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Archive for April, 2009

I had the privilege of attending a conference called “Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Building Skills for the Real World” hosted by The Gray Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan last week. It consisted of two speakers.  The first, Talmer Shockley, was an adult diagnosed with Asperger’s who spoke openly and honestly about his personal experiences.  He offered insight into all the challenges that present themselves to him on a daily basis. The second speaker was Teresa Bolick, Ph. D., who spoke about strategies to help individuals with Asperger Syndrome better understand the social world around them.  I would recommend that anyone who gets a chance to hear Dr. Bolick speak should do so. She was an entertaining and thoughtful presenter with many suggestions and ideas for intervention. Following are a few highlights from her presentation:

  • The concept of “Social Capitol” is very important when looking at what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are unacceptable. Kids with social capitol have a reputation within a social network. There is a sense of trust and reciprocity that has been established over time and allows for forgiveness of social mistakes (which none of us are exempt from making). The example Dr. Bolick provided explained it quite well: when the cute 7th grader who everyone has a crush on puts a pea up his nose, it’s funny. When a “quirky” kid puts a pea up his (or her) nose, it’s weird. Social capitol is gained over time and kids with Asperger’s need help building it. Learning how to do some of the following will help: make a good impression, listen to others and remember what they say, get involved with other people, contribute, be a good sport.
  • Using and teaching “low and slow.” When agitation starts to increase it’s important to remember to bring everything down. We often don’t think of ourselves as threatening but the simple fact that we’re bigger than most of the kids we work with automatically puts us in that position. If a child is in distress or quickly moving in that direction, how you approach them will greatly impact the situation. Here are some things to remember: Low: lower your body to the child’s level, lower the pitch and volume of your voice, lower the complexity of your language and decrease questions. Slow: slow down your heart rate by taking deep breaths, slow your speech and pause between sentences, slow your movements, slow down your agenda.
  • The idea of creating an “ACCEPTS” book to help with self regulation. Each page focuses on a different positive theme and it can be brought out when a child needs a boost. The sections are as follows: A = Activities (what makes you smile?), C = Contributing (how did you help someone?), C = Comparisons (how far have you come?), E = Emotions (a collage of positive feelings), P = Pushing Away (note some worries that can be pushed away), T = Thoughts (self-affirming), S = Sensations (memories of calming/regulating sensory input).  Kids can cut out pictures from magazines, use photographs, or anything else they might want to include on the pages.
  • Suggesting that social stories should be used to reflect successes as well as challenges. They’re a great tool for positive reinforcement and won’t get the reputation of only coming out when things aren’t going well.
  • Make Beliefs Comix:  You can choose your own character, facial expression, body positions and speech bubbles on this website.  A great resource!
  • Charting and visuals can make a huge difference. It takes things that are intuitive to most of us and presents them in an analytical way. This can make them much easier to approach and process for people with social cognitive deficits.  The charts don’t have to be fancy, it often just helps to see things categorized and written out (for example, a table defining what topics are appropriate to discuss in what situations).

These highlights are just a sample of the information that was presented but they were some of the things that stood out to me. I hope you’ll find them useful!

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