Tag Archives: autistic experience

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.

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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 Dec. 9, 2016
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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.

 

Autism and Thinking in Layers

As a little girl, there was a single movie screen in my mind where I created one still life picture at a time. There was only room for one picture at a time. Pictures were created by the words people said. It was never a problem to add something more to the current picture.

For example, if plans were made to go to the park I would see myself swinging on a swing. Then, if it started to rain, I would add raindrops to the picture. Raindrops would not change anything at all about swinging on a swing at the park. I couldn’t understand why anyone would say that we could not go to the park because it was raining. It certainly didn’t look that way to me!

I had no idea that others were experiencing the world in a different way.

When I was a teenager I was institutionalized. One day, some girls in the dayroom were busy writing a story. As they talked, their words went up on my screen producing a picture. Then, all of a sudden, the girls changed part of their story. One girl tipped her pencil upside down, erased a few lines, and wrote in a new version.

Normally, this would mean I’d have to destroy the picture on the screen in my head if I wanted to continue to listen to the conversation. I had not yet developed a way to erase my pictures. But that day all of a sudden I realized if my pictures were created in layers, rather than on one page, I would be able to keep up when the story changed. I could trade in an old layer for a new one! It would be my way of erasing and changing something. And, the changing picture would still fit on that one screen I could see in my mind.

I am many years older now and continue to work with these ideas. Over the years I’ve trained myself to create pictures in layers. Learning this skill became my foundation for beginning to live successfully in the world of words. Once I was a teenager who lived in a mental institution. Today, I function quite well in the world both in my personal life and in my professional life having accomplished many things.

Over the past decades, many students I’ve worked with in public schools and clients I’ve worked with in therapy settings have experienced benefit when their autistic way of thinking is understood.

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

This book also has an appendix that contains templates to trace to make your own thinking in layers visual system. I hope you find it helpful. Click HERE to order book.

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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.

Introduction to Newest Book: Autistically Thriving

This blog is actually the introduction that appears in my newest book (Endow, 2019, pp. xiii-xiv) available as of last week.

MOST ANYTHING ABOUT AUTISM and learning typically start out with the deficits of autism responsible for the problem experienced by the autistic. Then, it is followed up with ideas on how to address the deficits so as to impact the problem. If I were to start this book that way I would next talk about the diagnostic criteria. Here is what the DSM-5 says:

ASD Diagnostic Criteria

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple con-texts (current or history)

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity…
2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors…
3. Deficits in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships…

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities… motor movement, sensory, sameness, routine, xated interests in objects or topics
– Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed., 2013

In case you don’t know how the DSM diagnosing works I can fill you in. We have our everyday people on the face of the earth. They make up most of the population. Because this group makes up the majority we have decided their behaviors are typical and we label them normal. Then, everyone else is measured according to how far away from normal they land. And if they land far enough away from normal in enough areas they get a diagnostic label.

By design, DSM labels are framed in deficit terms. And in terms of diagnostics this deficit language is helpful. However, it isn’t very often helpful when we take this deficit-based language out of the diagnostic arena and use it to describe who and what autistic people are in this world.

We are ever so much more than the sum total of our diagnostic deficits. So, let’s begin with

autistic people – who are they? how do they think? what are their strengths? their skills? their way of understanding the world? How do they understand other people?

All of my life, until very recently, I have only known what I am not. It is because autism is largely measured by absence of neurotypicality. My hope for the future is that autistics coming up behind me will grow up with a more positive sense of self – learning who they are in this world rather than who they are not.

In that spirit I write from a perspective shift. A self-determined life is empowered through comprehension of the context in which we live. Let’s start with autistic people and comprehension – reading comprehension and life comprehension. How does it work? How do we empower autistics, based on their neurology, to comprehend what they read and to better understand the foreign land in which they find themselves living?

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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.

Toxic Autism Awareness: Fact from Fiction?

During the past week I have run into two different people in my personal life who have expressed erroneous beliefs about autism. Both people knew that besides being autistic myself, I am a therapist in the field of autism, have written many books and numerous blogs on various autism topics, and consult and speak internationally. Without a doubt, these people knew that I know about autism. And even so, they presumed their comments to be accepted fact so much so that they felt perfectly comfortable putting them forth as facts – never considering the information may not even be true about autism. In fact, if either of these folks would have at all been wondering or trying to sort out autism fact from fiction, I would have been the first person they would have asked. They were not trying to sort out good information from bad, but instead based their point of view on the “known” public perception of autism, presuming it to be factual.

Example One of Erroneous Public Perception of Autism

I encountered this public belief at the end of a story an older person was telling me. He was telling about an event where he ran into an old card-playing buddy. He really wanted to know what happened to his son, but was afraid to ask. I then heard all about this child who grew up during the time I grew up – in the 50’s/60’s – and all the naughty things this boy did. He tortured and killed the family pet, locked his parents out of the house so he could start it on fire, and put rat poison in the coffee canister to try to poison his parents. At the end of relaying these horrible deeds he said that kid was evil and if he were growing up today people would know he had autism, but autism just wasn’t known back then.

The autism proclamation at the end of this tale took me by surprise. This was from a person who I have known all my life. This person knows I am autistic and work in the field of autism. So, for someone who actually has known me for decades – I really don’t know how that person can believe evil is linked with autism. But then, that is part of the public perception. For myself, each time there is a school shooting, immediately after the initial wave of horror I feel, I wonder how long before the autism question gets raised. It almost always does.

Reporters typically lump autism and mental illness together. Today we know autism is not a mental illness. This doesn’t mean autism is better or worse than mental illness. It is just different. To complicate it further, some autistic people also have one or more mental health diagnoses. But this is beside the point for this discussion about evil people.

Those people who commit truly evil acts are not necessarily mentally ill or autistic. The Hitlter and Jeffrey Dahmer sort of evilness is out there. Thankfully, only a very small proportion of the population falls into this category. When something horrible happens it is human nature to try to come up with an explanation. The sense making that typically happens is that we tell ourselves the person committing the crimes is mentally unstable. We just have a hard time imagining anyone with a “right mind” such as the rest of us could do such horrible deeds.

One of the problems with this is that society has effectively used their sense making to draw a line between supposedly good and bad people. On the good side we have “normal” people. On the bad side we have people with mental illnesses and autistics. This sort of erroneous reasoning then makes it seem reasonable to be afraid of anyone with a mental illness or autism. People do strange things when they are afraid.

Example Two of Erroneous Public Perception of Autism

Several times a week I spend 2-3 hours at a public pool for the sake of maintaining sensory regulation so I can be my best at work and in my life. One day last week a woman in the locker room who knows I am autistic, with a voice of assurance and a rooting-for-me-on-my-side tone, told me I should not worry about having autism. She explained her belief that I am not autistic by telling me that I am nothing like Donald Trump.

WHAT????

She says something like; “It is all over TV this morning that Donald Trump is mentally ill. You are mentally ill with autism, but you are nothing like Trump. I wouldn’t worry about having autism if I were you. You seem as sane as me.”

All I could think to say was, “It takes all kinds to make the world go round. Even the ignoramuses amongst us.” she agreed, clueless I was indeed including her in a way as not to be offensive. It was the best I could do in that moment.

While I am not proud of my response, I am proud that I stuck up for myself. I only wish I had done so differently. Just the fact that both the people in these two examples had no qualms, no embarrassment, no sense that their words might be perceived as offensive or unwelcome shows how rampant these sorts of things are taken as real information about autism and about mental illness.

Our autism awareness campaigns of recent years have indeed made everyone aware of autism, but that public awareness does not match the facts. In fact, in many regards, John Q. Public is only aware enough of autism so as to be toxic to actually autistic people. This is serious. The definition of toxic by Merriam-Webster is “containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing serious injury or death.”

Today it seems socially acceptable to blame the evil behaviors of criminals on autism and reprehensible behaviors of politicians on mental illness. Don’t buy into this societally acceptable behavior. To buy into it is to perpetuate it. Each time you do so you are drawing that line between us darker, deeper and wider inviting fear to take up residence, distancing yourself from autistics and/or people mental illness, making us “those people,” the ones othered. In turn we are feared. Remember, people in power can do strange things when they are afraid. Is this the kind of world you want your children to grow up in?

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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 March 16, 2017.
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