. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Albuquerque Conference, Part 2

This post is a continuation of the previous one. I just wanted to break them up into two parts because of length. As I mentioned in my previous post, the second speaker at the Autism/Asperger's Syndrome conference in Albuquerque was Sean Barron, who has written a couple of books, most recently "The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships" with Dr. Temple Grandin. Mr. Barron is a news journalist in Ohio, probably in his 40's.

Mr. Barron began his talk by describing his life. He talked about how he was seemingly normal at birth, but became increasingly difficult and angry while unable to communicate. His parents were told then (in the 1970's) that they should institutionalize him but they chose instead to work with him and provide him with therapies and interactions with peers in the public school system. He was often teased and bullied as a kid because of his autism and inability to socialize. Mr. Barron describes how at around age 16 his family moved to California and that being in a new environment helped him to get away from the bullies and begin to understand his own autism. He took it upon himself to learn the social rules and taught himself how to interact with others. He said that by his early twenties, he had "healed" himself from autism, but didn't consider himself completely recovered. 

The second part of his talk was about his most recent book, "The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships" that he wrote with Dr. Temple Grandin. In this section he describes how difficult it is for autistic people to interact socially with neuro-typical people because they don't know the "unspoken rules" of socialization such as turn-taking, eye contact, body language, and to not speak everything that comes into your mind because it may be inappropriate.

He discusses each rule independently, but I think they were pretty self-explanatory so I will list them here.  Of course, the book goes into much greater detail and with Dr. Grandin's perspective as well.

  1. Rules are not absolute. They are situation-based and people-based.
  2. Not everything is equally important in the grand scheme of things.
  3. Everyone makes mistakes. It doesn't have to ruin your day.
  4. Honesty is different than diplomacy.
  5. Being polite is appropriate in any situation.
  6. Not everyone who is nice to me is my friend.
  7. People act differently in public than they do in private.
  8. Know when you're turning people off.
  9. "Fitting in" is often tied to looking and sounding like you fit in.
  10. People are responsible for their own behaviors.
What I found interesting is that both Dr. Grandin and Mr. Barron talked about how important manners and being polite are and that no matter if a person has autism, they still need to be accountable for their own behaviors. I also liked how Mr. Barron talked about fitting in--that autistic people need to learn how neurotypical people behave and that they can imitate those behaviors to get along in society better. Even though those skills don't come naturally, they can be learned. One of the unwritten rules, knowing when you're turning people off, is very important because a person on the autism spectrum can talk nonstop about their special interest (like video games or Pokemon) and has no conversational reciprocity. Not everyone enjoys hearing about computers (for example) nonstop and it is important that a person on the spectrum learns how to interpret those unspoken cues from the person they're talking with.

All in all, the conference was great and I'm glad that my school district paid for me to go. Now I've got a few books to read that I'll add to my constantly-growing pile!

Albuquerque Conference, Part 1

I mentioned in my lat blog that I would be attending a conference in Albuquerque. It was presented by Future Horizons, Inc. and was titled, "A Very Important Super Conference on Autism/Asperger's Syndrome." Pretty lame title, but great speakers.  

The first speaker was Dr. Temple Grandin, a famous woman on the autism spectrum who has written many books such as, "Emergence: Labeled Autistic" and her newest book, "The Way I see it: A Personal Look at Autism & Asperger's" (also the title of her talk and a book I bought there). She talked about autism as being a variable spectrum and discussed many aspects of the disorder. She stressed how important it is to teach kids on the spectrum how to take turns and how to interact with them, but to be gently insistent because many of the kids have sensory issues related to sound and touch so might pull back. She talked about her 1950's upbringing and how manners and grooming were drilled into her and that today's families don't place such importance on them. She said that manners will help an autistic person get farther in life because people can overlook the oddities if they see that you are polite and present yourself well. She also said how important it is to teach the rules of society and courtesy by giving example after example of situations. She interjected many humorous comments, which were very clever.

"Fear is the main emotion in Autism"  --  Dr. Temple Grandin
Dr. Grandin talked about the underlying anxiety in autistc people and how to help them overcome it. She was very forthcoming about needing to take an anti-anxiety medication so that she could function in life. She talked about many of the medications used today but stressed how important it was to try to make changes in diet and exercise before trying to treat with medications. She said homeopathic methods can help, and studies are out that say that Omega 3's can improve the symptoms as well.

Dr. Grandin's talk was also about different kind of autistics: the visual thinker (thinking in pictures like she does), the math and music thinker (those computer geeks), and verbal thinkers (that think in words).  She said that it is important to identify what kind of thinker you have so that you can start to build on their talents and guide them on a career path. Of course, this was more geared for Asperger's and High Functioning Autistic kids. She states that by age 10, you should be able to identify thinking styles and can start to guide kids in the right direction. Getting a mentor involved is ideal.

Jobs for visual thinkers include: graphic artist, drafting, auto mechanic, photographer, animal trainer, architect, and handcrafts. Jobs for music and math thinkers include: math teacher, scientific researcher, music teacher, computer programmer, chemist, engineer, or electronics technician. Jobs for verbal thinkers include: journalist, translator, librarian, copy editor, accountant, special education teacher, speech therapist, or legal researcher. She wrote a book called, "Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism" with Kate Duffy.  I bought that book too because she told me that I had to have it. :-)

Yes, I did meet Dr. Grandin.  She was signing books at the book table and I introduced myself. She asked if I were a parent and I described my boys to her.  She told me how important it is to foster the excitement of computer programming in my 13-year-old and that it is great that he's already programming.  She also said that I should buy the "Developing Talents" book to help me to decide just what my 10-year-old's talents are and to get him on the track to success. She is an amazing woman and I'm honored that she signed my two books.

I'll write about the next speaker, Sean Barron in my next post.  He is a man who considers himself "healed" from autism, although not "recovered." He wrote a book with Dr. Grandin called, "The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism" and one with his mother, Judy Barron, called "There's a Boy in Here: Emerging from the Bonds of Autism," which I bought.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Wisdom of Yoda

I've been attending a monthly video conference series on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) organized by our district's school psychologist for parents and staff who have kids or work with kids on the spectrum. Our current video is done by Dr. Jed Baker, author of the book No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-of-Control Behavior. The conference we've been watching is called Social Skills Training and Frustration Management and is geared for kids with ASD. We've watched two out of three of the parts and so far I've taken a lot of information in from the video. But the one thing that "sticks" with me is a quotation that Dr. Baker uses that is extracted from the great Master Yoda himself.

Fear leads to anger,
which leads to hate,
which leads to suffering.
This is the path to the dark side.
This message can apply to those with ASD as well as those who know them.  The autistic person can have the fear, leading to the dark side. Or society can have the fear of an autistic person, leading to the dark side. Of course, bullying is part of the dark side, and can be caused by fearing the autistic child.

I'm going to be attending a conference next week in Albuquerque that has three different speakers talking about autism and the social skills and communication problems that people with autism and Asperger's Syndrome have.  The first speaker is Dr. Temple Grandin, a very well-known woman on the spectrum who has written books about her life.  I can't wait to hear her perspective on things.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Just Another Day

Today the 6th grade class went to music as their "special" class. Since they just had a performance last week, they are beginning a new grading period. This next project is to arrange or compose a piece of music using Garage Band. Now I've seen people using the program and have heard finished songs, but this is the first time I've actually used it myself. I spent the morning helping my two special needs kids find tracks that they like and combine them into the beginning of a song. My boy with Downs Syndrome likes upbeat Latin tracks and lots of drum beats.  My girl likes soft rhythms and soothing guitar sounds. I can't wait to continue helping them with their projects next week. This is a great project for all the kids. They were all so occupied during the whole class period.

In math today the 5th graders had a special team from the school district come in to teach a lesson. They do this about once a grading period and it is always a great day. They had the kids engaged in probability and outcome problems. I always enjoy it when these two come in to teach because they always get the kids excited about learning math. They do different activities and games, use examples from real life, allow for group interaction, and do no book work. It is a nice change from the normal math day and makes me miss being in charge of the classroom since I used to love to do lessons like this.