The Optimistic Child

A proven program to safeguard children against depression and build lifelong resilience by Martin E.P. Siligman, Ph.D.,


I’m not here to argue with the premise of this book as that kind of review is available elsewhere.  Instead, I’m going to attempt to see whether the strategies contained within this book might be applicable to children such as ours.


First up, the mainstream population is also on a spectrum and therefore the success of failure of such an approach is probably equally as problematical, but our children present in a different order of magnitude.  Their opinions, behavior and way of life as so deeply ingrained as to be part of them, integral.  In many ways, to extract the elements which we [some of us] believe are unhelpful, is to destroy that which is the essence of the child.  Sounds like gobbledegook?  Let me give you an example.  Take perfectionism.  You know what it is, I don’t need to explain it.  You also now how it ‘presents’ in your particular child.  I would hazard a guess that it is, in some realms at least, all pervasive, all encompassing and impossible to eradicate no matter how disabling the net result.  The anguish, stress and anxiety caused by the ‘less than perfect’  falls off the end of the Richter scale.

So, after all the numerous strategies we have all been using since day one, how might this book have an impact?

Well, for one thing, around here, we have greater powers of speech and self expression, so we have a better understanding of the difficulties our children experience.  They are bigger, older and grow in tolerance as they master elements of flexibility.


So why bother?  We’ve tried something like this before with no particular impact.  There are always infinite variations on a theme and no magic bullet.  How is this any different from its fellows?  Will it work?

Who knows, but isn’t it worth chipping away – not at the foundations necessarily but at the core from where so much of the negativity flows from.

I’m doubtful if it’s possible to change some children from pessimists to optimists, but I’m hopeful that it is possible to teach people strategies that may help prevent hitting self destruct.  For instance, in view of the degree of impulsivity common is so many of our children, if it were possible to help them, in a moment of despair, to pause, reflect for a moment, rethink their options and make better choices…if not now, then in the future, with practice, so there’s just a chance that when we’re not around to coach them they’ll be able to retrieve some of those strategies.  Certainly gets my vote.

And you’re right, in a way.  I won’t sell you the package, merely differentiate the choice.  Think of it as a refresher course.  Maybe it wasn’t ineffective 6 months ago, or two years ago, but maybe now, at this stage of their development its worth having another go.  Reading about strategies, thought processes and practicing the work sheets [adapted and modified for a better fit] might galvanize new growth and inspire burst of productivity, after all  we’re all just a work in progress, aren’t we?

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Embracing Asperger’s by Richard Bromfield, PhD

A Primer for Parents and Professionals


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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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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An Armageddon of Aliens

Let me just say to begin with that if the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes in the morning would be an army of multicolored aliens advancing  towards me from out of the wall….

…….it would not be  good.

However, as I am wont to say, all too frequently, ‘people like and dislike different things.’

These little guys are Pikmin, not to be confused with pacman and they  have the power of positive reinforcement.  Or rather they will be once we have managed to instill the ability to send an empowering message to their leader.  Visualization is critical here as well as lots of practice.  Each wee Pikmin, will chant and cheer.  No doubt they will need to be replaced with something more age appropriate in due course, but for the time being we use what works, and what generally works best is the current fixation, [a.k.a. enthusiasm] Pikmin rule our world.

At least they’re non-violent and keep up a continuous stream of happy little giggling noises.  [Which can become irritating to grown up people who lack a sense of humor.]

The villainous Water Dumples can be defeated with their carnivorous tendencies.

You may worry, as I  do, that filling their little heads with all this nonsense, may do more harm than good.  Surely this kind of rubbish merely clutters up their brains which should be packed with more helpful information.  And you may very well be right.  However, first and foremost, they must reach the age of majority and still be alive, and hopefully happy, or if not happy, at least not suicidal.

Although we seem to being attacked by the same troubles in a couple of generations.

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Wordy Wednesday – feeling blue


Ms. Wordy Wednesday pops along to say hi de ho to me.

“Cute! He draws quite well. Glad he's conquering his dislike of pencils. The paint must have been quite a challenge too.”
“Ooo you have such a good memory.”
“So that's it then?”
“Of course not.”
“You're very curt today!”
“Ski week.”
“Ski week?”
“They're all off school for a week.”
“In my dreams!”
“So um title……..expressing feelings and emotions perhaps?”
“Very good indeed.”
“He's happy, hence the rainbow?”
“Actually that was a bit deceptive of me. I wanted to talk about depression.”
“Oh. Not exactly my field of expertise.”
“Me neither.”
“So are you feeling a bit down?”
“Not me, him.”
“Which one?”
“The little one.”
“How old is he again?”
“7! Can you be “depressed” at 7?”
“Actually he's had periods of depression since he was about 3.”
“3? Are you sure, I mean, ….how do you know? Has he been diagnosed by a doctor?”
“No, it's just my best guess really.”
“Hmm it's not that I doubt you exactly, ……it's just that…..I've never heard of that before and………if a doctor hasn't diagnosed him then…….well… just seems a little unlikely………doesn't it?”
“I tend to agree with you.”
“So what makes you think he's depressed?”
“Well he went to an early intervention class when he was little for a couple of mornings a week. Sometimes, every few weeks, he became unresponsive. He sat in his chair, a rarity in itself, and just wept silent tears.”
“Ooo dear.”
“The staff would ask him what was wrong and he either wouldn't answer or just say that he was sad.”
“That is sad.”
“He'd just be all floppy.”
“Not ill perhaps?”
“Nope, nothing like that, just inert.”
“He’d stop eating too, couldn’t even be tempted by Goldfish Crackers.”
“Really serious then!”
“And of course he became nocturnal.”
“Actually, not nocturnal, just awake all the time. No sleeping at any time.”
“That must have been exhausting.”
“It was a terrible worry because he’d wander around all night and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to help him if I simply keeled over myself.”
“What did you do about it?”
“Well at first……to be honest, nothing really. I had no experience of depression and we were still trying to learn all about autism.”
“I did remember that the physician who first diagnosed him said to consider medications because many autistic people suffer from depression, especially in their teenage years and had very high suicide rates.”
“He told you that then!”
“Yes, it felt like another slap in the face at the time but thinking back it helped me join the dots.”
“So how often does this happen?”
“Less frequently actually. It used to be every two or three months and last for 3 to 5 days.”
“And nowadays?”
“A few times a year few days.”
“So now he can talk more, do you get any more clues?”
“Broadly speaking, it all boils down to self esteem.”
“Self esteem! In a 7 year old!”
“I know it sounds daft, but so much of it is feelings of worthlessness.”
“Geez Maddy I don't know what to say.”
“That's o.k. I don't really know either. We just do the same for all of them, help them achieve small things that are really huge for them and make sure that they know that we understand and appreciate just how difficult some things are for them.”
“I think we should be doing that for all kids anyway.”
“How right you are.”

On a practical note, there are a few ‘techniques’ [how I hate that word!] that have proved helpful for my children. The first would be “Carol Gray’s” social stories. Mine are of a much more simple, home grown variety, but when they see cartoons of them selves in a ‘book’ where their continued failed attempts eventually end in success, this has proved a great way of giving them positive feedback and reinforcement.

Why does it work? Difficult to say, but probably a combination the following:-

1. Being a visual learner
2. We’re all ego maniacs at heart
3. We know that personalized products are a popular buy line
4. There’s nothing like tangible evidence for the doubting Thomas
5. Many people respond to one on one time
6. ……it’s fun!

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