When it comes to setting the stage for learning, individuals on the Autism Spectrum need to continue their learning experiences even after school. This requires responsibility from therapists, caregivers, and parents. Each must work together to help create a learning environment in the home that continues to provide opportunity to expand the vital skills a child is working on. This includes setting up a home environment, understanding your child’s classroom setup or making suggestions at their after school program.
In a previous blog we established the core strategy of a class schedule or agenda as an essential starting point, let’s extend our focus to a companion strategy. A schedule within a schedule has many names. For our purposes, we will call this sub strategy “mini-maps.”
A mini-map takes a piece of the schedule and breaks it down even further.
The schedule guides you from one major activity to another, while the mini-map clarifies the smaller steps within that activity. This can be especially helpful to decrease frustration associated with academic tasks, but can be useful for any chunk of time that presents a challenge.
Some people with Asperger’s have difficulty with experiences that are too sensory in one way or another. Going to P.E. or taking a bath/shower can be broken down into smaller steps so that an individual can walk through these difficult experiences with a guide and a clear understanding that there is an end in sight.
For now, let’s focus on mini-maps as they relate to academic endeavors.
Often, teachers note that a common antecedent or trigger to behavioral difficulties is the presentation of academic tasks. The behaviors can range from a verbal protest to a meltdown when students feel overwhelmed by school work.
The first question to ask, of course, is what is there about the work that makes the student feel so overwhelmed? Does the page look too busy? Is too much handwriting involved? Are there too many problems? Is it too difficult or too easy? In other blogs on our “Education: K-12” section, we discuss ways to adjust the format and/or content of academic tasks to increase student success.
Mini Map Example:
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:
Mini-maps can be highly effective in dealing with work avoidance behaviors at school and at home. Let’s now take this same strategy and apply it in community settings. Remember, a mini-map takes an event or task and breaks it down into smaller, more doable steps.For a family that has difficulty with seemingly simple shopping trips, a mini-map might be a good tool for the Aspergers family member. Mini-maps help to stay focused on the task at hand while preventing intense preoccupation with specific aspects.
An Example of How to Use Mini-Maps When Shopping
A family would struggle when going to a store where there was a video section. The son would immediately take off for this area of the store as soon as they got there. He would stay there for long periods of time in spite of many verbal reminders on the way in the car.
This behavior would turn a short trip to the store into a long and almost painful event for everyone. Over time, this family might avoid these trips all together.
A mini-map for this situation might include a list of different departments in the store that they plan to visit. By adding either time limits or number of items to purchase at each part of the mini-map, their child might be able to flow through the strategy more successfully.
The following is an example of what this mini-map might consist of:
“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.
Everybody in the Asperger’s Community already acknowledges that aspies have that one thing that keeps them happy and comfortable: their intense interest. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, a sibling, or a friend, coming to understand the aspie’s intense interests is crucial for creating a relationship and helping them grow.
The aspie’s intense interest comes with many challenges and rewards, just as the jobs of parenting and teaching do. This article explores the real benefits and best parameters of understanding and working with the restricted interests for people with Aspergers. Following the 5-step process below can provide a window into the Asperger’s world and show how an intense interest influences the various aspects of personal development.
1.First, identify the interests and the aspie’s behaviors, feelings, and habits that surround it in order to profile the aspie.
- Then, express interest in the aspie’s interest and ask them what they like most about it.
- If the aspie turns you away, tell them that they can share whatever details they want in their own time. Let the aspie come to you to tell you all about it, and don’t feel hurt if they turn you away initially. The aspie’s request for you to leave is very common with introverted aspies.
- If the aspie wants you to get involved, you can then perform a strategic inquiry in relation to the intense interests.
- As you learn about the aspie’s interests, begin to take them out of their comfort zones and push against what triggers undesirable behaviors.
- Dig deep into both good and bad behaviors in order to strategize how to prevent and remedy them as the aspie grows as a person.
- Then, learn to set different kinds of boundaries, but be careful with discipline. Demonstrate the utmost sensitivity to each situation to avoid further negative emotions and behaviors.
- One way of thinking about this is to draw developmental circles; more specifically, the innermost circle is the aspie’s current comfort zone with their interest and everything else that surrounds it. The next-largest circle represents a larger comfort zone into which the aspie gradually transitions. The parent/guardian/caregiver defines each subsequent circle using keywords that describe increasingly better and better trends in the various aspects of the aspie’s personal progress.
- This circle model serves as a reference point that measures the aspie’s progress based on their interest(s) and any other governing factors in personal development. Therefore, the interest serves as a common bond between the circles.
2.After profiling the aspie’s interests, bond with the aspie while advantageously using their specific interests.
I was inspired to share the story of the ongoing relationship (both struggles and triumphs) of my husband Herb and our son Sam after creating the below series of photos.
Parenting someone diagnosed with High functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome begins as a challenge to the adult who had expectations about who their children would be.
Those expectations may be for their son/daughter to be just like them, or to become the person they never were. But these preconceived notions must be disposed of for the child’s success. This is the case with many families facing the newfound diagnosis of Autism or Asperger Syndrome. The high divorce rate among parents with a diagnosed child is testament to the fact that it can be a great struggle that places strain on all areas of life.
When Sam’s Autism diagnosis was revealed to Herb and I some 14 years ago it was raw, new, and life changing to say the least. Our first-born Samuel was struggling in elementary school and until that point we didn’t know why. The Autism/Asperger fact sheet described each misunderstood challenge Sam was displaying and this allowed us insight into creating better communication with our son.
Herb is a man’s man.
His rugged good looks and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality would not seem a sensitive fit toward parenting a son such as Sam. Sam is unique. But not even Sam knew how he fit in to the world around him, much less how to blossom under a father like Herb.
Once the shock of the word “Autism” wore off, it was time to learn how our son saw the world. I immersed myself into this new and foreign reality. We hung close to those on the same path and chose Sam over society and its demands of conforming to social expectations. In other words, we chose Sam.
Choosing to venture into unknown obsessions (i.e. trains, science, planetary systems, Pokémon, and weather to name a few) gave Herb and his son a common bond. This certainly isn’t a popular decision. You realize this when neighbors, family members, and society in general are taking their kids to soccer games, parties, sporting events, and social clubs without even looking your way.
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.