Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Holidays at Work

The holiday season can be tough for those workers who prefer a businesslike atmosphere. People have a tendency to chat more, there are lunch and party invitations, and generally more socializing throughout the day.

Although individuals on the autism spectrum may prefer to focus on the job, I think it’s important to participate in some degree of the socializing. Coworkers will think you’re friendlier, and therefore more of a team player, and even more trustworthy, if they know you on a more social level. It may not make sense, but that’s the neurotypical mindset - NTs trust those they like and like those they know.

So, why not look for low key ways to socialize? A coffee pot discussion can be as connecting as a long lunch. If you can’t avoid the holiday party, it is OK to come slightly late and leave slightly early. Casual drop-ins at a colleagues desk can be a way to connect and not be too intense. Set a goal for some type of interpersonal interaction every day.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Science of Evil by Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen is a top autism researcher, and the author of numerous publications and several books. I find that his ease with explaining complex topics makes him especially easy to understand. (And, his publications are available on his webpage, which means those of us not connected to universities have access to his information. Thank you!)
Dr. Baron-Cohen’s famous book,The Essential Difference: Male And Female Brains And The Truth About Autism discusses the differences between male and female brains and the idea that autism is an extreme male brain. In his new book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty Baron Cohen discusses his theory that evil results from a lack of empathy. I haven’t read the book yet, however I listen to a fascinating interview with Dr. Baron-Cohen on NPR’s Science Friday, entitled, "Could a Lack of Empathy Explain Cruelty?"  Baron Cohen discussed how a lack of empathy could lead to evil acts in some individuals as well as a withdrawal from socializing in other individuals, such as those with autism. The book is well reviewed and the interview is available on NPR.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Success on the Spectrum Conference

Aascend, the Autism, Asperger's Syndrome Network Coalition for Education, Networking and Development, is sponsoring their Success on the Spectrum Conference in San Francisco on October 15, 2011. This event is aimed at adults on the autism spectrum, and will feature discussions about relationships, employment options and transitioning issues.

The keynote speaker is Ari Ne'eman, president and co-founder of ASAN, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, as well as a member of President Obama's Council on Disability. There will also be a preview of the film Too Sane For This World, featuring adults on the spectrum. For information on the conference, please visit the Aascend website.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Documentary: Loving Lampposts

Loving Lampposts is a thoughtful and intelligent documentary by Todd Drezner about autism, neurodiversity, society’s viewpoint of the diagnosis and how that impacts the way we treat autistic individuals, both medically and personally. I was excited to see that this balanced and open minded film is available on Netflix instant watch.

Drezner’s son Sam, was diagnosed with PDD-NOS as a toddler. He seems to be an easy-going child, although quirky and not very social. (I won’t say “high functioning”, because the film offers a thought provoking conversation on that term.) The film’s title comes from Sam’s early special interest in and connection to a group of lampposts near his home. Visiting the lampposts is an important ritual for Sam as a child.

But the film is much more than a look at one family’s experience with their special needs child. Drenzer thoughtfully examines the big questions about whether autism is an illness to be cured or a difference to be accepted. In his interview with Steve Silberman of the blog Neurotribes, Drenzer discusses how he views autism as a difference as well as a disability. I appreciate this realistic and still respectful stance. In the documentary, Drenzer manages to interview many of the big names in autism science, such as Simon Baron-Cohen, and Paul Offit. He talks to parents of autistic children, like AutismVox blogger Christina Chew, and author Roy Grinker, and autism Playboy Bunny Jenny McCarthy.

The most exciting group in the film is the widely diverse group of autistic adults represented. So often the focus of research, treatment and policy is on children, leaving autistic adults as the forgotten majority. Drenzer talks to artist Dora Raymaker of AASPIRE, Sharisa Joy Kochmeister of AutCom, author Stephen Shore, as well as others. The film celebrate the gifts these individuals bring, while not ignoring their difficulties.

Loving Lampposts is entertaining and informative, well worth watching.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Local Events with Author Priscilla Gilman

I recently reviewed The Anti-Romantic Child, by Priscilla Gilman. She will be speaking in the Bay Area this week. Please check with the venue to ensure that the details haven’t changed.

Tonight, Thursday July 21, 2011 at 7 pm, Gilman will be speaking at Keplers in Menlo Park. On  Wednesday, July 27, 6 pm Gilman will be speaking at Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building in San Francisco. Finally, on Thursday, July 28, 2011, 7:00pm, she’ll be at Books Inc in San Francisco, CA .

The Anti-Romantic Child is a fascinating and well written book, and I expect that Gilman will be an equally interesting speaker.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: The Anti-Romantic Child

There are a lot of books written by mothers about raising their special needs children, some excellent, some not so great, most somewhere in the middle. The Anti-Romantic Child, A Story of Unexpected Joy , by Priscilla Gilman is both beautifully written, inspiring and dramatic, and also a bit different than the other books in this genre. That’s due to the author, who is not only a mother, but also a former professor of English literature. Gilman weaves together her interest in Wordworth’s poetry with her experiences in raising her special needs son in a way that brings deeper meaning to both.

The Anti-Romantic Child is about Gilman’s son Benj, a boy exhibiting hyperlexia, as well as autistic characteristics, such as rigid behaviors and deficits in social skills. Hyperlexia is characterized by interest in words and exceptional reading skills along with difficulty with reading comprehension. Hyperlexic individuals frequently have social problems and other developmental delays. Gilman carefully discusses the unusual issues her son has, such as sensory sensitivities, and a tendency toward OCD and rigid behavior, without ever putting him into a labelled box.

What makes Gilman’s book so fascinating is how she uses the abstract and ambiguous natures of poetry to further her own understanding of her son’s development. Because Gilman was a literature professor, she has a skill in presenting the poetry in a way that enhances the understanding of both the developmental issues and the poetry. Since I was trained as an engineer, with MIT’s minimal literature requirements, I’ve rarely had that experience.

Like all the mother/authors I’ve read, Gilman has great dreams for her son, and fights to help him attain them. The difference in this book is the eloquence of how she expresses these dreams for Benj:

“That he be seen as whole against the sky. That he not suffer beyond his and my capacity to bear it. That he be allowed to enjoy the pleasures of 'his own private nook' and come out of that nook for joyful engagement with others. That he always hold on to his visionary gleam, his bright radiance.”

This book has a bright radiance all its own.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Autistic Artists: Chris Murray

Perhaps because the visual world is so intense for many autistic individuals, there are a number of excellent autistic artists. I recently blogged about artist Ping Lian Yeak, a young autistic man who displays his artwork in shows around the world. Chris Murray, the subject of the documentary Dad’s In Heaven with Nixon is another successful autistic artist. Murray, who lives independently and has worked in several jobs for a number of years, could easily support himself through his art, but has chosen to keep it as a side project.

I recently purchased Murray’s poster “Red Brick” for my office. While every artist is different, I think this work really highlights some of the strengths of autism. While the work is a cohesive whole, the details are more compelling than is often the case in more neurotypical work. Murray painstakingly represents each window, brick and taxicab. But the details don’t overwhelm, because the rhythm of the piece is so apparent. The detail I enjoy the most is that the artist isn’t constrained by taking just one point of view. Each aspect is represented from its most interesting viewpoint. The building is seen head on, the taxis driving away have a regular top down spacing, and those passing in front of the building are seen from the side. Somehow, although this is different than what we’re used to seeing in a representational painting, it works, maybe because it captures the details much the way we would notice them individually. The tension between whimsy and structure makes this a much more sophistocated work than it might appear to be at first.

You can learn about the excellent documentary, and see some examples of Chris Murray’s work on the Dad's In Heaven with Nixon Movie website.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Colleges for Asperger’s and Autistic Students

More than ever, young people on the autism spectrum are going to college. Thanks to highly effective early interventions, ongoing educational assistance and, of course, the crucial support of parents, students with Asperger’s and autism are succeeding academically, graduating from high school, and looking for more education. This is great news, because those on the spectrum are frequently underemployed, and education can go a long way in ensuring that autistic adults can find satisfying and appropriate jobs.

But, it’s important to make sure these students have the support they need to take advantage of their college experiences. Most students on the spectrum, whether in special education programs or standard classrooms, have had the advantage of special services at their elementary and high schools. And all kids on the spectrum have benefited from the ongoing help of their parents. Too often, that assistance gets dropped all at once as students attempt a standard college program, without the help of special services or their parents. College presents intense challenges, not just academically, but also for executive function, life skills and social skills.

For many college students, a few years at community college or junior college can be the best fit for right out of high school. These programs can allow the students to stay at home for a few years and focus extra attention on developing their independence, executive functions and social skills. Arguably, these abilities are probably more important for long term employability than academic excellence.

A growing number of universities offer programs specifically for autistic students. In a blog post a few years ago I mentioned Inside’s lists of Very Friendly Schools for Students with Asperger’s, and Friendly Schools for Students with Asperger’s. Recently, a reader brought my attention to 10 Impressive Special College Programs for Students With Autism. Both of these sites can provide some options for appropriate and supportive four year programs.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Residential Treatment Programs

Parents can really struggle when their local schools aren't meeting the behavioral or emotional needs of their child. Sometimes the only choice is to consider sending teens to a boarding school, a Residential Treatment program or a transitional program. It's not easy to find just the right fit, and it can be a heart breaking decision for parents. That's why I was so pleased to meet Jeanne Hughes, R.N., an Educational consultant and Member of the IECA, Independent Educational Consultant Association. Jeanne works with parents throughout the entire school placement process, to ensure the students get into the right programs, and the family’s needs are supported.

Patricia Robinson: Jeanne, how do you typically help parents in the process of finding a school or program?

Jeanne Hughes: The first step in helping parents find a school or treatment program is to meet with them and learn about their child's strengths and interests as well as what issues are of concern to the parents. I ask parents to describe "the perfect" school for their child. I want to know what short term and long term goals the parents have for their student. With the parents' consent, I speak with the child's therapist, teacher(s), pediatrician, and other pertinent professionals who have worked with the student. And then, separately, I meet with the student to learn about their interests and answer their questions. All of this lays the groundwork for me to begin a school search. I try to match as many of the parents' "perfect school criteria" as possible. I speak directly with prospective schools about this student. Finally, I present the parents with several viable school options for their student.

My job is to streamline the school search process for parents during this very difficult time when they are likely feeling overwhelmed. By eliminating schools which would not be appropriate for their student, I can save parents time, money, energy, and exasperation by leading them to a couple of good fits, versus striking out on their own to explore schools. I have visited hundreds of schools and programs, and share first hand knowledge of schools with parents. I want to take them by the hand and lead them through this process in a mindful, sensitive, effective manner.

PR: What are the different types of programs available?

JH: The world of therapeutic schools and programs has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. The best programs continue to evolve, implementing new curriculum based upon the latest research and best practices. The continuum of therapeutic programs ranges from short term wilderness programs, therapeutic boarding schools, residential treatment programs, substance abuse treatment programs, programs specializing in eating disorders, attachment issues. Some schools are "hybrid," - -- combining elements of an RTC / therapeutic boarding school . There are programs for elementary school children, teens, young adults, and adults. There are also many boarding schools which can accommodate a student with LD issues, severe dyslexia, ADHD, poor organizational skills, or who simply feels uncomfortable in his large, local day school. Some boarding schools even offer summer programs, where a student can take a few academic classes in the am, and enjoy extracurricular, fun activities in the afternoon.

PR: What about transitional programs?

JH: The word "transition" has two meanings in the educational consulting world. One type of transition school option is for the student who has successfully completed a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment program, and is now ready to "transition" to a new setting. Because the shift from a totally structured program to a traditional, mainstream school is quite dramatic, often a transitional school is recommended. It is effectively a "step-down" school where there is still a lot of structure (at least initially), yet it can help the student continue to practice managing his unstructured time effectively without falling back into his old patterns of behavior.

Another type of transition program refers to those programs for young adults, ages 18-25. These are programs which help students with a variety of issues, such as ADHD, immaturity, Asperger's, or recovering substance abuse students, learn how to function as an adult. Life Skills, including getting and keeping a job, living with a roommate in an apartment., planning and shopping for meals, food preparation, managing their finances, attending college, healthy relationships, etc. are done under various levels of supervision.  Students meets several times a week with counselors.  Vocational skills are taught at some programs.

PR: How should parents get started?

JH: First, be aware that therapeutic schools cost approximately $7000 per month, with RTC's often costing $10,000 per month.  On average, plan to have your child enrolled 12-18 months.  Most insurance companies do not cover these costs, except to reimburse parents for the direct cost of the child's therapist or psychiatrist.  If your child has an IEP, he or she may be eligible for some funding through their school district and/ or AB3632 (County Mental Health).  If both parents are ready and able to make a commitment to an out-of-home placement, then we can meet and get started.  My contract placement fee is $5000, all inclusive.

PR: Jeanne, thank you so much for talking with me about this topic. I know it can be really overwhelming for parents faced with such a tough choice, and your knowledge can be so useful for them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Overnight Camp for Asperger's and NLD Teens and Young Adults

It's time to sign up for summer camps! Summer is a great chance for special needs kids and teens to wind down, relax and have some time to themselves. But, it's also a chance for them to catch up on social and emotional skills. Summer camps are a great way to do that.

I was excited to hear about the camp at Twenty Acre Wood Retreat. This residential camp program in the Truckee/Tahoe area is for teens and young adults age 13 and up, especially transitioning older teens, with Asperger's and NLD (Nonverbal Learning Disorder). Older campers can participate in a Counselor in Training program. I'm talking today with camp founder Dr. Meg Fields.

PR: Meg, Thanks for talking with me about the camp. Can you tell me a bit about what your program offers?

MF:  Yes, Thank you.  Our retreat is a fabulous, small group experience for youth with Aspergers/NLD to grow and thrive in the beautiful outdoors.  We have a fabulous mountain retreat, beautiful and elegant and we go backpacking, the best of both worlds.  We take full advantage of the opportunities the Tahoe-Truckee area offers:  boating, hiking, climbing, white water rafting, games, campfires, art, music, camp stuff that is really fun (and carefully geared to our population, moderate, self esteem building levels not scary or overwhelming).

Our staff is a very interesting group of trained individuals who are thinking about creating a safe environment, safe enough that individual may begin to trust and discover more “internal space” for trying new experiences and taking in the possibilities for themselves.  We have many great role models on our staff.

PR: What campers are best suited to your program?

MF: Campers who are wanting to develop new aspects of themselves (possibly unknown to themselves, not yet named). Youth who have desires for more but aren’t sure how to move in those directions.  Youth who just want to play and have fun are welcome!!  But most of our campers have deep important wants that they aren’t quite sure how to accomplish; we want to help them stretch (a bit at a time).

PR: What skills do you expect campers to come away from camp with?

MF: Backpacking and bonding is an amazing unusual and rewarding experience.  I expect they will feel proud and accomplished and I know they will feel very acknowledged for who they are and what they contributed, whatever their special attribute may be.  People need acknowledgment and appreciation.

PR: What about campers who have never been away from family before?

MF:If you’ve never been away you may feel homesick.  It won’t surprise us and “transitional objects” we understand (things that may help with the difficulty of not having your regular support available).  We have worked with individuals who feel sadness and fear, that’s what we do.  (It is helpful if parents don’t begin by saying “if you don’t like it you can come home”).  Let us do our work and we will call if we need home support, we don’t want a traumatized camper, we will intervene as needed.  We believe it is a big experience and we honor it as such.

PR:Meg, thanks for sharing for about the camp! To sign your camper up, please visit the website at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Adult ADHD Group in Albany, California

The Center of Attention and Learning, in Albany, California, offers ADHD coaching, Executive Function support, and Educational Therapy. The Center, founded last year by Educational Therapist Linda Lawton, is now offering their first working group for adults with ADHD. The group will meet three times per month, and each month will focus on a different issue, starting with procrastination.

Group coaching is an excellent way to get both professional and peer support, and it is more cost effective than individual treatment. If you’re interested in more information, visit the Center’s website, or their Working Group information page.

And, for Middle School and High School Students, check out the Center’s Supervised Study Hall. Author's note: 2/13/12, the Supervised Study Hall is no longer offered, but I will be posting about a new program soon. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Conference for Learning Differences

Ed Rev 2011 will be held on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at AT&T Park. Ed Rev 2011 is "a day of inspiration and resources for students with learning and attention difficulties, and their parents and educators." The day includes speakers, activities, and an art contest. Whether or not you can attend, it's worthwhile to check out the excellent list of exhibitors and resources. Check out the brochure.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Autistic Artists

Autism brings special talents as well as difficulties, and one area where this is especially evident is in the realm of art. I’m in the process of moving my office this month, and while decorating, I found a number of examples of excellent art created by autistic individuals.

One such talented artist is Ping Lian Yeak, a 17 year old boy, born in Malaysia and now living in Australia. Ping Lian began an art based program as part of a behavioral plan, to encourage him to learn fine motor skills. After a while, rote tracing was replaced by drawing his own works. For the last several years, Ping Lian has been featured in a number of television programs, and he has displayed his work in galleries around the world.

A visit to Ping Lian Yeak's website  shows just how appealing the artwork is. A focus on details is balanced by strong compositional elements. With a quirky sense of perspective and bright, lively colors, the work is energetic and alive. There are many examples displayed online, and a full array of prints for sale. I had a hard time limiting myself to a few.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Book Review: Buzz, A Year of Paying Attention

“Well written, compassionate, interesting” are all words I’d use to describe Buzz, A Year of Paying Attention, A Memoir by Katherine Ellison. But even though I enjoyed it, I struggled with the concept of the book and came away feeling vaguely unsettled.  Ellison describes her plan to devote a year in which she’d “put other work aside, making it my full-time job to seek the best path for a distracted parent intent on helping her distracted child.” I always appreciate well written books that combine information with a chance to really get to know the author’s experiences. Ellison, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has the ability and the connections to do just that. She meets experts such a Dr Russell Barkley, and authors like Dr Daniel Amen, and Blake Taylor. She quotes from Dr Ross Greene, Dr John Ratey and Dr. Edward Hallowell. (Greene and Hallowell even write blurbs for the for the book cover.)

It’s not surprising that an author who describes herself as having ADHD would take a creative and enthusiastic approach to exploring the different ways to manage ADHD. But it was also not surprising that this style resulted in a somewhat scattered attempt to solve a very challenging issue.  I kept wanting more depth and focus, and I kept hoping the author would stick with something long enough to really give it a chance. I kept looking for more scientific inquiry and less anecdotal evidence.

So often I hear from parents that they’re looking for a clear cut diagnosis, with a solid recommendation on what to do to help their child. Unfortunately, it’s just not that straightforward. Although a one size fits all diagnosis and treatment plan might be comforting, it’s never going to work as well as something tailored specifically. There is no one path, or one best treatment, and dabbling in different solutions over the course of a year is not going to result in the best outcome.

As for Buzz, I’d still recommend it, but I’d suggest thinking of the book as a chance to understand someone else’s experiences with a challenging child, not as a way to learn how to help your own child.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Treatment Options: Reading Programs

Kids with special needs like ADHD, ASDs and learning differences can frequently benefit from specialized tutoring and academic programs. But there are so many options, it’s difficult to choose what’s appropriate. And for adults, it can feel too late to get the help they need.

Today, I’m interviewing Theresa Rezentes, of Dyslexia Connections. Theresa is certified in both Slingerland Reading methods and  Lindamood-Bell methods. She works in schools as well as individual students in Alameda and Western Contra Costa County.

P. R. What are the signs that a child could benefit from working with a reading program?

T. R. As a reading therapist, I tutor kids who read below grade level despite an average to above average intelligence and who exhibit signs of letter direction confusion (b and d or b and p are most common), or who transpose letters (change their order) as exhibited in writing or oral reading.  Also, the child avoids reading for pleasure despite many encouragements.

P. R. What are these different reading programs?

T. R. As these children are three dimensional, hands-on learners, many need to write letters and words in the air with their whole arm to give them meaning.  The above confusions can be so distracting that only by writing the letters in the air while saying them and pronouncing them immediately following give them the scaffolding needed to make sense of words and reading.  This physical relationship is what is needed to permanently bypass the confusions that many children see if they have trouble reading.  Also, both the Slingerland and Lindamood-Bell Methods focus on auditory processing weaknesses which the majority (80%) of these students possess.

P. R. Can this be helpful for adults? 

T. R. Yes, it is but will take longer to make progress. I compare it to learning Spanish as an adult vs. as a child. The reason is that the neuropathways are more solidified with adults compared to children.  Therefore, the letter confusions are more permanent and will take longer to correct.  However, with therapy of three or more hours a week, progress can be made.  The bottom line is that it takes a true commitment of the adult.

P. R. How does this differ from what's taught in schools? 

T. R. For years, the Slingerland Institute had trained teachers using this method with hopes it would reach the schools.  Unfortunately, because most principals are not aware of these methods they are not supported by administrators and many of these children end up in Special Education with an IEP. The Slingerland Method is available in many Catholic Schools in the Oakland Diocese.  It has widespread support of the diocese and I treat children who attend Catholic schools.

The Lindamood Bell method is available in only two schools in Oakland.  The Susan Barton Method is available in the Pleasanton USD and San Ramon USD.  Both Lindamood Bell and Susan Barton require one on one tutoring and most schools cannot afford to have one employee work with one student several hours a week.  It is really through parental efforts and pressure that enable these methods to be available in the public schools, typically through a lawsuit settlement, or through private tutors certified in these areas.  I am certified in both Lindamood-Bell and Slingerland.

P. R. Thanks Theresa.

For those interested in learning more, please visit Dyslexia Connections.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ingenious Minds

A new documentary series, Ingenious Minds, from the producers of Hoarders, premiered this month on Thursdays on the Science Channel.  As described on the website, “Enter the lives of savants: individuals who possess an extraordinary ability in areas such as art, music and mathematics, while also suffering from intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The series draws heavily on the expertise of Psychiatrist Darold Treffert, an expert on Savant Syndrome and author of several books on the topic. Savant Syndrome, according to Treffert’s reporting, occurs in as many as 10 percent of autistic individuals, as well as others with differing diagnoses.

One early episode of the show features John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in The Eye, which I reviewed in an earlier post. Another episode is about an autistic young man who is also a world ranked pinball player. Temple Grandin will be featured in an upcoming episode.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Transition Planning Seminar for Students with Autism Spectrum or NLD

Post high school transition planning is an important step for any student with special needs, and it's vital to begin the process early. I encourage parents to attend transition events as a first step in planning, and it pays to start early, well before your child's senior year. Most events are only held annually, and many programs are limited in size.

In March, Orion Academy is conducting their 5th Annual Seminar on Post-High-School Transition Planning. Orion Academy is a college-preparatory program for secondary students on the Autistic Spectrum with neurocognitive disabilities such as Aspergers syndrome, or NLD (Non-verbal Learning Disorder). From their flier:

Seminar-Social Issues Facing Teens on the Spectrum
March 26, 2011
8:30 AM - 4:00 PM
Renaissance Club Sport Hotel, Walnut Creek, CA
$95 -Lunch and resource binder included
Orion Academy's 5th annual ASD ''Transitions Seminar'' will take a bold look at the issues facing today's teens on the spectrum and what parents should know but may be afraid to face. Topics will include social networking, dating and attractions, and sexual safety. Speakers will also summarize the legal issues parents should be aware of and post high school options for their teen.
Exhibitors for various post-high school programs will be available at lunch to meet with parents.
For information call (925) 377-0789 or go to

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Floortime Conference Online

Several years ago, I took the online course in Dr Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime. Floortime is a flexible, useful approach for parents and professionals to use with autistic children, that I’ve discussed in several previous posts. Sadly, Dr Greenspan died recently, but the 10 week online course is still going to be available in March through video tapes of his presentations. This program is suitable for both parents and professionals. There are also programs on related topics such as managing meltdowns, and learning disabilities. For more info, visit the Floortime website.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review: Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

I recently published a review of Buried in Treasures, Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, by David Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, a hands-on workbook for those struggling with hoarding and disorganization. What led me to that book was a book I’d read a few weeks earlier, Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, two of the same authors. As a psychotherapist, I’m fascinated by all different types of minds, and differing ways of looking at the world. Hoarding, with its emphasis on and connection to the world of objects rather than other people, is one such difference.

Where Buried in Treasures is a problem-solving Cognitive Behavioral workbook, Stuff reads more like a novel. Its pages are peopled with the author’s examples of different type of hoarders, those who collect antiques, or animals, or even garbage. The authors present some data and facts, as well as theories and their own ideas about what drives hoarders. There is a chapter toward the end on getting help. But the true allure of this fascinating book is the chance to get to know the characters its written about. Although the authors present their own theories on what drives these individuals, you’ll see them in such detail you can come up with your own ideas and even see the ways we all have our own attachments to objects and our own hoarding-like behaviors. Hoarding may be an extreme behavior, but after reading this book, you'll think twice about the next grocery bag you save or the stack of mail on the front table.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: Out of the Fog, Treatment Options and Coping Strategies for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder

So much of what’s written about ADHD is aimed at parents. But the disorder doesn’t just disappear when these kids grow up. Based on information published on Russell Barkley’s website, 65 to 80% of children with the disorder continue to have impairments as adults. This can range from school, employment, and interpersonal issues to conditions as severe as mental illness, substance abuse and legal problems.

I’ve published several good reviews on coping with ADHD in this blog. Smart But Scattered and Late, Lost and Unprepared are two favorites. Although they tend to focus on children’s issues, many of the technique can be adapted to adults.

But it’s always best to be able to find something uniquely adapted to your own situation, which is why I was to pleased to find Out of the Fog, Treatment Options and Coping Strategies for Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, by Kevin R, Murphy, Ph.D. and Suzanne LeVert. Dr. Murphy was a researcher at the Adult ADHD Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, and is now in private practice. Out of the Fog is a book that really attempts to do it all: explain the condition of Adult ADHD, discuss treatments and strategies, and cover practical aspects such as organization and communication. With a lesser author, this approach might be too much at cover, but Murphy is so knowledgeable, he’s got good advice for all these varied aspects. Because the book was written in 1995, it doesn’t use some of the newer terminology, such as “Executive Function”, and the specific medication information is showing its age. In general though, the information in this practical guide is still useful and timely.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Review: Buried in Treasures, Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding

Hoarding is not a disorder that exists only among those on the autism spectrum, but certainly there can be a strong aspect of clutter and disorganization that goes along with Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and the accompanying deficits in executive function.  Hoarding at its most severe really requires the help of a specifically trained mental health professional, because it’s about so much more than getting organized and cleaning things up. But for those who won’t, or can’t, access professional help, Buried in Treasures, Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding, by David Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee can be the next best thing.

This book, written by a team of experts on Anxiety Disorders, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and hoarding, functions as a step by step guide to solving the problem. Heavily influenced by CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) techniques as well as practical advice, the book leads the reader through exactly what to do to solve the problems. The focus of the program isn’t just on organizing and throwing things out, it really delves into managing the underlying dysfunctional thinking and erroneous beliefs that can make a hoarding problem so difficult to get a handle on. The authors present numerous specific suggestions for testing beliefs and developing new ways of thinking about objects.

In addition to the step by step instructions, Buried in Treasures includes questionnaires, quizzes and worksheets, so the reader can figure out exactly what specific issues are most difficult for him or her to deal with. There are also separate sections with information to assist family members, organizers, and coaches in working with hoarders.

This book is a practical hands-on guide that will be useful throughout any stage of the process of dealing with acquiring, clutter, disorganization, and hoarding.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Review: The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide

A while back, someone sent me a copy of Susan Senator’s The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide. Susan Senator is a gifted writer, with a blog as well as an earlier book about raising her autistic son. Susan Senator writes with a personal, honest voice that feels like you’re talking with a close friend over a cup of tea.

Although I read the book immediately, and keep recommending it to friends and clients, somehow I’ve never reviewed it for my blog. I thought now would be a good time to rectify that lapse. The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide is really all about taking care of yourself at the same time you’re taking care of your special needs child, as well as the rest of your family. Senator writes from her own perspective, as well as compiling the advice of other autism parents. For parents who may feel like they’re all alone, judged by others and not measuring up, this voice from a community of others in the same situation can be a valuable support.

My favorite part of the book comes when Senator writes in her own voice, as the mother of a now grown autistic child. Her compassion as she looks back on her own young self, raising her small child, was touching, and just what every young mother needs to hear. This book is a gift for all parents of special needs kids, a book to pull out when you feel like no one understands, or that you’re all alone.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Divorce and Autism: An Ongoing Discussion

I think every family wants what's best for their autistic child, and one of their biggest worries is divorce. It's not surprising, since popular culture so often states that 80% of families with autistic children get divorced. Thankfully, that statistic seems to be more widespread than valid. I’ve published a few posts on the theme of divorce statistics among families with autistic children. You can find more details about divorce rates in the Kennedy Krieger study and the Easter Seals survey.

Fortunately, it’s an intriguing issue, and researchers continue to investigate the question. Recently, The Journal of Family Psychology published a study by Sigan Hartley, in which she looked at 406 families of autistic children, as well as an equal number of parents of typical children. The study found that divorce rates were equal up to the child's age of eight, after which time the parents of autistic children were more likely to divorce. The study found a 23% divorce rate for the autistic families, compared to 14% for the typical families, still a far cry from the often reported 80% rate. Hartley suggests that the difference in rate found between this study and the Kennedy Krieger study was due to the age differences of the children. The Kennedy Kreiger study, which found equal divorces rates regardless of the presence of autistic children, looked at children under 17, while Hartley’s study included children into middle age.

Clearly, this is not a simple question, and more research will give us more details. But, the good news is that most families do manage to stay intact, regardless of their children's diagnoses.