The Autism Blog

Mindful Monday – More Being and Less Doing For The Holidays

If you found your Thanksgiving holiday to be more doing (shopping, cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, hosting, cleaning again) than being (listening, breathing, walking, seeing things and people in a simpler light, enjoying special moments), there’s still hope for you!

The next round of holidays is just around the corner and now is the time to set an intention to s-l-o-w down! Many people have come to realize how stressful this time of year can be and with a child with ASD, even more so.  While some things are not within your control to change, some are. Here are some tips:

  • Think about your traditions and appraise them in the here and now. For example, if you have always sent out holiday cards, ask if this is still meaningful for you and the recipients. Can you update your list of recipients and shorten it? If this year is particularly stressful, consider not sending cards this year and revisiting the issue next year. If you are nagged by “I should” and “I always”, ask yourself what the worst- case scenario would be if you skip this year. Will anyone disown you?
  • Decide more is not better. Too often we spend extra time and money on “filler” such as what goes into a child’s stocking. I realized one year that I spent almost as much on the little stuff as I did on the “main present”. My answer was to stuff the lower half of the stocking with new socks and then add a few items on top. If you have many people on your list for gifts, just give one. Radical idea for the kids, I know! But as kids get older, the things they want are smaller and more expensive. There’s no need to buy more just so they have a lot to open. Last year I bombed on a number of items I bought for my family – things they didn’t really need or want. I vowed to recall this next time. It was one gift that made their day.
  • Call to mind the small yet meaningful aspects of the holiday. We tend to get caught up in the gift-giving part and breeze past the moments that truly count. It could be the smell of fresh pine or a song that brings back childhood memories. This year decide to pay attention, to notice the small things. Make a mental note of them.
  • Set your own pace. Television and the internet will convince you that time and gifts are running out and that you better hurry or else you’ll miss out. Turn it off. Tune it out. Recognize that the purpose of this is to sell something. Slow down and think through your list.
  • Refrain from comparing. Expectations tend to be our downfall when it comes to the holidays. We compare ourselves with our own parents, other families, fictitious families on TV, Face Book families (they seem fictitious sometimes too!) and storybook families of holidays long, long ago. Instead of comparisons, think of possibilities. Leave some room for being adaptable to whatever may come your way.

Wishing you love, peace, and quiet this holiday season!

 

 

 

 

The Autism Blogcast with Jim and Raphe – December Edition

News Flash: The December edition of The Autism Blogcast, featuring autism experts Raphael Bernier, PhD and James Mancini, MS, CCC-SLP.

In an effort to keep you up to date on the latest news in research and community happenings, we welcome two of our favorite providers best known as Jim and Raphe, the autism news guys.

These two have too much energy to be contained in written format so our plan is to capture them in 2-5 minute videos that we’ll post the first week of each month. We welcome your questions and comments. Tell us what you think of our dynamic duo!

In this edition of the Blogcast, our reporters provide a special report from China. 

A Social Story From Seattle Children’s Autism Center

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December. A month that for many brings holiday cheer, visits with family and friends, bargain shopping, twinkling lights, festive carols and songs, new memories, extra fun and novel experiences.

For others, it is a month filled with overwhelming family gatherings, endless shopping lists, crowded stores, bright lights, overplayed jingles, disrupted routines, and extra stress and chaos. In effort to support your children, and family, during the holiday buzz, try reading the social story “Celebrating the Holidays.” This interactive story allows you to talk with your child about the holiday(s) your family celebrates, and to write in your specific family plans to help prepare your child. You can download the holiday powerpoint presentation here Celebrating the Holidays Social Story.

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In His Own Words: An Interview With Trevor

bannerWe’d like to introduce you to our guest for today’s blog. Trevor is 23 years old and is the Media Director of his family’s business, Consetta Group.

 

 

Lynn: At what age were you diagnosed with ASD?

Trevor: At age 5

Lynn: Do you recall what and when your parents told you about your diagnosis?

Trevor: It was more I heard here and there growing up from my parents that I had autism, except for years I didn’t even know what it was. So the fact that I knew I was autistic had no effect on my childhood.

Lynn: Did you participate in any therapies such as ABA or speech or occupational therapy?

Trevor: Yes, I had speech therapy when I was little, and from Kindergarten through sixth grade I had extra accommodations through my school to help with social skills. I had these same types of accommodations in middle school and high school to focus on my academics, and in college I had occasional accommodations to help me in test taking.

Lynn: Did you participate in special education in school? Were you in an inclusion classroom or a contained classroom?

Trevor: The special accommodations I mentioned above during grade school were set in a separate room from my usual classroom, and was with one or two other students on the spectrum. I had none of this in middle school, but in high school I was placed in a special class to help students struggling with their grades.

Lynn: What has been the most challenging part of ASD for you?

Trevor: Making friends. It was never a problem for me in middle school or grade school, as I never had much of a desire to make friends. It was in high school and on to today where it became a desire and struggle for me.

Lynn: What do you think helped you the most with this challenge?

Trevor: It was mostly a matter of trial and error. The more people I met with, the better idea of who I wanted to be friends with. Eventually the right friends came to me, and they helped me to learn what being a good friend is about.

Lynn: Do you know young adults who have severe ASD?

Trevor: I know of several young adults with severe ASD, but none well enough to give a knowledgeable description about.

Lynn: If so, how do you think “your ASD” and “their ASD” are similar or different?

Trevor: Everyone’s story is different. I have never met two cases of ASD or Down syndrome that were exactly the same. One may be nonverbal, one may be more independent. It’s important that we not categorize between levels of functionality, because they are limitless.

Lynn: Do you think you have an understanding of how someone with severe ASD experiences/processes the world?

Trevor: I honestly do not. In order to know how someone experiences the world, you have to step in their brain for a day.

Lynn: What do you think about the idea that ASD isn’t a disability but a difference in thinking or personality?

Trevor: I think that it is unacceptable how few people grasp this concept. While people with disabilities may not be able to do commonly acceptable tasks such as writing, talking, or living independently, they still have so many other abilities involving the mind that others would only dream of having.

Lynn: When you think back on growing up, what do you think the adults in your life got right?

Trevor: That we need to respect and obey our authorities, for they are our role models.

Lynn: When you think back on growing up, what do you think the adults in your life got wrong?

Trevor: Their priorities in what I need to learn in school were all wrong. They try to say, “If you don’t do well in this subject you’ll never get a job!” But from what I now can tell, there is a profession for everyone big or small, even if it’s just putting labels on jars like I heard one person with ASD does for a living.

Lynn: There’s so much about ASD that we still don’t understand. What is your hope when it comes to current efforts at understanding what causes it and how we help those affected by it?

Trevor: We should not be worried about what causes it, because that immediately sets us into a mindset that autism is a curable disease. Our focus must be on how we can help children with ASD to know what their strengths are, and how to use them. I also would like to see the educational system accommodate itself to fit in with what the student is genuinely great at doing.

 

Ask Dr. Emily – The Function of Stealing and Cognitive Rigidity

Welcome to the November edition of Ask Dr. Emily!

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Rastall, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format. We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Rastall will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to theautismblog@seattlechildrens.org.

 

Q: My name is Chris, and I work in a high school with our ASD student population (high functioning). This past week I’ve dealt with two separate students involved in theft (a teacher’s laptop and the master school key). I was wondering if you could comment on the typical function of stealing for people on the spectrum? Is it common? Neither student was able to express why they had stolen their respective items, and both were aware of the negative consequences associated with getting caught. I’m finding it difficult to come up with a contingency plan with them when I can’t identify the function of the behavior we’re trying to replace. Any resources you think might help would also be very appreciated!

A: Thank you for your question. I’m not sure there is a universal “typical function” of this behavior for individuals with ASD. However, there are some special considerations to make when looking at the function of this behavior in children with ASD. For example, executive functioning skills in kids with ASD are often less developed than their typical peers, so they have a more difficult time thinking about consequences and/or resisting impulses. Though they may know the consequences, in that moment when they see something they want, their brains aren’t thinking about those consequences and aren’t able to resist the impulse to take.

In addition, we know that kids with ASD often have a hard time considering the perspective of others, so they are less likely to think about how taking an item will affect others. Also, items may be increasingly appealing if they fit within the restricted interests of a child with ASD.  Finally, kids with ASD may have a harder time communicating their needs, so taking items is a quick and easy way of “bypassing the ask.”

No matter the purpose, it’s not uncommon for kids to have a hard time explaining why it was that they took a particular item; I often hear, “I don’t know.” or “I just wanted it.” The truth is, they may not actually know or they may not have the words to describe it.

Regarding behavior planning, a functional behavior analysis (with someone who knows ASD well) is probably where you want to start. As far as intervention, broadly, just like for all humans, behavior changes are made via reinforcement of “the right” behaviors. Thus, we might start by praising and rewarding impulse control behaviors, like raising a hand in class (“I could tell you really wanted to speak out, but you raised your hand instead.”) and/or asking for desired items/privileges (“I appreciate you asking to use my pencil before taking it from my desk.”).

Another option might be to reward the absence of stealing behaviors. We might also teach scripts for how to ask for things and/or how to negotiate politely and effectively; when scripts are used, praise and rewards are given to promote continued use. For more resources about behavior management in the classroom, the following books might be helpful:

Positive Behavior Support in the Classroom (Jackson and Panyan)

A Work in Progress:  Behavior Management Strategies and Curriculum for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of Autism (Leaf and McEachin)

Coaching Students with Executive Functioning Deficits (Dawson and Guare)

 

Q: Thank you for your informative blog. It has answered so many questions. I was wondering if a friend’s fixation or obsession and competiveness are common in high functioning autism. My 11-year-old son has a mate with Asperger’s/autism (many titles here in Oz), that has a real fixation with being with my son constantly and having to have whatever he has and do whatever he does. It was fine when they were toddlers, but lately my son has found it tiresome and wants to form other friendships. As a mum I’ve suggested not catching up as often and both adding new friends, but as they attend the same school and sporting activities, this can be a challenge.

A: Thank you for your question. One of the primary diagnostic criteria for ASD is what we call “cognitive rigidity.” This might manifest as “getting stuck,” having a hard time making changes, or becoming overly focused on items, ideas, and/or people. As the social expectations increase throughout development, it is not uncommon for kids with ASD to have a hard time “keeping up with” the changes that need to occur to maintain friendships. I also want to mention, though, that it’s not uncommon for all kids to go through changes in their friendships, the root of which could be any number of things: Changes in location or school, changes in interests, family changes, personality preference changes.

It sounds like your son may be experiencing what is a normal part of growing up—shifting and changing of friend groups and interests. Luckily, this is a life lesson in kindness, tolerance, and inclusion. We want to teach kids that it is okay to outgrow friends, but never to become unkind or purposefully exclude others. While your son and his friend may move on to different friend groups, we want to encourage continued care, tolerance, and empathy for one another (they will continue seeing a lot of each other at school and extracurriculars, after all).

Bottom line: We want to help your son branch out, but also to continue showing kindness and compassion for a longtime friend. In order to improve variety and also remain inclusive, you might encourage your son to invite other peers to play with him and his friend on the playground or during play dates.

In the spirit of setting boundaries, your suggestion to support your son in kindly asking for some space is a good one. You might encourage your son to pursue other extracurricular activities that may open the door to a wider variety of potential friends, with whom play dates can occur. Play dates that do occur with your son’s friend, could include other peers or could be less frequent, shorter, and/or activity-focused (pumpkin carving or cookie making). It may be that, with your son less available, your son’s friend finds other peers that he likes to spend time with too.

This is not an easy transition, but one that most, or all, kids go through at least once. Your continued support and coaching will help your son make this transition kindly and empathically.