As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.
Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:
“I have a son diagnosed with moderate to high-Functioning Autism who is currently enrolled in public Middle School. Though he is going through a natural teenage rebellion, I feel his autism is playing a huge role in the challenges he (and we, his parents) is currently facing. He struggles to communicate and he has poor receptive language, so even though he is very verbal- a lot of times he misunderstands. And then he misinterprets and he gets very angry.
He has been on meds since he was 5 to maintain mood. In the last few months he has become increasingly consumed with the computer, staying up late, wanting to sleep late, and only coming out for food. I know how to do all the schedules and what not, but he doesn’t care or want to comply. He is 6 ft tall and 250 pounds. He has an excellent teacher that provides structure in his Total Language Communication class.
Our son Trevor is addicted to technology. When we (his parents) as well as his teacher at school try and limit on-line play time he has become angry to the point to hitting the teacher and his father.
He ran away from home but the police brought him back that same day. I hate the computer! But he plays Minecraft online and has friends that he talks to. It is like his only source of socialization. So we are at a point where we may need professional support to help him get motivated to do something. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. please help!”
A: Dear Rebecca,
Thank you for your very specific question that I’m sure many will relate to very closely. This is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked from both parents and educators.
In an Interactive Autism Network (IAN) questionnaire of 250 adults with ASD, 84 percent reported having a special interest or topic. A majority of those said they enjoy activities or develop relationships based on their topic, or have a job or field of study related to it. Some, however, said their interest sometimes gets in the way of success at work, school and in relationships (45 percent), or has gotten them into trouble (23 percent). Common interests include animals, computers, music, science and science fiction.
Famously, Temple Grandin Ph.D., who has Autism, turned her special interest in animals into a notable career as an animal scientist and designer of livestock handling facilities.
Halloween can be both a fun and nerve-wracking time for parents. Especially for children with ASD, there are many unknowns and events that could trigger a meltdown or even put your child in danger. But halloween can easily be safe and exciting experience if you plan in advance to prepare your child and help guide them. One great technique to use for ASD children and visual learners is a visual social story. Take a look at the visual social story below and print it out or show it to your child to plan and prepare for a fun and safe halloween!
For more resources and suggestions on planning for Halloween see the links below:
- This is a great video of tips about planning in advance for Halloween, with his #1 tip being to not forget those ear muffs or ear defenders at home! The Aspie World Video
- For an easy to reference list of suggestions, including practice role playing for receiving and giving treats, go here: Seattle Children’s Autism Blog
- Attitude Magazine has a list of tips including more about sensory issues that might arise, relating to those with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well: Attitude Magazine Halloween Tips
- Are you concerned about candy consumption and possible allergies? This blog addresses how you might be able to navigate that issue: Spirit of Autism
Have a fun and safe Halloween!
by Lisa Rogers
Although sensory differences are very real and must be recognized as such, narratives can help to deal with these differences. For instance, there was a high school student that was having significant difficulty with the hallway transition from class to class. Not only was there the loud bell that signals the transition, but then it was followed by a crowded hallway and noisy teenagers talking in groups.
One way to address this might be to allow an early release from class to avoid much of this hallway chaos. Another option is to provide a narrative that helps deal with this difficult transition.
The following is an example of such a narrative:
Passing Period at High School
My name is ___________. I am a student at _________ High School.
In High School, there are different periods. A bell rings at the end of each period.
When the bell rings, the students walk in the hall to go to their next class.
Sometimes, the students make a lot of noise as they walk down the hallway. This might hurt my ears.
That is O.K. The passing period lasts only for a few minutes. Soon, the halls will be quiet again.
I remember that I can just wear my headphones & listen to music during the passing period.
Then, I will get to walk to my next class where it is nice and quiet.
I can do this!
Staff noticed that the student would repeat the story to himself while walking down the hall. A narrative can validate feelings, provide a solution and even offer comfort during a stressful time.
The following is another example of a narrative addressing sensory issues. This time, the narrative was written for a student that wanted to hug her classmates frequently and deeply to get that deep pressure feeling.
Bullying and Autism is an issue that comes up often for parents of children on the spectrum throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remain highly vulnerable to bullying behavior. Parents, teachers, other students, and the community must be sensitive to the particular needs of these students and vigilant in bullying prevention and intervention.
This week’s blog will point families in the direction of multiple resources available.
This first resource is quite extensive and provides a comprehensive view of bullying:
“Eyes on Bullying . . . What Can You Do? A toolkit to prevent bullying in children’s lives”
The following are excerpts from this useful manual:
We now know that:
- Bullying is NOT pre-wired, harmless, or inevitable
- Bullying IS learned, harmful, and controllable
- Bullying SPREADS if supported or left unchecked
- Bullying INVOLVES everyone—bullies, victims, and bystanders
- Bullying CAN BE effectively stopped or entirely prevented
Beginning in the preschool years, adults can teach children important bullying prevention skills and guide children as they practice using these skills. Social skills that form an important foundation for bullying prevention include:
- Showing empathy toward others
- Interacting assertively
- Solving social problems
Bystanders also have the power to play a key role in preventing or stopping bullying.
Some bystanders… directly intervene, by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.
Other bystanders… get help, by rallying support from peers to stand up against bullying or by reporting the bullying to adults. Look Around…Who Is Involved?
Bystanders’ actions make a critical difference. Children and adults should think ahead about what they will do when they witness or hear about bullying.
There is also an Information Sheet on Bully Prevention at the following website:
Remember in our previous blog on taste differences that smell makes up a large part of our sense of taste. Therefore, an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder might have an extremely fine sense of smell, which can be enough to make them avoid certain foods or even lose their appetite. So, there might be overlap in this very complicated topic of sensory differences as they co-exist in each person.
“Our sense of smell is so deeply ingrained in our psychology that many times we don’t even realize how scents are affecting what we do and how we think. Smell, more so than any other sense, is also intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning. Meaning that our sense of smell influences our feelings and perceptions neurologically. Our brains are hardwired to perceive certain smells and have an emotional reaction to those smells.”
Smell might be a hidden source of discomfort and even anxiety for some persons with ASD. “Hidden” in that a neuro-typical individual might not perceive a particular smell that registers heavily for the person with ASD.
I am reminded of a few instances where smell was a critical factor in the daily happenings of certain individuals with an ASD.
One young man with limited verbal capabilities would protest behaviorally when it was time to go to the restroom. Mind you, this was a boy’s restroom at a high school. After some careful analysis and problem solving, the staff decided to try changing the restroom from the boy’s restroom to the teacher’s restroom.
In a previous blog we discussed how to increase motivation and focus through the use of a Bingo card. The use of choice and positive reinforcement make for a powerful teaming of strategies. This blog will continue to break things down into smaller, more doable pieces of information. For instance, on the checklist or bingo card, it is time to complete 5 math problems, but another layer of support to add to this is a list of the steps necessary to complete those problems. From early grades through secondary, activities can be enhanced with a list of how to complete that activity, a task analysis.
As with most strategies, the benefit extends beyond students with an autism spectrum disorder.
Nicole Romero, a 2nd grade teacher, has embraced the idea of visual supports to aid instructional success for ALL students. She has decorated her centers with specific steps for completing specific tasks from using a number line to adding two digit numbers. These visuals that are posted for the class may also be provided as individual cards or pages for students with an autism spectrum disorder or other special need.
So how does this look in high school?
Actors use scripts to help them memorize dialogue as part of their performance. Once they have memorized the script, then they can recite the words from memory adding meaning through inflection, tone and pauses. One of the common strengths of students with an autism spectrum disorder is that of rote memorization.
Therefore, a script may be an excellent tool to build conversational skills. Scripts are written sentences or paragraphs that individuals can memorize and use as supports in social situations. From greetings to asking for help to engaging in a conversation, a script can be a simple and discrete visual support.
When possible, student interests may be incorporated to heighten motivation to use this strategy. If a student likes Harry Potter books, a script can incorporate pictures that represent events from that book that relate to the content of the script.
Scripts can also support students that tend to shift the conversation back to their own special interest.
In a previous blog we discussed how to create keychain rules. This week, let’s look at a few more intricacies of this quick and easy strategy. Keychain rules can be cut up separately and placed on a binder ring or keychain for quick and easy access. A back-up version can be placed in a notebook or binder.
Leave at least one of the keychain rules blank for the student to create their own. If they have written one of the rules themselves, then they are more likely to consider these to be important and relevant. One student wrote “Have a great day!” on keychain rule #4.
During times of stress, this rule proved to be very soothing and helpful.
This same student travels from class to class, so she keeps her keychain rules in the back of her schedule notebook. Each of her teachers also have their own set available, just in case they get “lost”.
Keychain rules can be written in a different format for students that are motivated by video games, and other type of competitive activities, such as sports.
Do you have a place in your life that you retreat to when you are feeling the stressors of the world come down on you? For some, it might be as simple as your home. For others, it might be in a specific location such as sitting on a bench by the garden, or soaking in the bath tub with some soothing bubbles and lit lavender candles.
Wherever your “chill zone” is, you are rejuvenated when you emerge and are better equipped to deal with the next stressful challenges that are sure to come. After all, life and stress go hand in hand. It is how one deals with that stress that contributes to their success each day.
Understanding that individuals with Asperger’s experience ongoing stress as a result of neurological differences, the “chill zone” can serve as an effective coping mechanism.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes has clearly identified that the brain is truly wired differently in ways that are extremely complex. “Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of children who have Asperger syndrome versus those who do not have the disorder.”
Read more about this here: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/asperger/detail_asperger.htm
While most neuro-typical individuals can retreat to their “chill zone” on an as-needed basis, individuals with Asperger’s may need more overt planning to identify an effective “chill zone” and an effective strategy on how to access that location and when.