The US Autism and Asperger’s Association is holding their conference in St. Louis starting Friday October 1. Keynote speakers include Dr. Temple Grandin, well known as a speaker on both autism and animal handling, Dr. Stephen Shore, author and special educator, who are both on the spectrum themselves, as well as Dr. Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurobiologist from Harvard Medical School and Areva Martin, Esq., mother of a son with autism and an advocacy expert. There are a number of other panelists as well.
The great news? You don’t have to go the St. Louis to attend. (Not that I have anything against St. Louis!) The conference will be available online, through live streaming. Check out the website for more information. Live streaming starts Friday, October 1 at 9:45 am EST, 8:45 am CST, 7:45 am MST, 6:45 am PST Click here to view conference or go to www.ustream.tv/channel/usaaa. Thanks to Autism OW @Autism_Wisdom for tweeting on this.
How do you learn best? When working with clients, I find most of my clients are visual learners. That means supplementing our discussions with sketches and graphs and pictures can make things much clearer. Other people learn best experientially, in which case we might act things out and role play. A lot of people, myself included, love to learn by reading. Many people, when first diagnosed, or when trying to understand a new phase in their lives, turn to book for ideas and answers. For you readers, I’ve got lots of book reviews on this blog. Then there are those individuals who are auditory processors. A lecture, a recording, a conference may be the best way for auditory processors to take in new material.
The four hour DVD set from Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking Across the Home and School Day is an excellent resource for those who want something different than a book. The first two hours are a filmed lecture from Michelle Garcia Winner, where she presents her ideas in her typical clear, detailed, and easy to understand manner. The material is quite similar to what she presents in her books, but if you’d rather have the ideas clearly explained, this is a great resource. The second two hours demonstrates Garcia Winner with school age students, individually and in groups. Although Garcia Winner is demonstrating her social skills groups, the techniques and ideas can be useful to parents hoping to work with their children, as well as individuals trying to pick up these skills themselves. Often, people find that it can be tough to go from the theory about an idea to the application, and demonstrations like these may be just what it take to make these ideas clear.
These DVDs are designed for the parents of children on the spectrum, as well as teachers and professionals. Garcia Winner talks extensively about her communication model, as well as how a diagnosis such as Asperger’s or autism can impact learning as well as social relations. But there’s so little out there for adults on the spectrum, this material could be useful for adults as well. You can find the DVDs, as well as other materials on Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking website.
Social Skills at Work
Does it really matter how you come across at work if you get your job done? So many of my clients tell me that it doesn't. True, you're hired because of your abilities, often a technical skill or a specific knowledge. But once you get the job, it's no longer just about that skill or knowledge. Now, you're part of a team, assigned to all sorts of projects that may have nothing to do with your expertise.
You may be the world's leading expert on a specific user interface, or an aligner, or 17th century Norwegian artists, but once you get the job, you'll be put on the party planning committee, or the diverse hiring practices task force, or the workplace safety team. All those extras have nothing to do with your expertise, everything to do with your job success (and job security!) and they all require social skills and a good work attitude. Just like Seth Godin says, "Your smile didn't matter....No Longer."
Now's the Time To Pay Attention!
School started a few weeks ago, the novelty is wearing off, and routines are setting in. Although it’s tempting to just settle in and let things run their course, now is really the perfect time to look closely at what’s going well and to uncover those little problems that might get bigger. This is true for all students, from kindergarteners to university students. Little, developing problems are easier to solve and there’s still plenty of time to make up for any lower grades. Habits haven’t set in too much yet and it’s easy to create new routines.
First, it’s important to think about what went well last year, and what you’d like to change this year. Did missing assignments snowball into low grades? Did you get overinvolved as a parent, not allowing your child to develop independent skills? Did you forget to factor in time for social connections with other students?
Second, look closely at how that aspect is going this year. Are you just starting to see one or two missing assignments? Are you jumping in a bit to nag, (help) your child? Are you ducking into the library at lunchtime?
Third, look for those tiny changes you can make to improve the situation. The best results often come from rules or systems. Can you start checking the school website every evening before going to bed, and make sure you’ve completed, and packed up, all your assignments? Can you set up a check list for your child, and then let her be responsible for her own work? Can you promise yourself that just once a week, you’ll take the risk and eat lunch with someone else?
Remember, the earlier in the year you try making changes, the bigger the impact of those changes.
Today’s Man: A Documentary Film
What will happen to all the autistic children when they grow up? Who’s going to care for them, employ them, love them? What about when their parents can’t be there to manage things? These are a few of the tough questions that are explored in the haunting 2006 film, Today’s Man, by Lizzie Gottlieb, which chronicles six years in the life of her brother Nicky, diagnosed at the age of 21 with Asperger’s.
Adults with Asperger’s often struggle with a world where they don’t quite fit in. They’re often bright and talented, but chronically underemployed. Frequently they long for connection, but too often they can’t find a social circle of their own, and spend time alone or only with family. Many Asperger’s adults long to date, but can’t find a romantic partner.
Nicky Gottlieb, now in his late 20s, deals with all of these issues in this film. Until he was an adult, his Asperger’s was undiagnosed, but his family knew he was always different. He had extraordinary abilities, such as unusual math and language skills, but almost no ability to read social cues or manage the responsibilities of daily living. The film features Nicky’s New York family of loving, quirky intellectuals, including his sister Lizzie, the film’s producer. Nicky’s attempts to find employment are documented, showing his difficulty in coping with the boredom and rules of his job. We also follow Nicky to a support group session, featuring some of the familiar faces from GRASP.
The film is tough because, as in life, there are no easy answers, and the story doesn’t wrap up neatly. I found myself searching online for the next chapter of his story, but couldn’t find much of an update. The genuine love and caring of this family shine through the film, and Nicky’s spirit inspires, so this is a film that you’ll remember long after the viewing is over.
Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning , by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph. D. And Laurie Dietzel, Ph. D. is, yes, another book on helping kids develop executive function. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Different books (several of which I’ve reviewed here) on the topic offer similar ideas, but the details vary and one book may work better for your child than another. The first part of Late Lost, and Unprepared thoroughly explains executive function, breaks executive function down into a list of specific skills, and discusses the developmental aspects of executive function. If this is the first book you’ve read about helping your child, it’s certainly worth the time to read this carefully.
The second half of the book, “What You Can Do About It”, is of value even to those who have read a number of other books on the topic of executive function. This book’s strength is in breaking issues down methodically. As a former engineer, I know that the best way to get to a solution is to deal with a series of simple issues, rather than one overwhelming problem. This book helpfully lists very concrete, specific issues for each category of executive functioning. For example, one chapter about impulse control addresses specific problems like interrupting others, hitting others, and running off in stores.
A strength of this approach is that the authors present both short term and long term solutions. This is what every parent needs to remember, that executive skills improve with growth and maturity. While short term solutions stop disasters from happening, longer term solutions are what will be truly valuable to maturing individuals.
Another strength of the book is that it discusses how parents can advocate for their child. It’s ideal for every child if all the people dealing with him can be working toward the same solutions. This book makes that idea straightforward and easy to figure out.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.