Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays to all my readers! Thanks for your comments, suggestions and emails. I'm so fortunate to hear from you.

Enjoy your celebration and I'll be back in the new year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: We’ve Got Issues

Are kids today over-medicated and over-diagnosed by their hovering helicopter parents? Or, is all the medication and treatment necessary to help kids manage their very real mental disorders? Those are the questions Judith Warner addresses in We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. As Warner explains, she started writing this book based on the premise that today’s kids are over-medicated and over-diagnosed, but as she continued her research, she decided that the media and it’s anecdotal evidence were oversimplifying the picture.

As an engineer, I love that Warner actually researched the topic, and allowed the evidence to influence her thinking. I also appreciated that she has such an extensive reference list, over 50 pages for those who want to learn more. As a reader, I appreciated the well written style of the book. But, as a therapist, I thought the conclusions were too simply stated, and the conversational, anecdotal tone was relied on so much it interfered with a more rigorous analysis.

Surely, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some parents hover, expect too much from their kids, and pathologize normal behavior. Other parents, certainly the overwhelming majority of the families I’ve seen, are dealing with kids who are clearly struggling, kids who have evident difficulties, and their parents allow medication and diagnosis only with caution and reluctance. But the way to illustrate this truth is through facts and data, and too often Warner relies on examples and stories from the families she’s interviewed. A compelling read, no doubt, but ironic in that Warner is criticizing the very type of research-by-anecdotal-evidence that she’s using here.

Warner also criticizes the mental health treatment in our country, and I don’t think anyone would argue with her. But she illustrates her thesis with a series of examples from many of the families she’s met, who told of shoddy treatment and erroneous diagnosis. Warner complains because there’s no clear path for parents to take, and they end up “wandering in the dark forest, without a compass, as they tried to figure out how to help their son.” Again, although I agree with Warner’s concerns, it’s a sad truth that mental illness and its treatment is so complex that there’s often more art than science involved. The best treatment may involve uncertain diagnoses, trial therapies, and a great deal of uncertainty. There may not be a clear path.

Still, I’m including this book on my blog list because, in spite of its shortcomings, it is a worthwhile and interesting read. With its extensive reference list there’s plenty of material so you can take your own understanding to a much deeper level.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Managing Holiday Gatherings: Tips for Adults on the Spectrum

Every year I write a post to adults with Asperger’s and autism, about how to manage all the stress of holiday get-togethers. (Last week I did a similar post to parents of kids on the spectrum, because they deal with similar pressures.) And every year I hear the same comments and concerns from people on the spectrum. That all makes sense, because families, friends and coworkers can exert a lot of pressure on you to join in, be a part of the festivities, have fun. But, what’s fun for the crowd may not be fun for you. To balance out all that pressure, I wanted to restate my comments from last year, and the year before.  Here are my tips for how to manage the holiday stresses.

Plan Time for Yourself

If you find yourself getting overloaded, it’s perfectly acceptable to step aside and spend some time alone. Go for a walk, find an empty spare room, or offer the do all the dishes by yourself. Family members may pressure you to join in the “fun” but it’s fine to say that you just need a bit of time to yourself.

Choose Your Battles

You’re an adult now. It’s OK if your family doesn’t understand you, or if you can’t convince them that you’re right. Agree to disagree. Some battles are just not worth the emotional energy. No one has to get all their needs met by their family, friends can offer support and understanding you can’t get from some of your family members.

If It’s Too Much, Go Home Early

Again, you’re not required to stay with the family on holidays. It’s your job as an adult to take care of yourself. Come late and leave early if that’s the best way for you to take care of yourself. You can even choose to stay in a hotel, and just come over during the day.

Look for the Bright Spots

Try to find an activity that’s enjoyable. If the long family conversation is too much, go sit at the kids’ table and be the fun adult. Or, pull out old pictures and reminisce with your sibling about funny childhood times. An older relative may have a lot of interesting memories about their youth and family and this can be a more low pressure way to connect.

Try Giving

Sometimes the best way to manage when you’re not getting what you want is to shift focus on to more positive areas. Think about all the things you’re grateful for this year. Look around and see what you can do to help out.

Above all, remember that as an adult it’s your right and responsibility to take care of yourself. Do what you need to to feel good about this holiday.

Still getting pressured? Know that you’re not alone. That’s why I post this same advice every year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coping with the Holidays: Advice for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Over the years I’ve posted several articles about how individuals and families can cope with the holidays. And, of course, the same issues come up every year. Families travel, visit, have massive, loud get-togethers. Unwanted advice, comparisons, judgments are always there, maybe under the surface, maybe right in your face.

In view of that fact, I want to repeat the same thing I said last year. You know your child. Just because your child is acting up, or not matching the achievements of cousins, or won’t eat the special dinner Grandma made, does not mean that you’re not great parents. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a wonderful kid, with his own special gift and talents. Please take this holiday season to appreciate the child you have, and to trust yourself as a good parent.

And here’s last year’s article, in case you didn’t read it then.

The holidays are coming up and for a lot of people that means getting together with extended family and relatives you haven’t seen in a while. This can be a great chance to connect, feel supported, even show off a bit with all the progress your child has made.

But it can also mean unwanted advice. Your parents, your sister-in-law, your best friend from high school probably mean nothing but the best for you and your family. But they also may not have a special needs child and they may not understand what it is that your family is going through, or what your child needs.

So often I’ve heard the same story from clients. A well-meaning relative says something like, “If only you’d do _________, your kid wouldn’t do _______.” or “Trust me, your kid just needs more __________, and he wouldn’t be so _____________.” You can probably fill in the blanks, there’s a lot of advice out there.

The fact is, and I’ve said it before, some kids are just tougher to parent than others. Your nieces and nephews may just be incredibly easy-going children. It doesn’t mean that you are not also a good parent. Your child may just be wired differently, temperamentally more sensitive,  more strong-willed, or more emotional.

I’ve worked with so many different kids over the years. The truth is, some of them are so easy and low key, they practically parent themselves. Other kids are so difficult, it’s hard to manage them for just a brief while, much less an entire holiday vacation. Add in some travel time, late nights, too much stimulation, and it’s not surprising that things get out of hand.

So this holiday season, I’m asking you to trust yourself and the parenting skills you’ve developed by taking care of your child for all this time. Listen to the advice politely if you want to, but don’t think that any other parent is more capable than you are. Your child is lucky to have you as a parent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: Anthony Best

One of the hardest parts about the autism spectrum can be the feeling of separation it brings about. Adults on the spectrum may feel isolated and different than other people they live and work with. Parents of autistic kids can feel judged and criticized by other parents, especially those with easy children. Probably most difficult is the children on the spectrum, who often suffer through teasing, bullying or just being left out.

I think sometimes this isolation can be toughest for kids in mainstream schools, where their academic abilities are strong, but their social skills keep them from connecting with classmates. So often, the typical kids don’t understand what’s different about their autistic classmates and neighbors, so they might view autistic behaviors as mean or unfriendly. And the sad result is that the autistic kids get left out.

Education and communication can go a long way toward creating understanding, and books can be the best way to start that conversation. One sweet picture book I recently read is Anthony Best by Davene Fahy. In this simple book, Fahy explores the relationship between Anthony, a child on the autism spectrum, and his neighbor Hannah. The book illustrates many of the behaviors that might be puzzling or upsetting to neurotypical children, such as stimming behaviors, lack of eye contact, and communication differences. These behaviors are presented in a simple, non-judging way, which leaves plenty of space to have a conversation with young readers.

If you have a child on the spectrum, or with behavioral or learning differences, this book could be a good choice to present to neighbors or friends who want their children to learn a bit more about how differences don’t have to keep kids from being friends. And, Anthony Best would be a nice book for any teacher to have in the classroom.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sexuality and Autism, Seminar in Baltimore

I’ve long been a fan of Zosia Zaks, author of Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults as well as numerous articles on autism related topics. Zax’s organization, Zax Autism Consulting, is sponsoring a sexuality workshop for adults on the autism spectrum. Unfortunately it’s not local to the Bay Area where I work, but for those readers in Baltimore, MD, please consider attending. The presentation is in two parts, on the evenings of December 11, 2010 and January 15, 2011. For more information, contact Susan Howarth at (443) 676-5366 or

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Survey of Environmental Factors and Autism

I’ve noticed that parents of kids with special needs tend to have one thing in common: the strong desire to reach out and help out other parents dealing with the same issues. Maybe it comes from dealing with so many unknowns, or maybe it’s an understanding that so many of the current advances in treatment have come about because other, earlier parents also shared. Obviously, research is important in learning about a condition that has many more questions than answers.

In any case, here’s one opportunity to reach out, and it doesn’t take much time. Mischelle Miller-Raftery, a doctoral student in psychology at California Southern University, sent me an email saying that she is conducting a study on potential prenatal environmental triggers of autism.  Ms. Raftery is looking to survey at least 50 mothers raising children who have been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome, autism, and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified); and 20 mothers whose children have not been diagnosed.  She inviting readers to participate in this study. If you're interested in taking the survey the following link will take you to it: There’s a contact number for Ms Raftery on the survey information page if you have any questions for her.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review: A Regular Guy

The Autism Spectrum is so broad, the gifts and difficulties so varied, that people often tell me about how they feel alone, that their experiences are different than others, and no one understands what they’re going through. And, for those raising a child on the spectrum, there are ongoing challenges that can feel very isolating for parents as well as kids. It starts with noticing something concerning about a child, then moves to dealing with the medical professionals, getting the right diagnosis, finding the right services and the appropriate educational setting. Sadly, the typical world can be a harsh and judging critic along the way. And the difficulties don’t end in adulthood, because often special needs adults need individualized plans to ensure appropriate employment and living situations. Because each child is so different, it’s not a one size fits all situation.

That’s one way that books and blogs can be vital, as the link connecting individuals, showing people that they’re not alone and others might be going through a very similar struggle. A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism , by Laura Shumaker is an excellent example of a book that helps create that connection for parents raising kids with special needs. Shumaker chronicles her struggles with the medical profession, helping her son find the right school setting, and to fit in with neighbors and friends. She’s honest about her family’s struggles, and compassionately attuned to the pain her son goes through as well.  The hardest parts of the book are those describing the many tough decisions Shumaker is forced to make, often for her son’s own good, but also hard for him to accept.

I recommend this insightful book for any parent dealing with those tough choices, and anyone feeling isolated or judged by their parenting situation.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Parenthood and Misleading Divorce Statistics

I'm never quite up to date on TV viewing, since I watch everything off my DVR, so I'm commenting about a show from a few weeks ago. Parenthood, Season 2, Episode 4, which features a family dealing with a child's Asperger's, talked about the dreaded divorce statistic "80% of families with an autistic kid get divorced."

Fortunately, that's just not true. The 80% statistic is an enduring myth I see quoted frequently, but studies just don't back it up. The divorce rate seems to be about the same, whether a child is autistic or not. Even worse, the show quoted that the character's therapist told her that it was true. Lesson 1: Don't believe everything your therapist tells you! Lesson 2: Just because your child is autistic, doesn't mean you're doomed to divorce.

You can read an earlier discussion of this topic on my Divorce and Autism post. Please don't skip the show because of one bad statistic. Autistic kids are varied, and every family is different, but in general, Parenthood seems to do a pretty good job of presenting the joys and struggles of raising an autistic child.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parent’s Stories About Autism

I recently got an email from a researcher at Columbia University. They’re doing a study on parents of children with autism, and looking for parents to participate. Here’s an excerpt from their email if you’re interested.

“We are researchers at Columbia University's Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy studying autism. We are currently collecting life stories from parents about their experiences in recognizing their child's autism, seeking professional help and navigating the available service systems. We think participation in this study would be of great interest to your readers, and we would like to invite you to write about our survey on your blog.

The goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of the road to diagnosis. Parents have different experiences and observations of their child's development and they have different personal resources with which they access care and services. Parents also differ in the type and extent of their support networks and social relations. And finally parents make different decisions in their quest for obtaining the right diagnosis and care for their child.  We would like to give parents the chance to tell their stories. Participation in the survey may help us understand the heterogeneity of autism as well as how children develop over time.

We are collecting life stories of parents of children who have autism through an online semi-structured survey at our website, You could help our research tremendously by encouraging parents to participate in our study.”

Please consider going to the website and sharing your story.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

GRASP Board of Directors

GRASP, the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership, is a wonderful support organization for individuals on the spectrum. I am a huge fan, and I wish they had a stronger presence here on the West coast. I refer to their services frequently in this blog, and often get news information from their monthly posts. The organization recently sent out a request for more individuals to join their expanding board of directors. At least half the board members must be on the spectrum themselves. If you’re interested in more information, or viewing the impressive credentials of their existing board, check out the GRASP website.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Help for LGBTQ Youth

Many teens and young people are dealing with issues involving their sexuality, as well as Asperger’s or other Autism Spectrum Disorders. High school and middle school can be hard for everyone, but for those who feel like they don’t fit in, it’s especially tough. School bullying is rampant, and often the targets are just those kids who are different, such as the kids on the autism spectrum, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) kids, and maybe most of all, the kids who are dealing with ASDs as well as LGBTQ issues.

Sadly, there have been a number of tragic deaths recently of LGBTQ young people who’ve been harassed by classmates. There are so many resources available to anyone who’s being bullied, or feeling picked on, or different, or thinking that that life won’t get better.

One excellent resource is The Trevor Project, which the site describes as “The Trevor Project is the leading national organization focused on crisis and suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. If you or a friend are feeling lost or alone, call The Trevor Helpline (866.4.U.TREVOR), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Related to the Trevor Project, is the It Gets Better page on You Tube. Both celebrities and ordinary people have submitted videos of their own experiences in dealing with school, bullying, and especially bullying about sexuality. Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, Glee’s Chris Colfer (Kurt), Neil Patrick Harris, Perez Hilton and others have recorded messages.

Please don’t think that you should struggle on your own with issues regarding sexuality, whether you’re on the autism spectrum or not. And none of these issues mean that you can’t go on to have a successful, happy life. If you’re feeling isolated and different, please use these resources to find support.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dad’s in Heaven with Nixon: Film Review

Dad’s in Heaven With Nixon is a touching film about a close, multigenerational family and their struggles with mental illness, alcoholism, and autism. In spite of all these difficulties, the family’s bond shines through the film. The real beauty of this documentary is the loving relationships it shows between Christopher, a gifted and successful artist with autism, his aging mother, and his brother and the film’s creator, Tom Murray. Christopher, born in 1960, suffered oxygen deprivation at birth and was later diagnosed with autism. Certainly, the 1960s and 1970s were not a time of great information about helping those with autism, and Christopher underwent a number of therapies. His mother talks about how she was uncertain of how these therapies were working, but that she did determine that loving her son would help him, and how she and all the siblings worked together to encourage his development. In seeing the now adult Christopher it’s apparent how successful she was in her efforts. Christopher Murray is a charming and capable adult, living on his own and successfully holding two jobs as well as succeeding as an artist. He seems to have continued with his loving relationship with both his mother and his older brother.
The alternate story woven through the film is of the Murray’s father and grandfather. Through old films and family pictures,  Tom Murray narrates the story of the men’s difficult lives, including chronic drinking, mood swings, financial difficulties and probable depression and bipolar disorder. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition with the story of autism in comparison. So often, parents despair of an autism diagnosis, and it’s refreshing to see a representation of a happy and successful adult on the spectrum, and how he contributes so positively to his family.

The film is presented regularly on Showtime. You can get more info, and view Chris Murray’s artwork on the film’s website.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Live Streaming of Autism and Asperger’s Conference

The US Autism and Asperger’s Association is holding their conference in St. Louis starting Friday October 1. Keynote speakers include Dr. Temple Grandin, well known as a speaker on both autism and animal handling, Dr. Stephen Shore, author and special educator,  who are both on the spectrum themselves, as well as Dr. Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurobiologist from Harvard Medical School and Areva Martin, Esq., mother of a son with autism and an advocacy expert. There are a number of other panelists as well.

The great news? You don’t have to go the St. Louis to attend. (Not that I have anything against St. Louis!) The conference will be available online, through live streaming. Check out the website for more information. Live streaming starts Friday, October 1 at 9:45 am EST, 8:45 am CST, 7:45 am MST, 6:45 am PST Click here to view conference or go to Thanks to Autism OW @Autism_Wisdom for tweeting on this.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Social Thinking Across the Home and School Day

How do you learn best? When working with clients, I find most of my clients are visual learners. That means supplementing our discussions with sketches and graphs and pictures can make things much clearer. Other people learn best experientially, in which case we might act things out and role play. A lot of people, myself included, love to learn by reading.  Many people, when first diagnosed, or when trying to understand a new phase in their lives, turn to book for ideas and answers. For you readers, I’ve got lots of book reviews on this blog. Then there are those individuals who are auditory processors. A lecture, a recording, a conference may be the best way for auditory processors to take in new material.

The four hour DVD set from Michelle Garcia Winner, Social Thinking Across the Home and School Day is an excellent resource for those who want something different than a book. The first two hours are a filmed lecture from Michelle Garcia Winner, where she presents her ideas in her typical clear, detailed, and easy to understand manner. The material is quite similar to what she presents in her books, but if you’d rather have the ideas clearly explained, this is a great resource. The second two hours demonstrates Garcia Winner with school age students, individually and in groups. Although Garcia Winner is demonstrating her social skills groups, the techniques and ideas can be useful to parents hoping to work with their children, as well as individuals trying to pick up these skills themselves. Often, people find that it can be tough to go from the theory about an idea to the application, and demonstrations like these may be just what it take to make these ideas clear.

These DVDs are designed for the parents of children on the spectrum, as well as teachers and professionals. Garcia Winner talks extensively about her communication model, as well as how a diagnosis such as Asperger’s or autism can impact learning as well as social relations. But there’s so little out there for adults on the spectrum, this material could be useful for adults as well. You can find the DVDs, as well as other materials on Michelle Garcia Winner’s Social Thinking website.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Social Skills at Work

Does it really matter how you come across at work if you get your job done? So many of my clients tell me that it doesn't. True, you're hired because of your abilities, often a technical skill or a specific knowledge. But once you get the job, it's no longer just about that skill or knowledge. Now, you're part of a team, assigned to all sorts of projects that may have nothing to do with your expertise.
You may be the world's leading expert on a specific user interface, or an aligner, or 17th century Norwegian artists, but once you get the job, you'll be put on the party planning committee, or the diverse hiring practices task force, or the workplace safety team. All those extras have nothing to do with your expertise, everything to do with your job success (and job security!) and they all require social skills and a good work attitude. Just like Seth Godin says, "Your smile didn't matter....No Longer."

Friday, September 17, 2010

Now's the Time To Pay Attention!

School started a few weeks ago, the novelty is wearing off, and routines are setting in. Although it’s tempting to just settle in and let things run their course, now is really the perfect time to look closely at what’s going well and to uncover those little problems that might get bigger. This is true for all students, from kindergarteners to university students. Little, developing problems are easier to solve and there’s still plenty of time to make up for any lower grades. Habits haven’t set in too much yet and it’s easy to create new routines.

First, it’s important to think about what went well last year, and what you’d like to change this year. Did missing assignments snowball into low grades? Did you get overinvolved as a parent, not allowing your child to develop independent skills? Did you forget to factor in time for social connections with other students?

Second, look closely at how that aspect is going this year. Are you just starting to see one or two missing assignments? Are you jumping in a bit to nag, (help) your child? Are you ducking into the library at lunchtime?

Third, look for those tiny changes you can make to improve the situation. The best results often come from rules or systems. Can you start checking the school website every evening before going to bed, and make sure you’ve completed, and packed up, all your assignments? Can you set up a check list for your child, and then let her be responsible for her own work? Can you promise yourself that just once a week, you’ll take the risk and eat lunch with someone else?

Remember, the earlier in the year you try making changes, the bigger the impact of those changes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Today’s Man: A Documentary Film

What will happen to all the autistic children when they grow up? Who’s going to care for them, employ them, love them? What about when their parents can’t be there to manage things? These are a few of the tough questions that are explored in the haunting 2006 film, Today’s Man, by Lizzie Gottlieb, which chronicles six years in the life of her brother Nicky, diagnosed at the age of 21 with Asperger’s.

Adults with Asperger’s often struggle with a world where they don’t quite fit in. They’re often bright and talented, but chronically underemployed. Frequently they long for connection, but too often they can’t find a social circle of their own, and spend time alone or only with family. Many Asperger’s adults long to date, but can’t find a romantic partner.

Nicky Gottlieb, now in his late 20s, deals with all of these issues in this film. Until he was an adult, his Asperger’s was undiagnosed, but his family knew he was always different. He had extraordinary abilities, such as unusual math and language skills, but almost no ability to read social cues or manage the responsibilities of daily living. The film features Nicky’s New York family of loving, quirky intellectuals, including his sister Lizzie, the film’s producer. Nicky’s attempts to find employment are documented, showing his difficulty in coping with the boredom and rules of his job.  We also follow Nicky to a support group session, featuring some of the familiar faces from GRASP.

The film is tough because, as in life, there are no easy answers, and the story doesn’t wrap up neatly. I found myself searching online for the next chapter of his story, but couldn’t find much of an update. The genuine love and caring of this family shine through the film, and Nicky’s spirit inspires, so this is a film that you’ll remember long after the viewing is over.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Review: Late Lost, and Unprepared

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents' Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning , by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph. D. And Laurie Dietzel, Ph. D. is, yes, another book on helping kids develop executive function. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Different books (several of which I’ve reviewed here) on the topic offer similar ideas, but the details vary and one book may work better for your child than another.  The first part of Late Lost, and Unprepared thoroughly explains executive function, breaks executive function down into a list of specific skills, and discusses the developmental aspects of executive function. If this is the first book you’ve read about helping your child, it’s certainly worth the time to read this carefully.

The second half of the book, “What You Can Do About It”, is of value even to those who have read a number of other books on the topic of executive function. This book’s strength is in breaking issues down methodically. As a former engineer, I know that the best way to get to a solution is to deal with a series of simple issues, rather than one overwhelming problem. This book helpfully lists very concrete, specific issues for each category of executive functioning. For example, one chapter about impulse control addresses specific problems like interrupting others, hitting others, and running off in stores.

A strength of this approach is that the authors present both short term and long term solutions. This is what every parent needs to remember, that executive skills improve with growth and maturity. While short term solutions stop disasters from happening, longer term solutions are what will be truly valuable to maturing individuals.

Another strength of the book is that it discusses how parents can advocate for their child. It’s ideal for every child if all the people dealing with him can be working toward the same solutions.   This book makes that idea straightforward and easy to figure out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Emmy Winner ‘Temple Grandin’

Last night’s Emmys awarded the television movie ‘Temple Grandin’ the win for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, as well as the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie to Claire Danes for her highly accurate portrayal of Grandin. I talked about this film in an earlier post, and it’s certainly worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.

Grandin was interviewed on the red carpet, dressed in her traditional western wear, rather than the typical Hollywood gown. She talked about her hopes in making the film. (I apologize for any transcription errors.)

“The other thing I hope this movie's going to do is educate people about's very accurate, my visual thinking,... sound sensitivity, touch sensitivity, visual sensitivity, anxiety, and also to show that people with autism really can do things and they can really succeed.… motivating some of these young people, that they can get out and they can do things.”

Grandin was articulate and well spoken in her own quirky way, and, as always, inspiring about what all individuals can accomplish. The film highlights both the difficulties Grandin had growing up, as well as how her autistic traits were those very strengths that allow her to succeed. Grandin's mother, whom she acknowledged during the ceremony, is portrayed as truly supportive and one of the reasons that Grandin is so successful.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to School Tips

As summer draws to a close, and the new school year is fast approaching, I start thinking of what will make this year easier and more successful than the year before, for my clients, their families, and my readers. This post is a reprint of an article I posted on back in August of 2008, but I think the information is still useful and relevant. For more back to school tips, you can also check out my back to school post from last August, which focused more on the social and emotional aspects of returning to school.
Back to school can be a busy and challenging time and it’s easy to let things slide in the beginning of the school year. But, if your child struggled with school last year, whether academically, with behavior or organization, or with social skills and friends, it’s important to take a few steps now. If your child has special needs, like autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or learning differences, an early plan is especially important. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work, and the payoff is huge.  A few conversations now, a couple of systems established, and the year will run more smoothly. Try these tips to get off to a great start.

Attend Back to School Night

Back to school night may be the only opportunity to meet your child’s teacher until the first report cards come out. The benefits of this meeting are twofold. First, it shows your child’s teacher that you’re an involved parent. While most teachers really try to treat all kids equally and fairly, they’re only human. The child with the parent who is paying attention may be less likely to be overlooked in a crowded classroom, and it’s easier for a teacher to contact a parent who has been introduced. In addition, this meeting is your chance to find out what the teacher is expecting. What is the system for assigning and collecting homework? How much time is homework expected to take? What should the parents do if the homework is taking too long? Are parents expected to help with homework? How will the teacher communicate with the parents, and how can you best contact the teacher? These are all questions for which you as a parent need answers. Discuss these issues with your child too. Often, the teacher will tell the parents one thing, but the kids may understand something else entirely.

Put Together a List of Classmates and Phone Numbers

The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have your child put together a list of classmates and their phone numbers. You don’t need the whole class, just a few from each subject. Chances are, your child will not be perfect this year. It’s easy to misplace a paper, forget a book or write down an assignment incorrectly. It’s best to let this be your child’s problem, but the classmate list makes it easy for your child to find a solution. 

Think About Special Services

Schools can be overcrowded and underfunded. As the school year goes on, the waiting lists grow. I worked as a school therapist for years, and every year, it was the same pattern. Things started slowly in September, but by February, my waiting list was so long, I couldn’t possibly fit in another student. Many parents want to give things a fresh start in the new school year, and that may be a good idea. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to explore the support services. Find out how far in advance you’ll need to request homework support, special testing, or tutoring. You don’t want to give problems time to grow, only to find out that the help you need won’t be available until the following year.

Also, check and see if you need to make requests in writing. Too often parents are patiently and cooperatively waiting in a “verbal” line, only to find out later that the countdown for services doesn’t even start until they make a written request.

Set Up a Homework System at Home

Just as a good teacher will start the year with a plan for homework, assignments, and communication in the classroom, you should do these same things at home. Work with your child to figure out where and when homework will be done. How will your child get you the papers you need to review? The less naturally organized you and your child are, the more time and effort you should put into this upfront plan. It will be easier to start with a system and then modify it if it’s not working than to try to dig out of chaos in the middle of the year. Take advantage of the beginning of the year enthusiasm, and the fact that there is no old work to catch up on.

Don’t Forget Social Issues

If your child has struggled socially in the past, the new school year can be the best time to tackle those issues. Take time with your child to discuss potential friends in the new classroom. Since many kids move over the summer, and most schools shift the students every year, lots of kids will be looking for new friends. Are some of these kids potential friends for your child? Think now about play dates and activities. It can be tough to join into a dance class or a team after it’s established, but being an early member makes your child an automatic insider.  And for parents, often the first few days of school are the times it’s easiest to meet other parents.

These simple steps may be tough to manage in those busy first weeks of school, but it’s worth it. Try to think of this as an investment for a smooth and successful new year. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: The Explosive Child

You do everything the experts advise. You set up rules and rewards and consequences and you’re as consistent as possible. But still, your child melts down, throws a tantrum in front of everyone, screams and yells, and you’re left embarrassed, judged, angry, and thinking that you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong.

Kids with special needs can be difficult to parent. So often, well meaning - or maybe just nosy - friends, relatives and even your own parents may not understand it. “If you’d only…, be tougher, be less tough, do what we do, whatever,...your child would be as well behaved as mine.”  But that advice only works for their children. It may not work for yours.

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. may be exactly the help your family needs. Greene presents a different theory behind the meltdowns, the idea that children behave well when they can. And when they don’t manage to hold things together, through tantrums and worse, it’s not that these children don’t know right from wrong, or that they don’t know that their parents are the boss. Kids throw tantrums because they don’t have the skills to behave better.

Greene posits that weaknesses in “flexibility and frustration tolerance” can trigger these meltdowns. These “pathways” to meltdown include “executive skills, language processing skills, emotion regulation skills, cognitive flexibility skills, and social skills.” That’s a pretty complete list of what a lot of children with ASDs or ADHD may be struggling with. And, the “triggers” to these tantrums are probably pretty predictable as well.

Further, Greene states that continuing to fight, struggle, set a line in the sand, put your foot down, can be just doing more of what wasn’t working in the first place. Greene’s plan involves moving beyond the extremes that parents often choose: either insisting on the adult’s way (Greene terms this Plan A) or giving in to the child (Plan C) to a Plan B, involving collaborative problem solving. In collaborative problem solving, the parent is really functioning as a “surrogate frontal lobe” and helping the child develop those skills necessary to manage tough situations. Greene looks at triggers to explosions, and develops plans to be proactive in avoiding meltdowns, as well as coming up with quick emergency plans for when explosions are about to happen.

Of course, every child is different, and it’s difficult to fit an individual, or a family, into a prewritten book. But Greene give numerous examples, asks some tough questions, and really helps the reader envision how this different way of looking at parenting challenging kids may be the answer. His writing is so clear and methodical that it easily moves the frustration of parenting into a logical, problem solving arena. I encourage parents to read this book carefully, think about your own family dynamics, and try these techniques out for your own family.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Recognizing a Worry

So many individuals with Asperger’s and autism get caught up in worries, repetitive thoughts, ruminations. Often, worry is the number one difficulty that individuals on the autistic spectrum have to deal with. We all face failure, rejection, unpleasant situations and uncomfortable emotions. But the difference in how well you manage is about how well you can let go and move past those difficulties.

Worry is about the past, looking at all the things that have gone wrong for you. And, worry is about the future, recreating all those negative situations and imagining them into the your future. That’s why present based programs, things like Eckhart Tolle’s the Power of Now, or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can be so effective: they help you move out of the past, out of the future, and focus on the now. Even a simple step like pausing for a breath or two can reset your anxiety level, move you out of thinking about the past or imagining the future, and take you right into the present moment.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It’s Not About You

“It’s not you, it’s me.” A cliched breakup line? Yes, it is. A true statement? Yes, again.

So often, when I’m talking to people, they’re stressed about someone else’s reaction to something that happened. They told a story, and the listener wasn’t paying attention. They tried to invite someone for lunch and the invitation wasn’t accepted. Or, a close friend has drifted away, for no clear reason. Then they start analyzing, worrying, ruminating. “What did I do wrong?” “Why does this always happen?” What should I do differently next time?”

For individuals with any degree of anxiety about social interactions, these “rejections” can feel so devastating, so personal. Of course it’s important to examine the situation, see if you did play some role in things not working out too well. But then, it’s okay to let it go and stop dwelling on it. We all lead busy lives, with so many obligations, pulled in so many different directions. Most of the time, you didn’t do anything wrong. You colleague really does have something else to do at lunchtime. Or, your story was fine, the listener was just caught up in remembering an important obligation.

Often, the true social damage happens after this minor disconnect. An insecure individual can read too much into it, start over-thinking, get too worried, pull back too much, turn a little issue into a big pattern of social issues. On the other hand, socially confident people assume the best, about their ability to be a good friend, and their interactions with others. If a friend says he’s busy, they assume he is, and issue the invitation again. If an invitation is rejected, they try again. After all, chances are, it’s about them, not you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Researching on the Internet

In my practice, clients frequently ask me what I think of some specific treatment option they’re hoping will help them or their child, and they show me websites and advertisements. It can be very confusing! Opinion is presented as fact, poorly run studies or misleading journals are referenced, and it’s hard to figure out what to believe. That’s the time to start reading carefully.

Frequently, for individuals on the spectrum, or people trying to manage ADHD, or the parents of kids with autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD, separating the facts from the nonsense is tough. All the information online can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for parents who worry that the window of opportunity on helping their child is closing fast. (It’s not! Although diagnosis and treatment should begin as early as possible, there is no magic point at which people stop growing, learning and overcoming their difficulties. And, there is no one magic treatment that you need to find. The fact is, there are still more questions than answers when it come to mental health treatment.)

The first rule when you’re trying to find information online is: be skeptical. Is the author clearly identified? Are their credentials listed somewhere? Are facts referenced in some manner?
Certainly, the target audience will influence the technicality of the site, but all reputable sites will  discuss or show references supporting their factual claims. Some less technical sites, such as this one, will present general “how to” type articles, but even here, facts are referenced and authors credited.

More technical blogs should be more thoroughly referenced. An example I recently found is called Psychotherapy Brown Bag: Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology.  Less technical sites should still present information in a well rounded, more open manner. An example I frequently send people to is As an example, look at the site’s presentation about special diets. The article starts off with the statement that while there is little scientific evidence backing these studies, there is interest due to anecdotal evidence.

Which brings me to the most important rule. Almost always, the terms “always” or “never” should raise a big red flag. Any treatment that claims to be “the answer” or “the cure” for everyone, is misleading you. Treatments can be promising, useful, or even highly effective, but they’re never effective for everyone.

On the other hand, treatments can be unproven, yet simple, inexpensive, harmless, and they don’t preclude trying other treatments at the same time. They may be worth trying. An example of this might be setting up a specific behavior chart at home.

The fact is that there is no one answer. Individuals differ, their needs vary, and the treatments that will be most effective aren’t going to fall into one category. That’s a good point to remember in researching treatments.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Success with a Learning Disability

We all learn differently, and we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. For both kids and adults, it’s important to remember that school success and standard academic achievement are not the same thing as intelligence, and how you do in school doesn’t determine how you’ll do in the rest of your life!

I’m always looking for examples of successful individuals who dealt with learning disabilities or a diagnosis like ADHD, Asperger’s or autism. One such list can be found in the article Ten Celebs Who Suffer From a Learning Disability.  Others lists like this can be found through Google or Yahoo searches.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mindfulness and Dealing with Stress

Stress and anxiety can be major problems for individuals on the autism spectrum. For all of us, modern life can be overwhelming, pressured, fast paced and demanding. For those on the spectrum, the stresses can be even greater, because they may include social anxiety, sensory problems, career difficulties, or managing repetitive thoughts.

One very effective way of dealing with stress is through mindfulness. Mindfulness, as the term is used in modern American society, is based on Buddhist ideas, although it is not a religious concept. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his classic book Wherever You Go There You Are (1994) defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” (p. 4) and states that it is “simply … the art of conscious living.” Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine Emeritus and the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a program the center developed to integrate mindfulness and mindfulness meditation into modern medicine and healthcare. Mindfulness techniques have been shown to be effective not just for medical conditions, but for managing stress and anxiety as well.

You can learn more about mindfulness in Kabot-Zinn’s Wherever You Go There You Are, or his Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness (1990). There are also websites and online videos on mindfulness based stress reduction, as well as eight week courses available in locations throughout the country.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Book Review: All Dogs Have ADHD, by Kathy Hoopman

Many parents worry about labeling their child, stigmatizing them, or excusing behavior problems, if they tell their child that he or she has a diagnosis of Asperger’s, autism, or ADHD. I’ve found just the opposite. Kids know that they are getting in trouble in school, they know that other kids seem to have an easier time with following the rules or making friends, but without knowing about their own diagnosis, they just think that they’re bad or stupid. To me, that seems so unfair! I firmly believe that parents should tell their kids, in an age appropriate way, of course, about their diagnosis, and the strengths and difficulties that go along with that diagnosis.

Books are a great way to enhance a conversation about your child’s diagnosis. For kids with ADHD, All Dogs Have ADHD, by Kathy Hoopman is a fun and positive option. The book is a simple read, with cute pictures of dogs, and nicely presented, non-judging comments about behaviors and symptoms.  Problems are presented realistically, such as social issues or difficulties with following directions, but the book also presents the energy and fun that can make kids with ADHD such a joy to be with.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Asperger’s and the TV Show "Parenthood"

The NBC show "Parenthood" has brought increasing attention to the diagnosis of Asperger’s, with one of the show’s characters, Max Braverman, newly diagnosed with Asperger’s. With a large, multigenerational cast about many family members, Asperger’s is not the focus of the show, but just one storyline.  I like that aspect, because it’s so realistic; the family copes with Asperger’s, its treatment, symptoms and behaviors, but life doesn’t stop. Work continues, other family members have their own needs, the parents have a relationship that includes dealing Asperger’s, but other aspects as well. 

One recent episode, Team Braverman, focused on the family’s participation in an autism fundraiser. An interesting aspect was that the episode raised the question of when to tell a child about his own diagnosis, something which clients ask me frequently. In the show, Max’s parents asked their vaguely defined diagnosing professional, Dr Pelikan, about what to tell their son. His advice was that there is no one answer, but it was important not to “burden him with information he’s not going to be able to process.” and “when it’s time to talk to him about it, you’re going to know: Max is going to tell you.” The parents later state that this advice is not very helpful, and not very comforting. At the end of the episode, Max asks what I view as the perfect opening question for a discussion of his diagnosis: “Why we did we give the money (we raised) to autism? There are lots of other charities.” Dad Adam looks thoughtful, but passes on the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about his son’s diagnosis, instead commenting on the trophy.

I agree that children need an age appropriate explanation, but in my experience, kids never seem to find this information a “burden”, instead it’s typically a relief, because they’re aware that their behavior and relationships aren’t like those of other kids. I also agree that kids ask questions when they want to have more information, but they may be subtle questions. Just like with other difficult discussions, parents, like Adam Braverman, can easily miss the cues if they’re not comfortable having the discussion. Shows like Parenthood can be so valuable because they allow parents a bit of practice time to think about these issues before confronting them in their own families. If you missed it, Team Braverman, season 1, episode 12, which aired May 18, 2010, is available online.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams

The joy of reading is how it allows us all to experience the world from within another’s perspective. When an autobiography is authentic and genuine, the reader can immerse in the writer’s reality.

Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic, by Donna Williams, is one of those books. Alternately engaging and informative, as well as confusing and disturbing, Nobody Nowhere pulls its readers into Donna Williams’ world.

Published in 1992, the book is certainly out of date in some ways, particularly the more technical aspects surrounding the diagnosis. (The author has published a number of books since this, her first, and, although I haven’t read them, I would imagine they’re more accurate and up to date with more current knowledge about the condition.) The more timeless aspects of the book are the more personal, where Williams relates her own experiences, her connection to things rather than people, her struggles to feel safe and also to connect.

Often the book feels disjointed and confusing, in part because of the unclear timelines, as well as the author’s habit of referring to herself by various names and in the third person. Rather than detract from the book, this confusion adds to the experiential nature of the book, although it can be disturbing to read of the abuse and mistreatment the author endured.

The final section of the book presents the author’s own theories about autism as well as her suggestions for communicating with autistic children. Of course, the autism spectrum is very broad, but especially for parents looking to understand their own child, Williams’ suggestions may provide some valuable insights.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Divorce and Autism

It’s a persistent urban legend that autism in a child results in divorced parents. As I discussed in my post Divorce, Single Parenting and Autism, Some Data, published 4/30/2009, people quote divorce rates as high as 80 to 90% in families with autistic children, but they never seem  to cite any evidence to back up those claims. When I first heard those numbers, they were so alarming, I did some research of my own and couldn’t come up with any studies showing the 80% divorce rate. Actually, there wasn’t much evidence of any kind out there, other than an Easter Seals study of 1652 families, along with a control group of 917 families. The Easter Seals study showed that families with autistic children were actually less likely to divorce than families without special needs children.

Now there’s a new study from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute.  The study found that “64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) belong to a family with two married biological or adoptive parents, compared with 65 percent of children who do not have an ASD.” The study used a sample size of over 77,000 children. The review article doesn’t specify exactly how many of these 77,000 children were dealing with autism, but at a standard rate of 1 in 100 children, we could expect this study represents about 770 children on the spectrum.
Also, thanks to GRASP for mentioning this study in their monthly newsletter. Every month they publish an array of interesting articles related to autism and Asperger's.

Friday, June 4, 2010

ADHD and Pesticides

Do pesticides cause ADHD? Should parents feed their kids only organic products? Should adults with ADHD eat only pesticide free foods? These questions are being asked frequently right now due to a recent study published in the June, 2010 issue of Pediatrics, showing a possible link between organophosphate pesticide use and increasing rates of ADHD. Of course, no one study can prove anything, and people need to use caution in making decisions regarding their own and their children’s health, but anyone concerned about ADHD should learn about this study.

If you’re looking for information, Medscape  published a good review. Regarding the study, Michael L. Goldstein, MD stated, “(The report) …. certainly got my attention when I read it; I was really impressed by it. I think it is a groundbreaking study.” Dr. Goldstein is a specialist in child neurology with Western Neurological Associates in Salt Lake City, Utah, and a faculty member of the American Academy of Neurology. Dr. Goldstein said the data on organophosphate pesticides and ADHD "look like the data we saw 30 to 40 years ago with lead exposure, and it may turn out to be the same thing — that even small exposures (to organophosphate pesticides) are very harmful to kids."

Dr. Andrew Weil, the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, also comments on this study in his article Pesticides and ADHD, saying that he’s not surprised by these results.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Interesting Psychotherapy Blog

I recently stumbled upon a blog called Psychotherapy Brown Bag, Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology. This isn’t a site about only autism, but about an array of mental disorder diagnoses, and many different psychotherapeutic treatments. It’s a useful site for those looking for in- depth and detailed science, because the information is presented in a straightforward, easy to read manner, and the facts are referenced. Some more technical terms and ideas, such as “meta-analysis” are discussed at length. But most important for non-professionals looking to understand the science of mental health treatment, it’s a very good example of a well written scientific site, with authors clearly identified, facts clearly referenced and a general lack of hype and hyperbole. Check it out and see if it's worth adding to your regular reading.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Emotion and Feeling

Managing emotions is a challenge for many individuals, young or old, whether neurotypical or somewhere on the autism spectrum. Everyone’s struggles are a bit different, with some people veering toward worry and anxiety, others tending to sadness or depression and still others prone to anger. A great deal of my work as a therapist is in helping people manage their troubling emotions, whatever emotions they happen to be.

When working with emotions, it’s helpful to pay attention to the feelings of the body, the actual somatic sensations. Many individuals are more comfortable staying in their heads, intellectualizing and reasoning, rather than physically feeling. If you’re intellectual, pride yourself on your academic achievements or thinking strengths, this could apply to you. If you struggle with overwhelming sensory issues, or physical activities like athletics, then it’s not surprising if you also avoid the more bodily experiences of emotions.

The best way to manage feelings is to actually feel them. Try it now. Stop talking, stop doing anything, try to quiet that conversation in your head. Take a breath, and feel what’s going on in your body.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Special Needs Trusts: Local East Bay Event

Setting up a special needs trust for your child is a complex situation requiring expert advice. I am not that expert! However, I did hear about an upcoming event, and since I’m not affiliated with this group, I’m pulling directly from the flier they sent me. 

The event takes place on June 9, 2010, from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, to be held at Fremont Bank’s Bankers Building, 7611 Niles Blvd., Fremont, CA 94536. Topics to be discussed include:

• The Benefits of a Special Needs Trust

• What assets can be used to fund the Trust

• Choosing the right Trustee

• How California’s Budget Crisis will affect our Special Needs

The speaker for this event, Stephen Dale, received his law degree in 1982 and teaches courses on special needs trusts and trust administration to the public, financial professionals and other attorneys.  He is a national member of the “Special Needs Alliance” of attorneys and has written several publications related to special needs planning.

For more information on this presentation, call (800) 504-4721.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Should We Teach Children Scripted Responses?

There are several opinions about teaching children with special needs to use scripted social skills. For kids who struggle with reading and sending social messages, such as those with Asperger’s Disorder, Autistic Spectrum Disorders including Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NLD), as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD), figuring out subtle messages can be much too challenging. A set of scripted, simple rules and guidelines may be useful in getting a general plan of action. (An example of a scripted response might be, “Say hello when you walk up to one person, but not when you enter the classroom.”) At the same time, trying to memorize and apply dozens of social rules can be overwhelming. It may even backfire because a person attempting to apply specific rules while in the midst of a confusing situation is not going to be able to focus on reading what’s going on. As is usually the case, I think the optimal answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Ideally, parents, teachers and therapists should be helping children figure out how to read social cues and how to naturally respond to them. This may accomplished in a completely organic way, with a parent getting a “hello” back from an engaged baby. In more difficult situations, trained adults can be working deliberately to engage the child and get a natural response. This is similar to techniques that might be used in Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s DIR® and Floortime™ model.

Setting up frequent playdates gives the child the opportunity to interact frequently with peers and may be a way to give practice in reading and responding to social cues in a natural and unscripted manner. This can be tricky because kids who are socially skilled are probably not going to adapt their interactions to be less subtle or more engaging in order to interact with a child who is struggling. Too often the socially skilled children will just stop playing with, or worse, start teasing or excluding the less skilled children. 

Playdates with two or more children who are all struggling socially may be the best choice for allowing friendships to develop and social skills to grow. This situation is not without its challenges. Some degree of adult involvement may be necessary in order to ease the relationship. For example, initiating a playdate may be the most challenging step. Teachers and parents may have to help set up the initial connection. While the children are playing, it may be necessary to have an adult present to help all the children interact smoothly. Because all the children may struggle to both read and send signals, the interactions can be difficult for everyone. When all goes well, the children can develop truly deep and important friendships that move beyond the more formal playdate setting. In addition, the skills are learned in a realistic way, so the problems with generalizing lessons to a different setting don’t occur.

When more natural interactions with adults and peers are not effective, then formal, scripted skills may be helpful. I view these scripts and rules as a way to ease into more ordinary, real-life interactions. An example of this might be a teacher prompting a shy child on how to approach a classmate, so they can sit together for lunch. Here, the most productive interactions will occur when the kids are eating and talking together without the teacher, but the more formal rules will help the child get to that point.

This example really illustrates the ideal situation. Allow the child to have as many natural and rewarding interactions with others, both children and adults, as possible. Use more formal social skills training to ensure that these natural interactions can take place and that they run smoothly. Take the time to analyze and understand the subtleties, and more important, set up a plan to make the interactions more productive next time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Speed Reading and Study Skills Classes and Too Much Homework

A few local notes of interest to those here in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay. California State University, East Bay is offering a variety of reading skills, reading comprehension, study skills and speed reading classes this summer in Danville and Walnut Creek. These classes include programs for ages 4 up through adults and college students. For more information, call them at (800) 979-9151.

Some of my regular readers may be aware of my concern about the vast quantity and  poor quality of homework that fills our children’s time, not to mention the tremendous pressure kids are under these days. For a moving and thought provoking look at this topic, please make an effort to see the locally produced documentary Race to Nowhere. The film will be shown in Danville, California, on June 1st, 2010 at Monte Vista High. For information, and other screening times and locations, visit the Race to Nowhere website.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Anger Management and Asperger’s, Part III: Allowing Anger

Anger can be a scary emotion, and many people try to suppress it.  Kids may think they’re not allowed to get angry, parents may not want their kids to show their anger, and adults may think anger is, somehow, wrong.  The reality is that anger is a part of being human. Anger allows us to feel the injustice of situations, it helps us set healthy boundaries, and it can provide the power to make great changes.

Most small children start expressing anger when they don’t get something that they want. That’s still true of older kids and adults, but as children develop, they also will get angry when they perceive a situation as unfair. Our innate sense of justice gets triggered, especially when we’re the ones being mistreated.

The goal in anger management is not to get rid of or suppress anger, it’s to allow the emotion in a healthy and even a useful way. I often ask clients, “How are you allowed to express anger?” Frequently, the question is answered with a puzzled silence or, “But, I’m not allowed to get angry.” My suggestion, to everyone trying to manage anger, is to think in advance about what’s allowed.

Parents should discuss anger with their kids, during a calm time. What are the family rules about anger? Some families forbid the use of certain words, name-calling, breaking things, throwing things. Other families are more liberal. Whatever your family’s rules, there has to be some allowed form of anger expression. And remember, siblings get mad at each other. That doesn’t mean they hate each other, or that they will not get along in the future.

For adults, just acknowledging your own anger may make you feel better. Writing in a journal, or writing (not mailing!) a letter can get the thoughts out of your head. Physical activity, like running or dancing, may help use that energy up. Others feel better if they put their emotions into creative activities. Music can be either expressive or soothing. Focusing on change may make anger easier to manage, whether it’s starting a neighborhood watch, or thinking about what you can control in your marriage.

It’s important to pay attention to how the emotion of anger feels, physically in your body. So many people tend to be head oriented, they forget about the body. And, the body is where emotions live. Being more body focused can help you manage your feelings and move on.

For more on this topic, be sure to check out my earlier blog posts on anger management. Anger Management and Asperger's, Part I: Understanding Anger and Anger Management and Asperger's, Part II The Feeling of Anger.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Online Screening for Adult ADHD, Asperger’s, or Autism

Frequently, I get calls from adults thinking that they have ADD, ADHD, attention deficit, autism, Asperger’s, or some combination of these symptoms. Usually, they’ve never been formally diagnosed with anything, but they’ve researched online and they’re pretty sure about the pattern that fits them. So the question is: How good are online screening tools?

To start, how does a professional diagnose autism, Asperger’s, ADHD in adults? There is no easy blood test or brain scan to make these diagnoses. Generally, a professional will look at the patient’s history, especially problems and symptoms, administer some screening tests, and then use their clinical judgment to come up with a diagnosis. Unfortunately, the most frequently used screening measures are designed for children, so working with adults requires some adaptation. Clearly, testing is a bit more involved than just the online screening tests individuals take.

What about confidentiality? Many individuals are concerned about a diagnosis going on their record, getting back to their employer, or some other worry. This shouldn’t keep you from working with a professional. Before you see any professional, ask about confidentiality. Specifically, discuss how you’ll be paying for treatment, and what kind of confidentiality insurance plans or employee assistance programs offer.

What about online screening tests? For some people a doctor’s appointment may be too expensive, or intimidating, or complicated. Other people want to be informed before they talk to a professional, so online screening is a place to start. Taking an online screening test is not a bad starting point in understanding yourself, although it doesn’t substitute for professional help.

When looking for a screening tool, it’s probably best to go to larger organizations rather than individual’s websites. Often, the best known and most popular measures are not available online, and professionals have to purchase them, so although they may be well written and well researched, you’re not going to find them online. Also, I don’t like measures that merely repeat back a symptom list from the DSM. The DSM is written for professionals, and the symptoms may be tough to interpret without training and experience dealing with a large group of individuals having those symptoms. You can also find excellent self report measures in books. Again, look for the credentials of the author writing the book, or a forward by a well known professional.

A good general rule: books and websites written by individuals diagnosed with an issue can be interesting and informative, but they’re not the best way to diagnose yourself. Books written by actors, politicians or playboy bunnies may be enthusiastic, but they are not the best sources of science. Get professional information from professionals.

Some examples? For depression and anxiety, David Burns has written excellent books with self assessments in them. For ADHD, you can find self measures on both the CHADD and ADDA websites. For Autism and Asperger’s, check out Simon Baron-Cohen’s book or website. For alcoholism questions, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has a clinician guide with questions.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Smart but Scattered

Smart but Scattered, by Peg Dawson, EdD, and Richard Guare, PhD, is one of the reasons I combined my two blogs into one. Social Skills For Kids was aimed at parents of children with ASDs and ADHD and Coach for Asperger’s was aimed at adults with these conditions. But, often, resources work for both kids and adults, even when they’re aimed at one or the other, which is why I’m now writing this combined blog. For individuals of all ages, with Asperger's, ADHD, autism, an autism Spectrum disorder, or a combination, executive function can be a real problem.

Smart but Scattered calls itself “the revolutionary ‘Executive Skills’ approach to helping kids reach their potential”, and that the real benefit of this book. Executive function has been discussed a lot recently, and many people understand that deficits in executive functioning can impact all types of achievement. Smart but Scattered takes that rather abstract idea and brings it to a concrete, example and solution packed level.

The book details what the authors consider the 11 skills that make up executive function: response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning and prioritization, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, flexibility and metacognition. As an engineer, I learned that any time you can break a problem down into small parts, it’s much easier to solve. This list is probably the best breakdown of the executive skills that I’ve seen in a book for kids or adults.

From my work with clients, I know that individuals struggle with different aspects of these executive skills, and that most people are pretty good at figuring out just where their problems are once they’re given a list like this. Sometimes it takes a bit of coaching, or detailed questions, but generally, both adults and teens can figure out their deficits. Parents usually know their own kids well enough to figure out where they’re struggling as well. Smart but Scattered takes a developmental approach to these skills which I find less practical, since growth at all levels can continue for a lifetime. But, the specific examples and definitions are helpful, and there are questionnaires for different ages, including adults.

The second half of the book lists plans for tackling specific tasks. It seems like parents could just as easily make up their own, more applicable plans, but for adults who struggle, these might be very helpful. Basic skills like cleaning a room or managing open ended tasks are not that easy without strong executive skills and these lists can be helpful. (For other detailed plans for adults, you can refer to Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults, by Zosia Zaks, as reviewed in a previous post.) Overall, Smart but Scattered is an easy read, filled with lists, table and charts to make it straightforward, and it could be very useful for parents, teens and adults.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Welcome to My New Blog

Welcome to My New Blog: Thrive on the Autism Spectrum. For those of you who read Social Skills for Kids or Coach for Asperger's, this blog is the result of combining the two into one blog. Originally, Social Skills for Kids, started in March of 2008, was aimed at the parents of kids with Asperger's, autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders. Because I started getting a lot of requests from adults on the autism spectrum, I started Coach for Asperger's about 6 months later.
Now I'm finding that many of the topics I cover apply equally well to kids and adults, and they work in both the world of school and the world of work. I thought it would be better to focus all my efforts on one uniform blog, so it's easier to find information. I've imported my original posts to this blog where they'll remain available. I'll also be leaving my original blogs up for a while, but my updates will go on this new blog.
Thanks for reading my blogs. Please leave comments, I love to hear from you!

Contact Me

Looking for Coaching?

Please contact me, Patricia Robinson, MS, MA to see if coaching is
right for you.

Coaching in person in San Ramon, California.

Telephone and internet Coaching Nationwide, throughout the United

Please call (925) 915-0924


Looking for Therapy in
Northern California?

Please visit my therapy website

Looking for Info on Kids with
Special Needs?

Please visit my other blog
Social Skills for Kids

My Training and Experience

My_picture Therapist, Engineer, Coach
My Credentials:

have a Master's of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Santa Clara
University, as well as a Bachelor's of Science and a Master's of Science
in Materials Engineering from MIT. I'm a California licensed Marriage
and Family Therapist and a member of the International Association of


I have years of
experience in both interpersonal and business settings. As a therapist and coach,
I've worked with numerous individuals on issues such as setting and
achieving goals, building social skills, deepening communication, making
friends or enhancing relationships with friends, family and business
associates, and improving both school and work performance.

As an
engineer, I spent over a decade in high tech industry, for companies
such as Texas Instruments, LSI Logic and Fujitsu. I've worked in a
variety of settings, as a manager, an individual technical contributor,
and as a member or leader of teams.

As a therapist, an engineer, and a coach, I feel I'm uniquely
qualified to help you achieve your goals. Why not give me a call at
(925) 915-0924 or email

What is Coaching for Asperger's?

Have you been diagnosed with Asperger's or Autism?

you always suspected there's something a little different about the way
you act and think and view the world?

Whether or not you have a diagnosis, Coaching
for Asperger's may be right for you.

You'll be in charge. In coaching, you set your own goals. You don't
need to change any of your quirks, or any of the differences that make
you special. Coaches don't prescribe medications and they don't
diagnose. And your sessions will be private.

  • Is it tough to keep up with all the details that the world

  • Are you sick of doing great work that your boss doesn't notice?

  • Are you frustrated about finding and keeping friends?

  • Are you happy with the way you are, but tired of how others expect
    you to behave?

It's understandable that you may get frustrated. People with
Asperger's offer the world their unique talents, and they have unique
needs. Sometimes the world gives you one set of rules, but then seems to
run by another. The professional world is unpredictable and it can be
hard to get the recognition you deserve. And socially, it's hard to meet
others you have things in common with.

Coaching can help you succeed in the world,
while being true to yourself.

Coaching for Asperger's is not about
diagnosing or labeling people. It's not about trying to fix or cure
anyone, or even change anyone. 

Instead, Coaching for Asperger's is about
working with people, with or without a formal diagnosis of Asperger's,
to help them recognize, appreciate
and expand on all the strengths and advantages that go along with the
differences. And, at the same time, it's working with
some of the struggles and difficulties that may come along with all
these strengths so that you can reach your goals, succeed and live the
life you want.

Coaching sessions are held over the phone, online using web cameras,
or in person in my Northern California office. Together we'll set up a
schedule that works for you. I work with adults, teens and parents of
younger kids. It's fine whether or not you have a formal diagnosis of
Asperger's, if you suspect you might have Asperger's, or if you don't
want anything to do with diagnosis.

Coaching for Asperger's can help you:

  • Get the recognition you deserve at work.

  • Get a great social life, and still have time to yourself.

  • Figure out how to handle all those nagging details of life.

Complete Privacy:

  • Session are completely private.

  • You can pay using Paypal or by check.

  • There's nothing reported to your employer or medical insurance.

  • I do not give you a diagnosis.

Client Payment

Coach for Aspergers:

Pay for individual 50 minute session here:



You can also download a PDF file of my standard Coaching Agreement. Download Coaching
Informed Consent
Please sign and mail to me, or send an email
stating that you've read and agree to the terms in the agreement.

Conversation Coaching:


  • A 30 minute recorded practice call

  • A 30 minute follow up call

  • An email with detailed feedback of your call

  • Your recorded conversation, for your private use

Conversation Coaching