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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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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Wordy Wednesday “ the Incredible 5 Point Scale”

“Aha! No guessing required then?”
“Indeed. I thought I’d make it easy this week.”
“So how much is your commission?”
“Oodles upon oodles.”
“No link to Amazon?”
“You don’t need it, just some coloured paper, a black pen, cardboard and some sticky backed plastic?”
“Sticky backed what?”
“Laminater to you dearie.”
“And why exactly would I want one of these. I don’t have any autistic kids?”
“Well try it on yourself and if it works then you might have a go with the kiddie winkies.”
“Again, why?”
“Well maybe you have little kids that don’t have many words, or kids that lose their words when they get all het up.”
“The word “tantrum” does spring to mind.”
“Do you always know what’s upsetting them?”
“Sometimes is obvious but other times they’re wailing so much I just can’t figure it out.”
“Well that’s when this comes in handy.”
“How?”
“Quite often I can get really, really upset about something, I can feel the pressure building, breathe faster, heart racing, that sort of thing.”
“Me too.”
“We’re adults, we can usually recognize what’s happening to us, but children often don’t realize that they are heating up.”
“I suppose. But how would this help?”
“The idea is that you catch them as their emotions are rising. If you start with when they’re having a good day…”
“Or moment!”
“True! Then they can learn to associate feeling okie dokie with green, nice, calm and happy.”
“Okay.”
“Then you want to catch them when they’re just starting to get upset ‘yellow’ or already upset ‘orange’ but not when they’ve completely lost it and in the red zone.
“You know, that’s quite a useful skill to acquire for anyone. Bio rhythms. ”
“Indeed. Wish someone had introduced it to me when I was little. One of the things that I most like about this, is that I’m being active as a parent. Sometimes I can feel so helpless but this helps the communication. Even if they’ve lost their words they can still point at the right colour, the numbers helped for one of mine in particular.”
“I’m not sure about your colour scheme though. I often associate being in a rage with black or blinding white.”
“Adapt and survive, just figure out what works for you.”
“So you could probably adapt that to other things.”
“Right.”
“Like…one of mine has a tough time with our bedtime routine.”
“Really? Sounds like you’d be better off with “sequencing” and “social stories” for that one.”
“?”
“Another time, another post.”
“Could I use it when he gets in a tizzy about sharing?”
“Sure. Just about any tizzy you experience, it’s very flexible.”
“Yeah, so that might help get things under control.”
“I hope so. One of the most fabulous experiences I’ve had is helping them recognize what it feels like to be in a 5 and then gradually, gradually, gradually oozing back down to a green 1.”
“We Americans call that ’empowering.'”
“Hmm, for both of us!”
“Geez, I bet it took forever until they grasped the concept?”
“You would think so wouldn’t you, but actually they ‘got’ it straight away. It took some practice, but it certainly tapped into something that’s maybe innate in all of us.”
“Ooo a bit like those “colour me beautiful” things in the 80’s?”
“Don’t date yourself dearie.”
“So are you gonna tell me about the calming techniques?”
“Good grief no, that would take forever. You could write tomes just on that one subject.”
“Another time perhaps?”
“There are a zillion books out there on the subject already.”
“Could you recommend one?”
“Well it’s a bit tricky as there isn’t really a one size fits all version.”
“Wriggled out of that one well. See you then. Cheers dears!”
“Hey, don’t pinch my line!”
“O.k. How about, toodle pip!”
“See ya babe.”


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Condolences?

Many autistic children have difficulty interpreting someone's mood from the way their facial features arrange themselves, my boys are no exception to this general rule. Now that they can speak and use their words occasionally they will ask a pertinent question such 'are you mad?' [translation = angry] Curiously this isn't generally because I am wearing an angry face. [translation = perish the thought that my cheerleader face might slip]

No, it's much more important than that. I think it's because they either recognize that they have transgressed [translation = made a less than perfect choice] and or that they have concerns as to how I, their mother, might feel about that behaviour. [translation = rats to the theory of mind] [ref – see previous post]

I know that there are a great many children who have similar difficulties without the label that my children have. You'll see them on the playground at recess. Some poor benighted child takes a tumble and another child laughs. The child who laughs isn't necessarily playing with the one that falls down. He may be entirely unconnected with the other group at play, he just notices the fall. He has a visceral reaction what he observes but his synapses direction him to the wrong response because his 'pity/concern' category is either misfiled or under developed. The reaction most readily retrievable is the 'laugh' response.

You doubt me? I do too. But if you examine your own behaviour, very occasionally someone will tell you something and all you can come up with is 'the nervous laugh.' [translation = except Brits who are never nervous and always have the stiff upper lips firmly in place] It's the same underlying principal for us all. We know we ought to react, not quite sure how, and we leak a giggle instead. [translation = with the exception of Brits who refuse to react to anything without prior permission in triplicate]

He practices his facial expressions in front of the mirror. It's o.k. if I observe this child, the littlest one, as he doesn't have strong feelings about me watching him occasionally. It's the other one that explodes with outrage if he catches me watching him. [translation = it must feel like spying whilst you're experimenting with something new, in private, until you are comfortable enough to permit a public audience] For a long time senior son refused to look at photographs of people's faces, it was one of the many triggers for a major meltdown, along with teddy bears amongst other things. If you are a child then it is quite remarkable for an adult to realize just how many teddy bears there are in a child's life, but you learn this very rapidly as your child identifies every single one of them, wherever you happen to come across them, and demonstrates that he has correctly managed to find even the most obscure ones, by melting down in a catastrophic tantrum.

This kind of behaviour makes even the simplest of task outside your own teddy bear free zone house, a game of chance. [translation = a crap shoot / shute?]
It might seem a little grim, but it was a vast improvement on the period just prior to that, when the word 'teddy' wasn't in his non-verbal filing system. Curiously, Pachycephalosaurs and all his relatives, were neatly catalogued for easy and frequent use. I can tell you with confidence that in everyday life, you are likely to come across at least 100 teddies for every one non specific dinosaur, it's a statistical fact. [translation = do not challenge me, I know I am right from evidence I the field]

I attempt reinforcement with junior and his mirror, “that's a very happy face you have there!”
“It's not a happy face, it's a straight line, see!” I look. His mouth is straight, a tight line but his eyes are cartoons of surprise. “Perhaps you are surprised?”
“No, I try surprise. That's too difficult for me.”
“So what face do you have now?”
“I don know. A happy face with a straight line mouth.” I watch him part his lips, reveal his teeth as if to check for lipstick, then purse them closed again. He snaps them open and shut again, watching the effect.
Another curious aspect of this discomfort with images of the human face, is that mirrors, [translation = not that we have many of them] were avoided. Senior son would try and cover them up, obscure them, so that he wouldn't accidentally catch a glimpse of himself. The shock of seeing himself unexpectedly always produced a meltdown. Translation = an assault of surprise] In the summer when panes of glass shifted their aspect in the sun, they too became substitute mirrors, but it took me a long time to work out his sudden aversion to doors and windows.

Junior lets his chin drop to his chest, despondent, “I never get it right!” he sighs. If I knew what he was attempting to mimic, I might be able to help him. Hopefully whatever emotion he is trying to convey, won't require me to role play 'smiling,' because if I smile and reveal my braces, this might be detrimental to his comprehension. [translation = negative reinforcement]

His older brother has made a lot of progress in the last three and a half years. The innocuous smiley faces that he encounters daily are no longer abhorrent. He advanced to cartoon faces over a year ago, but only if they were line drawings, black and white. We pushed him forward to accept colour versions, and gradually, minutely, stepped into the world of photographic faces. It's not something that he enjoys but the main purpose would to prevent the heart failure he experienced, whenever such an image jumped out and accosted him. Mirrors are no longer an object of fear, he can tolerate their existence, can choose not to look into them rather than expressing his displeasure in a sociably unacceptable manner.

I turn my attention back to junior as his manipulates his bottom jaw with the assistance of his hands, as he doesn't have a great deal of muscle strength in that area.
“What are you trying to do dear?”
“I happy? I sad? I mad? I surprised? What I am?” Seems more like curiousity than anything else to me.
“I think you're happy. Are you practicing a happy face?”
“No. I practice my face. It is the lips or the chin that makes the smile?” A reasonable enquiry under the circumstances, but I hope that he doesn't delve too much further, as I haven't passed human anatomy 101.
“It's the lips dear?” He pouts, purses and preens, testing out the hypothesis.
“You know?….. it not dah lips, it's dah muscles that are moving the lips underneaf dah skin.”

Ah! I stand corrected, as usual.

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