Monthly Archives: October 2010

Today’s Call to Action: Assignments for Autism Acceptance

Saturday’s Pookie Posting — Artistic, Not Autistic! — has me thinking about rhetoric. If you read this blog, you know I do not use the word “retard” to describe anyone or anything. But, there’s always this other tricky word that carries a heavy price tag: Normal.

I could ask the cliched question, What is normal? But, that would highlight a perspective that I that you can probably already guess I espouse. Instead, I’d just like for you to be aware of how you describe anything. Normal isn’t the right word, unless it’s describing a temperature.


Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Call to Action


Halloween Pookie and Literal Communication: Angles or Angels?

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Posted by on October 31, 2010 in Pookie


The Effects of Self-Awareness on ASD

I have a theory I’d like to propose for your consideration: The more self- and other-aware individuals with ASD are, the more self-critical (often inaccurately self-critical) they are. When they notice their “differences”, any other “differences”, even if meant to help, become Catch-22s.

Example #1: Duncan. Duncan knows he has Asperger’s. He knows he has behaviors that make him look different. He is painfully aware of these behaviors. His teachers have proposed he carry a behavior checklist class to class in his planner. On this sheet are target behaviors. At the end of each class, each teacher “checks” or “minuses” his chart.

Duncan is highly unsatisfied with this chart. He does not want to check-in with teachers at the end of each class — no one else does. He does not want to use part of his precious passing period time to have another person assess his behavior — it’s over. It’s done. A plus or a minus isn’t going to do much at that point. But, there is a small voice in Duncan’s head that remembers those menial pluses and minuses because of the reward. But, again, he hates that reward because this reward makes him different.

Example 2: Cameron. Cameron is like every kid I know on the spectrum. Passing periods are like crossing the river Styx. Sensory overload: too close, too loud, too fast, too smelly, too much, too much. Too far to travel, too little time. Cameron’s teachers offered early release from class — a common, highly useful accommodation. Ask any kid, they’d take it in a heart beat — like a get out of jail early pass. Not Cameron. He’s worried that others will notice when he leaves early. “Where are you going?” they will ask. “You’re special,” they will say.

So, leave class early to more easily traverse the hallways with parting shots from peers but reduced stress, aggravation, and stimulation? Or, withstand class for the horrors of the hallway and — possible — more parting shots from peers when you try to de-stress at the start of your next class?

Example #3: Shea. Shea always has her homework. If you or I were to review her work, we’d say it was done. Well done. Teachers have asked Shea to submit her homework, and she’d say it wasn’t done. But, they could see her homework, sticking out from a book, nestled below her pencils, or hastily crumpled in a folder. She had not finished it her way — to her level of perfection — so she kept it. And got a 0.

These Catch-22s are debilitating, keeping Duncan, Cameron, and Shea in a state of inaction between change and status-quo. Change is good, right? But, what if change makes you more self-aware of what you don’t want to be aware of?


Posted by on October 31, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


Phone a Friend? Promoting Telephone Skills in ASD

My clients rarely speak on the telephone. They make the obligatory calls to parents and grandparents, but the length of these calls is short (although my clients will say that they are painfully long!).

1. Make it like ordering a pizza: Give it a purpose. Small talk and chitchat are not  strengths of most individuals with ASD because they have endless variations and rely on people’s mood as much as setting and interests. If you give your son or daughter a purpose, there is an implicit structure and endpoint. These purposes can be vast but must be reciprocal. For example, talk about one part of your school day and ask Dad what he did at work today.

2. Practicing a sample phone conversation with common conversation topics is also critical. This practice must be with actual phones, such that your child understands how to dial and answer a phone, end a call, send a text message, and find a number in “contacts”.

3. Give your son or daughter a picture of the conversational partner to “talk to”. Being unable to see their conversational partner is one of the most common reasons why talking on the phone is so difficult, according to my clients. We can’t all have that neat (and, I thought utterly useless) iPhone function that lets us see ourselves and our caller.

4. What to do…..with those…..awkward……pauses? My clients feel those pauses like a stoppage in the playback of a movie — seemingly endless and significantly awkward. I’ve tried to convince kids that they happen all the time, a very ineffective assurance, because the heart of the issue is how to end the pause. My clients don’ t know how to because they don’t know what to say, so they are at the behest of their conversational partner, while knowing they should be generating something. Talk about pressure.

5. Relieve the pressure. Take charge in the conversation. Ask direct questions and narrate your thinking. The latter takes practice. Phrases like, “Hmm, I’m thinking about what you just said” or “give me a sec” help define the silence and structure the conversation.

Above all, keep things short. Being nearby and monitoring the conversation provides a lifeline to ending the anxiety.


Posted by on October 30, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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Artistic! Not Autistic…Oh, the Irony

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Posted by on October 30, 2010 in Pookie


“The Playdate Conundrum”: A Possible Solution?

“The playdate conundrum” on A life less ordinary? struck a cord with me, not as a parent, but as a person who works with and advocates for children and youth on the spectrum. This concern — that children with ASD aren’t invited on playdates and don’t always have their playdate requests accepted — is number one on parents list when they meet me for the first time. It becomes a goal of sorts, or, perhaps more accurately, proof that our efforts are working.

I have wracked my brain for how “playdates” coalesced when I was a kid. First of all, we didn’t call them playdates. There is so much unbridled power in that word that it becomes larger than life. It seems so full of planning, and organizing, and structure that is lacks the spontaneity that I remember. We all recognize that kids on the spectrum need that planning and organizing and structure for success, so I’m not suggesting let’s throw the kids in the middle of a field and say, “Have fun.” But, just because those variables are mandatory doesn’t meant that this playdate thing has to feel so damn official and with such high of stakes. Like asking someone to marry you.

One could argue that with decreased opportunities and fewer acceptances, the stakes are that high. Hearing “no” or some carefully sculpted, ambiguous nonsense can become disheartening once, let alone with repetition. My middle school clients have responded most typically by simply not asking anymore. And this — giving up — keeps me awake at night.

So, two years ago, I was sick of doing nothing about it. I looked at a group of six boys and girls with AS and asked, “What are you doing this weekend?” They, of course, had no idea of their schedules or their families’ schedules, so I forged forth somewhat blindly. We set up an outing for all six kids to attend with me and without parents: the movies. The experience wasn’t entirely foreign to them, nor was the time laden with a significant amount of conversation time. Both of those variables would be future challenges.

I won’t say that the movie was a smashing success, but it achieved some desired results and has continued monthly in a variety of forms: movie and lunch, laser tag, bowling, dinner at a “nice” restaurant, a theme park, an indoor pool, a trip to the community center, an outdoor pool, and — my absolute favorite — simply hanging out at one of their house’s.

This last activity seems so relaxing, right? Wrong and that is why we do it. All of the kids come over, the parents leave, and we make it happen. We have always developed a schedule beforehand that has included whole- and small-group times as has specified what the options are for these activities. We have had water balloon and squirt gun battles, hide-n-seek marathons, Lego building contests, and, of course, video game time. “Hanging out in the house” has occasionally resulted in some significant outbursts that have reverberated through group for many weeks. But, at the end of the day, it has been nice to see kids I know and love enjoying themselves and enjoying the company of others.

I attribute the success of these activities to many variables but one that is most significant, in my opinion, is that the participants are all alike. They share a diagnosis that may not present in the same way twice, but the effects are hauntingly common.


Posted by on October 28, 2010 in ASD in the Grand Scheme


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The Social Consequences of Asking for Help

Many of you tweet me with your wisdom, comments, and admiration for Pookie. If you could post it, Pookie herself will be able to see and appreciate it!


Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Pookie

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