Category Archives: Social Considerations

Social Participation and the Autistic Sensory System

Every time autistic people interface with the world outside their skin they bring along their sensory system that is often unstable and foists many unexpected experiences upon them. The solutions we employ to deal with the many sensory assaults we experience in social envi- ronments are coded by others as “behaviors.” This is because other people cannot see the inside workings of our sensory system. They can only see the outward behaviors we display as we respond to our inner experience. The following is about one experience of eating at a restaurant, but it is easy to understand that most social participation for an autistic means managing a sensory system that is often unreliable.

Here is an example from my own autistic life:

Lots of people like to eat out. I do, too. Because of my sensory sensitivities, I have learned to reduce certain input to the best of my ability in restaurants so as to better enjoy the experience.

It is impossible to control for all sensory sensitivities at a restaurant. However, I have learned to scan the place and figure out what I can do to make it the best experience possible. A recent gathering was wonderful because the restaurant was spacious with plenty of room between tables, very few diners, soft lighting, soft music and chairs with arms. The perfect sort of place for me!

When the atmosphere isn’t so perfect, I ask for a booth if the place has booths. A booth ensures that nobody will walk behind me and surprise me, causing a startle reaction. A tall-backed booth greatly cuts down the noise. If a booth is not available, I ask to be seated along the perimeter of the dining room.

If there are blinking lights, TVs or lots of movement, I know I will get dizzy. Chairs with arms are great to help me stay anchored. Even if I don’t get dizzy, I often have trouble feeling where my body is located in crowded noisy places. If I don’t have a chair with arms, I will find something to lean at least one side of me against – wedge in with the table or, if in a booth, lean against a wall or a willing friend.

There usually isn’t much a person can modify about lights in a restaurant, but I try to avoid downlights if at all possible. Sitting on the perimeter of the dining room helps reduce the noise input. There is not the surround sound with a wall behind you!

Friends will often suggest I use my earplugs in a restaurant. I realize they have never tried wearing earplugs while eating! It magnifies the noise of your chewing so much that it is nearly impossible to eat. I control for whatever I can in a given environment and then do my best to cope with the rest. Sometimes I do better than other times.

One time I was on a trip with friends. Each morning we ate breakfast in the hotel dining room before setting out for the day. One particular morning, I couldn’t make up my mind about what to order. The waitress came back several times to see if I was ready to order. My thoughts were “sticky,” meaning I would get part way through a thought of what to order and then lose the thought, only to have it butt in on the next thought that involved the next menu item. It was frustrating. I know it made me look like I needed lots more help than I actually did.

When the waitress returned once again and I still did not have my order ready, I wanted her to understand that I wasn’t trying to be difficult and blurted out as way of explana- tion, “I am really not as stupid as I look!”

The waitress acted all flustered. I felt bad because I had no negative intent towards her – just wanted to offer an explanation of sorts about my situation. In retrospect, I should have left well enough alone, but wanting to smooth over the situation when the waitress was apologizing and saying she didn’t mean to rush me, I very supportively replied, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I know that you are probably not as smart as you look either.”

I tell this story so you can know our good intentions are not always conveyed by the words that come out of our mouths. This is especially true when we are on sensory overload or having trouble with movement in our thoughts or in our bodies. Please remember – we are doing the best that we can, given the neurology of our autism.

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 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.

 

Autistic Burnout and Aging

Last September I returned from a vacation that I had been dreaming of taking for several years. I had booked my vacation quite a long time ago. After booking it, my personal resources declined. Many autistics know this phenomenon as autistic burnout. I am beginning to understand that there is likely some interplay between autistic burnout and the aging process.

In autistic burnout we come to the end of our resources that enable us to act as if we are not autistic in order to meet the demands of the world around us. For me these demands have included things like being able to raise my children and maintain employment. I have gone through a few distinct periods of burnout and have successfully managed them by withdrawing from the world as best I could while carrying on daily commitments to children and to employment. Twice during my adult life I had to severely limit my gainful employment because the burnout was too great to enable me to continue. I always have been good at planning and saving so each of these times I had a saving account to draw from for several months.

Finally, I had accumulated enough savings to feel confident to book one of my dream vacation! For many years I have found good deals on Alaskan cruises to see Glacier Bay and at long last I felt in a place to be able to actually book the cruise. I have a particular love of water in natural settings. It was very exciting to plan and dream of this upcoming vacation.

Then, autistic burnout began to rear up again. I thought I knew just how to navigate the burnout. At least I knew to slow down, pull back from social engagements and increase sensory regulation time and modalities. In the past these things had been helpful and allowed me to get back in sync after a few months, thus being able to venture back out into the life I wanted. Not this time.

I am thinking the combination of autistic burnout along with aging has made this episode quite different than the other times burnout has been problematic. For almost a year now, I have been experiencing somewhat of a burnout, but the difference is that I am not able to get past it like I have previously.

Over the months I’ve ramped up my sensory regulation. I am now spending about four hours per day devoted to keeping myself regulated. Some of the things I do include swimming, walking, bike riding, massage, and absolute quiet. In the past all of these things worked well. Now all of these things just sort of work. It means that no matter how much I do I never feel completely regulated.

Then, my vacation time arrived and regulated or not it was time! And, I was excited – very excited. So, off I went – first to San Francisco for some days and then on the cruise. I was by myself most of the days in San Francisco. I did some sight seeing, but all in a way that worked well for me. I was not rushed and did not have anyone else with me. Most of my friends could not understand why I was looking forward to being completely alone on vacation in San Francisco, but it worked very well for me. I could come and go as I was able and stop whenever I felt the need.

I did have friends who met up to have a day in San Francisco before boarding the cruise. While on the cruise we went our separate ways during the day, sharing a dinner table for our evening meal. It was fun to compare notes on who did what during the day and it was just enough social demands for me to enjoy the company, but not be overwhelmed. I could go the entire day without speaking to anyone and walking around the deck viewing the waterways or watching different activities on the cruise ship.

Now that I am back home I have realized that this burnout is different. Even after a lovely undemanding time away my body regulation has pretty much stayed the same – it has not improved as I had anticipated. Now I am thinking this present autistic burnout is combined with effects of getting older. It is like my body has hit a new normal of sorts, meaning that it has slowed down. It seems that no matter how much sensory regulation I do in a day that my body will never get back to what I consider ground zero. Perhaps this part is some of the aging of my body – it just doesn’t spring back to where I can be all chipper and ready to roll full steam ahead.

While at sea I thought a lot about this. In fact, I left my ideas and expectations of my younger self somewhere between Juneau and Skagway. By the time I arrived in Victoria I was trying on my newly found freedom of being okay with the slowed down self of me. The walking tour along the seaside was going too fast for me to be able to take the photos I wished to take. When the tour veered away from the seaside trail I excused myself so that I could be alone. I took my jolly good time walking back to the ship and taking over 300 photos during a leisurely stroll, I enjoyed it immensely!

Now that I am home I am continuing to practice being kind to myself by adjusting my own expectations of how much I do in one day. As an autistic I have for several years been doing the same quantity of employment, housework, art production, regulation, reading, writing, etc. both daily and weekly. Following a schedule is important to me as is getting things accomplished. I didn’t realize my self imposed expectations needed to be adjusted.

Spending ten days on a ship surrounded by natural waterways helped me to understand that autistic burnout may be impacted by the natural aging process, meaning that I will not come out of an episode of burnout at my younger starting point. Because so little is known about autistic people and aging, those of us who are getting older can at least start a discussion about it. I personally am wondering just now if the years of acting – passing as a neuro-majority person – impacts the natural aging process. Do autistics age faster because so much personal physical resources are impinged upon in order to year after year appear to be as typical as possible so that we might fit in enough to pass as somewhat human to the rest of society? And if so, is this a fair price to pay? And fair for whom?

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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 in October 2016. Click here to comment.

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
Click here to comment.

Autism, Direct Instruction and Having Friends

Social understanding and communication are two areas impacted by autism neurology. The way this plays out is different from one autistic individual to the next. Typically, for autistics I have worked with, this means that they do not always pick up social information from the world around them through observation only as most people do. Instead, they sometimes need direct instruction concerning information their autistic neurology doesn’t allow them to automatically pick up and learn.

I think it is important that those around autistics understand that not having typical social understanding of same age peers is part of what autism means. Many times I have seen well meaning adults blame autistics for behavior that is a result of their brain not picking up and synthesizing social aspects of many things in the way people with typical brains do. It is common for adults to think that since the autistic is smart he should know better and that he is choosing to behave rudely. This misattribution has so many negative and far reaching consequences for everyone involved.

In general, it seems that people looking at an autistic really cannot see the autism. This means it is difficult for most people to know what behaviors are reflective of the underlying autism. If a person has a broken arm we can see the cast and understand the person will not be able to use his arm as typically expected. If an autistic person does not have the social understanding of how to act when losing a game we may see him act as a sore loser. We do not see the differently connected neurological pathways that feed information from a variety of brain areas in a split second that are not connected in the usual manner and therefore cannot be used to pull up good loser behavior. That is, we cannot see the autism at play – we can only see the sore loser behavior.

To help in seeing the autism when it comes to areas of unexpected behavior due to atypical social understanding that is part of the basis of an autism diagnosis, here is an example of direct teaching that took place over several months for a 12-year-old boy to learn the skills involved in being a good loser. Learning these skills allowed him to play games with others his age – something he very much wanted to do.

Example of Direct Teaching on How to Be a Good Loser:

Rodney could only play games if he could be assured ahead of time he would win. He would actually say, “I will only play if you let me win.” Rodney very much wanted to play video games and board games with others and even though he had above average intelligence, couldn’t grasp why other 12 year olds didn’t want to play with him.

Social Story: I wrote a social story as a way to give Rodney the social information around winning and losing when playing a game.

Cartooning: Additionally, each time Rodney had played a game he would relay the information and I would draw it out in cartooning style with the talk bubbles. Once the sequence of events were drawn out we would go back over it and fill in thought bubbles. Rodney was often miffed as to the thoughts and feelings of others. He would sometimes take the cartoon home so he could ask his parents if I had the thought bubbles “right.”

Modeling: Additionally, each time I saw Rodney we played UNO and he won. I was very demonstrative in portraying good loser behavior along with identifying it as good loser behavior.

Visual Support: We even started a chart called How to Be a Good Loser and took turns writing down my good loser behavior.

Video Technology: Then, we would watch a You Tube clip that showed kids playing games, particularly watching for good loser behavior. Eventually we watched both good and bad loser behavior of kids playing games and Rodney became quite good at sorting out which behavior was good and which was not good.

Visual Response Prediction Rating Scale: Because Rodney was fond of science and experiments; we made a loser behavior rating scale where we decided, based on the loser behavior whether he would be invited to play another game with his opponent. Here is a snippet from that scale.

Likelihood of Being Invited to Play Again 

Loser Behavior

Invited to Play Again

Maybe Invited to Play Again

Not Invited to Play Again

“Good game”

X

 

 

“I hate you” and throws game pieces

 

 

X

“I hope I win next time” and kicking the board game

 

X

 

Quitting when it looks like you may lose

 

 

X

“Let’s have a rematch!” said with a voice expecting it to be a fun gam

X

 

 

Play Acting Desired Behavior: Next, Rodney practiced the good loser behaviors as if he were an actor in a play. I wrote a script where the characters, Jack and Jane played UNO with Jack winning the first game and Jane winning the second game. Each character exhibited good loser behavior when they lost. Rodney could do this play-acting, but he would always inform me, “This isn’t a real game. It is reading script.”

Video Technology: Then, we made our own video clips on Rodney’s iPad with him playing the character Jack being a good loser. We watched these video clips many times. It allowed Rodney to solidify the picture of himself using good loser behavior.

Predictability: Finally, I told Rodney that I would let him win game 1, 3 and 5 of UNO, but game 2 and 4 I would play my best and this meant that sometimes he might win and sometimes I might win.

Video Technology/Vicarious Behavior Rehearsing/Priming: Right before game 2 and 4 we would take a break to look at our Jack video clips.

Predictability: Whenever it looked like I was close to winning I would announce it so as to prepare Rodney, though he was keeping track pretty accurately.

Non-Verbal Prompting: The first time I was near winning Rodney announced he no longer wanted to play UNO. I pointed to our chart so he could be reminded of where that reaction was likely to lead. I started watching one of his video clips. He didn’t want to watch it, but because I was watching it he heard himself portraying his good loser behavior.

Allowing Extra Time for Processing During Difficult Moment: I told him to let me know when he was ready to finish the game. He took the iPad and watched the video clip and then said he was ready. It was really hard for him that first time he lost, but he was able to pull up the desired behavior.

Repetition and Practice: Eventually, with more practice, Rodney was able to pull up the good loser behaviors. In the beginning he needed to know before starting the game whether I was going to let him win or not. Eventually, we both played our best, neither one knowing who would win until we came to the end of the game.

Desired Outcome Achieved: Ultimately, Rodney was able to play games with others, which is what he so much wanted to do. One day he greeted me with an impish smile on his face and shyly said Darius had invited him to a sleepover on the weekend so they could play video games. He said, “I hope I win, but if I don’t I’ll be a good loser. I have to because mom says if it goes well I can invite Darius for a sleepover at my house next time.”

In retrospect, I could have added in a reinforcement system when Rodney started losing for real. We often reward ourselves when we do hard things well. Setting this up for Rodney likely would have helped him master the skill sooner. It would have also opened the way for us to talk about how he might chose to reward himself in the future when he does something well that was difficult for him to do in the moment. For example, if he loses graciously while playing a game with a friend, he might get 15 minutes extra of screen time (negotiated ahead of time with his parents). This would be similar to me deciding that on work mornings where I start with several hours of email to answer I will have a bagel with my coffee! We all set up self-reinforcement. Some of us do this without thinking much about it and others need to be directly taught to do this. It is simply another one of those  life long skill that can be directly taught!

It is also noteworthy that many autistics need some sensory modifications to the environment, breaks to regulate their sensory system, instruction on how to play the game and other supports particular to the way autism presents in them. I have used Rodney’s example because it required many different support strategies over a long period of time for him to experience his desired outcome of having friends play games with him. Others I have worked with required both less and more in the areas of support strategies and time to learn new skills. While we can all learn from Rodney’s example and find many useful strategies, how support is given to another person needing to learn a similar skill will work best when it is individualized to the needs of that person.

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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.

Autism, Social Greetings and Rhetorical Questions

Autistic people may not automatically know how to respond to rhetorical social questions such as “How are you?” or automatically reciprocate in social pleasantries such as “good morning.” This is not because they are rude, obnoxious, don’t care, or any of the other assumed reasons people attribute to this behavior. Instead, it is because all social information is not automatically picked up and used by a person with an autistic brain. The autistic brain simply works differently. Even so, autistic people can learn those things their particular brain hasn’t allowed them to automatically pick up.

Example: I supported a 6th grader for an hour a day as he entered, checked in at the office, went to his locker, and did a one-on-one “check in” time with him before he left to go to his first classroom. Each morning when Loren arrived I would say, “Good morning, Loren.” Loren would either remain silent or say “Shut up” or “I know that.”

As we walked down the hall to his locker I would tell him it was nice to see him and ask, “How are you?” Loren either would remain silent or give me a detailed run down of all his scrapes and bruises, both current and from years passed!

Once I realized his autistic brain had not picked up the hidden curriculum information in regards to social greetings and rhetorical questions I set about directly teaching this to Loren.

1.  I drew a chart on a piece of paper with columns labeled Social Greeting/Question, Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses.

2.  I wrote in the Greeting/Question such as “Good morning” and “How are you?”

3.  Next, blue index cards were used to write possible expected responses such as “Good morning” and “I am fine. How are you?”

4.  Yellow index cards were used to record each unexpected response such as “Shut up” and “Go away.” A blank card was used to indicate no words spoken.

Loren watched as I made the cards and put them under the columns of Expected Responses and Unexpected Responses. He studied this over, then removed the cards, mixed them up and announced, “I’m doing it myself this time.”

During his first few tries Loren wasn’t sure where to put the cards so I placed a blue card above the Expected Responses column and a yellow card above the Unexpected Responses column. This gave him the visual hint – blue cards in the blue card column, yellow cards in the yellow card column. (It is important to insure success when teaching unknown social information, thus the built in color coding is something I often use. Loren was familiar with my color-coded systems, understanding that if he simply matched the colors he would have the correct answers.) As soon as the color clue was supplied he could line up the blue and yellow cards according to color.

Each day Loren got another chance to line up the blue and yellow cards on the chart, studying over the information. Soon he told me he was ready for white cards. This meant he had mastered the lesson and no longer needed the color-coded hint. The words on all the blue and yellow cards were put onto white cards. Loren mixed up the white cards and sorted them onto the chart correctly! He knew the social information.

Now we needed to bring this information into everyday circumstances because even though Loren knew the information, he was not accessing it in real life situations such as when the school secretary said, “Good morning, Loren.”

First we talked about how others feel and react when we give unexpected responses. Loren saw the benefit in giving expected responses, but this discussion alone did not allow him to access the expected responses in real time.

Next, practice situations with the secretary were set up for the purpose of Loren using a new skill. We practiced five times in a row each morning. I carried the cards with me. When the secretary said, “Good morning, Loren” I gave him the blue cards, each with an expected response to this greeting. Loren could look through the few cards, knowing that any of the responses were okay – he couldn’t go wrong.

This system worked well and within a few days Loren said he didn’t need the cards anymore. What happened next surprised us both! Without the cards, Loren was not able to access the information. We discovered the cards needed to be physically present, even though Loren did not use them. I held the cards in my hand for a few days. Then, we left the cards in Loren’s locker. Sometimes, with a literal and concrete brain, this visual pairing with social information needs to be implemented with a gradual step down to successfully remove the visual.

In successive weeks we added more social greetings and rhetorical questions to our chart. Loren sometimes arrived at school telling me, “I’ve got another one for the chart!” He continued to use this visual system for the remainder of the school year to learn and sort out the information around social greetings and rhetorical questions. In addition, once mastered at school, Loren brought the visuals home where his family helped him bridge the new skills in expanded environments.

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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 July 29, 2016. To comment click here.