Using Intense Interests to Grow the Aspie Mind, Body, and Spirit

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.

Aspergers, growth, intense interests

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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.

Parenting Aspergers: A Father’s Unlikely Success

by: Jennifer Allen

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 Allen (l) enjoys his sons (Sam) humor.

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.

Using Narratives in School to Address Sensory Differences

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.

narrative

 

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.

Resources for Parents About Bullying and Autism in School

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” 

www.eyesonbullying.org

The following are excerpts from this useful manual:

Bullying Basics

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:

Sensory Processing Difficulties: Smell with ASD

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.”

Excerpt from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/smell.htm

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.

Respecting Neurological Differences and Decreasing Stress for the ASD Student in Class

Writing the Day's Schedule Can Help

studentPerhaps most relevant to a student in the classroom: when you are stressed you are less likely to embrace difficult tasks. On your most stressful day, you will probably put the complex tax form in the “to do” box and leave it for a better day.

For our students, neurological stress can be the major underlying factor contributing to difficulties in communication, socialization, and academic performance.

Because of this, it is our essential job as parents and educators to respect the neurological differences and decrease that stress in creative and varied ways.

From breathing techniques to visual strategies and beyond, we will strive to decrease neurological stress so that our students and children can present their best self each and every day.

A schedule is a core strategy that creates an anchor for students who struggle to make sense of their day and their environment.

This is true of any classroom for any type of student. It has been well documented that learners benefit from having a daily agenda. Except, the difference is that while all students benefit from a daily agenda or schedule, students with Asperger’s Syndrome and other special needs have a greater need for this simple, yet fundamental strategy.

For a younger student, this might be a simple posting of the daily activities on the board. For an older student that transitions from classroom to classroom, the daily schedule might be best in a notebook. However, each class period or subject should post the specific activities for that day.

For example, a high school teacher can help to decrease the many stressors of high school life by posting something as simple as:

Using Steps to Breakdown Tasks and Activities for Academic Success

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.

Academic Success Through Steps

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.

Elementary Examples: visual examples 2

k-12 pic 2

visual examples 4

So how does this look in high school?

Animal Shelter Volunteer Work for Kids and Teens with Autism: Master Social and Job Skills

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way for tweens, teens and young adults on the autism spectrum to practice and improve social and job skills. They also learn responsibility and a respect for animals. As visitors come into animal shelters to look at animals available for adoption, it’s the perfect place for teens to improve face-to-face communication. The experience they gain volunteering at an animal shelter molds them into more effective volunteers and prepares them for the workforce.

Animal Shelter

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a fantastic opportunity, especially for teens with Aspergers. It has been widely discussed that children, teens, and adults with Aspergers form strong bonds with pets, and can greatly benefit from animal companionship.

Their time spent volunteering will produce better outcomes (adoptions) if they have good communication skills. Here are some top social skills from my book to ensure teens maximize the chance of an animal getting adopted, and master important social and job skills:

1. Smile and Say Hello:

When you see another person, whether a co-volunteer, staff member or visitor, smile and say “Hello”. Your smile will set the tone for positive future interactions and brighten the person’s day. It may even lead to an animal getting adopted or a financial donation. It all starts with a smile!

Using Scripts to Develop Conversational Skills for Students with ASD

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.

script, social skills, asd

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.