pick up this book without having read the first one.

A Well-Rounded and Accomplished Sequel

Edward Adrift feels like a much accomplished book than its predecessor. It seems longer and more complete. It really feels like two stories but they're so expertly entwined that one naturally leads into the other.

Edward Adrift is a great book which is full of humour and emotion. It's part “road trip” and part self-discovery. It's not "action packed" and nearly everything in the book happens on an emotional level but if you like character driven books, it's great.

In a way, it feels a little like a male with Asperger's version of Bridget Jones.. minus the sex of course, remember it's an "aspie" male's point of view, Edward is really too awkward around people for that sort of thing.  

The main character of Edward is still as enjoyable as he was in the first book and he really shines as a person with Asperger's syndrome. He's a very well-rounded three dimensional character whose symptoms and traits meet the criteria without ever feeling forced.

It's a great book for anyone involved with Asperger's or special needs because it puts the reader into his thought processes.  Edward's obsession with the weather and specific television shows is still there but at the same time, you can see how these obsessions are changing as the world around him changes, and sets him adrift.

It's a great low-key story and like the first Edward, it would make great movie material with the right crew.

Edward Adrift is a highly recommended and very enjoyable read by Craig Lancaster and it is available on Amazon in a variety of formats; Kindle, Paperback, Audiable and CD.

As it turns out, there's a third chapter, Edward Unspooled which was just released. I've already bought it so there'll be a review of that soon. (As a consequence Books 1 and 2 are on special).


The three Edward books are available on Amazon;


Honesty Clause: I purchased Edward Adrift with absolutely no urging from anyone simply because I enjoyed the first book so much. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Review: Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum  Disorders: Practical Strategies for Home, School and Community. (Revised and Expanded Second Edition) (Revised and Expanded Second By Phyllis Coyne, Mary Lou Klagge and Colleen Nyberg.

It's fairly common for very young children to be quite “clingy” and to be more or less incapable of dealing with spare time.

What you might not realise is that many older children and young adults experience difficulty with the concept of free time. Even older adults, who are verbally challenged and are on the autism spectrum experience these issues.

The problem is that since these people can't manage their free time without assistance, they will often "get into trouble" if left alone for more than five minutes.

As a result, the parents and caregivers of these people are often unable to take even short breaks for self hygiene without risk unless they arrange for substitute care.

The aim of this book is to help people with autism to develop their leisure time skills to effectively "keep themselves occupied".

The Aims of this Book

Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum  Disorders is essentially a textbook and it is primarily aimed at people working with several kids on the autism spectrum.

Parents of kids and young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) will certainly get value out of the book but teachers and occupational therapists will get far more value because many of the included forms and templates are designed for people managing groups and will make it easy to get to know new students and to begin communicating on leisure activities.

The authors are mainly concerned with less verbal and non-verbal individuals and indeed, most of the later sections, particularly those with social stories and cards deal with communicating with the less verbal members of the ASD community.

The book starts by introducing three differently aged people with autism. It goes on to discuss the sorts of leisure activities and sensations that they like and dislike. These three people are used as examples in various chapters throughout the rest of the book..

Layout and Activities 

This is a large sized book with big print and it's very easy to read and designed to be photocopied (for forms).  Some the interesting forms and examples match activities to sensory seeking behaviour, for example, a child who loves the sensation of having the wind in their face may enjoy an activity like bike riding.

There's about 112 pages of text, then just as many pages of appendices.  The appendices are very practical and contain many forms, glossaries of terms and activity cards.  The appendices also contain descriptions of games that can be played with associated activity stories.  There are activity stories and cards for real life leisure activities like bowling swimming, fishing, going to the park. These cover preparation, the activity itself and a review of the activity.

The Zoo - A Social Story

Activity cards (social stories) are included social outings, hobbies, and physical activities which range from calling friends to scrapbooking, basketball,  roller skating, and various art projects

You will finish this book with a good understanding of how to create activity cards for your own child or those under your care.

Where to get this Book

Developing Leisure Time Skills for People with Autism Spectrum  Disorders: Practical Strategies for Home, School and Community. (Revised and Expanded Second Edition) (Revised and Expanded Second By Phyllis Coyne, Mary Lou Klagge and Colleen Nyberg. is available in paperback from Future Horizons Inc and Amazon.


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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Like Houses, Relationships need Constant Work

I've been reading and writing blogs on Asperger's syndrome since 2007.

Over the years many of the blogs I was following have closed down and disappeared. Others have experienced a decline in posts until finally they fall silent. 

Of course, I still have my feelers (RSS feed reader) out there and every now and then one of those blogs reactivates, though usually only for a lone post or two.

The Post

This happened earlier this week. The blog in question is from a neurotypical (normal) lady married to a man with Asperger's. The blog is mostly one-sided and often contains an angry rant.

The relationship doesn't seem to be a happy one and clearly the author is not getting the respect that she needs from the relationship.

To her credit, she has such high morals and is so devoted to her religion, that she won't leave, she simply struggles and endures (and complains).

Her recent post was about how, as soon as they stopped marriage counselling, things went right back to square one. It brought tears to my eyes. I’ve followed her blog for years and feels like having a friend in pain.


Partnerships and Houses

All marriages and indeed, all relationships (even those between parents and their children), need constant work.

The analogy is like a house. When it's new, it doesn't seem to need much work but as the years go on, it needs to be maintained or things will start to go wrong.

Counselling is like getting a cleaner in -- or if it's really expensive and prolonged counselling, it's like putting a new kitchen in.

Sure, it makes things look new again but it's only one part of the house and it's using the old plumbing.

Without continuous solid work, it will all go downhill again - and it's always a faster downhill ride that second time.

Weathering the Storms 

Back with our housing analogy, there's the question of the elements. The western side of the house that gets more sun may fade more quickly than the eastern side, though the eastern side may possibly be more subject to damp and wood rot.

The house may have weathered some fierce storms but they could have affected it in totally different ways. It could have blown the roof off on one side and cleared the scrub away from me Windows on the other.

There are always external factors impacting on relationships. These could be work, family, financial, medical or other issues.

Oddly enough, even though the same issues may hit the two parties in a relationship with the same force, our experiences and personalities greatly affect how it is perceived.

One example in my relationship was our exit from scouting. We exited over an adult bullying issue in which my wife was the victim.  I quit partially to show support for her and partially because I saw that the "people at the top" were keen to sweep bullying issues under the carpet. I couldn't be a part of that.

In my wife's eyes, this has soured that experience, and volunteering in general. For me however, I remember that time with great affection. I learned a lot from it, I met a lot of nice people, I had a lot of fun and most of all, I feel like I helped a lot of kids. I look at the bullies and the administration as simply "pests" -- and I refuse to allow them to sour the experience.

Asperger's is a “strange filter”

Everyone deals with impact in a different way, after all, we're all individuals.

Of course even taking individual behaviour into account, there are patterns. Two females will often react to a given impact in a way that is more similar than a male and a female.

Two people from a poorer economic background may deal with news of a retrenchment differently to a couple from a more diverse economic background.

Our “filters” help to shape the way we receive news - and the way we react.

It's difficult but not impossible to "put yourself in the shoes" of someone with a certain filter. We frequently find ourselves doing exactly this when we read books or write stories. We get inside our characters.

Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard.

One thing that I have learned over the years though is that it's especially difficult for people with Asperger's syndrome to get into the character of a person without - and the same is true, probably even more difficult, in the opposite direction.

It's easy to see why couples who are a mix of neurotypical and Asperger's might face more struggles than most.

Communication 

The key is communication. Remember that people with Asperger's have difficulty reading emotions in neurotypical body language.They also have a tendency to express emotions differently to neurotypical people.

You have to constantly tell them, how you feel, why you feel that way and what you need from them. It works in the opposite direction too. You can't simply assume that because they're smiling, they're happy - you need to talk about it.

Keep talking positively and you're more than halfway to good relationship maintenance.

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.