Archive for January, 2014

Dear Readers,

I found this resource from the University of Missouri recently and was enamored by its description of the challenges individuals with autism face. This manual, which is written for vocational rehabilitation specialists, not parents, describes autism in the most clear and comprehensive manner I have ever read. Please read pages 2-8 (follow the page numbers on the bottom right of the document) and you will see what I mean.
The rest is worth reading as well as it gives interesting statistics on integrating individuals with ASD into the workforce.



Manual link: http://www.dps.missouri.edu/Autism/Adult%20Autism%20&%20Employment.pdf

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Many children struggle with anxiety. In my work, I assist many kids whose thoughts often drift to the dark side more often than not. Especially when trying something new. Negative thoughts enter the brain automatically, not by choice. Thoughts like, “they’re all looking at me and laughing in their heads”, or “I’m going to blow this”, or “they don’t want me here…they don’t like me”, are thoughts that play regularly in the heads of children I meet. These negative automatic thoughts spur the body to respond with certain physiological responses – tightening in the chest, light-headedness, dry mouth, short and shallow breathing, tearfulness, stomach pain, and an overwhelming need to flee. This often results in the child leaving before they’ve even tried, refusing to get out of the car to go in, hiding, freezing, or running away. Inevitably, this causes the child to feel shame later on and worse, a feeling that their thoughts were “right”. This is what is commonly referred to as the anxiety cycle. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that defeats children and adults with anxiety every day.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works to address this cycle by making clients aware of negative automatic thoughts (“I can’t do this”) and how the brain responds to such thoughts with negative beliefs about self (“if I try I’ll fail in front of everyone”/”I’m not good enough”). This is then followed by a reinforcing action (leaving before you try/throwing the ball away in a game because you don’t want to “mess things up”/because your so anxious you can’t focus).
Below I have created a simple visual that helps illustrate this concept to children that struggle with self-defeating anxious thoughts. Superman represents the positive voice that we can all choose to access when we feel anxious, nervous, or overwhelmed with doubt. He reminds us that we are brave, that we’ve overcome greater obstacles before, that we have the skills/knowledge to do it, and that we have support all around us. On the other side is the Joker (I know I’m mixing comic books). The Joker is louder, bigger, more present. We don’t choose to have him in our brain. He’s there automatically and his job is to knock us down. I once had a child call this voice his “Simon Cowell”, the mean American Idol critic who tells vulnerable new singers all the things they’ve done wrong. The Joker replays your past failures, he shines a bright light on all the things that could and will go wrong. He tells you to go home, give up, hide, and save face. He tells you that you will fail.
I tell my clients that they have a choice who they listen to but that one voice will be much louder than the other. I tell them that simply being aware of the Joker helps you fight him off. I tell them that their anxious brains will try hard to block Superman out in the moment, so they must summon him and all his encouraging words of support. We work on this by creating a positive self statement ahead of time and practicing what it might feel like in the moment of stress (coming up with as many negative words Joker might throw our way as possible). I ask my families to review this visual before big, anxiety producing events.
Remember that being aware of our automatic thoughts and the way our brain and body processes them is half the battle…probably more.

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This is a very necessary and helpful resource for parents of children with autism. This may come into play when parents are creating a crisis plan for there child during group outings or other activities in the community. This is particularly helpful if your child is non-verbal and/or prone to physical aggression/self-injurious behavior when escalated. Remember that this is to help first responders who may not understand autism.

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In this article, the author speaks of her early experience as a person with (undiagnosed) Aspergers. She gives some very pointed advice and insight into her experience and how she wishes she had been diagnosed as a child – “If I had received the diagnosis, I might have at least understood that there were other people like me, that it wasn’t my fault”.
I think it’s worth reading, regardless of where you stand on pursuing diagnosis or not.

View at Medium.com

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