Autistic Processing of Social Information

My autistic neurology means that I am not good at picking up typical social cues, understanding complex social situations, automatically picking up meanings of idioms, or understanding the hidden curriculum that most others automatically pick up (Endow 2012). This means I often look naïve and gullible. The fact is I AM naïve and gullible when I try to use the social constructs of neuromajority folks to navigate the world around me.

When I was younger and deemed “in need of help” that “help” largely involved others trying to teach me to think and act as if I had a typically wired brain. I was never very good at it because no matter how many therapeutic social skills situations I availed myself of, because they were taught as if all participants had a neurotypical brain and my brain was not neurotypical, I mostly failed their learning agenda for me. My brain just plain works differently.

Here is an example: I rarely remember the same details about other people that most folks do. I remember the visual perception that came to me during an interaction, whether or not I was personally a part of that interaction. I pick up much information through seeing the sounds and movements of color people generate along with changes in the air space surrounding them as they speak and go about their business.

When I match the colors of others I can carry on a conversation. When our colors don’t match, the conversation usually doesn’t go well. I did not realize this way of perceiving and understanding the essence of people was not shared by others until recent years (Endow, 2013).

All through my life when others have tried to help me it has been minimally helpful to me. They would most often try to get me to understand the world in the way they understand the world. It was helpful information to know how others were thinking because it explained their behavior. Even so, learning how typical people think does not help me to then be able to think in their way.

Now that you have read the above italicized example of one way I think visually by incorporating the sound and movement of colors people generate do you understand it? Probably so. And now that you understand how I think can you stop thinking the way you think and start thinking the way I think? Probably not!

The way we think is important because it is how we make decisions. It is part of everyday life. In my work life I might avoid business interactions with someone because they have ugly colors with sticky tentacles moving sneakily toward me. A typical person, who’s thinking is language-based, may understand that this potential business partner is devious and less than ethical in his practices. In essence, we both understood the same thing, but I had no way to explain it unless I translated my visual thinking into words. Visual is my native language; it is how I interface with the world around me and how I innately understand people.

Just like it would not be helpful for you to adopt my ways which are foreign to you, please understand that it is not helpful for me to always adopt your foreign ways when making decisions about people. We think differently and that is okay with me. I look forward to the day that my way of thinking is okay with the rest of the world.

In the meantime, if you are a parent, teacher or therapist of an autistic person, perhaps you might find it useful to ponder these questions:

    • Do you know how this autistic person remembers people?
    • Do you know what is important to this autistic person about other people?
    • Do you understand how this autistic person decides who to interact with and who not to interact with?
    • Do you honor this, even if you may not understand it?

Many autistic individuals will not be able to explain to you how they think because it is not word based and thus they have no way to explain it. You do not necessarily need to understand how an autistic person thinks in order to honor it.

Selection from Autistically Thriving: Reading 

Selection from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology, pgs.39-40.

Note: The author is autistic, intentionally uses identity-first language (rather than person-first language), and invites the reader, if interested, to do further research on the preference of most autistic adults to refer to themselves using identity-first language.

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurol

BOOKS BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Executive Function Assessment

During the past several years I have been working with both teachers and clinicians to see and support executive function challenges in their autistic students and clients. In the process, the Executive Function Assessment was born. Recently, It has been published in downloadable PDF format. Here is the information and the table of contents of what is in the Executive Function Assessment download:

Many individuals struggle with one or more components of executive function in their daily lives. Assessed are  each of the five components – flexibility, leveled emotionality, impulse control, planning/organizing, and problem solving. Based on the book  FLIPP the Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skill  by Wilkins and Burmeister, this Executive Function Assessment is appropriate for use with (or on behalf of) intermediate, middle, high school and college career individuals. It has been found helpful in both school and clinical settings. The main part of this paper and pencil 20-page PDF download, the Executive Function Assessment Teacher Report, can be filled out by a teacher or a Mental Health clinician about the individual with whom they are working.

Next is a companion Executive Function Support and Intervention Plan that allows the user to document the specific goals, supports/interventions and data collection used by school staff or Mental Health clinicians to address specific executive function challenges based on the assessment. Also included is the Executive Function Student Interview for the teacher or Mental Health clinician to use. It is recommended to get the perspective of the student or client, involving them in the process and decision making on which areas to address to better their daily lives.

When an individual has strong executive function they are able to organize, plan, problem solve and pay attention to and remember details. Additionally, strong executive function helps a person remain calm under pressure and to be flexible when things do not work out right the first time (2015, Wilkins & Burmeister).

School staff report what they liked best about this assessment is it gave them specific and helpful ways to talk about their students during IEP meetings. Additionally, assessment items easily turned into  to IEP goals, on which students made progress.

A Mental Health clinician shares this: “In my therapy practice I only see autistic clients who have comorbid DSM diagnosis. The Executive Function Assessment has been helpful for clients (and parents) to understand just which things are difficult and what, if anything, to do about it.”

Table of Contents

What is Executive Function …………………………………………………….……………… 2

Executive Function Components ………………………………………………….………..… 2

Which Disorders Commonly Manifest Executive Function Challenges? ……..…….……… 3

Executive Function Teacher Report ………………………………………………….…….… 4

Executive Function Support and Intervention Plan ……………..………………………… 12

Executive Function Student Interview …………………..………..………………………… 13

Wilkins, S., & Burmeister, C. (2015). FLIPP the Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skills. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Note: The author is autistic, intentionally uses identity-first language (rather than person-first language), and invites the reader, if interested, to do further research on the preference of most autistic adults to refer to themselves using identity-first language.

BOOKS   BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2021). Executive Function Assessment. McFarland, WI: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2019). Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012).  Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic AdultShawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Autistic Style of Thinking and Sensory System Impacts

As a teen living in an institution I learned many things. One thing in particular I figured out was what to do when inside my body I felt a rage brewing. The following is a selection from the first book I wrote in which you will see the how my autistic processing and information retrieval lead to ultimate frustration which in turn led me to problem solve – also using my autistic sense making abilities as seen in the sensory based names of the roads leading out of town as they provided the solutions.

It is interesting to note that at the time a diagnosis of autism had not yet been given to me. Even so, I was using my literal, concrete, think in pictures style to serve me along with my innate need for sensory system regulation. Often we think of autistic sensory needs and think- ing style as problems to be solved only because they are different from the norm. I encourage you to think of the autistic sensory needs and thinking style as a place to look for autistic sense making when interfacing with a world not made for us.

Getting Out of Town

     When the info she needs is somewhere inside her
     and she just can’t find it right then when she needs it

     she calls it Ultimate Inside Frustration.

     When she was a girl she coped by showing an array of behaviors
     that world-people outside her labeled “inappropriate.”

     She learned over time that silence was more acceptable
     to the people in the world outside her

     so she tried it.

     And this is what she did:

     She made a map with a city in the middle named
     Ultimate Inside Frustration
     and then drew a road to take to get herself out of this town.

     After that whenever she found that she was in town
     she knew exactly what to do.

     Instead of staying in town she would turn and run down
     a road with the signs pointing “OUT.”

     Here are the names of the roads on the map leading out
     of the town of Ultimate Inside Frustration:

Silent Road – where she can disengage from the outside world

Kaleidoscope Court
– where she can find comfortable looking
matching colors to see

Grey Square Lookout – where she can see the repeating pattern
of the same speckled grey squares on the floors

Hummingbird Lane – where she can silently hum the same few bars
of the very same tune over and over and over again

Lake View Drive – where she can watch or listen to moving water
in the lake, the shower, the sink or the toilet

Textile Turn – where she can stroke something very smooth and soft
or something with a repetitive pattern of texture (Endow, 2006)

Selection adapted from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology

Note: The author is autistic, intentionally uses identity-first language (rather than person-first language), and invites the reader, if interested, to do further research on the preference of most autistic adults to refer to themselves using identity-first language.

BOOKS   BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.  Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012).  Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic AdultShawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Christmas, Autism and Teaching Kindness

During the holiday season people are sometimes rushed and frazzled due to the extra activities and expectations of the season. Thus, it is a particularly good time to talk about kindness. Many individuals with autism are literal and concrete thinkers, which can make teaching an abstract concept such as kindness a little tricky. Here are some ways to work with an autistic neurology when teaching the concept of kindness:

Identify Acts of Kindness

Even though kindness is an abstract concept we can start teaching kindness by noticing aloud whenever we see an act of kindness by another. This can include anything from holding a door to returning a stray cart in a store parking lot. We can comment on the behavior and identify it as kind.

Model Acts of Kindness

One way to model kind behavior is to treat others with respect. We can be polite to those waiting on us in stores and restaurants. We can say thank you whenever we appreciate the thoughtfulness of others. Be sure to identify these acts as being kind.

We can even model what to do when we recognize our behavior is less than kind by calling a “do over.” Whenever I find myself acting unkind I call a do over. I then simply go back and do it over, pulling up the kinder behavior I wished I would have exhibited in the first place.

Example: I one time said, “don’t be such a slow poke” when my child was having a hard time choosing between breakfast cereals in the grocery store. I immediately called a do over, apologizing and saying my words were unkind. I thought for a moment and then said he could carry both boxes of cereal, take his time choosing and after deciding, return the rejected box to the shelf.

I like modeling do overs because it is a quick way to repair a less than kind situation – something we all find ourselves in from time to time. This normalizes the fact that we are not always as kind as we would like to be along with giving the remedy of what to do when we find ourselves in the aftermath of being unkind.

Use a Visual To Report Observed Kind Acts

Once the individual has an understanding of kind acts I like to make a visual to support us in looking for and identifying kind acts we see others doing. I have used a variety of visual systems, depending on the interests and abilities of the individual. Here are some things i have implemented:

  • Capture a Kindness a Day: Ben loved taking photos with his phone so his assignment was to snap photos of observed kindnesses. At the following appointment we looked at the photos together while Ben told me the kindness depicted in each one.
  • Count up the Kindnesses: Mari put a handful of pennies into her left pocket each morning. Each time she saw an act of kindness she moved one penny from her left pocket to her right pocket. At the end of the day she recorded the number of pennies in her right pocket.
  • Recall a Kindness: Jose and his mom talked about kindness at dinner each night. They each told the other about one kind act they had observed during the day. While mom cleared the table Jose recorded the kind acts of the day on the Recalling Kindness log.

Use a System To Record Kind Acts Engaged In

Once kindness has been identified and able to be seen in others it is time to encourage individuals to engage in their own kind acts. Remember, with autistic neurology, in addition to supporting a concrete, visual and literal style of thinking the neurology often looks for the system. This means we can support this strength by developing a system to highlight kind behavior. Some systematic successes include:

  • The Christmas Kindness Can: A coffee can was covered in bright Christmas paper and labeled the Kindness Can. Slips of paper with prompts of kind acts were placed inside the can. Each morning one slip of paper was pulled out and an opportunity to engage in that kindness was watched for and implemented during the day. This idea can be used for one person, a family, a group or a classroom. One alternative is to create a story about a person engaged in the act of kindness described on the slip of paper drawn. Another alternative is to tell about a time you employed the kindness described on your slip of paper.
  • The Kindness Calendar: Using a monthly calendar, write a specific kind act on each square. The idea is to engage in the act of kindness written on the day’s calendar square.
  • The Kindness Cup: An unpopped popcorn kernel was taken from the jar and put into the candy cane decorated coffee cup after each kind act. This was a classroom project with students and staff contributing. When the coffee mug was full of popcorn kernels the class had a popcorn and candy cane treat.

Reminder

Remember, we are highlighting kindness. It is important that the kind act or deed we engage in, when directed toward another person, is perceived as kind by that person. If in doubt you can ask the person first. This is because a helpful act of kindness is only helpful and kind if wanted or welcome by the other person.

Conclusion
The abstract concept of kindness can be taught to anyone. Start by identifying and modeling acts of kindness. When it comes to a person with autism neurology, it is often helpful to use visuals and to employ a system for engaging in or in observing acts of kindness.

cupp

BOOKS  BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology. Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012). Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic Adult. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Originally written for and published by Ollibean on Dec. 9, 2016
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My Visual Waves of Autistic Thinking

I am an autistic woman who thinks in a variety of ways – all of them being visual. One of those ways is with thought waves. Here is a description:

Thought Waves

The sound

           And movement
                   
                    Of colors
                              IS
                    The “stuff” of my thinking

Moving parts

And color sounds

Is what I watch

When contemplating

What you are saying

Or in private

Is a generation of complex idea thinking

A moving, sounding, mesmerizing,

Extrapolating process

Is my thought wave

Time taking

Color thinking

When people talk to me my brain responds by automatically creating and matching an internal thought wave to the words I hear. The thought wave is made of moving color pulsations that generate sounds. Even though spoken words are the medium most often used by people to communicate with me, I am wired to connect to these words through the sound and movement of colors.

Once the movement and pulsation of sound in the thought wave is stable enough I can translate it into words. This is the way I think. It moves quite fast, but even so, tends to be slower than the speed of conversation. Because speed is so valued by society we tend to give people no more than a few seconds to respond to our spoken words. (Endow, 2013).

Thus, my visual way of thinking, when I am in conversation with others often means my timing is off. This comes to light in a couple of different ways. By the time I have a response to something that was said, the conversation has moved on so the response seems awkward, as it doesn’t fit into the moved on conversation.

Another thing that happens when I am in a group conversation is I tend to talk over people. It is not intentional. What happens is my timing is off. Either I say nothing, as it is not apparent to me where to jump in and when it is apparent the words don’t fall out of my mouth in synch with my thoughts. By the time I start to say my words the space in the conversation has gone by and my words start during the time the next person has started talking. Some days this is more noticeable than other days. It is impacted by my state of sensory regulation (Endow, 2013).

Selection adapted from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology

Note: The author is autistic, intentionally uses identity-first language (rather than person-first language), and invites the reader, if interested, to do further research on the preference of most autistic adults to refer to themselves using identity-first language.

BOOKS   BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2019).  Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology.  Lancaster, PA: Judy Endow.

Endow, J. (2012).  Learning the Hidden Curriculum: The Odyssey of One Autistic AdultShawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2006).  Making Lemonade: Hints for Autism’s Helpers. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2013).  Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated. Cambridge, WI: CBR Press.

Endow, J. (2009).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2009).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Endow, J. (2010).  Practical Solutions for Stabilizing Students With Classic Autism to Be Ready to Learn: Getting to Go. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Myles, B. S., Endow, J., & Mayfield, M. (2013).  The Hidden Curriculum of Getting and Keeping a Job: Navigating the Social Landscape of Employment. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.