Monday, December 22, 2008

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays to all my readers!
I’m so grateful to you for your support, your comments and emails, and for sharing your expertise with me. I am truly blessed to have the honor of working with kids with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD. I learn something new from my clients every day, and I’m lucky to share in their passions and spirit, their directness and honesty, and to be able to see the world through their eyes, even if only briefly. And to the parents of these great kids, I appreciate the chance to get to know you and your families.
I also want to send a special thank you to all the parents writing blogs on the Autism Hub, and elsewhere on the internet. Thanks for sharing your experiences so generously!
Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll be posting in the New Year.

Happy Holidays and Thank You

I'm grateful to all my readers. Happy Holidays!
I want to thank my readers for your support, your comments and emails (Whether they're agreeing with me or not!), and for sharing your expertise. I am so fortunate to get the opportunity to work with amazing individuals with Asperger's and autism. From you all I've learned new ideas, different ways of viewing the world and the value of diverse experiences and viewpoints.
I'm especially grateful to Asperger's and autistic bloggers, both those on the Autism hub and elsewhere, who share your experiences and ideas, and make my work so much more meaningful.
Have a wonderful holiday, and I’m looking forward to posting in the New Year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Asperger’s, Relationships and the Holidays

The holidays can be a tough time of the year for adults and teens with Asperger’s. There’s a focus on parties, relationships, social interaction. The days get shorter and the weather gets colder. (At least here in the northern hemisphere.)  Sometimes people may find they’re really getting a case of holiday blues, or worse depression.
First off, although I’m a mental health professional, I don’t do therapy over the internet and this blog is not intended as medical advice. If you’re feeling depressed, really down, or a danger to yourself or others, please contact a professional, right away!
Just feeling a little less upbeat than usual? There are things you can do to feel better. First off, it’s a great idea to re-evaluate your holiday plans. Are you focusing on obligations or what you really want to do?  Try to reward yourself after you take part in that undesirable but obligatory family dinner  or work lunch. Think about the things you love to do, your special interests, a hike through the woods, cooking a favorite meal. Whatever you love, be sure to leave time for that too, not just what other people like.
Realize that you may be a lot more introverted than those around you. A true extrovert loves parties and will feel energized and renewed after attending or hosting a party. But, if you’re more introverted, you need to give yourself plenty of alone time too. Schedule time for yourself just like you’d schedule in other events.
There’s a great deal of pressure in our society to be a part of a couple. It can be especially tough to be single during the holidays. Be good to yourself, just the way you’d expect a partner to treat you. Some people can have a great time by joining in with a group of platonic friends. Others want to be alone, and that’s fine. If you’re spending New Year’s Eve on your own,  you can still treat yourself to a great meal, a favorite movie, or something else that makes the night feel special.
Take some time to review the past year. What great things have you accomplished this year? Pay attention to little triumphs too, they can really add up. Where do you want to be next year? It’s important to take some private time to take stock and set some new goals.
However you spend your holidays, I hope they’re special to you.

More Positive Viewpoints of Autism and Asperger's

In this blog for parents, and my other blog for adults with Asperger's I try to focus on the positives and strengths of the autistic spectrum. I know people struggle with day to day issues, dealing with work, school, friendships. Planning for long term support for their children keeps many parents awake at night. Neurotypicals can be clueless and judging. Still, the internet is filled with stories of the positive aspects of the autistic spectrum. Things like the joys that come with a special interest. The connections parents feel for their children. The gifts that we all get from knowing that all people are different.
One place where it's easy to find a positive viewpoint of autism is right here, on the web. Check out autism blogs. You can find many of them listed on both Alltop and the Autism Hub. There are blogs written by parents of kids on the spectrum and by autistic individuals. Look around a bit and you'll find devoted parents who cherish their children, just the way they are. Adults who wouldn't want to change anything about the way they are. A few favorite posts right now are Left Brain/Right Brain, Susan Senator, A Day in the Life, and Drivemomcrazy

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rules and Games

Kids who struggle with social skills, such as those with Asperger’s, autism and ADHD, frequently have difficulty when it comes down to the rules of the games they play.  If parents are playing the game, the adults may be flexible and adapt to their children, but it can be a big problem when the children are playing with other kids. Too often the fun of the interaction is ruined by arguments about the rules.

Many children with autism, Asperger’s and ADD tend to be black and white thinkers, and they insist on following the official game rules to the letter. They may become the game’s self appointed judge, reading the box for every detail.  That’s fine if all the players are in agreement. But sometimes, the rest of the kids just want to play. They may have their own traditional rules, or they may have come up with their own rules for special circumstances. It’s important for kids to be aware that following the rules is a bit of a gray area. Kids who read social signals easily can pick up on the tone of the game and figure out how methodically their playmates want to follow the rules.  

Other children who struggle with social skills love to set up the rules. They may insist that the way they played last time is the only correct way, or the rules used at school must apply at home. Frequently, these individualized rules are complicated and only explained when it’s to the advantage of the rule maker. (As a children’s play therapist, I’ve spent many hours playing games without being told the rules!)

Parents are important in helping kids understand how to play games, and how rigidly the rules should be followed. Think about a friendly poker game versus the World Tournament of Poker. Children need to realize both ideas, “rules are rules” and at the same time, “rules are made to be broken.”  It all depends on who’s playing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Attending the Dreaded Holiday Party

So you’ve decided. You can’t skip out on the holiday party at work; you have to go. Here are some tips to make a good impression and make the whole event as painless as possible. (If you haven’t decided if you’re going yet, check out my previous blog entry on what professionals with Asperger’s and autism, as well as those who just don’t enjoy socializing at work, should consider before decided to skip the holiday party.)
Do Some Prep Work
Find out the basics before the party. How formal is the event and what are people wearing? Are spouses expected to attend? How about kids? Is a meal being served? Ask your favorite coworkers, or check with the party planner if it’s not obvious from the invitation or announcement.
Plan Some Small Talk
Before the party, think about a few topics of conversation. You’ll want to know the basics of the major news stories. Even if you don’t bring them up, others may. Take a look at the lighter topics too. Sites like the Yahoo home page will give you the top news, sports and entertainment stories. Or, listen to popular radio on the drive to the office.
Watch the Time
It can be awkward to be the first to arrive at a party. But, you also don’t want to have the whole company waiting for you before the meal can be served. How late to show up depends on the length of the event. For a 90 minute lunch during the workday, just leave the office when everyone else does. For a Saturday dinner party, thirty minutes late is pretty standard, at least in the US. If a scheduled event is starting the evening, like a harbor cruise or some type of entertainment, find out when that occurs and aim to get there at that time.
Avoid Alcohol
Some people can easily manage a drink or two at a party. But if you’re reading this, chances are party socializing is not your strength. Stick to a club soda.
Topics to Avoid
Just because it’s a party doesn’t mean that the work rules are all suspended. Your coworkers may be more relaxed than usual or even a bit drunk. (Or maybe a lot!) Still, avoid criticizing anyone, gossiping, and anything that might be offensive to others, like sexual harassment, any off color humor, or controversial discussions.
This is also the time that discussions about your work projects may not
be appropriate. Many neurotypicals like to socialize and unwind at a
party. Your discussion of the latest experiment may be considered rude
or dull. Save it for Monday.
Small Talk at the Party
Conversations at a party can be a bit different than those at the office. They may be more personal, with more joking and teasing. That doesn’t mean you need to initiate these styles of conversation, but you may get pulled into them. Just try to adapt and not be offended.
If you've brought a spouse, be sure to introduce and include him or her. Talk to your coworkers spouses too.
When Can You Leave?
If possible, try not to be the first to leave. But, you get most of the credit for just showing up. Once you’ve talked to the major players, namely your boss, other bosses you want to impress, and your employees, you can safely exit. Try to thank the party planners too!
There, you did it! I didn’t say it was going to be fun, but you’ve attended, socialized and you’re free till next year, or at least the January birthday event.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Dreaded Holiday Party

Even in today’s tough economic environment, many companies are still planning holiday parties. For some, this is a fun opportunity to relax with coworkers, meet spouses, and just take a step back from the work environment. But for others, those who hate small talk, or who value their free time, or who consider themselves to be loners, the holiday party is looked upon with dread. For many of my readers, like professionals with Asperger’s or autism, the big question right now is, “Do I have to go to the holiday party?”
The answer: It might be in your best interest professionally to show up. You might want to think of this as an unpaid evening work assignment, or an extra chance to show management that you’re a team player. Here are some things to consider when making this decision.
Is This Your Job, Or Your Career?
If you’re not hoping to be at the job long term, and it’s not in a field where you’re making lots of professional contacts, maybe you can get away with skipping the party. Don’t be too direct or detailed with your excuse here, just stay vague with a “family obligation” or “neighborhood get together.”
But, if this is a long term career, you probably have to make some effort to be sociable. Neurotypicals can get offended when their social advances are rebuffed. You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, and your coworkers will trust and help out those with whom they socialize.
Are You the Boss?
The higher you are on the management ladder, the more important your presence will be. As a boss, you have a big impact on your employee’s daily lives. Neurotypical employees will want to introduce their spouse to their boss, but not necessarily the mail room clerk.
Who Wants the Party?
This is different than “Who’s planning the party?” Usually, an admin is assigned the task of putting the party together, but it might be the big boss, or your boss, or the boss you’re hoping to work for next year who’s all excited about it. You don’t want to be labeled by the higher-ups as hard to get along with just because you skipped an evening’s “entertainment.”
Who’s Planning the Party?
Holiday parties are a big job to plan, with venues reserved months in advance. Someone who’s put in hours of effort may feel slighted by your absence. If the planner is someone who works for you, someone with a lot of social power, or someone who helps you out a lot, you really should make the effort to attend.
Who Else is Going?
Ask around and see if everybody is going to be there. The more no-shows, the less obvious your absence will be. But if everybody is showing up except you, the night could turn out to draw a lot of attention your way, and not in a way that will help your career.
Can You Just Stop In?
Some parties involve a solid time commitment, things like a sit down dinner or a harbor cruise. Basically, once you’re at the party, you pretty much have to stay there until the main activity is over. Other events are more open ended, like a cocktail party. With these, it’s easy to drop in, chat briefly with the bosses and your employees, complement and thank the planners, and you’re free to go. Don’t get there too early, aim for the time of peak attendance to get the most impact from your brief appearance.
Whatever your decision, don’t say anything negative about the party, before, during or after. If you do decide to attend the party, check back here for tips on how to manage it.