Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: Autism and the Extended Family: A Guide for those Outside the Immediate Family who know and love Someone with Autism by Raun Melmed M.D. & Maria Wheeler M.Ed

Autism and the extended family is a book with an unusual feel to it. In fact, it's opening chapters felt so different that I was initially wondering if I would like the book. As it turns out, the language is completely appropriate and it is a good book. It's just that being as close to autism as I am, I'm not in the target audience.

Where most autism books jump right in and talk about the details of autism from the inside, this book remains firmly outside the circle, keeping the outsider’s viewpoint. To be honest, the opening chapters reminded me a lot of “Autism speaks” literature but don't worry, it gets a lot better from there. The book is trying to speak to outsiders and it needs to use concepts that they can understand.

This book talks about high functioning individuals but it feels much more like a book for families with more difficult and more "hands on" forms of autism.

The book starts with a "welcome to my world" chapter,  I can't tell you how many times have I my wife utter that particular phrase to extended family member. Following this is a section on grief, particularly grief following an initial diagnosis. This chapter walks you through how each of the stages may present in different individuals with good advice and cautions on what to say and what not to say.

Other chapters cover Grandparents, making particular note that their frailty can often preclude their direct involvement with very active children with autism but at the same time making it very clear how they can support their families. For example, via financial assistance or by taking a grandchild without autism out to allow the parents to concentrate on the child who needs more attention.

There are chapters which cover siblings from various points of view including; how outsiders can interact with siblings to reduce sibling rivalries or jealousies. Older sibling relationships are also explored, particularly aunts and uncles who may need to help out their adult brothers and sisters when dealing with a child with autism gets too much for them.

Other parts of the book cover step-families and blended families, close friends and cousins. The book closes with a chapter on holidays, covering sensory overload, careful decorating, minimising noise and smells and providing safe areas for individuals with autism.

All things considered, “Autism and the Extended Family” does exactly what it says on the cover, it provides a good guide for people outside the immediate family, to help them to understand what is going on and how they can help. 

At 125 easy-to-read pages, full of great case examples, it's short enough to read cover to cover in a couple of hours.

If someone in your extended family has just been diagnosed with autism, this is the book to get - for yourself, not for them. There are many better books on autism which are more suitable for parents and people with autism but this is probably the best resource for members of the extended family.

Autism and the Extended Family: A Guide for those Outside the Immediate Family who know and love Someone with Autism by Raun Melmed M.D. & Maria Wheeler M.Ed Is available from Future Horizons, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository.

Honestly clause; I was provided with a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why kids with Asperger's need to do Chores... and why they need to be doing them well.

When I was growing up, I liked to potter about in my father’s garage. He used it as a work shed and it was full of awesome tools. I used to try to make things, just like he did but all of my efforts produced pretty poor results.

Most of the time, it didn't matter. I built a few rather pathetic wooden Star Wars themed toys and I played with them and loved them regardless.

My father was less easily pleased, often telling me that I was wasting good wood. On the odd occasion that he did get involved with my creations (never on frivolous Star Wars things of course), he would take them over entirely.

I was generally fairly happy when he did this. It meant that I didn't have to do work that I wasn't suited for and he always did a much better job. I'd watch for a little while and then wander off to do something useful while he completed my work.

Consequently, I learned nothing about woodcraft despite having a dad who was one of the top craftsmen of his time. I learned to be helpless in that particular field.

The same thing happened with mechanics and several other trades. I used to blame my dad for being a "poor teacher" and a bit of a perfectionist but if I'm really honest, the truth was that I was secretly relieved to be able to drop my burden on someone else.

All kids are inherently lazy when it comes to things that aren't "fun". Nobody will do anything that they don't have to, if they can see a way to avoid it. The kids of today, with their preference for staying indoors and playing computer games are particularly talented at this and are experts at manipulating their parents into doing the chores for them.

What Goes around Comes Around
Fast forward a few decades from my childhood and I find myself on the other side of the fence doing exactly the same thing to my own kids. I'll find myself taking the garbage out because I'm too tired to follow the kids around and correct all their mistakes, In fact, often I'll do the chores extra early while they're sleeping in because it's a way to avoid conflict and to get things done to my level of satisfaction.  It's the cheater's way out, I know.

When I do ask the kids to take the rubbish out and I later discover that the rubbish has been tossed "at the bin" instead of in it. Full garbage bags have been dragged instead of carried and have burst on the concrete (or worse, inside the house), leaving a pile of foul smelling rubbish (and liquid) everywhere, sometimes even on the carpet.

When I get to the bin, I find that the recycling bin is full of household rubbish, something that our council will fine us for, and the lid is up, leaving the rubbish to blow all around the neighbourhood. I've lost count of the number of times I've chased bits of paper up and down our street trying to fix this particular problem.

The hinges on our bin and the ground around it is strewn with rubbish and the bins inside the house no longer have bin liners and quickly start to leak and smell.

When you try to bring the problems up with your teenage kids they quickly turn it into an argument, the end of which is always "if you don't like it, YOU do it".

It's not hard to see why parents will frequently do these jobs themselves rather than entrust it to their kids.

A Self Perpetuating Problem
The problem is that although it makes the both the parent’s and the child’s life easier, it doesn't do the kids any favours. As a parent, you're teaching your child that if they do a poor job of something they hate, they can be excused from the activity. It's a lesson that they’ll take to school and later, to work, where they'll find that being "excused" is actually "being fired".

There are a few lessons that every child needs to learn if they are to be successful in the workplace;

  1. Do what you are asked to do, when you are asked to do it.
    Not in your own good time. When it comes to work, your schedule affects everybody else.
  2. Do what needs to be done cheerfully.
    Not with arguments, not with a scowl  and certainly not with a temper.
  3. Do it once, do it right.
    Sloppy work just makes more work for others. Short-cuts make a task take longer.
  4. Anticipation is better than being told to do something.
    It's better to see a job that needs doing and ask someone if they want it done than it is to stand around and wait to be told.
  5. You can do it if you try.
    Kids need all the confidence boosters they can get.
  6. There's no shame in asking for help.
    If a job is too difficult or you're not sure where to start, ask for help.
  7. Sometimes you just have to do your best.
    Nobody is perfect and even experts make mistakes. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. 

As parents we need to put these rules into practice if we want our kids to be able to hold down a job…. And that "practice" starts at home.  Learning to do jobs independently, and to do them well, is the best way to avoid "learned helplessness". 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Book Review: The Loving Push by Temple Grandin and Debra Moore

The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help Spectrum Kids become Successful Adults
By Temple Grandin Ph.D and Debra Moore Ph.D.
Future Horizons 2015.

The Loving Push is a very different type of autism book. It's aimed at the parents of teens and young adults with autism (or Asperger's syndrome) and it concentrates mainly on what comes after school. I've found very few books aimed at this audience and this one is undoubtedly the best. 

At 200 fairly densely packed pages, this is a moderate read which unlike other books of its kind does not frequently retread the same ground.

The opening chapter talks about real people with autism and/or Asperger's syndrome who have transitioned to adulthood with varying measures of success.  This is not a book of stories about geniuses and many of the young adults in the first chapter simply have "independence" as their main goal. It's a very sobering and realistic look at what comes next.

The second chapter outlines three of the biggest factors on the road to success;

  1. Avoiding Learned Helplessness
  2. Learning Optimism and Resisting Habitual Negative Thinking
  3. The Critical Impact of Mentors
It's in this chapter that the book really clarifies its title; "The Loving Push".  It can't be emphasised enough that sometimes as a parent you need to back off and push your kids to do things for themselves. 

Chapter 3 covers breaking bad habits, like being unmotivated or reacting badly to problems and failures. This chapter also spends some time comparing the lifestyles of young adults with autism and neurotypical "normal" young adults. It's a great comparison which will have many parents nodding their heads as the realisations hit.

Chapter 4 deals with stretching your young adults beyond their comfortable boundaries while chapter 5 deals with apathetic or anxious people. These chapters are full of great tips and real life examples, many of which are from the parents and kids in the opening chapter.

It's Chapter 6 that really is the eye-opener in this book. As a person with a long history of computer gaming, I've always had issues with Temple's crusade against gaming. I'm pretty sure that I was tensed up ready to reject the whole chapter as "a worry based on her age".  That's not the case. This is a really scary chapter which goes into a lot of detail on the mechanics of gaming addiction and the reasons why our children, with Asperger's syndrome or autism, are particularly at risk.

There were many parts of this chapter which had me acknowledging not only my kids behaviours but those of their friends ... and indeed my own behaviour in my younger days. One thing is for sure, we'll be looking more closely at how gaming occurs in our family in the future.

Chapter 7 is all about teaching vital life skills to your child before they become an adult. It covers chores, breaking steps down, using technology to better manage oneself, driver education, interactions with the police and even romantic entanglements. It's a very good chapter but to be honest, my mind was still reeling after chapter 6 and I'm not sure that I took it all in.

There's a great example cited by a professor in chapter 7 where he talks about kids who attend college but have never had to use an alarm clock.  Normally their mothers wake them, find their clothes, remind them to get dressed and to have their breakfast. This is great while they're at home but parents who do too much for their kids at home actually put them at a disadvantage.  The loving push is what is really needed.

The loving push is hands down, the best autism book aimed at late teens (through to mid-twenties and sometimes beyond). If you have one of these kids already, this is the book to get.... particularly if they spend "too much time" on the computer and/or in their bedroom.  If you don't have a teen yet but have a younger child, this book is still a great one to get.  It will become increasingly valuable as your kids get older and the earlier the techniques in the book are applied, the better.

I really can't praise this book enough. 

The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help Spectrum Kids become Successful Adults
By Temple Grandin Ph.D and Debra Moore Ph.D. is available from;

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