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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New Year’s Resolution diet – a book review

Dietary Interventions in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Why They Work When They Do, Why They Don’t When They Don’t.

By Kenneth J. Aitken

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Available from JKP and Amazon.

There is a great deal to praise about this book: the format, the style where science is both readable and comprehensible, the facts, the theories and claims, and a hefty dose of reality.

The author makes it clear from the beginning that his book not a weight loss book nor does it tackle the behavioral issues in food avoidance.  The fact that he guides the reader to Ernsperger and Stegen-Hanson [Just Take a Bite] assures me that knows what he’s talking about.

What I found most alarming was the startling information about how very few studies there have been about dietary interventions and even more shockingly, how small the sample populations were – just 237 candidates for the CF-GF diet – and how many people do you know who have adopted this diet?  Furthermore and more worryingly, the candidates are self reporting their results, or rather to be more accurate, their parents are reporting the results.

At the beginning of 2011 many people will be considering dietary interventions for their autistic children, in which case, this book is a must read.

It has been my opinion for quite some while that since so many of our children have appalling diets that just about any addition to their limited quota must have a beneficial effect.  I used to envy other parents embarking upon some new miracle diet with their children while we pushed a Goldfish cracker around the plate and washed it down with his second food, milk, with the hope that at some time during the next 24 hours we’d manage to persuade him to eat dessert, maybe a single raisin, his third ‘food.’  But of course that was a long time ago.

I would love to claim sole credit for my desensitization and multiple exposure plan of intervention, but unfortunately there are many other reasons for his improvement: therapists, teachers, aides, life, growth and the passage of time.

You can also read a very insightful interview with the author at JKP blog where I’ll share one of his best quotes:-

“Personally I don’t believe we should be waiting on the Holy Grail of a wonder treatment for everyone with ASD, however appealing this may seem to some. Some people with ASD symptomology neither need treatment nor want it.”


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My Parent has an Autism Spectrum Disorder A Workbook for Children and Teens Barbara R. Lester

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A Book Review

This is a great book for anyone starting a journey of discovery following a diagnoses of autism.  It may seem curious at first to know that an adult, and in this case a parent, has been diagnosed with autism, but it is becoming far more commonplace than we might ever have imagined a few years ago, which makes this book especially timely.

Written with teenagers and young people in mind, Barbara writes with a casual, warm and approachable style which avoids being patronizing.  When she uses a term which may be unfamiliar to her audience, she also includes a simple definition of the word which greatly helps the flow and understanding of the reader.

The book is divided into chapters covering the primary issues which will be of interest and importance to any young person trying to understand their parent.  She writes sympathetically to both parent and child discussing many of the common concerns and worries of young people to aid understanding and empathy.

I particularly liked the style of worksheets in that they are brief and on point.  Also the idea that both parent and child work on the same questions and issues should be illuminating for both parties.

Barbara illustrates the text with examples of her own experiences with her ASD father which helps clarify the condition and provides ample proof that she has lived through, survived and thrived what many others are also experiencing.

My only issue with this book is the usual one:- how to reach the people who most need it?  In this particular instance, that may prove to be a diplomatic nightmare.

The books ends with a brief discussion about the stigma associated with autism but the finale, for me at least, was a worksheet where both parent and child can list their strengths – although there should be an extra blank page to allow for a run on : )

You can check out Barbara R Lester here.

Available from JKP.

I’m just about to try out one of her apps from itunes on depression since it’s a subject I know nothing about and have two candidates in different generations to practice upon.


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Something Different about Dad

Written by Kirsti Evans and Illustrated by John Swogger, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

This book is aimed at young people between the ages of 7 and 15 who have a parent or other adult in their lives with Asperger Syndrome and is styled and designed to meet that need.  As the writer explains it should act as a springboard to further discussion, a tool to break the ice and provide a starting point.

Today, before posting, I have read this book through a third time, just to make sure.

To begin with it’s important to recognize the first two characters, Kirsti and John.  They are important because they pop up later in the book, sprinkled here and there to explain what is going on in the stories.  This point wasn’t immediately clear to me, so I just thought I’d mention it.  Their role could be described as narrators, to clarify aspects of the scenarios.

The book is presented in a casual comic book style and has a comfortable air about it due in part to the font of the typeface and more importantly, the illustrations.  To me, the pictures are a stylized combination of cartoon, anime and manga.  This is great because it makes them familiar and accessible to most young people and it is their very neutrality that makes them universally applicable–the reader can superimpose or imagine their own relative in the place of the characters presented.

One particularly helpful element which could prove useful to many people is the illustration on page 29 [in my copy].  This highlights four aspects of  Asperger Syndrome:  imagination, communication, the senses and emotions, and relationships.  Each one is associated with an icon, a bit like a PEC but the visual works like a shorthand or  short-cut to help someone recall areas which can cause difficulties.

The book provides a number of scenes of everyday family life where everything does not go according to plan.  They focus on different family members in turn.  They are lengthy and detailed but should strike a chord of familiarity.  On completion of each ‘story,’ the narrators untangle the scene to discover what went wrong and why, and more importantly, how the situation could be handled differently in the future.

From this you can tell this book could be a very useful tool, especially because of the positive aspect of ‘how could we do this better.’

If it sounds as if I have reservations you would be right, but this is because the subject matter is complex.  It is difficult to make a complex subject easier to understand.  Simplification is a challenge but necessary–how else could we explain Asperger Syndrome to a youngster?

On the other hand, for the young reader, this book covers any number of sophisticated issues.  Throughout the book something nagged at me, but I couldn’t pin point what it was until I came to the last ‘story.’  Number 6 is called:- ‘What about me?’ where the son of the family takes center stage.  Here he voices what worried me. The book focuses on helping children understand their parent or adult friend with Asperger Syndrome.  It  helps a child look at the situation differently and learn new approaches to reduce future conflict, all of which is great, but it’s asking a lot of that child, any child.  I know these days we are often accused of being too child focused but there is also the accusation that parents are too ‘me–selfish–my time’ obsessed as well.

But that would be only one small blip in an otherwise very useful and sensitively constructed book.  The first thirty plus pages explain many of the aspects of Asperger Syndrome in an illustrative and interesting manner but younger readers may struggle here.  A great deal depends upon the age of the reader and their level of sophistication.  If I were a parent in that situation, I would read the book in it’s entirety and then select one story that best suited my families circumstances for my child to read, preferably together, especially if ‘attention span,’ is an issue.

I would congratulate the authors for producing a well thought out, wonderfully illustrated book which has broken new ground– an exciting new trend–hope it becomes a series? [hint, hint]

p.s. Spoiler alert / warning:-

Some more eagle eyed readers may be able to spot something which bears a remarkable resemblance to a clown face in a wall poster decorating one of the character’s bedroom.


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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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