Friday, October 29, 2010

Social Skills & No More meltdowns Dr Jed Baker


Dr. Jed Baker was a phenomenal presenter.

Of all the speakers I thought he had the most useful and practical content for a parent.

Quick disclaimer: This is only a short  summary. There was a lot more in his session . And obviously I see things from my own lens



PROACTIVE ( RATHER THAN REACTIVE ) APPROACH TO MELTDOWNS

Our own Attitude

It always starts with you – the parent, the teacher, the professional.

Not the child

Dr Baker asks us if we can tolerate our discomfort- our self image- our worry about what the other people around us are thinking about us



Can we tolerate this  discomfort long enough to think about what to do ?

Because that is the beginning.

Its important to reframe a meltdown and see it for what it really is

It's the lack of coping skills of the child .

Its not the child playing mind-games with you to challenge your authority

The question we have to ask ourselves is how we can teach better coping skills ( not the question "what is everybody thinking of me")



Why do children and specifically spectrum children have meltdowns?

Difficulty in perspective taking

In this case the misbehavior is often unintentional. (Example the attention wanting ASD kids who pulls the plug of the computer to get it to shut down in order to make the kids laugh ) The important thing is to teach perspective rather than discipline

Inflexibility: Poor problem solving skills

Its important to practice social skills and "in context". Often professionals do a "counseling session" and tell the child what they must do the next time they are in the situation

But they don't teach it in the situation.

Repetition and practice is critical

Low frustration tolerance

ASD kids get frustrated really easily ( Tony Attwood referred to some data which shows that Children with ASD have 10-15% larger amygdales – which means their primitive stress response such as fight , flight or freeze are stronger )

The child can get emotionally hijacked

Frustration tolerance is a skill that must be taught. 



Dr Baker gave an example where there was a child that hated losing in games. So Dr Baker used a strategy of rewarding disappointment tolerance. Ie if a child tolerated X disappointments well – they would be rewarded. 


Practice with these skills can expand basic abilities to tolerate frustration.



What should I do to prevent my child having a meltdown?

Prevention is key

Make the child feel competent.

 When there is a task- such as homework - to be completed - follow the 80 -20 rule . DO the 80% easy stuff first. Then the hard 20% stuff

Avoid power struggles. Its best to problem solve together

Make sure the child does not have sensory triggers that are making it intolerable for him

If they are going into sensory overload teach them to be a self advocate for sensory break/better environment

Rewards new and better ways to self stim ( which really should be called Self-soothe, in my opinion )

Plan for the unexpected: when an unexpected crisis happens teach the child skills in advance such as




  • Self talk: All problems can be solved if you wait and talk to the right person
  • Create a relaxation folder for the child
  • Establish a "safe person"
  • Draw or write the thing that soothes you
What should I do when the child is having a meltdown?

Of course- the first thing to do – for you is to tolerate your own discomfort so you can think it through

It's important to understand why your child is having meltdown so you can plan for the future

If the child has been "emotionally hijacked" the best solution is to distract or soothe

Loss systems can work – but only if the child is present and aware. 


In fact thinking about "extinguishing bad behaviors" when the child is distressed and emotionally hijacked is very counterproductive (and kind of cruel if you think about it )



All the change does not have to be in the child. The environment can be changed to help the child

This next set of ideas that Dr Baker gave is pure genius and a true game changer .

It's a wonder that every school in the world does not follow this system

In the Special needs world we worry a lot about the lack of social skills training for our kiddos .

In fact we talk about the shortage of resources all around

We also worry a lot about bullying as our kids are so vulnerable to bullies

Dr Tony Attwood likens the school to a jungle for our kiddos. With bullies prowling the corridors like tigers ( my friends and I were sort of depressed in fact after Dr Attwood's lecture as he touched upon one of our major fears )

Bullies cannot be stopped by teachers as it usually is invisible to them

Dr Jed Baker has the perfect solution - to solve bullying AND teach social skills

The solution is Peer Mentors

What if peers in the class were mentors for children with special needs ?

This is a win-win situation for all

Mentors learn valuable leadership skills like compassion and maturity

Special needs kids get to learn social skills from those who can model it and live in a kinder environment

And the community?

The community benefits because being a good person is actually cool

He has created such a program in a school in New Jersey.

He showed some video clips of students in this program in an excellent school in New Jersey that he had started and it really made us all want to move to New Jersey (Almost.)

I think this has to be the way we start to think of helping our children.

Fresh out-of-the-box thinking.

I hope this summary is helpful to you 



Click here  for  his website

He has some excellent  books which some of my friends who attended the conference with me  recommended highly. And its next on my reading list 


Click here to  the link to his video of him talking about teaching  Social skills to kids with AS 

If you want to see a excellent  video of him that Autism Hangout posted on youtube
 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autism Asperger Super conference; Dr Temple Grandin Session







Guess who I am getting a book signed by ?

No prizes for the right guess !

Cause we all know the amazing Dr Grandin!!!!

DH and I are just back from the Autism Asperger Super conference
It was really awesome to attend the conference with my DH and with 3 of my online Friends – T and J and M. Somehow it felt like I was back in school

The conference was FANTASTIC – Wayne Gilpin who was the MC and is the CEO of "Future Horizons" really put together a blockbuster conference .

He himself is the father of a young man on the spectrum

For me the highlight of the conference was Dr Temple Grandin

She was AMAZING . She , her books, her movies have taught us so much .

Dr Tony Attwood said she is an American National Treasure . And I agree

It was a happy coincidence for DH and me that some of the first books we read upon diagnosis were books by Temple Grandin and Tito Mukhopadhyaya – this certainly had a huge impact on the way we thought of Autism – 

Because we thought of things from R's perspective .

We tried to see and experience the world from his perspective instead of from a deficit-fixing perspective

We saw his abilities and his value not just deficits

Here is my summary – please do note that obviously I listened through my own lens and also paid attention to things that were of interest to me

So this is not a full representation of all that was there though I am hoping that DH and T, M and J will comment and add anything that I am missing

I am going to start with Dr Grandin though she was the third speaker

Auties have many gifts to offer the world

There are many genes that are responsible for Autism .. you know what would happen if we eliminated all the genes of Autism – you would have eliminated your next generation of engineers, professors etc

"You know what the Aspies are doing .. they are running silicon valley" she joked

She said that the Spectrum was huge and at one end of the Spectrum was the "normal spectrum "

Autistic identity

Dr Grandin said she would never want to be normal as she was very proud of her rational way of looking at things.

However Autism was not the central theme that organized her life . 

She thought of her identity in terms of her whole life !

"I see myself as a college professor "

Good Manners and Rules

Limit setting was so important .

She credited her 1950's upbringing of good manners and CLEAR rules to her success in life

Of course one must understand the reason for bad behavior and some bad behavior which is the result of extreme sensory sensitivity must be accommodated

It was very very very important do SOMETHING

"The worst you can do is let the autistic child play video games all day . Video games for no more than one hour a day "

Understanding the Sensory System is critical.

As is, making sure any hidden medical problems are solved .

Touch desensitization is possible and important for the whole family.

She said sensory readiness therapy is critical and is akin to taking the cellphone outside to " get a better signal "

Job skills

She said right from when the child is in middle school parents need to be focused on projects that could potentially make money - outside the house .

Always focus on what the child is good at and what the learning style of the child is – is the child a visual thinker , a music-math thinker or a verbal thinker ?

"The kid is good at computers – get him to fix the neighbor's computer. And then put the money he makes in an account and teach him to manage money "

She said she was a very poor student but learned a lot in school .

She said the current school system which demands that a child must pass for instance algebra before they can go on to Geometry is flawed 

An Autie may need to know geometry before they can understand Algebra 

Why cannot the school system allow for people to pass certain kind of math ? and not all kinds?

She said she could never have done algebra

Its very important to ensure that the Autistic person's abilities are being harnessed properly-


"I see too many autistic people with my intelligence level bagging groceries and cleaning toilets"

Its very important to be good at something that others are interested in

"I always sold my work, not myself "

Its also important for parents to be entrepreneurs – and be creative in thinking of how to get the child an "in"

"I always got thru the back door .. never through the front door .. I never passed an interview in my life "



Medication

She had a lot to say on medication –I don't know much about medication so please pardon any errors

She was positive about SSRI like Prozac and Zoloft and said she knows many people on the Spectrum who would not be able to do what they do without Prozac .

And said the atypicals like Abilify , Seroquel, Rispedal, Geodon may have severe side effects

She said that some of these second generation anti psychotics will fog up the brain and ensure the child is in a fog and can never program a computer –

While these medications are very valuable for some , she felt these medicines are being overprescribed. And when there are problems doses are being "upped " instead of decreased

She talked about the importance of physical exercise and Omega 3's and Sensory things like Weighted Vests etc .

She also touched upon the value of vitamins and supplements including probiotics.

As well as special diets

The Autistic brain is different from Neurotypcials)

One fascinating example was as follows

Dr Grandin said her brain worked like "google Images "

So when she was asked to picture a church steeple – her memory conjured up all the church steeples she had ever seen in her life

Whereas neurotypicals, when asked the same question , thought of a generic image of a church steeple

A brain scan showed that, indeed ,her actual brain and wiring was different – so that it was like her brain had a" high speed internet highway" inside her head that captured all images that she ever saw and she was able to retrieve them all at will

( This is indeed true of R as well – when we went back to India this time – he rearranged my parents set up on the staircase to how it had been in the past .

The thing is, the last time he had visited that house, was when he was 2 !!!)

  • All autistic thinking uses specific examples to create concepts
  • It is bottom up thinking
  • ALL concepts are learned from specific examples
Teaching Auties

Its very important to teach by playing games to categorize things into – big-small, different shapes etc and then use the same objects and categorize them in a different scheme—This teaches flexibility of thinking . For example a small white bottle bottle can be "small" in a size scheme . And it can be white in a color scheme of categorizing

( though all autie brains are not identical to each other either)

Its very important to teach rules clearly including turn taking and waiting for your turn

Teach with real objects – example fractions can be taught through slicing a pizza . Adding and subtracting can be taught thru candy

Its critical to kep expanding their experiences – the whole idea – to take the high speed internet example from earlier – is to create many many "web pages

Autistic learning does start with memorization but as more and more information is memorized – it will be organized into more and more categories which will help thinking become more flexible

"The thing with Autistic people" said Dr Grandin, "is that they are always learning for their entire life"

Amen!!

I will soon be posting on the notes from the other three  fantastic speakers and hope they will be of use to you  

Friday, October 15, 2010

October Odds & Ends

Here is a little update for all the things I want to remember of this month

Pretend Play

So I do not know if I have mentioned before, but one of R’s interests is Christmas.

Stopping at Cracker Barrel, for instance is always fraught with danger as it has Christmas tree and R demands a Christmas as soon as we get home

Anyway like most Floortime Oriented parents our motto is – No interest shall go unused

And so we have bought these adorable Little people sets

When DH and R return from their Friday musical gymnastics – I set out the Little People package on the table

For the FIRST TIME EVER – R demands that I open the box as soon as he sees it
( This makes us ecstatic as R NEVER cares about presents much – certainly not something that is still in the box )

He fawns over all the reindeers in Santa’s sleigh ( though there is no red nosed reindeer and this is very annoying )

After I put R to bed– we arrange the 2 Christmas sets we have

You should see R’s face when he comes down stairs in the morning

He rushes straight to the toys – all thoughts of the usual morning DVD forgotten

He is playing (Appropriately as the developmental psychologists would call it

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He has ideas

His ideas are still islands – not really well connected .

For example Santa comes to the town – says Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas

But he does not do much else

The kids dance around the Christmas tree but that is all they do

Speech

While he is very very apraxic still – he is talking more and more

Even little phrases

Like yesterday when he tries to wake us up instead of the usual “stand up “ wake up”

He says – “Wake up … go eat tea” ( DH and my weekend morning ritual ) … and then points outside and says “when the sun is up .. it means wake up

Yesterday on the trampoline

He is shooting baskets ( standing right next to the basket – lest someone think I am hiding a Michael Jordan here )

And he goes – S is for Soccerball , B is for Basketball and then he says R is for ..

I obligingly complete with his favorite R word “Rudolph the red nose reindeer

He says “no, R is for R_____( his name , my favorite R word )

Really I am just soooooo grateful my cup of happiness runneth over.

I know there is a long way to go but I simply pay no attention to it anymore .

I just look at the next step ahead



Social

One of our good friends is having a birthday party for their 2 year old and invites us

They are very very very welcoming of R always

Pretty much all our friends are very accepting of R - but these two go a little beyond

For instance her MIL has bought a present for R - just becasue their daughter will be getting a present

We have told R about the birthday party well in advance

He has been practicing with the Sepctrum connections DVD Birthday Party scenes

( really the child has SUCH a desire to learn )

he behaves really well at the birthday party

The one thing that sets him apart is the stimming and the "eeee" sounds

Its a large barbecue so at one point in time he wanders off happily and suprises two people by randomly saying eeeee to them

For some reason their surprised faces makes us laugh uproriously

Though DH and while watching Dexter late in the night realize that we should take a page from Harry's( dexter's dad's )  book and teach R how to "act normal "

( For those of you who dont watch Decter the basic premise of the show is that - a police inspector ( harry ) adopts a boy called Dexter who has homicidal tendencies. So Harry teaches Dexter how to only kill bad people and also how to act normal . he is kind of a vigilante serial killer )


We dont ever want him to feel that stimming is bad or wrong ( becasue really for many auties - stimming is a release that calms them down )

 But we do want him to be able to stim in private

So that one day - if it matters to him - he can pretend for periods of time - to act neurotypical

I think a lot of autistic adults I know make attempts to blend it - but they learn how to do it in a hit or miss fashion

I think all parents of Auties need to have a 10 -20 year planning horizon for their child and then think of all the little steps that are needed to accomplish this goal

So for instance at 26- my dream for R is  to have, Happiness , to be  good humanbeing and have some way to make a living and hopefully also have friendship and love

Frankly I think the seeds are laid for many of these already

Awareness

We are also noticng a much greater sense of awareness

For instance last weekend when we are at an Aquarium at an Autism event - R goes to a "shark" instead of running away
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 He expereince the Aquarium instead of being dragged from exhibit to exhibit

He notices the Halloween exhibits and coos at them "Happy Halloween" and counts the pumpkins

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At the candy store - he takes a large lollipop and plonks it down at the check out counter next to me



Walks in the woods

we do much walking and treasure hunting in the woods these days

The Fall weather is just idyllic -

here is some treasure we discover last time.

 I am in equal parts disgusted as well as charmed by the tortoise shell


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I write this post in my most favorite part of the weekend - friday evening

As its Fall break  for R - I have taken a couple of days off .

I cleared out closests yesterday and have generated 4 bags of clothes for Goodwill

We used to stick on to R's old clothes for sentimental reasons earlier  but we think now that its more fun to donate them right before winter so a child can have a a really warm and fashionable coat and trendy outfits

DH has done all the grocery shopping etc while I cleared two closets  . We have cooked . We have done laundry

On Monday the mad crazy week begins with all its stresses

But between then and now the weekend waits

With that feeling, I write  to the sound of the wind in the pines

I am in my favorite season,

In my favorite place

With my beloved husband and son

God's in heaven and all is right with the world !

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On Hopeful parents today

I am over at the Hopeful Parents website today writing about changing the way we think about parenting an Autistic child
Shakespeare in Hamlet says that "Nothing is good or bad.. its our thinking that makes it so" and I find this especially true of Autism Parenting .
If you have a minute do over to that lovely website here

Floortime Lite Mama

On my life as the mother of an adorable 5 year old with Autism and Apraxia