Wednesday, April 28, 2010
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
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
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
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
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!
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Thursday, April 1, 2010
I don't follow Arthur regularly, so I can't comment on the program. But, TV is an excellent way for you to open a discussion on the condition with your diagnosed child as well as his or her siblings. Asperger's is a broad spectrum and kids will have a variety or behaviors. Watching the show together then lets you talk about things like how similar Carl's behavior is to your child's, and how the kids at Carl's school treat him, compared to the kids your child goes to school with.