Guests: Dr. Tony Attwood and Lisa Rogers with Educating Diverse Learners, offer parents a basic overview of school bullying with practical solutions to this frustrating problem that often accompanies those with Asperger Syndrome.
Respect yourself. As hard as things have been, focus on your strengths. Your path, however bumpy, has gotten you the be the person you are. You are unique, and no one else can contribute your insight and perspective.
Reach out for support. If you have family or friends who “get it,” that’s terrific. If not, there’s communities of support out there on Facebook, like “The Aspergian Has An Article for That” and “Autism Support and Discussion Group”. People have had similar experiences and are working on the same issues.
Advocate for yourself. No one can see inside you. Consider how best to communicate to the person who is listening. With some people, you can probably say what you want plainly. For others, help them understand. You might try this: say something positive (I want to do a good job), then your need: (but I need a quieter place to work) and then something positive (I’ll be able to get that done). Or, another example: positive (I want us to get along), need (so I need you to be clear and not expect I know what you want), positive (that will really help).
Take care of your health. Your body is critical to your mood, your ability to think and your wellbeing. Too many people don’t get enough sleep, eat well or take the time to take care of themselves. Treat yourself to a recharging walk to somewhere you enjoy (or nap), whatever works for you.
Meditate It’s been proven that mediation can structurally change your brain to be more stress resilient, and it’s like creating a center of calm for yourself. There’s many ways to do it (mindfulness, repeating a phrase, yoga, even walking). You’ll find great apps to lead you through mediation like Calm, Headspace and Insight Timer.
Know yourself Know your triggers for emotional and sensory overload and early warning signs in your thinking, feeling or body that say it’s getting too much. Have strategies you’ve pre-thought for calming down, whether it’s something like taking a walk, listening to music, doing a minute or two of meditation, anything that works.
Have strategies If you can’t escape going into difficult situations, have strategies for handling it. Short doses, taking time outs. Use self-advocacy to share that this situation is difficult and what might be helpful. If that doesn’t work and this situation keeps recurring, there’s something fundamentally wrong with this situation and you might have to think about how to change it.
Have compassion for yourself We all do our best and no one is perfect. You may have made mistakes and regret them but that’s how we learn. You need to give yourself the compassion you’d want to give a friend in the same situation.
Let go of anger This saying is allegedly attributed to the Buddha: He who holds onto anger is like the man who drinks poison and expects the other person to die. Anger stimulates your stress response so your autonomic nervous system stays in fight/flight mode. This is bad for your health, your immunity and your outlook on yourself and life. I’m not saying forget, just do whatever re-centers your focus on how you overcame (or can overcome) whatever obstacle you encountered. You’ve undoubtedly had some good experiences; focus on them as balancing the negative.
Learn the serenity prayer. Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Anxiety symptoms and reactions are very common in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They can interfere with functioning across home, community and school settings. Scientific studies have found that from 11 to 84 percent of youth with autism suffer from anxiety symptoms – intense fear, trouble concentrating, rapid heartbeat, tension, restlessness or sleeplessness. Lisa Rogers with Educating Diverse Learners answers a reader’s question about helping her son overcome his daily stressor.
Q: Dear Lisa,
My son has fears. One thought gives him daily anxiety: that of his pants not staying up. We tried belts that he buckles too tightly. He still fears the pants will fall and the buckle gives extra sensory problems. We tried sweatpants that he ties tightly, still fearful. All day he hikes his pants up. I tried to show him the pants can’t fall down but this doesn’t help. He also insists on wearing underwear two sizes too big. He is 8 and diagnosed as PDD-NOS. Could you direct me to any information to help him? This fear is causing multiple meltdowns daily. I don’t know what to do.
A: Dear Mom or Dad,
Multiple meltdowns each day can certainly take its toll on your son and your family. I understand how critical this issue is for you and will do my best to provide helpful information for you to consider.
In order to be most helpful, I do need to ask a few questions first.
Is your son able to explain in any way what is causing or contributing to this fear? You mention that this is a current situation and so any insight about the reason for this development will be helpful. As you know, children on the autism spectrum are often rule-driven and literal in their interpretation of language. Perhaps something an adult said with good intentions about the importance of keeping your pants up or a scene from a movie could be a root cause? On the surface this might seem silly, but this can help in better understanding your son and his very real fear.
If your son is able to communicate through words or pictures, you might try cartooning as a way to acquire insight. When he is calm and all is well, you can sit together and draw a cartoon where you ask him to describe his thoughts while he is walking with his pants snug and tight around his waist. If not too stressful for him, you could even draw a picture with pants falling down on a stick figure and ask him to describe his ideas/feelings about this.
Have you already tried suspenders or even overalls to provide a sense of security beyond a belt or tie? It sounds like there are compounding sensory issues and so these might not be feasible options.
For now, here are a few ideas to consider . . .
I. Due to neurological differences, individuals with autism often experience a higher level of stress and anxiety. Structure, however, makes events predictable and helps to reduces stress, confusion, and anxiety.
So while you want an answer to your immediate problem, adding structure may be a critical preventive key to decrease anxiety which may be contributing to the presenting problem. A few ways to add structure at both school and home include the following:
Establish set routines at school and at home
Create daily schedules, weekly calendars and lists
Use visual cues like checklists with photos
Establish clear visual cues so that they can understand what work is expected, how much work is required, and how they know when they are finished the work
Make transitions predictable and regular
Provide tools, such as “surprise cards” to help deal with unanticipated or even planned changes in the routine
Here are a couple of resources for building structure at home:
II. Does your son have any favorite characters or things? If so, these special interests can be used to help him deal with his anxiety/fear about his pants falling down. Power Cards have been found to be effective for some children with special interests.
A Power Card involves including special interests with visual aids to teach and reinforce academic, behavioral and social skills to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. By using their special interest, the individual is motivated to use the strategy presented in the scenario and on the Power Card. It’s a positive strategy that is often entertaining as well as inexpensive and simple to develop.
It can be used when an individual lacks the understanding of his/her expectations, to clarify choices, to teach cause and effect between a specific behavior and its consequence, to teach another’s perspective, to aide in generalization, or as a visual reminder of appropriate behavioral expectations of a situation.
Although our emphasis is often focused on early intervention, it is important to consider various types of interventions that can grow with the child with Aspergers or HFA as they grow into adolescence, another area of huge potential growth. One approach that has demonstrated clinical impact is DIR/Floortime. This method is a relationship-based, developmental framework that is geared toward supporting foundational social-emotional capacities.
The DIR Model, or Floortime, aims to support higher level thinking abilities of multicausal and reflective thinking by building foundational stability in self-regulation and co-regulation with another. DIR/Floortime incorporates techniques and strategies geared toward promotion of more stable and more flexible emotional regulation in the child or adolescent.
Excellent basic overview of High Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome!
The Coping to Excelling documentary sheds illuminating light on the topic of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in school-aged children. Narrated by a Mother of a son with Asperger’s, this engaging program allows the viewer to ‘see through the eyes’ of those on the high end of the autism spectrum while getting advice from experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Tony Attwood, Jennifer McIlwee Myers, Billy Edwards and many more!
“I would strongly recommend the Coping to Excelling DVD not only for parents, especially those of a newly diagnosed child, but also for teachers and professionals!”
– Dr. Tony Attwood
The DVD, Coping to Excelling, is divided into 5 chapters each lasting just over 10 minutes. The chapters may be viewed independently or the entire Documentary (lasting 68 minutes) may be viewed in it’s entirety.
Understanding High-Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome – a broad overview
The Family Unit – The importance thereof
Choices in Education – Pro’s and con’s of all methods
Bullying – re-enactments and solutions
Social Development – suggestions and tools from the experts
Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction.
A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.
Even before the official diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, we knew our son Sam walked apart from the crowd. His early intense interest in a subject matter, and not in his peers, was the perfect mix for oddity starting the early sociable elementary years.
While we, as Sam’s parents, grew to walk alongside (and later celebrate) the unique perspective Sam had on the world, it was me who was shocked to be set apart from the crowd.
The elementary years were full of field trips, lunch visits, and homeroom activities. When it came time for picking groups for the field trips, my son was not one who other mothers wanted for their sons. At this early age, most mothers were positioning their children to be the best, only with the best, and we didn’t fit their criteria.
So for many of those early years Sam and I sat alone as other mothers invited the more social children to sit with them. Support did not come in familiar places: relatives, neighbors, team sports, youth groups or, field trip Moms. In fact, it was those who were actually abusive to Sam that set the stage for above and beyond parental protection. So different from my youth or perceived visions of parenthood. After the shock and heart wrenching pain for my son, the realization sat in that I too, was isolated.
How Our Family Responded to Isolation
Our family had hit a harsh reality, so we decided to fight back in a way that did no harm to anyone, but bolstered our son’s confidence. We chose our son over the crowd. We eliminated the negative and stuck to the positives. My Mom and Dad (both have since passed) were so very supportive and loving and choose to take a big role in both our sons lives. We clung to that love and our sons were nurtured and flourished. You don’t need or should expect everyone in your family(s) to be supportive, just enjoy who does and build upon that. Together the four of us found a loving church home, become interested in all things our sons were interested in, enjoyed those who did make a conscience effort to be a positive part of our sons lives, traveled on weekends (verses attending typical soccer games), and marched to a new rhythm I had never heard before! At first it was scary, going a route we’ve never taken before. However, after removing the negatives, the anxious worry quickly subsided and Sam (and the rest of us) blossomed!
Hello to star-gazing, train following, computer lessons, pokemon’ tournaments….well you have your list too!
Being apart from the crowd became the norm and our sons both flourished.
I write this not to feel sad or ‘wallow’ in self-pity. Nor have I listed the struggles (you can refer to other posts covering that) of the journey. I write about the choice because it is that simple. Because this probably happens to many parents of a child on the spectrum. I want to encourage you to persevere and hold onto the unique qualities that are the very being of your Asperger child and to let go of any expectations you may have of others taking part. Bottom line: Forge your own path for your child and take along the handful of people who do want to be a part.
It does get easier the older they get, and the reward will be a son or daughter who knows that their uniqueness is a gift. Recently Sam was asked what it “felt” like to have Autism. His matter of fact reply was priceless: “Don’t think of Autism as a weight, think of it as a pair of wings”.
Being apart from the crowd is a great thing indeed.
Growing up there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for people to see me for exactly who I am, and like me for it. I drive myself mad looking for this, because identity is unstable. People change as they get older through a combination of experience, genetic predispositions, and neuroplasticity. Aspergers is one fickle diagnoses, mainly because it is susceptible to all kinds of misinterpretation.
And then this miraculous invention called Facebook came out.
I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was still a relatively small community. One thing I loved about Facebook is that the social norms were different from in-person interaction, and often times made things easier on me. I can connect with people and not be criticized for my lack of eye contact or vocal tone.
I can filter my blunt comments, and assess my honesty before I say anything. Additionally, I can access hundreds of people within minutes who share my obscure interests, like Russian history or Phantom of the Opera. I think some of the first groups I joined were “addicted to piano,” and “when I was your age Pluto was a planet.” I had lived in 3 states and 2 countries at that point, and I could keep in touch with all of my friends from around the world.
Nowadays it seems like everyone I know is on Facebook and as a result, I have to keep my freak flag on a leash. Both of my grandmas are now on Facebook, and one of them said to me: “You better watch what you post because it might come back to bite you.”
What does that even mean? Do you even know how to use Facebook grandma? Turns out she did and also learned how to use an iPad way before I’d even seen one. To give you an idea of some of the posts my grandma was referring to, here is an example:
Dear girl who cheated off my exam today,
You’re a jerk.
Unfortunately for you, So am I. I put all the wrong answers in for you to copy and waited until you left to put the right ones in. It’s called studying.
Your passive aggressive classmate, Alix
I think social media’s impact on how we incorporate technology in our daily lives can condition us to display Asperger-type symptoms, the kind that my social skills training and family taught me not to do. Growing up my mom taught me to never use my cell phone at the table. To this day I never pull out my cell phone at a nice restaurant, even when asked to. Now when my friends and I go out, one is Instagramming their cocktail, the other answering a text from her husband, etc.
I don’t meet very many people my age who impress me with their ability to hold down a sincere conversation. I went to a youth group activity that was a meet and greet for young adults. I knew absolutely no one. I turned to this guy next to me and asked casually “What’s your name?”. He responded with one word “Martin,” and didn’t even look me in the eye, but instead was looking down at his phone where he had Facebook open.
I was talking to a CEO who runs a prominent company, he told me that when he hires graduates he looks for people who can look him in the eye, shake his hand, and carry on a conversation on top of meeting a few of the skills that would contribute to his company (e.g. using a computer program, or proficiency in Spanish, etc). He looks for people who have complex analytical skills or specialize in mastering one area. He could care less about the transcripts or grade point average of our degree.
There is hope for us with autism and there is a reason we should constantly strive to improve our social skills on top of pursuing our interests, because there are people who appreciate us for who we are and what we have. But in order to bridge that gap, we must have those social skills, even if Facebook and other social media is degrading the quality of interactions we have with people in person.