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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Some of us will occasionally admit to a grain or two of OCD, but for some people, sometimes, it can be paralyzing.

On a lighter note, I noticed that parents such as myself, long for their non-verbal children to speak – when or if they eventually do, I still don’t understand them.


I find wads of sticky tape balled up and stuck to the wooden jam of the pocket door – nasty lethal finger choppers.

I seek out the culprit.

“Why is their sticky tape all over the door dear?”
“S’not sticky tape. It’s Scotch tape.”
“Right. So why is there Scotch tape all over the door?”
“S’not all over the door, s’jus a small ball.”
“Right…So…why is it there? Were you trying to lock the door?”
“It’s very important to tell the truth you know. The reason I don’t allow locked doors is…because of…er…um…earthquakes, right?”
“So why?”
“To stop my ears.”
“Stop your ears from what?”
“From the door jam bang.”


Although sometimes, I think he’s teasing me.

“Yes dear?”
“All the peoples in dis program are ….calm…..mediums.”
“Are they? What is a calm medium?”
“Um…try again?”
“I know…they’re all Canadians!”
“Canadians? Are you sure?”
“Er…no… they’re all…?”

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Back to the Future – the weight of the world

We chat on the way to the supermarket in the car. It is a proper chat because it is not about Pokemon. Who ever thought that we would ever enjoy a casual chat! The casual chat has been instigated by me, because I wish to distract from the imminent torture of the supermarket. It’s a thoroughly delightful new tactic. The chat is also prompted by the Brain Quest Third Grade (3rd Edition). As they are about to enter 4th and 5th grades in the Fall it is obvious that they are both well below grade level academically. When they were little, the answers were easy but the words were difficult. Now the answers are elusive but the words flow much more freely. All too often I find that as one thing advances another recedes, it’s a trade off. I believe it’s quite common. You can see it in “John Elder Robison’s” book called “Look me in the Eye.” When John was little he had extraordinary talents but as an adult those skills were unavailable to him. The chat comes to an abrupt halt.
“Lets not talk about it any more.”
“Why dear?”
“Coz I don wanna talk about dah future.”
“How come?”
“Coz I worry about dah future.”
“What is there to worry about?”
“My babies.”
“What babies?”
“My children.”
“But you don’t have any children yet.”
“I know and I’m worried I’m not gonna have any.”
“Why won’t you have any?”
“Coz of dah married bit.”
“The married bit?”
“No-one’s gonna wanna marry me.”
“Oh no, you’re quite wrong there. I’m absolutely sure that there’s someone out there for you, just the right one.”
“But I can’t do it.”
“Er… what dear?”
“Dah slow dancing.”
“Slow dancing! I don’t think that’s very important. Not everyone likes to dance. Anyway, you’re so good at fast dancing and robot dancing. Lots of people like that too.”
“Dya think?”
“Indeed I do!”
“No…..dya think dat…….one day when I am all grown up dat I will be being……a…da, .a… da, …..a…da……”
“Be what dear? A dad?”

And don’t forget to add your name to the “book giveaway.”

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How to make your own mouse

Tackle It Tuesday Meme
Try This Tuesday

You will need;-
A 12 inch square of felt
Another scrap of felt for the shawl
A scrap of thick yarn for the tail [knot both ends]
Two small buttons for eyes [optional]
Sewing thread and needle
Scrap of fabric for the skirt

Cut out the shapes in felt from the template
Sew up the back [curved] seam
Insert the stuffing
Stitch the circle on the base inserting the yarn as a tail and check that the mouse stands upright

[Understuffed will produce a concave base which is much more likely to remain standing]

Sew on the buttons [or stitch eyes in place so that it would be safe for a baby]
Stitch the whiskers and ears [folded]
Hem, join and stitch a drawstring runner through the top of the strip
Gather the strip and attach to the middle of the mouse
Cut the scrap of felt into a triangle and snip the edge to make a fringe, stitch in place


A Tale of Foolishness:-
The why? Why bother to make your own mouse when you can buy a dozen from Petco at $3.99?

Well as you may recall, currently my son is still at the ‘part cat’ stage of development but loathes the smell of catnip. Anyway whilst we were at Longleat in England he fell in love with a very similar mouse, a mouse manufactured for the princely sum of many pounds sterling. I resisted the purchase and a great pall of gloom descended upon us. The only reason I managed to extract him from Longleat at all, was the faithful promise that I would indeed, given time, produce a mouse. It was so tempting to indulge him especially as he mewed so pitifully but apart from anything else, Longleat’s version was a doorstop and hence it was weighted down with a hefty rock inside, not ideal for international travelers with a weight limit!

In addition, we endure a daily craft during the summer holidays. In this instance we were able to introduce the concept that a sewing needle is not necessarily an instrument of torture but may indeed be the means of achieving the current motivational goal, a mouse. Fine motor skills limitations meant that he was an observer rather than a sewer, but he managed to remain within the same room and peek through his fingers at the scene. Clearly most crafts can be adapted to suit the individual needs of any particular child, but if we achieve joint attention then we’re on a winner, which indeed we did. He was quite happy to stuff the mouse so we did have a little hands on experience.

Of course, if I had been more sensible I would have saved myself a whole heap of bother by not going into the shop in the first place. This is one of the reasons why so many parents of autistic children become hermits, it’s just easier that way. However, we continue to venture forth as the easy option is not always available.

Lastly, I know that this kind of parental indulgence frequently evokes criticism, maybe you have been on the receiving end yourself? All I would say is that people who criticize, [usually ‘Anon’] generally do not have first hand experience, long term with autistic people. If you actually live with an autistic person who has no interest in anything, or maybe only one or two things, to the exclusion of all other things, then part of a parent’s job is to help expand those interests, gently and gradually. Our job is not to eliminate the one or two special interests, that would certainly be a mistake, unkind and probably cruel. No, instead we offer all and everything that we can think of to tempt them into other things. Given time and encouragement there may just be a tiny little spark and it is those little sparks that ignite us into action, no matter how trivial or obscure. I tell you truly, it’s worth every effort.

This design is available in an out of print book called “My Learn to Sew Book.” It is a bit dated but has easy to follow instructions.

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Give us this day, our daily baby

Hosted by “Tracy” at “Mother May I,” but the photo-picture below will whizz you right there with one click.

Just call me snap happy.

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As the mother of two autistic children I have far more to moan about than many. One of the many things that I most enjoy moaning about is the wide variety of unco-operative domestic appliances skulling around the house. The top moaning slot is usually allotted to the cooker. The cooker is a huge great ugly thing that came with the house. It’s a commercial, if not industrial lump of steel, capable of catering to the needs of the average restaurant. However, during the summer months I am forced to ignore it even more than usual. This is due to the existence of constant cognitive dissonance on my part which roughly translates as follows:-

Mother nature already hates me for using the air conditioning during a heat wave but she’ll throw me off the planet if I turn the oven on at the same time.

The trouble with the oven, apart from it’s hugeness, is that once lit, it is happy to warm the entire house to 425 degrees centigrade as it belches out heat for several hours post switch off. It is truly the creation of the devil.

That said, my family’s need for sustenance, especially bread, averaging 3 loaves a day, is quite insatiable.

Hence I discuss my latest cunning plan with “Nonna,” cook extraordinaire back in the day, as I trip over multifarious swift moving children.

“So……..what about dis den?”
“I’m going to make bread, pasties and muffins all day long and then cook them all in one go late in the afternoon.”
“It is good to fill dah ting sometimes.”
“Yes……in theory……but easier said than done.”
“You’re doing pretty well so far I tink,” she adds as she prods the latest batch of rolls on the rise.
“It’s all in the timing……I hope.”
“You know I tink you could roast a “whole baby” in dat ting!”

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Everything is Bigger and Better in America

5 Minutes for Special Needs

Our daily route in our huge hire car on the tiny little roads in England on holiday. At least the new mantra has faded now we’re returned to the States.

Ooo the excitement!

If you enjoy caption competitions and photographs, you may wish to nip along to“DJ Kirkby” over at “Chez Aspie” and test your brain power.

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Snack on a stick – why the fox wears gloves

There is no end to the variety of food that you can pop onto a popsicle stick. Many may ask….. ‘why would you want to put a snack on a stick?’ to which I would reply, ‘why wouldn’t everyone want to put their snack on a stick?’

A snack on a stick is the perfect solution to two major issues:- people who need to keep their fingers clean on pain of death and people who like to cook things to eat. It’s the neophobic OCD equivalent of ‘physician heal thyself,’ or so I like to think.

I would go as far as to predict that sometime in the not so distant future, a certain young man will come into his own as an entrepreneur. He’ll set up as a sole trader in these unique snacks, unless someone else pinches his idea first. Even if someone else gets there before him, this will still be all well and good, as millions of people who currently suffer from digitalis will be relieved and set free.

[Double click on the flower for a reality check]

I need to do a little research here, as thus far most snacks on sticks seem to be made of venison for some bizarre reason that I can’t quite fathom. Thereafter there are lollies [UK] and corn dogs [US] but otherwise there appears to a vast gaping hole in the market. We don’t plan to exploit this gap, rather we hope to plug all the little bleeding hearts and open mouths with delicious yumminess without risking dirt and damage to digits.

A while back we investigated snacks in cones, the cones that you usually use for ice-cream, which seemed like a cunning plan. However the texture of the average cone is not conducive to those who suffer from tactile defensiveness.

Another underlying issue is the difficulty some people have with physically holding either a stick or a cone. Some people cannot manage the pincher grip or if they can, do not have the physical strength to maintain the grip for very long. Other people have a grip that finds it hard to discriminate, such that the cone crumbles due to over-grasp. Either of these conditions can spell disaster to the potential snacker, although practice may help improve the situation.

I detect a certain level of incredulity creeping in here, so I shall repeat a tale of yesteryear for demonstration purposes.
[mainly because I cannot find that particular posting]

Not so long back we had a young visitor for a play date. When it came to snack time I put out chocolate chip cookies for four children and a bowl of goldfish crackers for my son. The visitor was horrified that my youngest child was being discriminated against. I explained that he did not care for chocolate chip cookies, without any further details. At that time he could only eat ‘single’ foods, Goldfish crackers, raisins, Cheerios [with a spoon so that there would be no physical tactile contact, due to the dusty crusty nature of the average Cheerio, and no milk]

Our young friend knew that I was a liar, that all children, indeed, probably all people, love chocolate chip cookies. He took matters into his own hands, on the sly, and sacrificed one of his own cookies to offer it to my son. His subterfuge failed due to the ear splitting scream of horror that thundered from him as he ran from the room at top speed.

I can still remember the expression on that little boy’s sweet face, a combination of disbelief and supreme surprise. That kind of mystification has haunted many a child who has witnessed similar behaviour on occasions too numerous to mention. An early introduction to cognitive dissonance, where two accepted facts vie for the same ground. Now if that cookie had been mounted on a stick, who knows how much faster we might have arrived where we are now?

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To hell and back

I collect the children from school.  As usual my eldest son is disheveled.  I sometimes wonder what he believes the purpose of a backpack is in his life?  Something extra to carry along with his jacket, homework, lunch pack and other assorted paraphanalia, armfuls of it, together with the backpack.  We pause, as we always do, to stuff the backpack with his belongings, zip it up and persuade the backpack to attach itself to his spine.  It’s a time consuming little exercise, made all the longer by the excitement of the end of the day, when there is sometimes important information to share, if we could but shrug off all the distractions.
“Yes dear.”
“My friend.”
“Yes dear.”
“He…….says I’m gonna go to hell.”
“Hell?  Who said you were going to hell?  Was he swearing…….was he…….saying bad words?”
“No hell is a place …….where there is no Jesus.”
“Is it by golly!  Is that what he told you?”
“Yes……and it’s real small…..with no power……and Jesus always wins.”
“Wins…….sounds a bit like the superhero version of Christian belief.”
“Nothing…….why did he say you were going to hell?”
“I don know.  Am I gonna go to hell?  Am I gonna die?  When am I gonna die?  Is hell bad?  Is it gonna hurt?   I don wanna die, I wanna stay here wiv you.”
“Well different people believe different things.”  I watch his body contract, stiffen and diminish into a small hard lump.
I don’t know about him, but I’m ready to die right now.   I’m sure there was no evil intent behind what appears to be an innocent exchange between him and his pal.  How was his pal supposed to know that certain nuggets of information trigger all kinds of unexpected bombs. It’s an all pervasive virus without a salve. I refuse to allow another bout of OCD to explode on our lives, infest every cranny and bespoil a perfectly dandy holiday season.  He watches bemused as I stuff everything into the backpack, with far too much vigour.  Punch it into submission.  This one will not escape, “well, you’re in luck my fine fellow!”
“I am?”
“Yes, because I know everything there is to know about hell.”
“You’re an……expert….a trainer expert?”  His eyes are wide in genuine mid startle mode.  I’m sure it is the most delightful facial expression in his ever growing repetoire.
“I am.  And when we get home I’ll tell you all about it and you can ask me anything you want.”

Who needs a light saber to defend? I knew 13 years in a Catholic Convent would come in handy sometime.

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SOOC Smiley Saturday

Slurping Life

Learning the error of your ways
From a few weeks back in the summer

On the third week they break a third vase, although I miss the magic moment to identify exactly which one committed the crime. I am excessively annoyed. The vase was cheap and cheerful, of no intrinsic value, but the mess, glass, foul water and dead flowers exacerbates my already frazzled nerves. As in all things, I adhere to the principal of three:- one vase in use, one in the closet and one in transit, just like knickers. Now I am vaseless which is a mild improvement on knickerless. How can this dastardly state of affairs have come to pass? I hear the dulcet tones of our Irish ABA guru waft through the ether, 'what incident immediately preceded the event in question?'

What indeed?

The tantalizing question that haunts so many of us. There must be a logical answer, although even an illogical one would do for the time being.

Three weeks ago? Three weeks ago? What could it possibly be? Probably about that time, was the time that my youngest decided that his body needed exercise, regular exercise, frequently. He would hurtle out of the house chanting in time with his self imposed exercise regime, to fly around the garden on his bike, three circuits before flinging his bike aside and hurling his body back indoors. I began to recognize the signs, faster speech, many nonsense words, cycles of ever speedier ditties before they burst like an ant hill to catapault him into the garden. Self regulation is all very well but why does it have to involve such destruction? Neither of them has ever volunteered to enter the garden until this summer.

I stare at the double glass doors, willing my brain to function. Once a week I collect the organic vegetable box along with a bunch of flowers. Once a week I take the old dead flowers and stick them outside until time permits me to visit the compost heap. Once a week I snip the elastic and drop the new fresh flowers in a different vase, not exactly tastefully arranged. It frees up a moment to clear a shelf in the fridge and shove ten pounds of organic vegetables in to chill. The same routine for about five years. What has gone so horribly wrong? Their dad appears by my side to note the latest dollop of carnage, “geez, I'd I thought you'd have stopped it by now.”
“Me? Stopped it? And how exactly do you think I should magic that one?”
“Stop dumping those vases in the doorway to trip over.”

Get the code:-
Cut and paste
from this little
boxy thing below

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Magic Marker Best shot Monday – you are what you write?

Hosted by “Tracy” at “Mother May I,” but the photo-picture below will whizz you right there with one click.

Just call me snap happy.

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A few years ago I discovered that I have trouble remembering things, this was the post-it era. It coincided with a rash of small children with copious demands. Like many parents with three children under the age of three, it was a challenge to my working memory. There were so many additional things to remember, things like 'did he nurse last on the left or the right?' There were also lots of quick tricks to memorize too, to make remembering easier, such as moving my wedding band to the left hand or right hand after nursing. This handy trick failed due to puffy fingers and an inability to remember whether to start on the side to correspond with the wedding band on the left hand or whether left meant finished and I needed to move the baby and the ring to the right. As I say, it was largely a working memory capacity issue, that along with a large dollop of fatigue, agedness and far too much grumpiness at my own shortcomings.

It was slightly later that the aforementioned perfect post-it note system also failed. I planted my post-it notes on the fridge, the largest space available in my kitchen, where I spent the majority of my time. Some fiend objected to the apparent randomness of the post-its. I would stagger into the kitchen to take note of my next 'to do' and find that they had all been colour co-ordinated, lined up horizontally and vertically. Certain coloured post-its would have disappeared completely. I would find them in scrumples in corners of the kitchen, hurled in abandonment. It took me a long time to figure out why such wanton vandalism had taken over. Often the notes that were singled our for destruction were written in cursive. They caused the most angst. Abbreviations were also considered cheating. Shopping lists with food items would disappear without trace. Did he eat them? I somehow doubt it. It was quite infuriating at the time. Not only did have a dodgy memory bank but someone was making regular raids, surreptitious heists on the sanity vault.

But of course that was a long time ago.

Our lives enter a new phase of precision.

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