Embracing Asperger’s by Richard Bromfield, PhD

A Primer for Parents and Professionals

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In his introduction, Richard Bromfield encapsulates the essence of complexity that is Asperger’s syndrome.  This lets us know, as parents, that we can trust his advice.  His words set the tone and flavor of his approach when he writes:-

‘These children frequently smash through the glass ceilings that authoritative professionals have predicted for them.’

I enjoyed this discrete paradigm: the child, parent and teacher.  Although Richard acknowledges the impact of the deluge of other influences from therapists to peers, he restricts his remit to a manageable 170 pages.

To me, the choice of title seems a curious one–why would anyone NOT embrace Asperger’s?  Certainly, over the years I have met a great many children with Asperger’s syndrome as well as their parents.  As often as not, these parents are forthcoming about their children’s diagnoses, strong advocates, who are proud of their children’s achievements, talents and gifts.  Most of these children are mainstreamed although I would hazard a guess that this is primarily because these is no suitable alternative program.  There is no good fit available.  And that is the unwritten secret of this book, which also accounts, in part, for Bromfield’s patient and compassionate approach.

Most teachers have a heavy workload, more so, in the current economic climate.  Class sizes grow.  Resources shrink.  And then, teachers are expected to expand their skill set to accommodate and teach a wide spectrum, one or more quirky kids, some with learning difficulties, ADHD and maybe Asperger’s.

Teaching is a vocation, a fact reflected in their salaries.  They want the best for their students, all of them, but some are more difficult to engage and motivate.  This is where Bromfield steps in to demonstrate how teachers can intervene to promote successful learners.

There are so many useful bullet points here, one-liners that once grasped could make all the difference in a child’s life:-

–  Don’t take it personally

–  Assume anxiety exists

–  Model acceptance

–  Do not turn away from depression

But I won’t give too much away.

Bromfield’s hands-on experience shines throughout this book; his insight is sure to prove invaluable to many readers.

I do have one criticism, something easily amended on the next printing:-  give me an index!  [please]

 

Available from JKP and Amazon.

 

 

 

 


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From Anxiety to Meltdown How Individuals on the Autism Spectrum Deal with Anxiety, Experience Meltdowns, Manifest Tantrums, and How You Can Intervene Effectively Deborah Lipsky

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Deborah Lipsky, the self dubbed Raccoon Lady, has written a must read for people like me.  People like me with children on the spectrum are apt to sit on my children’s shoulders and try to examine the insides of their heads.  It is a less than perfect arrangement.  More often than not, what with the speech delays and such, my translations are usually just my best guess with a dollop of wishful thinking.

So here, Deborah provides great insight into the thought processes and thinking patterns applicable to many people on the spectrum.  Her perspective may not be unique, in that there are lots of other autistic people with similar viewpoints, but the trouble is that not enough of them have written a book about it to enlighten us.  So here is the opportunity.

 

I particularly warm to her distinction between a meltdown and a tantrum, but that is probably because I agree with her.  You may well think otherwise, as you are entitled to, once you have read the book.

 

Her insights, tips and approach should prove invaluable to many, but for me, I was particularly interested to read about the interplay between anxiety, OCD, stress and how these elements can affect someone in their adult life.  Her account provides ample evidence about the importance of intervention early in life, to provide our children with as many coping mechanisms as possible, as well as the need to teach and practice flexible thinking.

 

I was delighted to read about Deborah’s challenging and fulfilling life, which I’m sure will prove inspirational to both parents and autistic children.  It would be far too sweeping to say, ‘Nothing holds you back except the limits imposed by yourself,’ but the impulse to self-censure is a commonplace part of the human condition.

p.s. lastly, I would like to add a request, namely, that a sequel might look at another black and white issue:  depression, autism and the mire of inertia.  How can parents intervene effectively?

 

Available from JKP.

 

And you can visit Deborah Lipsky here.

 

P.s.  Added later – thanks to Trish for this link where you can hear and see Deborah lecture where you can get a flavor of her wit and wisdom.


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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies

By Rob Willson and Rhena Branch

Many moons ago I would arrive in the kitchen to find my mother slaving away over a hot oven.  This would occur frequently, often early in the morning before I was really awake.  If I asked, ‘what are you cooking for supper,’ she would usually give the same answer, something along the lines of ‘I’m not sure…yet.’  I would look at this menopausal mother in her 1970’s caftan, ruler of my universe and wonder how this could be?  Her hands were busy, her body moved about within the available space and she spoke and yet she made no sense at all.

Forty [plus] years later, it seems unduly harsh to criticize this woman knee deep in sautéd onions and hot flashes, but now, it seems to me that this would have been the ideal time to grasp what we now call a ‘learning opportunity.’  She might have said, ‘there’s this book that hasn’t been written yet because the authors haven’t been born yet, but in the future you could learn to accept that there is a whole slew of things over which you have absolutely no control.  If you learn that now, your life will be a whole lot happier.’  So if, like me, you find that as a parent you spend a great deal of time telling your autistic child the same things many, many times, just be assured that you’re on the right path, not matter how futile it may sometimes seem.

This book may seem an odd choice for parents like us, after all, we’ve been dealing with variations on a theme for some while now, what else or more could we possibly learn from such a self-help book?  The answer, for me at least, is quite sobering and twofold.  Firstly, it’s an acknowledgement that our children are growing older and we are still dealing with the same underlying issues.  Although they are coping much better, better than we could possibly have ever imagined, nonetheless, the underlying difficulties remain stubbornly in place and more importantly, they will probably stay there long after we are dead and buried.

This may seem a little gloomy, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be so. What it means is that we need to update our skills as parents so as to deliver a different set of coping strategies, those better suited to an older person with greater cognitive abilities.  Star charts and tick down schedules are all well and good, but children move beyond such motivators and develop different skills.

I did learn something new.  I learned about NATs:- Negative Automatic Thoughts.   These are thought which enter your mind automatically, immediately.  This is something we have been tackling forever, but it’s a slightly different approach.  In the realm of autism we tend to describe this how we perceive it as parents: rigidity, inflexibility, a desire to maintain a strict routine, a resistance to anything that deviates from a well-worn regime.  Do you recognize it now?  I certainly do.  When they were younger we tackled this in a variety of different ways but surprise, surprise it’s still there, writ large.  This is just a different way of tackling the very same issue and I was grateful for the reminder.

If you take the acronym NAT and add a G for ‘General’ or ‘Global’ then you have GNAT – which is much easier to remember.  Take some time to explain the concept, that those negative responses need to be curbed, but first they need to recognize what they’re doing.  Quite often it’s become so ingrained that it just blends in.  Then, every time someone says something negative, a first response, without any thought because it’s automatic, you can ‘snap that GNAT and be a smooth, cool cat.’  I snap my fingers at the same time, as it’s more likely to catch their attention.  Pretty soon, I found out just how frequently this occurs.

Yes, it’s only the first stage:- recognition.  What to do about it thereafter, replacing it with more proactive and helpful strategies, comes a bit later.  Clever people can problem combine both strategies at the same time, but for now, we’re still working on it.

More later.


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Learning About Friendship by KI.I. Al-Ghani

This book concentrates on children with Asperger Syndrome and High-functioning Autism, and is designed to address many of the difficulties these children experience with friendships.  However, even if your [and my] children have not yet reached this stage of development, the book can still be a useful tool.

The book covers ten different scenarios.  Each chapter starts with an explanation to the adult, parent or carer and raises awareness of some of the common pitfalls.  This is then followed by a social story to illustrate how they can be overcome.  I enjoyed both aspects of these scenarios for several reasons.

Firstly, the explanation told me that the writer knows what she is talking about rather than preaching from on high.

Secondly, it is apparent from the text that her intuitive approach works–she gets the quirks and triggers–in that although you are working on one particular skill, there can be lots of other issues that interfere with the main plan.

Thirdly, she reveals parental errors in a kindly manner.  We know our mistakes, or some of them at least, and she understands why we made them.  To illustrate:- a child has an obsession and the parent literally buys into it.  We end up buying far too many dinosaurs, Thomas paraphernalia and Legos, because as she says, and I quote “a special interest may have been just the key needed to unlock the delay seen in the acquisition of speech and language.”

Fourthly, she used our childrens’ most common obsessions in the social stories – which is a great short cut for us parents as we don’t need to re-write them to fit our children – thank you!

Fifthly, [and this is one of the main reasons I would recommend this book] although as I already said, it’s designed for high functioning and asperger children, many of the social stories are easily adaptable for other children.  Here, you may be doubtful, but I am sure I can convince you by examining one story in particular, the second one- Spit and Chase.  This tackles the issue of children using inappropriate strategies to get attention.  It addresses the underlying behavior which results in spitting.  Here, the children involved are able to speak, but it could just as easily be the case if they were non-verbal.  It’s easier to unscramble the cause of a particular behavior if a child can communicate with words, but it’s not insurmountable if there is no speech.

We may think that some children may not be ready for such material but the underlying tenants described in the social stories are certainly applicable to both of mine, if in a somewhat simplified format and has certainly helped me formulate an approach for the future.

As a final note it would be remiss of me not to mention the illustrations that accompany the stories which are clear cut, black and white line drawings – perfect for my guys who always [used to] had a hard time with photographs of real people and color pictures.  They’re a wonderful and useful addition that complement the stories rather than detract from them.  It wasn’t so long ago that there were whole shelves of books which were off-limits because the pictures triggered all kinds of unpleasantness.

You can see more of K.I. Al-Ghani’s work over here at Kay’s slot at Jacketflap.

And you can buy your own copy from JKP or Amazon as well as her other books.

And lastly, for any of you budding authors out there, you might find it helpful to check out Marni Wandner’s Sneak Attack site which helps people promote their cause be that in the performing arts or other endeavors, such as book promotions, which I came across having read Monica Holloway’s Cowboy and Wills, which I’ll be reviewing shortly, a jolly good read.  And Marni Wandner – she’s a real ‘out of the box’ thinker.


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0 – 60 diddly squat

Children thrive on routine or so they say.

We nay sayers decided to adopt a more modern approach to our children. None of those strictures for our little free spirits. We planned to copy our laid back, easy going Californians cousins. No mean feat for the average Brit, and we are terribly average.

Despite our best endeavours, it soon became apparent that laid back was more like flat out, or rather, flat out chaos and a great many horizontal meltdowns. We went over to the dark side, made schedules and schooled our children to follow them. Schedules and routine produced predictability, and a certain degree of calm, or maybe just less chaos. Before too long we slipped into the groove. Before too much later, we found that the walls of the groove had grown so high that we were scrabbling around in the hollow, unable to deviate right or left. The schedule became iron clad. There was no room for spontaneity as the timetable was rigidly enforced, indirectly, by the children themselves.

It infiltrates every second of our existence, the necessity to maintain sameness. I hear that this is quite common, indeed my good pal describes her life as a perpetually reliving the same day, day after day. Sometimes we get “bogged down” in the mire. It’s hard to “escape” from the strictures of the schedule. There is no room for flexibility, merely crisis management.

Currently, our family experiences another peak in the “anxiety” roller coaster. It is exactly at such times, that it is imperative to maintain the routine.

Our routine is for me to arrive outside the boys' classroom at least five minutes before the end of the school day. I wait. When they come out, we meet and greet, exchange pleasantries and wait for their sister to join us. It is important to remain in the same safe 10 yard area and wait. Sometimes we wait a long time, as she is usually the last to leave.

I have learned that it is unwise to be impatient, foolish to seek her out with the boys in tow. I cannot leave the boys behind to wait on their own because they cannot wait and they cannot wait on their own.

The seconds tick by as we wait. As they tick, so the anxiety increases, “where is she be?”
“She'll be here any moment dear.”
“How many minutes? How many seconds. Is she be lost? Is she be selled?” He starts to suck his fingers and rock, small mewing noises get louder. I pull him onto my lap and he curls up small and tight. He slithers off and bolts. “We must be find her!” he yells as he charges off around the corner. I grab his brother and the backpacks as we scuttle off in hot pursuit.

It's only 25 yards away but the court yard is crampt with a sea of bodies, parents and children and siblings and strollers. I spot him, dressed in red from head to foot outside her open class room door, blocking the way as he peers inside. Every face in the classroom is turned towards the little boy in the entrance way, crouched, mewling and swaying. Wounded in distress. I slip through the crowd to him and point out his sister, a long straight arm to guide vision with a rude finger at the end. He yelps with glee as I herd him away to a safe distance to join his brother. His brother is gone. “Agh! Where is he been?”

I spot him ambling away in the opposite direction. We gallop after him. I can already see the lure, a baby. We catch up just in time. He's overtaken the mother, child and baby, to walk backwards in front of them whilst he asks questions to the mum but stares at the baby. I burble a torrent of compliments to the mum, child and baby. Yes, my nine year old is very fond of babies, all babies, and this is a particularly fine specimum of babydom, how could he resist?

Many parents have strong objections to large filthy children touching their purebred offspring, it's quite natural. Luckily, we are in luck. The mum permits touching, cooing, smiles and pats, very tender gentle ones. I prompt goodbye greetings, as busy mums can only be hindered and detained for a short periods of time. It can never be long enough for my son to get his baby fix.

I turn around with a firm grasp on each boy as we stride back to the classroom. The class room is empty. “Oh no! Where is she be. We are be lost her! You and yur stoopid babies. It's all yur fault.” The only reassurance that will work now is for him to see her, alive and well. Nothing else will placate him. The boys squabble as I haul them around the corner. They debate the merits of temporary relationships with strangers versus long term blood relations.

Animosity and anxiety vie for supremacy.

I see her waiting outside the boys' classroom in a state of confusion. I yell as I see her heels disappear around the corner as she returns to her own classroom. My son hangs on my arm, a dead weight, the child that cannot be hurried. I dither. Double back and cut her off at the pass or follow her around again? I shoulder two backpacks, secure my grip on the snotty hand, hoik the nine year old onto my hip and galumph back.

We stagger and stumble our way amid bleats and rooster crows of the truly desperate. I glimpse her again, just as she begins to retrace her steps but I lack enough oxygen to yell. The snotty one spots her too, slips from my grasp and careens over screaming her name at 50 decibels. I watch her turn, pause, tune in, align sight, open arms just in time to catch him as he collapses into her. A swoon, worthy of a Southern Belle. As we bring up the rear he has gained enough composure to machine peck kiss her inner wrist. He pants like a puppy, exhausted, “you are be alive!” he puffs.

Only just dearies, only just.

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