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.

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.