Strategy for Asperger Students: Mini-Maps

Guidance with Assignments

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.

strategy, mini-maps

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:

Raising A Superhero with ASD

Superhero: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; an exceptionally skillful or successful person – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When the time came for me to have children, there were a lot of options and situations that I knew I needed to be prepared for. Though I have to admit, majority of my thoughts were about choosing nursery bedding and baby names. Would I use cloth diapers or regular? What stroller and diaper bag should I get?  While many things came to mind, it had never occurred to me that I needed to prepare myself to raise a real life superhero.

When I see my son, I don’t just see a child with Autism that needs help to be part of the world. I see a superhero who can teach me and others far more about the world than I could ever teach him.

I see the most amazing, dedicated, triumphant child who has a unique skill set unlike any other: a boy with the truest, honest, kindest heart that I’ve ever seen, with great passion for life and extraordinary interests. He is a person with a special connection to extraordinary individuals and a trusting heart that doesn’t judge. I see so many magnificent qualities in him, but the reality is that it is not all cake and rainbows.

Boy plays super hero at sunset.

The hardest part about raising a superhero is watching the battles that they encounter daily.

Watching them not only battle the outside forces in their environment, but the battle within their own body. There is no way to truly document how that feels as a mother because it is indescribable. However, watching your child discover the world in a way that most people could never imagine is the indescribable counterbalance to it all.

Everyone has their own philosophy on how to raise a child on the spectrum and I respect that. For me, the question often isn’t about how to raise a child with autism. It is how can I help foster his inner superhero? How can I help him build upon the wonderful foundation that he already has, and how can I help further develop the person that he is?

It is hard as an autism parent; mostly because there is a fine line between trying to help facilitate the kind of growth that will better prepare him for this world and how and when to let him soar and just be him. I think many parents of children on the spectrum struggle trying to find exactly where that line is in a life full of therapists and interventions.

Practice Advertising Yourself for a Job Interview with ASD: The Commercial

A one-minute commercial can set the tone for any networking opportunity, cold calling, or interview. It is important to have something that sets you apart because, as I discussed in a previous blog, a majority of the job market is hidden. Although it can be daunting to develop a commercial, a polished one-minute speech can give you the opportunity to tell someone about your skills, and what type of opportunity you are looking for. This is an important step to take before beginning cold calling, sending out resumes, and interviewing, because it allows the individual time to assess their skills and pick out what is important to highlight. So how do you go about completing an elevator speech? I will outline a few simple steps that we have found effective that will help you work on yours.

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(Information from: Purchase College Career Development Center)

STEP 1:

  1. Think about at least 2-3 things you have accomplished
  2. Select two of your skills that relate to your career goal
  3. List 3 personal qualities you possess

STEP 2:

  1. Write down some details about your accomplishments, skills, and personal qualities
  2. Write out a story/script that wraps up STEP 1 and first part of STEP 2

STEP 3:

  1. Practice reading the script
  2. Get it down to 60 seconds or less
  3. Try out your commercial on family and friends – Ask for suggestions
  4. The more you practice the more confidant you will feel!

The one-minute commercial will shift over time as you gain more experience and change jobs. You may have more than one commercial or speech as your job hunt continues. This is a powerful tool that individuals with Asperger’s/HFA can use to set the tone for their interview, and present the reasons they should be hired!

by Maggie Cromeens

The Two Types of Reinforcement for Individuals with Aspergers or HFA

Reinforcement in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) focuses on the outcome of the behavior and increasing the likelihood of certain behaviors occurring in the future. There are two types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is when a response is followed immediately by the presentation of a stimulus and, as a result, similar responses occur more frequently in the future. In other words, positive reinforcement means when a behavior has an increased likelihood of occurring again if something is given after it occurs.

reinforcement

An example of positive reinforcement:

You tell a child if he or she cleans up their room, they can play for 30 minutes on the Wii, an activity they enjoy. The likelihood of the individual cleaning up the room is more likely to occur in the future because they received 30 minutes of playing with something they enjoy. In order for reinforcement to work, you need to make sure that what you are giving them is something that they value.

However, let’s change the reinforcement premise–

You instead tell the child if they clean the room you will go the movies. Your child is sensitive to sounds and does not like being around large crowds, so he will be less likely to clean his room even though you think it would be fun. The purpose is to focus on the child’s likes and dislikes to achieve the desired result.

Negative reinforcement is when a response is followed immediately by the removal of a stimulus and, as a result, similar responses occur more frequently in the future. In other words, negative reinforcement means when a behavior has an increased likelihood of occurring again if something is taken away after it occurs.

An example of negative reinforcement:

You are working on having the child be more independent when doing their chores. You provide a checklist of the chores that needs to be done for the day. He or she independently completes two of the chores on the list. You tell them because they independently completed two chores without any reminders, they do not have to do the rest of the chores. In the future, the individual is more likely to independently complete the chores because the rest of the chores were taken away—assuming he does not like any of the chores that were on the list.

If, however, they really like doing laundry and that was a chore on the checklist that you removed, the negative reinforcement will not have the desired effect on behavior.

You need to always keep in mind what the child likes and does not like. You give him or her things or activities that they enjoy and take away things that they do not like to increase the likelihood of the behavior occurring again in the future. If what you are presenting and taking away is not increasing the likelihood of the behavior in the future, then you are not using reinforcement.

by Adriana Sanchez, MA, BCBA

How do you use reinforcement with your child? What types of reinforcements are most effective, in your experience?

Aspergers Individuals Can Become Great Leaders, Part 1: How to Begin

6 Practices to Build Leadership Skills

Like almost anyone else, breaking into the subject or field of leadership presents itself as a significant challenge. With many responsibilities to consider and to fulfill, an exemplary leader must have confident power in communication, creativity, competence, ethics, organization, and decisions, just to name a few. Unfortunately, most youth and adults with Aspergers Syndrome often have difficulty in any one of these things. Typically, they desire to be able to learn from others, rather than lead by example themselves for the same reasons that most people fail to become leaders. Often times, they fear failure, rejection, or unfamiliar tasks and responsibilities, or all of these things.

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However, the myth that leaders are born, rather than made, is untrue and many prominent leaders throughout history dispelled it time and time again.

Primarily because most of them faced significant (sometimes extreme) odds to get to their current positions and to form the amazing personal images that they have. Many Aspergers youth and adults can take it upon themselves to work hard to achieve such standout images for themselves.

Initially, entering the leadership arena sounds difficult. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

1. Establish a conceptual foundation in your own mind:

To understand the keywords of quality leadership; understand how you can embrace them; realize the mistakes you make and learn from them as you progress.

2. Study communication tactics and picture yourself using them:

How do you look (appearance to others) and sound when you communicate? The best communicators prepare and deliver their messages well. If a message provides aid, insight in a necessary, moral, and honest manner, it will serve its purpose. Also, use your own feelings to acknowledge if a message has complete clarity and usefulness or if it requires modification. The next step helps with this process.

3. Develop power and structure statements:

Advice From a College Professor of Students on the Autism Spectrum

Dr. Julio Alves, of Marshall University, has worked extensively with college students diagnosed with ASD in his role as instructor of Classical Guitar Music Theory. Students who pursue a degree in Fine Arts face a significant hurdle in that they must pass both academic and rigorous performance evaluations to graduate.

A video interview with Dr. Alves can be seen below. The video isn’t professionally edited; in fact, the camera is a little shaky and the transitions between questions aren’t perfect.

Oh, but the content!

The insight and advice shared by Dr. Alves is worth sitting through twelve minutes of less-than-perfect editing. Some gems to watch out for:

  • At the 1:25 mark, Dr. Alves describes his initial anxiety upon learning that he would be providing instruction to one or more guitar majors diagnosed with ASD. He points out that his training to be a college professor did not include learning to teach students with ASD, and he felt both excited and afraid of the challenge.
  • At the 2:30 mark Dr. Alves states that he, as a teacher, may have learned more from the student (about himself, and his ability to teach) than the student learned from him.
  • At the 3:20 mark he explains the initial doubts he had about how well students with ASD could perform in college, and how that bias changed over time.
  • At the 4:35 mark Dr. Alves discusses the importance of relationship development with students. He provides a real-life anecdote that beautifully illustrates the importance of relationship building, and explains how professors must take the lead in building the relationship. The story also proves how well students with ASD can perform in the classroom when information is crafted to fit their learning styles.
  • At 9:27 Dr. Alves provides some basic tips to professors who teach college students living on the autism spectrum. He emphasizes the importance of creating a learning environment that feels comfortable and safe for students.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeWo0B5qolo

by Dr. Marc Ellison

Supports for Sensory Processing Disorder and Issues with Touch

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.

Painted hands for a border

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:

11 Things Not to Say to an ASD Parent

It wasn’t until the day that one of my children was diagnosed with both Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder that I realized quite how upsetting the topic was to many people. I still do not know why labels that are used for medical purposes, that open doors for children in need, can be such an issue for so many. After all, the word “Autism” to me is just a word. My child is still my child, and the world we live in may be unique at times, but it is also extraordinary.

I’m not sure if people just don’t know what to say, or if they are simply uninformed and inexperienced. As a parent of two children who face specific challenges, I can assure you that there are a list of things that I have had said to me that are anything but helpful.

Here are just a few suggestions for sensitivity towards parents with ASD children:

1. Don’t worry, he is just a being a boy or she is just being a girl, because boys are like this and girls are like that.

Yes boys and girls are different often times, but there are many signs and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder that if missed or ignored could be hurtful to your child if they do not get certain resources to help them overcome the adversity in their lives early on and build upon the many amazing qualities they already have.

2. At least they look pretty normal. If you just looked at them you would never know.

First: “normal” is a joke. Second: I never said that my kids were not “normal.” Third: what they look like at first glance does not directly correlate with the obstacles they face in their lives or that we face in our household. Fourth: I would love my child no matter what they looked like.

3. Doctors and therapists are just taking advantage of you and don’t always know what they are talking about.  They are just getting you all worked up over nothing.

I am just going to insert some ????? here because this statement is insulting to many people on many levels. There is no comment even worth the time to respond to a comment that is clearly more about a person’s denial and own feelings than the life and best interests of a child.

4. There are plenty of kids who don’t talk. All kids develop at their own pace.

Are People with Aspergers as “Logical” as They Think?

Balancing the left and right brain: the role of emotion and mood

One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that individuals often have strong points of view, and they have trouble seeing other points of view as equally valid. Most see themselves as extremely logical and therefore right in their conclusions; for them, the points of view of others can seem illogical. This is often perceived by neurotypicals as being oppositional, stubborn or lacking empathy.

Brain hemispheres sketch

What’s interesting is that often when people think they’re being logical, research shows that their emotions can be driving their cognition. Emotions are frequently substantial influences in people’s thinking without their knowing it. In his eloquent writing for LinkedIn, Kristopher Jones makes clear what is my experience as well:

People with AS can have very strong feelings.

Peter Salovey and Marc Beckett of the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University www.ei.yale.edu have done compelling research on the topic of feelings influencing thinking. In one study by Brackett and his colleagues on the influence of teacher emotion on grading practices, they took a large sample of middle school teachers. Using techniques demonstrated to be effective to induce a positive or negative frame of mind, they had half the teachers influenced to be positive and half to be negative. All were given the identical essay to grade. The scores given by the two groups differed by 1 to 2 grades, yet all of them were certain that mood had nothing to do with their scoring.

Why is this significant for people with AS?

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy model of cognition suggests that we all have a logical mind and an emotional mind.

It’s where these two overlap (are integrated) that genuinely “wise” thinking can get done. Otherwise, we’re unaware (like the teachers) of the extent to which emotion that hasn’t been acknowledged is dictating what seems to be logical thinking. Most AS/NLD individuals I know operate out of one kind of mind or the other, but fail to meaningfully integrate the two.

I worked with a young man who was very reactive to what he perceived as criticism. A person who criticized him at a temporary job became someone he never wanted to see again; in fact, the entire setting became somewhere to be avoided.

He felt this was logical – you don’t go where you are treated badly.