Tag Archives: autistic experience

Autistic Neurology and Behavior

Autistic people use behavior just like people who are not autistic. Basically, when a problem is encountered, people behave in a way so as to fix the problem. We all do this, whether we are autistic or lack autism! However, we live in a majority-is-the-norm society. This means that the behavior most individuals employ to solve day-to-day problems is considered the norm. We call their behaviors solutions.

Just like everybody else, when autistics come up against a problem, we employ a solution to remedy that problem. Our behavior, even though it is a solution, it is called “a behavior” meaning it is bad behavior. This is how it often works out that those around us want to fix what they have defined as the “problem behavior.”

This is one reason I have never ending employment as an autism consultant to school districts. It is my job to sort this out for staff in a way that makes sense and helps them move beyond the difficulties they experience with autistic students. I find once teachers understand autism neurology they are able to join with their students finding viable alternatives that work in the classroom environment. Here is a familiar example I run into quite often:

Scenario as Reported by Teacher: “My student with autism simply refuses to do any school work. Every time I request he do some work he simply says, “no” and won’t do it. When I persist, encouraging him to try, he just gets up and runs out of the room. If I try to stop him from leaving he hits me, screams and throws things, often destroying the room. What should I do?”

Understand the Underlying Autism Neurology:

  1. Teacher: “My student with autism simply refuses to do any school work. Every time I request he do some work he simply says, “no” and won’t do it.”Underlying Autism Neurology: Often “no” or “I don’t know” is a default response when the autistic neurology experiences a surprise. A neurological surprise is anything unanticipated in the moment. An autistic neurology is a completely different operating system than a typical neurology. Therefore, when a teacher shows up at the side of the student’s desk with work, even though it would not be surprising to most students, it hits the autistic neurology as a surprise. This is a neurological event and as such, not a choice for the student. This isn’t a won’t (as in “I will not do what you ask”), but a can’t – the neurology cannot access anything but unexpected surprise mode. In this mode, most autistic students develop a canned response and often times we hear “no,” “I don’t know,” or some other such phrase. These phrases are solutions because they serve to make the unexpected surprise go away. It isn’t about refusing school work. It is about managing a neurological surprise as expediently as possible to prevent it from getting out of hand.
  2. Teacher: “When I persist, encouraging him to try, he just gets up and runs out of the room.”Underlying Autism Neurology: When the autistic neurology is presented with an unexpected surprise, saying “no” or some other phrase allows shut down so as to protect one self from this neurologic surprise. If shut down is challenged the neurology is forced further along into survival mode – meaning flight or fight. Reasoning is not involved. Flight or fight is an autonomic nervous system response. This particular student’s automatic survival response was flight so he left the room in response to perceived threat. It does not matter that the teacher presenting schoolwork was not an actual threat, but that the autistic neurology often automatically codes unexpected surprises as threats to the system.
  3. Teacher: “If I try to stop him from leaving he hits me, screams and throws things, often destroying the room.”Underlying Autism Neurology: This student’s autism neurology was hit with an unexpected surprise that forced him into shutdown. When shutdown was “challenged” the autonomic nervous system survival mode was further triggered into flight. When flight was prevented the autonomic nervous system engaged in the only remaining survival mechanism – fight. When engaged in this sort of response the autonomic nervous system triggers body physiology to be extremely strong and capable of putting on the fight of one’s life because survival depends upon it.

Solution Based on Autism Neurology: The solution for this school team was two-fold. First, until the presenting difficulty of doing schoolwork is remedied, this student will be given a way to leave the room when he needs to leave so that we do not trigger a survival fight. Because this student loves maps, a story about following the map when needing to leave the room was presented with the map embedded right in the story. I suggested pairing leaving the room practice with the story as many times as needed. After all, we want him to leave and go to the designated safe spot rather than triggering a survival fight.

Then, we needed to get the student on the road to doing schoolwork. The team had been quite stuck in trying to solve the stated problem of refusing to do work and, if pressed, leaving or trashing the room to avoid doing schoolwork. Now the team shifted from managing oppositional defiant behavior of refusal and avoidance to solving for autism neurology. It was so much easier to solve for unexpected surprise and unclear expectations as evidenced by the list of supports they brainstormed! (This list includes using interactive visual schedule, priming, use of visual timer, and using reinforcement.)

Conclusion: It makes sense that when you see behavior in others you assign meaning according to what it would mean were you engaged in that behavior. This strategy serves most teachers well as they share the same underlying neurology as most of their students. However, when working with autistic people remember the neurology imposes a different operating system. Strive to understand it. The more you understand the less often you will become stuck. Besides being kind and being the right thing to do, it is far more expedient to support autistic neurology than it is to assume negative character and ill intentions about your student with autism when he is struggling.

15823078_10154253988798177_2321910539766123249_n

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 November 30, 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, Hidden Curriculum and Making Friends

It can be difficult for some autistic people to sort out what things are okay to say and what things are not okay to say in various social situations. This was true for a high school student I worked with during the past year. William very much enjoyed talking with others, but was asking questions and making comments that were not appreciated by teaching staff. Worse, these comments and questions were causing other students to avoid him rather than include him in social exchanges. Each time teaching staff explained to William that his comment had been offensive and had caused other students to move away from him William would feel bad, say he would not make that comment again and could even come up with alternative comments to use in the future to replace the offensive comment. After two years not much had changed in William’s ability to refrain from using offensive comments or ask questions that were considered rude or inappropriate.

I was tasked with spending an hour a week with William in regard to this situation. During our time together he would tell me how things were going at school. He wasn’t able to identify comments he had made that had gotten him in trouble or questions he had asked that had been met with rebuff. Before using these words his only goal had been to be friendly in seeking out social interaction with other students or teaching staff. He had not meant any harm by his words and really didn’t seem to know after using problematic words that they were indeed problematic.

I knew from working with William in the past that he learned more readily when he could see it written down. We started a running list of comments and questions. I tried to make it fun by rolling my eyes and saying very exaggeratedly, “Oh, my gosh! That’s one for our list!” After a few weeks William started asking immediately after saying something questionable, “Is that one for our list?” Here is a sample of William’s list:

YOU MAY THINK IT, BUT PLEASE DON’T SAY IT IF NOTHING GOOD WILL COME FROM IT

  • That jacket is ugly.
  • Why does your breath stink?
  • What you are talking about sounds boring.
  • Your feet look too big for your body.
  • I don’t like you as much as I like Jeff, but I do like you enough to talk to you when Jeff is absent.
  • It smells like feet in this lunchroom.
  • Do you have poop stains in your underwear?
  • If Miss Jones had a husband she could kiss him.
  • I never saw any clothes as big as Mr. B’s!
  • Green notebooks are the worst. (friend has green notebook)
  • My armpits stink. Want to smell them?
  • I can see boogers in your nose.

Over time, William could hit and miss guess when he said “one for the list.” This led us to look at how one might actually become a better guesser about having said “one for the list” before other people actually told them. (For more information on this see Learning the Hidden Curriculum: the Odyssey of One Autistic Adult). Once William was able to identify when he made a social error we worked on strategies to repair a conversational glitch. This process took most of the school year, but certainly paid off for William in terms of increased friendships and teachers understanding his struggles and being able to support him better.

IMG_5091

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 August 19, 2016. Comment here.

Realities of Being an Autistic Therapist

In my work as a clinician licensed in my state to provide mental health therapy, many parents of children diagnosed with autism tell me how much they appreciate the fact that I am not only a therapist, but also am autistic. They feel they have a hybrid of sorts – I am a clinician, an autistic and have parented both children with and without autism. In addition, I have been an autism consultant for several school districts over the years so also can appreciate the educational side of things when it comes to their children with autism they are bringing to see me in the therapy setting.

But, it isn’t always like this. There are also the times where parents do not particularly appreciate the fact of my autism. For many, their children’s new diagnosis of autism means that they are just beginning their journey of learning about autism. Most people these days learn new things by employing Google or Siri – it is where we start our journey to find out about those things we do not yet know. And thus it is that new learners are thrust into the good, the bad and the ugly about autism.

Unfortunately, when it comes to autism, Google and Siri will lead people to places that may not be the most helpful. Society’s view of autism is far behind what we currently actually know about autism. There are some particular facets of society’s perception of autism that new parents find on Internet searches that erroneously get taken as facts. I would like to address three misperceptions often presented as facts about adults with autism that can negatively affect parents when finding out their child’s new therapist happens to be autistic.

Three Misconceptions Often Construed as “Facts”

  1. Parents of children with autism are the experts when it comes to autism.While it is true that parents of autistic children are the experts on their own children and tend to know really lots about autism, particularly how autism affects their own child, autistic people are actually the real experts on themselves – on their autistic selves and how it is to be autistic in this world. I am in both camps – autistic and parent of autistic. There is a distinct difference.
  2. If autistic adults are able to tell about their autistic experience they are not autistic enough to really know about autism.This is just outright false, yet many parents of autistic children not only believe this, but also act as if it is a fact, thus drawing in newbie parents to unwittingly assume it is so. In reality, it doesn’t even make sense. Getting an autism diagnosis means that the clinician giving the diagnosis determined the individual met all clinical criteria to receive that diagnosis. Thus, if an individual has been diagnosed with autism that individual is autistic. There isn’t any such thing as being or not being autistic enough. It is like being pregnant – you are or you aren’t – you can’t be in the state of not being pregnant enough.
  3. You will never find an autistic adult who is like your child. Therefore, autistic adults cannot speak to autism in your child.This one is a mixed bag. It is true that you will never find an autistic adult who is exactly like your child. I do a fair amount of public speaking on autism topics. Parents will come up to me afterwards and tell me that I am nothing like their 2 year-old, their 6 year-old, their 13 year-old, etc. The fact is that today I am not anything like I was when I was 2 or 6 or 13 years old either! We all grow and change over time whether we are autistic or not. Autistic adults have had a lifetime to learn how to live more comfortably in the world. They should look different from your child. Even your child will look different in the future than he looks today.Because an autistic adult does not look anything like a 2 or 6 or 13 year-old child does not mean that adult cannot speak to the shared experience of autism. An autistic adult, even if their expression of autism is vastly different from that of your child, shares more neurological similarities than non-autistic people share with your child. An autistic adult often understands many things autistic children are affected by and react to due to their shared neurology.

This list could go on and on, but these three misconceptions about autistic adults that can be readily found during Internet searches sometimes directly affect me as a mental health practitioner. Newbie parents of autistic children who have searched and read up online sometimes think these “facts” apply to me because I am autistic. They then extrapolate that because I am autistic I cannot be a good therapist for their child. The reasoning goes something like this: Because you can talk about autism you are not really autistic enough to understand my child. In fact, you are nothing like my child. And if you really are autistic how can you even be a therapist?

It would be easy for me to react personally to this sort of reasoning, but in a therapy setting where I am the therapist, I react in a different way than I would if I were in a social setting where I would react in line with autistic self-advocacy. As a therapist it is not about me, but about my client, or in my case, about the parents of a potential client. If a child’s parents are not in a place where they are able to believe in their heart that an autistic therapist can be just as capable of meeting their child’s needs as a non-autistic therapist that is about them and their journey. It is not about me. They get to be who they are in the moment and when they are in my therapy room I will respect and support their journey. I will offer them choices and suggest they interview one or two more therapists before deciding which therapist will be the best match for them and their child right now. I leave the door open letting them know that sometimes a therapist they think is not a good match just now for their child might be a good match in the future. Whether or not I see them in the near or distant future I wish them well in their journey. Personally, I hope and expect to see a few of these families in the future because I know as they learn more they will grow and change over time. The erroneous “beliefs” gleaned today from the Internet will change for some as they go forward and continue their journey. And indeed, it has already happened for a few families.

I am sharing this from my own life for several reasons. One reason is that it took me time to learn the difference in roles of self-advocate and therapist. It can be emotionally difficult when parents of new clients think less of me because I am autistic. For me this is compounded because I work with autistic clients and their families. Thankfully, this rarely happens, but when it does it is hard. Even so, and even though I know it is about them and their journey and not about me personally, it is still hard.

So, for autistic therapists out there – solidarity and yes, we can serve our clients well while remaining true to ourselves. As we don our therapist hat we choose to make the session serve the needs of our client. Sometimes this means our self-advocacy hat needs to be worn in our heart instead of on our head for others to see. It is hard to believe, but sometimes self-advocacy isn’t the most important thing in the moment.

IMG_5068

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 August 8, 2016. Click here to comment.