Easing the Mind and Relaxing the Body, Yoga as a Practice for ADHD

Attention deficiency can become a barrier for many things to many people. Children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome often times are also diagnosed with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity disorder and may have a hard time concentrating in class, have a hard time sitting still during dinner, or may lack consistency. Adults diagnosed with ADHD may struggle with organization at work or home.

Silhouette of a beautiful yoga woman at sunset (in surreal colors)

ADHD is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often persists into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

Besides proper medication, practicing Yoga can be another support to help ease the mind and relax the body.

Yoga is an ancient art based on a harmonizing system of development for the body, mind, and spirit. Practicing yoga can help in slowing down the mind, relaxing the body, and becoming aware with your immediate present. In other words, for someone whose mind is racing, has a difficult time concentrating, and has extra energy, yoga can be a good support to help in reducing these emotions.

The question is how do I even begin doing yoga? Well, get ready because here are your first 3 steps into beginning your journey to calmness and relaxation!

Beginner’s Steps to Yoga

Mental Health in Your Community: Learning to Support Your Child’s Diagnosis

The community I was from is set up for autistic people, people like me, to fail. One of the big issues in a minority community is that mental health is not addressed and no one believes in it. The resources are usually not available or difficult to find for people in minority communities. There are also long-standing traditions of mental health denial because of a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. Because minority communities have often faced severe oppression and suffering in many ways, they have built an ideology about being strong and not helpless or weak. This has had many adverse effects on the mental wellbeing of the people within those communities.

Your Child's diagnosis, becoming an expert

Since mental health was somewhat of a myth to the community, it was a struggle I endured in my entire life.

I’m an African American male who comes from a community where if you displayed behavior that is associated with a mental illness, you were punished. African American communities often believe strongly in going to church, and they will tell you to pray about it and not seek help from a mental health professional. If you seek help from a mental health professional, you are viewed as weak. They tell your child to “man up, it’s all in your head, you’re making it up, etc.”

It’s hard to accept a mental health diagnosis in the Black community because of traditions we have been taught with.

Nobody in my community accepted my autism diagnosis, and I was ridiculed for seeking help. It was not until I was 22 years old, when I had my third suicide attempt, that I received help and support for my autism and other disabilities.

Today, to help others avoid this struggle, I have composed a list of ways you can accept your child’s diagnosis no matter how severe it is. Remember, you can be victorious and become an expert and advocate for your child.

Asperger Syndrome From Diagnosis to Independence Part 2: Social Development

San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series

During the summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the second workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on social development.

First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss important strategies for parents, professionals, and peers to utilize when socializing with those with Aspergers. Next, Louise O’Donnell, Ph.D. Neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor at UT Health Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics talks about the neurological aspects of social development for those with Aspergers and Autism.

The following are excerpts from Jennifer and Sam Allen’s powerpoint presentation on social development.

Remember when communicating with someone diagnosed with ASD:

  • They know what they want and don’t want.
  • They know what they want to get across.
  • They know what they feel.
  • What they may find challenging is finding a way to let us know what those thoughts and feelings are.

Strategies for Improving Social Integration

1. Opportunities to interact with neuro-typical children

The first strategy is to ensure the child has opportunities to observe and interact with mainstreamed children at their school. This is to ensure that their peers not only demonstrate appropriate social/emotional behavior but also are sufficiently skilled socially to know how to modify their social behavior in order to accommodate and support the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some children with Asperger’s Syndrome attend schools for emotionally disturbed children; such circumstances may not provide an appropriate peer group.

2. Knowledge of the nature of Asperger’s Syndrome

Are You an Aspie and Depressed? That’s Not Unusual

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression: Part 1

As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US  is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.

Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.

Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.

It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.

It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.

It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:

Social Language or “Pragmatics”

Your child may not know how to use language appropriately in social situations. This undeveloped social skill can cause your child to unintentionally say harmful or rude comments to others. Even when able to say words clearly in complex sentences with correct grammar, a child still may have a communication problem – if they have not mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics.

Speaking head

Pragmatics includes three major communication skills:

  1. Using language for different purposes

    • greeting (e.g., Hello, goodnight)
    • informing (e.g., I’m going to go to bed now.)
    • demanding (e.g., Turn out the lights, please.)
    • promising (e.g., I’m going to wake up early and make waffles.)
    • requesting (e.g., I would like an extra blanket.)
  2. Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation

    • speaking differently to a toddler than to an adult, or with a sibling vs. a teacher
    • sharing background information with an unfamiliar listener
    • speaking differently in a movie theater than on a playground
  3. Following rules for conversations

    • turn taking
    • introducing a topic of conversation
    • staying on topic
    • rephrasing when misunderstood
    • using verbal and nonverbal signals
    • knowing how closely to stand to others
    • using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact

Remember: It is important to understand the rules of your communicative situation.

An individual with pragmatic problems may:

Sensory Processing Disorder Explained

Our bodies take in information from the world around us through our sensory systems. As this information comes in, our brain filters and processes it for use. This process, called “sensory processing”, all happens automatically and simultaneously without us realizing that it.Depositphotos_37852017_sWhen all of these systems work correctly, we are able to perform our daily activities smoothly and without a problem. When these systems don’t work as well as they should a person may be disorganized, clumsy, have attention difficulties, and become over responsive or under responsive. Individuals with this issue might just have trouble functioning day to day as well as they should.

This is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Sensory Processing Disorder can be seen in typically developing children and adults at an estimated rate of 15%. But individuals with autism and Aspergers are far more likely to be affected. It is estimated that 80% of children with ASD have sensory processing difficulties.

Some signs of SPD include:

  • Oversensitive to touch, sound, smell, lights and other visual input
  • Distractibility
  • Clumsiness
  • Decreased play skills
  • Resistance to being touched by others
  • Picky about clothing textures and tags
  • Toe walking and/or hand flapping
  • Picky eating

If you would like to learn more about SPD, visit the SPD Foundation website. If you know your child has sensory issues, you can also find a SIPT Certified Therapists in your area.  

Do you see some of these sign in your child?  How do you handle the difficulties that arise from them? 

By Gayla A. Aguilar, OTR, OTD

Sources

Ayres, A. J. (1972). Sensory integration and learning disorders.  Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services

Tomchek, S.D., Dunn, W. (2007). Sensory processing in children with and without autism: A comparative study using the Short Sensory Profile. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 190-200

How to Expand A Picky Eater’s Diet: Feeding and Food Chaining

Since feeding involves all sensory systems (sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste), eating is the most difficult sensory task that children face. Feeding issues are especially common in children with autism, including those with Aspergers, because of difficulties with sensory processing. In many cases, this leads to eating challenges at mealtimes.

Little girl eating

“Food chaining,” from the book by the same name, is based on the child’s natural preferences and successful eating experiences—specifically the idea that we eat what we like. Food chaining introduces new foods that have the same flavors or sensory features as foods that are already preferred by the child, increasing the likelihood that the child will like the food.

A food chain consists of four levels that build upon one another. By following the levels of the food chain, the child will be able to build upon success with small changes.

For example, if your child’s accepted food is chicken nuggets, a sample food chain might look like this:

Level ILevel IILevel IIILevel IV
Maintain & Expand Current Taste & TextureVary Taste & Maintain TextureMaintain Taste & Vary TextureVary Taste & Texture
Other brands and sizes of chicken nuggets (i.e., strips/popcorn/bites, both fast food & home-prepared); fried chicken patties cut into pieces (fast food & home prepared)Different flavored chicken nuggets (barbeque, honey mustard, hickory smoked, etc.) Use sauces/dips to vary tastes.Chicken strips (not breaded); chicken leg/drumstick; chicken breast; ground chicken pattiesBreaded seafood (scallops, shrimp); breaded fish (fast food & home-prepared); breaded turkey breast; breaded vegetables; breaded baked chicken; crusted/breaded pork tenderloin; ground meats

Here are some other food chaining tips:

How to Use Visual Supports for Social Skills Training

Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.

Depositphotos_44865227_s-2015

Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.

There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.

Strategies that are directed by an adult include reinforcement of shaped social skills. This is a technique where the child is reinforced when they demonstrate closer and closer approximations of a desired behavior. Peer mediated strategies incorporate the use of proximity, prompts with reinforcement, and teaching peer initiation. The literature also supports using social scripts to capitalize on visual learning methods (Krantz and McClannahan 1993).

In my experience, I’ve observed how visual supports can be very beneficial in producing non-transient messages for the student to follow and use during social situations. When paired with direct instruction using ABA techniques like shaping and reinforcement, social skills training can be accomplished.

When you set out to develop visual supports, first perform an internet search to get some ideas.

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

Portrait of schoolboy looking at camera at workplace with anothe

For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

Accommodations do not alter what the student is expected to learn but rather make learning accessible to the student.

They allow the student to demonstrate what they know without being impeded by their disability. Students are required to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. They do not alter in any way what the assignment or test measures.

(http://www.texasprojectfirst.org/ModificationAccommodation.html)

Accommodations can be referred to as good teaching practices. Here are some common accommodations made for students with Asperger’s, high functioning autism, and other related disabilities.

Fidgeting: Using Games and Exercise for Children with Excess Energy

Fidgeting is a common result of excess energy in children and can interfere with positive behaviors. Excess energy and fidgeting can be distracting and disrupt learning. According to an article on Autism Speaks, by Geraldine Dawson and Michael Rosanoff, “Increased aerobic exercise can significantly decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating behaviors that are common among individuals with autism, while not decreasing other positive behaviors.” Exercise is a positive outlet for children exhibiting these behaviors.

Physical activity will release some of this energy and in turn, promote positive behavior. Lack of time is a common barrier to fitness with therapy sessions, school, and doctor visits. To help facilitate this we have come up with some ideas for fun exercising regardless of a busy schedule. We have provided different options based on various children’s interests, in order to keep them fully engaged, as well as different variations depending on the level of comprehension in each child.

For those children interested in sports, you can set up “routes” or “bases” with cones for the children to run around.

At the end of each course, you can leave a football, baseball, or soccer ball for them to throw or kick to you. If your child comprehends and reads numbers well, you can label each cone and call out which number for them to run to.

Otherwise, you can use flashcards to label each cone, and you can hold up the matching card that you want them to run to. This will add some cognitive thinking to the exercise. Have them run these routes for about 30 minutes or until you feel they have released all their excess energy.

Especially in the summertime, some children might enjoy water sports or games. Water gun tag is an easy way to get the children involved in playtime outside to shed some energy. You can utilize a similar labeling system as the sport ideas mentioned above, but feel free to switch it up a bit and use some pool noodles or other water toys for them to run to.

You can incorporate colors to help the children engage in their visual senses. Motivate the kids to run to the next cone or noodle so they can get a nice and refreshing spray of water or spray you and any siblings with water. Again, play for around 30 minutes or until fatigued.

For children who enjoy a challenge, you can set up a fun obstacle course for them to run through.