Tag Archives: #AutisticMentalHealthTherapy

Autistic Sensory Overwhelm

Because autistics take in information from the world around them differently than the rest of the people in the world it is important to understand the way information comes in for an autistic individual. Though there are similarities amongst autistic people such as noise and light sensitivity, there also can be some individuality when it comes to how a particular autistic individual’s brain takes in information. Most times individuals cannot tell you how their brain functions. Again, this functioning happens automatically. There is no conscious decision when it comes to how a brain takes in information.

When information comes in too big it can be quite overwhelming. This happens frequently to many autistic people. Usually when a person has reached capacity in their ability to handle this ongoing sensory assault they react in a way that doesn’t fit into the neuromajority expectation. For example, one person may groan loudly, another may flap his hands and a still another may have either a meltdown or a shutdown. When any unexpected behavior occurs, it is most often assumed that the immediately preceding event or sensory assault caused it rather than understanding it is the continual sensory assault over time causing the “too much” to eventually spill over.

Example

For example, when the bell rang at the end of the class period Rita screamed and cleared her desk quickly swiping books and papers to the floor. Staff went to great lengths to get Rita to put on her noise canceling headphones 5 minutes before the bell rang everyday. Some days Rita took the offered headphones and other days she pushed them away.

Think of sensory information coming in too big as a glass of water filling up over time. Each little assault throughout the day adds to the water level in the glass. When the glass is full to the top the next assault that adds more water will cause the glass to overflow. This is what happened for Rita. Thus, it wasn’t the ringing bell that caused the behavior, but instead it was that the glass had overflowed. Her capacity to withstand another sensory assault had been maxed out.

Solutions

Trying to solve for the ringing of the bell will likely lead to nowhere, but solving

      • to prevent sensory overload,
      • to increase awareness of overload building and
      • to teach self-advocacy options to be utilized when sensory overload starts to build

would all be great preventative options helpful in addressing this situation. Rita, just like most autistics, does not have a neurology that automatically regulates incoming information.

Conclusion

It is important to learn how an autistic individual takes in information. This allows us to fine tune and personalize the supports they might choose from to enable them to be who they want in this world, to function as they wish and to come to live a self-determined life.


Note: The author is a mental health therapist and is also autistic. She iintentionally 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.

Selection from Autistically Thriving: Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology, pg. 135-136.

If you are a clinician and interested in learning more about therapy with the autistic client please join me along with two of my colleagues in an online course.
CLICK HERE for additional information about  Mental Health Therapy with the Autistic Client.

BY JUDY ENDOW

Endow, J. (2021). Executive Function Assessment. McFarland, WI: 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. (2009b).  Paper Words: Discovering and Living With My Autism. 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.

Creating, Changing and Replacing Pictures Conclusion

This is the third part of a blog series with this outline

Part One: Creating Pictures in Layers With Two Take and Make Visual Examples 
Part Two: Changing or Replacing a Layered Picture With One Take and Make Visual Example
Part Three: Creating, Changing and Replacing Pictures Conclusion

In Part One of this blog series the reader was introduced to the autistic friendly method of creating pictures in layers.  Visual examples were given. Each layer of the story is created on see through overhead projector sheets. This allows the elements of the story to be stacked up to make one picture. The story elements looked like this:

Stacked together the elements of THE STORY create one picture that looks like this:

In Part Two of this blog series our story continued.  It rained and going to the beach was no longer possible, continuing with layered overheads stacked on top of this original story, the UNEXPECTED EVENT story looked like this: 

Notice in the third overhead of the above picture of our layered transition story the swimmers left the beach. This is one great reason for the layered pictures! It allows one element of a picture to change without needing to destroy the entire picture. That feeling of “everything changed” is prevented. This often prevents meltdowns.

Next, a TRANSITION STORY was created that allowed the “putting away” of the original story, thus making room for the alternative – the change in plans. There were no new elements added to our existing UNEXPECTED EVENT story. Instead of adding new events the TRANSITION STORY simply solidifies that the ORIGINAL STORY will no longer happen. This allows the autistic neurology to process that there is a change. Notice the picture of the TRANSITION STORY is the same as the ending of the UNEXPECTED EVENT story.

          1. Nobody is at the beach. 
            The beach is closed.

          2. We won’t go to the beach today. 
            The beach is closed. 

          3. We won’t go swimming.

          4. The beach is close

The transition story will need to be repeated until the child is tired of the it and ready to transition to something different. Only then is the child ready for the new activity able to be introduced. Talking about the new activity too soon will hit the neurology as a surprise and may precipitate a meltdown.

And then, when the neurology is ready, the new plans can be introduced such as the story from Part One of this blog series called Playing Indoors.

Creating, Changing and Replacing Pictures Conclusion

Please see Part One and Part Two of this blog series for further discussion of everything mentioned in this blog so far. AND know that any event can be mapped out is similar story fashion than the stories presented. Here is the protocol in words rather than in pictures for those readers who would like them!  The protocol  is  in  the  top  two  horizontal  rows  of  this  chart. The  third  horizontal  row  gives  examples/hints  for  implementation.  The  last  horizontal  row  tracks  the  story  examples  used  in  this  blog  series. Often times when people see this protocol they feel it will take too long. For those who have used it they are surprised that even though it does take some time, it is often considerably less time than the time the child spends in a meltdown and then recovering from the meltdown. Additionally, it is much easier to talk this through (or draw it out for those needing the visual support or for those needing decreased auditory input in the moment) than it is to deal with a meltdown.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are a clinician and interested in learning more about therapy with the autistic client please join me along with two of my colleagues in an online course.
CLICK HERE for additional information about  Mental Health Therapy with the Autistic Client. 

Note: The author is a mental health therapist and is also autistic. She iintentionally 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.

This blog series is based on Chapter 9 from Autistically Thriving:Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology, pg. 126-133.

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

Endow, J. (2009a).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum DisordersShawnee 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 Thinking in Layers ~ Part One: Creating Pictures in Layers With Two Take and Make Visual Examples

This is the first part of a blog series with this outline

Part One: Creating Pictures in Layers With Two Take and Make Visual Examples 
Part Two: Changing or Replacing a Layered Picture With One Take and Make Visual Example
Part Three: Creating, Changing and Replacing Pictures Conclusion

During childhood I was institutionalized. One day, some girls in the dayroom were busy writing a story. As they talked, their words went up on the movie screen I could see in my mind. Their words produced a picture for me. This is one way my visual thinking works. 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.

Typically, 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 parts of my pictures. But that day 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 would be able to 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.

It took a lot of practice, but as I continued to work with the idea of creating pictures in layers I found that I became a little more flexible. I hoped that with practice I would one day be just as quick as anyone else in keeping up, i.e. understanding changing content of conversations in the world all around me. I was not disappointed!

My work paid off and over time I have perfected this strategy. 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.

I have since perfected this strategy and have used it with many visually thinking students to help with reading comprehension. Additionally, it has had application in the clinical setting in easing frustrations that come when clients perceive “everything changed” when in reality only one element of a big picture changed. Additionally, this layered thinking is helpful clinically in terms of supporting clients in changing patterns of thinking that are not working well for them.

To illustrate how thinking in layers works I will use the following two stories. 

Story One: 
Going to the Beach

   1. The sun is shining.

   2. The sky is blue.

   3. This afternoon we’ll go to the beach

   4. and go swimming.

Directions for Making a Visual Using Story One: Going to the Beach
Materials: 4 clear overhead projector sheets, and a permanent marker pens in yellow, blue, brown and black

  1.  Using the yellow pen, draw on the first overhead projector sheet the shining sun.
  2. Placing a new clear sheet over the sun, draw the blue sky on this second overhead projector sheet as it fits with the sun.
  3. Placing another new clear sheet on top of the existing two layers and the brown pen, draw the beach as it fits with the sun and sky.
  4. Placing the last clear sheet on top of the existing three layers, draw children swimming as it fits with the other three layers.

Here are the picture elements, each recorded separately – each element drawn on its own overhead projector sheet. (Note: In the book Autistitically Thriving, there are templates in the back of the book you may use by simply covering with a clear overhead and tracing the picture onto the overhead.)

Each layer was made separately as shown in above photo, but as they were drawn clear sheets were stacked up one on top of the other to create the whole picture. Stacked together, the final layered picture looks like this: 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Story Two: 
Playing Indoors

   1. This afternoon we will play indoors.

   2. We will each play in our own space.

   3. I will play with Legos.

   4. My brothers will play with something else.

Directions for Making a Visual Using Story Two: Playing Indoors
Using 4 overhead projector sheets, permanent markers, and working as in Story One,
create Story Two to get this end result:

Each layer was made separately as shown in above photo, but as they were drawn clear sheets were stacked up one on top of the other to create the whole picture. Stacked together, the final layered picture looks like this:    

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are a clinician and interested in learning more about therapy with the autistic client please join me along with two of my colleagues in an online course.
CLICK HERE for additional information about  Mental Health Therapy with the Autistic Client. 

Note: The author is a mental health therapist and is also autistic. She iintentionally 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.

This blog series is based on Chapter 9 from Autistically Thriving:Reading Comprehension, Conversational Engagement, and Living a Self-Determined Life Based on Autistic Neurology, pg. 126-133.

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

Endow, J. (2009a).  Outsmarting Explosive Behavior: A Visual System of Support and Intervention for Individuals With Autism Spectrum DisordersShawnee 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.