Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thinking About Other’s Minds

Rebecca Saxe is a neuroscientist at MIT, studying Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is the understanding about how we think about ourselves and others, or as Simon Baron-Cohen phrased it in Theory of Mind in Normal Development and Autism, (2001), “to be able to reflect on the contents of one’s own and other’s minds.” This is an important concept from the viewpoint of autism and Asperger’s, because many researchers attribute deficits in Theory of Mind to some of the struggles those on the autism spectrum might be having.

Rebecca Saxe has been researching the brain using fMRI, and identified the region, called the Right Temporo-Parietal Junction, that is activated when we’re thinking about other’s thoughts You can hear a brief, but informative and entertaining talk by her on, titled How We Read Each Other’s Minds. She talks about her work and also demonstrates some interviews with children of various stages of development. You have to register, but the site is free, and full of fascinating presentations.

Local Bay Area Special Education Resource

Special education and the legal issues surrounding it are very complex topics. Parents need to know their rights and responsibilities, and what their child is entitled to. For parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Leigh Law Group is presenting a workshop for parents and professionals on Special Education: Rights to Related Services in the Public Schools. The training event is November 14th, 2009, in San Francisco, and it’s only $10.00. 
I’ll state right up front that I’m not familiar with this group, and I don’t know the presenters, but the topic is so crucial, I’m guessing this could be a valuable morning. I think they run these regularly, so you might want to get on the mailing list. If you do attend, please send me a note and let me know how the presentation was.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: Mother in the Middle by Sybil Lockhart

Mother in the Middle is a fascinating book, a moving and personal memoir of a woman’s experience with raising small children while at the same time caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s. But the author is also a neurobiologist, and she beautifully interweaves her own technical perspective into the work. It’s this unique juxtaposition that makes this memoir stand out from others.

Usually, I review books about careers, business, social skills or autism and Asperger’s on this blog. And this is not a book about any of those topics. But I think it’s appropriate for this blog anyway. Human development, mental illness, emotions, thoughts, behavior and personality are all controlled by our nervous systems, but we’re still at the early stages of understanding those systems. For those of us who aren’t neuroscientists, making the connection between the brain structures and human experiences can be especially difficult. This book makes those connections. Life events and biology come together clearly. The fact that the author is also a teacher makes her explanations that much clearer.

As an example, at one point in the book the author narrates an event where her mother completely forgets about an important loan she made. The memoir moves smoothly from discussing the event to describing what’s actually taking place in her mother’s changing brain. The technical explanations are beautifully balanced with the honest and insightful experiences the author and her mother are going through. The growth and development of her children's abilities contrast dramatically with her mother's declines.

I love books that combine the personal with science. Maybe that’s because I’m an engineer as well as a therapist and coach. But, I think examples help all of us understand, and true life examples can really make a technical discussion come to life. That’s what this book does so well.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Book Review: No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker, Ph.D.

No More Meltdowns by Jed Baker, Ph.D. is an excellent resource for parents trying to deal with their child’s out of control behavior, whether the kids have a diagnosis or not. This book is straightforward, with a simple step by step plan for dealing with tantrums and meltdowns. At the same time, there are plenty of detailed examples that show how to fit the simple plan to complex situations.
Certainly parenting is tougher when children have special needs, like an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s or Attention Deficit (ADHD or ADD). And frequently these parents have to also deal with harsh judgment from the world every time their kids act up. Too often, parents are simply told to be firm, be consistent, take control, and their kids will behave. Well, what should parents do if they are firm and consistent, and it still doesn’t help? This book offers some solutions, and since the author has experience dealing with special needs kids, the ideas are realistic and practical for all families.
Baker acknowledges the basic rule of of child rearing, using consistent rewards and consequences. And that’s a good place for all parents to start. But he quickly moves beyond that to a four step plan of action for when this basic plan just doesn’t work. His model begins with accepting the child, then moves on to de-escalating a meltdown, understanding why the meltdowns are occurring in the first place and preventing future meltdowns.   
The real heart of the book is its detailed analysis to understand why meltdowns are occurring, and the techniques to set up a plan to prevent them in the future. Baker breaks down the different issues that might cause problems, then methodically explains how to change the triggers causing the tantrums, teaching the child skills to deal with the triggers, and how to set up a system of rewards and losses.
One thing I really appreciated in No More Meltdowns was the way that Baker exhibits respect and understanding of the children and parents in his examples. These aren’t presented as bad, out of control kids, with ineffective parents. Instead Baker acknowledges the difficulties of these tough situations and focuses on both short term crisis management and also long term skill building. This is a book I’ll be sure to recommend to my clients.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Anger Management and Asperger's Part 1: Understanding Anger

Anger management is an problem for many individuals, whether or not they have Asperger’s or an ASD. It’s one of the topics that gets searched for most frequently by readers of this blog. In an earlier post I referenced an Anger Management article I wrote for Autism Asperger’s Digest Magazine, but until now I haven’t written anything on anger management specifically for this blog. Because anger management is such a big topic, I’m not going to attempt to cover it all in one post.

We’ve all had that feeling of anger growing, and getting out of control. Sometimes when we lose our tempers, a part of us may even know it’s happening, but the anger still seems to have taken on a life of its own. Anger management techniques can help us manage before the situation gets out of control.

With my therapy clients who are dealing with ADHD, autism, or Asperger’s and anger, I start by exploring what anger is. Most important: anger is not a bad emotion! Anger is powerful, strong and it drives people to make changes in situations that just aren’t working. So the point is not to eradicate anger, but to control it. To manage it.

Another important fact about anger is that the emotion often exists concurrently with other emotions. People may react with rage when what they’re really feeling is disappointment, shame or guilt, fear, or sadness. All of those other emotion can have an aspect of weakness and powerlessness. It may feel safer and more empowered to shift that helpless feeling over to the power of rage. I often ask clients to reflect on what the emotion behind the anger is. What’s the uncomfortable feeling the anger covers?

Next we’ll explore the physical sensation of anger and how important that knowledge can be for managing it. Please check back for further posts !