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.

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.


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.


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.


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.