Tuesday, December 28, 2010


A few years ago my son, Carl and his friend Charlie, who has Asperger's syndrome, asked for permission to go to the bamboo forest with a group of kids the same age. They were all working on building a fort. The bamboo forest was a small patch of woods that separated our subdivision from the next one over. There was a significant amount of bamboo growing there so the kids named it the bamboo forest.

Charlie's mother and I sat down to have a relaxing conversation over diet cokes and snacks. We were thrilled that the boys were off playing and having a good time so we could visit and enjoy each other's company. Unfortunately, our bliss was short-lived.

The boys burst through the back door. We knew something was wrong. Carl was clearly angry and annoyed with Charlie. Carl's face was bright red and he was sputtering and growling, 'Charlie! What the crap?? Argh!!!!!!' Carl growls like a dog when he is angry. We don't know why. He has done it since he was a baby.

Charlie was saying nothing and we could not tell by his facial expression or lack thereof what he was feeling. So we simultaneously asked: 'What's wrong?' Carl was the one to respond. He was still worked up so he yelled his answer.

'Charlie picked up an axe and said he was going to kill himself! The girls started screaming and crying and ran home to tell their moms. And the guys didn't know what to do. Except Hunter started preaching to him and told him if he killed himself he would have to go to Hell. So we came home.' Carl then turned to Charlie and snarled: 'Charlie! Why do you have to act like such a freak?' Carl then stomped outside and slammed the kitchen door.

One of the older boys came to the house to make sure everything was OK. I asked him what had happened and his story was similar to Carl's but the frustration was replaced with concern. We also learned that the ax was actually a very small hatchet that the older boy was using to cut some wood for the construction of the fort. This was a group of very nice, well intentioned kids but somehow something had still gone terribly wrong. We needed to find out why.

I sat down with Charlie and explained that he was not in trouble and that we were not angry with him. We needed him to tell us what had happened. We then embarked on a lengthy question and answer session that went as follows: I asked the questions and Charlie provided these answers.

Q: What happened?
A: They wouldn't leave me alone.
Q: Who wouldn't leave you alone?
A: Everybody.
Q: What were they doing?
A: They just wouldn't leave me alone.
Q: What were they doing to you?
A: Nothing.
Q: Were they touching you?
A: No.
Q: Were they talking to you?
A: No.
Q: Then what do you mean they wouldn't leave you alone?
A: I don't know. They just wouldn't leave me alone.
We were not making much progress because Charlie appeared to be contradicting himself. On one hand, he stated that the kids wouldn't leave him alone, yet he claimed that they were not touching him or talking to him. So what do we do now?


1.    We could tell Charlie he was being ridiculous. The kids weren't doing anything to him and hand him back the ax and send him out to play. At this point we might pull something a little stronger than diet coke out of the fridge and continue with our previous conversation.
2.    We could give Charlie a snack, brainstorm with each other for a few minutes, then continue our investigation to find the real cause for Charlie's erratic behaviour.

We bravely chose to forge on and went straight for option 2. For every behaviour, there is a cause. We had to find the cause for the anxiety that drove him to such an extreme behaviour. We had to find the 'because'.

I continued to ask questions but started in a different place this time. Apparently I wasn't asking the right type of questions the first time around.

Q: How many kids were with you in the bamboo forest?
A: Seven or eight.
Q: How many kids do you feel comfortable hanging out with at one time?
A: Two. Maybe three.
Q: So do you think there were to many kids around for you to feel comfortable?
A: Yes.
Q: So it made you feel like they wouldn't leave you alone?
A: I think so.
Q: OK. So let's think of a better way to handle that situation. What could you have done instead of picking up the hatchet?
A: I'm not sure.
Q: OK. What if you went to Carl and said, There are too many people here. Let's go back to the house. Do you think that would work?
A: Yeah. I guess so.
Q: OK. Will you try that the next time there are too many people around for you to be comfortable?
A: Yeah

It took some digging but we finally unearthed the root of the problem. There were too many kids around for Charlie to feel comfortable. He was planning to hang out with Carl, but there were several other 'unexpected' kids there. This caused anxiety. He felt crowded and nervous. In an attempt to relieve the anxiety he ended up scaring the other kids.

How many times have you heard a child ask his mother 'Why?' And the frustrated mother say: 'Because I said so!' We have heard it. Some of us have said it. We are now going to give new meaning to the age old phrase Why?  Because I said so... When your child makes a mistake socially or exhibits inappropriate behaviour you need to continue asking questions until you find the real reason for the behaviour.

When looking for the cause for the behaviour, or the 'because', you need to look at the events directly leading up to the behaviour. To find out what was happening just before the behaviour occurred, you have to ask some questions. If you hit a dead end, ask another question. Keep asking questions until you can determine the most likely cause for the behaviour.

Here is an example using the story that we just discussed about the group of kids in the bamboo forest.

Q. Why did you say you were going to kill yourself?
A. They wouldn't leave me alone.   (This gives us a little information)
Q. Who wouldn't leave you alone?
A. Everybody (a little more information)
Q. What were they doing?
A. They just wouldn't leave me alone. (This is a dead end)
Q. What were they doing to you?
A. Nothing (dead end)
Q. Were they touching you?
A. No. (dead end)
Q. Were they talking to you? 
A. No. (dead end)
Q. Then what do you mean they wouldn't leave you alone?
A. I don't know. (dead end)
Q. How many kids were with you?
A. Seven or eight (Useful information)
Q. How many kids do you feel comfortable with?
A. Two. Maybe Three. (now we're getting somewhere)
Q. So do you think there were too many kids around for you to feel comfortable?
A. Yes. (BINGO!)

So there you have it. We finally sorted out what the real problem was. We had to ask ten different questions to get the answer. Of course it won't always take ten questions. Sometimes, it will be less or it may take more. There is no magic formula. But we have to remember that the child isn't evading the issue by forcing us to ask so many questions. He is truly unable to identify and express what the problem is until you ask him the right types of questions.

WHY?   There were too many kids.
BECAUSE    He picked up an axe and threatened to kill himself.
I SAID SO...... Next time you are feeling uncomfortable, you could tell Carl and ask him to come back to the house with you.

The WHY represents the series of questions that you ask and then the answer to those questions. If you are not sure what questions to ask remember your basic question words: WHY, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO, HOW. Use the question words to formulate as many questions as are needed. The BECAUSE represents the behavior. The I SAID SO....represents the alternative action that you suggest to your child to replace the inappropriate behaviour that he chose.

You can use this method to determine the cause of the behaviour in almost any situation. Unless you can accurately identify the reason behind the behaviour, you won't be able to help him find a more appropriate way of dealing with the situation in the future.  Kids with ASD usually have a logical reason for pretty much everything they do. We just don't always understand what that reason is. You need to prioritize what you are spending time questioning and investigating. You won't find an answer to everything. And there are some things that you can't change. As they say, you have to pick your battles.

If your child insists on using exactly seven napkins each time he eats a meal, but you feel that is wasteful, look at the big picture. First, are there issues that need to be dealt with that are more important? If yes, focus on those. Second, at least he is using napkins instead of his clothing or the tablecloth. It may be in everyone's best interest to stock up on cheap napkins and let it go.

You aren't going to, nor would you want to, change who your child is. But hopefully you will be able to help him be happy, comfortable and able to function in society to the best of his abilities. That is the ultimate goal.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


      A friend of mine who has a teenage son with Aspergers Syndrome told me that she was having a difficult time getting her son to brush his hair and he practically refused to wash it. So I asked her to tell me more about what was going on. She said that when his hair needs to be combed she tells him to go brush it. So he does. He goes to the bathroom and vigorously scrubs his head back and forth all over his head with the hairbrush. He then emerges from the bathroom with his hair looking like a crazy clown wig and worse than it was before.
     When he did wash his hair, he would often forget to use shampoo and he might not even get all of his hair wet. I spoke with her son and asked him why he brushed his hair the way he did. He told me he liked the way it felt on his head. So I thought, “ What if we could give him the same sensation that he gets from the hair brush when he washes his hair?” I asked his mother to purchase a small plastic brush that you put in the palm of your hand to scrub his hair when he washed it. He LOVED it. He could put shampoo on his hair and scrub and scrub. So now washing his hair feels good and he enjoys doing it more often.
     His mom actually purchased more than one brush and he uses the other one any time he needs to. He then uses his mirror skills and combs his hair neatly using the strategies that are described in the post “Man in the Mirror”.
     Will this work forever? Who knows? But it is working right now. He said to me, “Ms. Pam the idea about the brush was the best idea ever!” By using his sensory needs and working with them rather than against them we found a solution to a problem. So when you are facing an issue try to really investigate all types of solutions. Ask questions, be creative, and keep trying.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


       What do you see when you look in the mirror? I look to see if my face is clean, my hair is neat, if my clothes are on correctly etc. Most of us use the mirror to make sure we look presentable. Kids with autism may spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, but may not be looking at any of these things. They may be just enjoying spending time with the person in the mirror. They may not care if their face is clean, their hair is a wreck and half their lunch is on their shirt.
     So you may need to teach your child some mirror skills. There is nothing wrong with making faces at yourself in the mirror, but you also need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror and make adjustments to your appearance when needed.
     I like to teach kids to “CHECK” themselves in the mirror.

C – Cheeks and chin. Look at them. Are they clean?
H – Hair. Does it need combed?
E – Ears. Did you wash them?
C – Clothes. Are they dirty or on inside out?
K – Kisser. That's your mouth. Did you brush your teeth?
Is there food on your mouth?

Write this on a piece of paper and tape it to his mirror. Or write it on the mirror with window markers. This helps your child really look at the individual parts of his face and helps him understand what you are asking him to look for.
     You can also take a picture of your child looking the way you want him to look and tape it to the mirror and have him match his image to the picture. The more specific you are about what you expect from your child, the more successful he can be. And that will help you both.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


      Many children with autism have hygiene issues. They may resist washing, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, etc. This can turn into daily struggles and arguments. As they get older, poor hygiene habits can cause problems socially. It's difficult for anyone to carry on a conversation with someone who has bad breath or body odor. In middle and high school having bad hygiene is social suicide.
     Some of these difficulties may be, in part, due to poor executive function skills. Most of us don't have to think about every step of washing our hair or brushing our teeth. We have done it so many times that we are able to do it without thinking. For individuals with executive function issues these everyday tasks require conscious thought and planning. So these individuals may skip steps or forget to include the basics in their daily hygiene routine.
     It is not unusual for some people to wet their hair, put shampoo on their hair and lather up, but to forget to rinse the shampoo out. This is just one example of skipping a step due to poor executive function skills. Incidents like these can be frustrating to both the parent and the child. If your child has already bathed, chances are, he will not be happy about having to get wet again to rinse his hair.
     When your child is little you do these things for him. But at some point he has to take care of his body's daily needs on his own. Here is one idea you may want to try. Write the steps of bathing on the shower or bathtub wall with a soap crayon. You can purchase these at many department stores and they are inexpensive. Once he has finished a step he can cross it off with a soap crayon or “erase” that step with a wash cloth. If you write the steps in a different place in the tub each day, you may find that your tub gets cleaner as well!
     For activities that take place at the sink such as brushing teeth and washing hands, you can write the steps on your mirror with a window marker. Or you can always tape a paper list to the mirror – whichever works better for you. There are other reasons for having hygiene issues and I will offer more ideas and suggestions in future posts so stay tuned! And please feel free to comment or email with your questions and things that have worked for you.

Take Care!

Saturday, December 4, 2010


    This week I decided to incorporate a holiday activity into my social groups. I taught them how to “filter their thoughts” with my Mr. Coffee lesson a few weeks ago, so I thought I would expand on that lesson. If you are not familiar with the Mr. Coffee lesson, scroll down and find my blog post called “Coffee Please”. This is the post that explains this technique.
     For my holiday activity I bought 20 or so inexpensive gift bags. I put random items in each bag, like an ice cream stick, tissue, paper clip, one sock, etc. I gave each student a “present” and we practiced opening presents that we don't necessarily like. The students had to open their present, pretend to like it and politely say, “Thank you.” I also put some items that they would like in a few bags as well such as a bouncy ball, plastic bug, and spinning tops. They were allowed to keep any item they got if they wanted it, but they couldn't tell which items they really liked until the end of our session.
     The kids had a great time with this and they did really well. I chose to use gift bags so that I could reuse the bags for different groups and I could quickly get the activity ready. You could also wrap presents with wrapping paper for this activity. It will just take more time to set it up and clean up afterward.
     This could be a fun game throughout the holiday season for your children and their friends to play at home. You could give them gift bags to use and the children could take turns finding crazy and funny items to put in the bags for the others to open up. This may keep them entertained for a short time so you can do some holiday chores of your own. And with a little luck maybe your precious child will say, “Thank you so much Aunt Martha. I love it!” when he opens a hideous, itchy, purple wool sweater or something equally offensive.
     I will be home for the holidays with my family. If you have any questions or need suggestions please leave a comment or contact me by email at pam@lifecoachingangels.com I am here to help in any way I can. Have a safe and blessed holiday season.


Monday, November 15, 2010


           When you transition your child to a new school it is important for every person who comes in contact with your child to understand his special needs. He will interact with classroom teachers, special class teachers such as music, art and PE. He will come in contact with cafeteria staff, custodians, resource officers, office staff, assistants, the principal etc.
            During your transition meeting you need to discuss his communication needs  with the team. You don't want your child to get into trouble because a member of the staff doesn't understand that he may have trouble communicating or may inadvertently say something inappropriate.
            A few years ago I had a high school student who had Asperger's Syndrome. For some reason he decided to take things out of the lost and found box and put them in different places in the school. He wasn't exactly stealing. He was just rearranging. I'm not sure why he decided to do this, but I'm sure he had a reason that made sense to him at the time.
            The school resource officer wanted to talk to him about it so he called him down to the office. Since I was working with the student at the time I went down to the office with him. I spoke to the officer and asked him if he knew this student and if he had ever spoken with him before. The officer apparently thought I was questioning his authority and got a bit defensive. He responded, "Why? What's the problem?" I explained to him that this student had autism. And again he said, "So what's the problem?" I tried to explain to the officer that my student may not understand  what he is asking so he may want me to come along and help during the questioning. But the officer did not want my help. He instructed me to wait in the hall. I was more than a little nervous for my student. I was terrified that the officer would ask him a simple question and my student's reply would be bazaar. Kids with ASD can really say some strange things if they don't fully understand a question. I was afraid if this happened that the officer might think my student was being disrespectful.
            As I predicted my student did say something unusual. But thankfully the officer did not  get offended, just confused. When the officer asked my student why he took the items out of the lost and found he replied, "Because it was on purpose." When the two of them emerged from the office my student had his usual blank expression on his face, but the look on the officer's face was priceless. His eyes were wide with astonishment and bewilderment. As if to say, "What the heck?" I swallowed my  giggles out of pity and respect for the officer but I couldn't help thinking, "Dude! I tried to tell you.”
            This situation was funny, but it could have been unfortunate for my student. Kids with ASD don't look any different from other kids their age. You can't pick them out in a crowd. In some cases you can carry on a lengthy conversation and never know that there is something different. So then when the person with ASD blurts out something inappropriate or says something that doesn't quite make sense it catches you off guard. You assume that it was intentional, that this person meant to offend you. But nothing could be further from the truth. It was a misunderstanding that comes from being socially awkward and not understanding the subtle cues that are such a large part of our language.
            Please do all that you can to prepare the school staff  for your wonderfully quirky and unique child. This will help them build a meaningful and helpful relationship with him. The staff wants to do everything they can to help your child learn and grow. By helping them to get to know him ahead of time you are enabling them to give him their best.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Thank you to all of you who have been reading my blog. I would love to hear some feedback though. Are you finding these ideas helpful? How do you like it? What would you like to see more of. Do you have any specific questions? Please let me know what you want and I will do my best to deliver. I'd love to hear from you.

I am on the panel of experts for Autism 2010. It is an international online autism conference. It is running now through 11/22/10. My paper that I have presented is called: Improving Social Skills in the Middle School Age Child with High Functioning Autism. Here is the link. Come join the discussions! Some remarkable experts like Professor Simon Baron Cohen are available to answers questions and discuss issues. Here is the link.

Best Wishes!


Thursday, November 4, 2010


           Once your group gets the hang of having a civilized conversation try adding another activity.  Play a board game once in a while. I taught a group of middle school kids with ASD to play YAHTZEE. I had no idea how much fun we would have. They loved it! They were helping each other choose what dice to keep, they worked on math skills and didn’t even realize it, they practiced taking turns, they used inside voices and they learned how to be graceful winners and graceful losers. It was amazing. 
             One student was having trouble keeping her dice in the cup. Every time she shook the cup full of dice the dice would  fly out of the cup. Her friend next to her had the solution. He took the cup with the dice inside and covered the top with his hand. In his best James Bond type voice he said, "Here Betty. Try it like this. Put your hand over the top and shake it like a martini."  
            You may already be playing board games with your kids. Work on social skills at the same time. Play Monopoly. This is great for kids who have trouble understanding the concept of money. If you don't have time to finish a game of Monopoly give everyone an envelope to put their money, token, properties etc in. Write their name on their envelope, put the game away and begin where you left off another day. This shouldn't bother your kids at all. They are from the video game generation. They put their games on pause all the time.     
The most important thing to remember is to have fun with your kids. When you practice these skills in a variety of settings it helps them bring what you've taught them into all areas of their lives. Encourage them to try the things you work on at school. Ask them how it went. Discuss what they could try next time. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Once the students in my social group were really learning to carry on conversations without much input or instruction from me, I decided to try something new. It was football season in the U.S. so I borrowed one of the aspects of football for the social group, or as one student called it, our 'conversation workshop'. They were told they could talk about anything they wanted to as long as it was appropriate for school. They were to follow all the rules of conversation. If one of them broke a rule of polite conversation, I the referee, would throw a flag (a handkerchief) on the play. When the penalty flag was thrown into the center of the table they had to stop talking and figure out who caused the penalty and what the penalty was. Of course there was no real punishment or penalty involved. This was just a visual strategy to help them be aware of what they were doing. It worked really well. They had fun and learned to monitor their own behavior a little.          

Thursday, October 28, 2010


            Children with ASD often blurt out random comments when they don't really know what to say or how to join the conversation. This is both frustrating and confusing for the listener. It's hard to talk with someone when you feel they aren't listening to you or when they continue to talk about the same thing over and over
            You can help your child learn to stay on topic by teaching him to really listen to what the speaker is saying. When you listen to someone telling a story you can usually pick out two things from the conversation that you could talk about without getting off topic. For example, if your friend is talking about the time he went to the beach and saw a shark, you could talk about sharks by telling about something you saw on TV or read in a book or you could talk about something you saw one time when you went to the beach. So from that conversation you can pick out “beach” or “shark” and start talking about something about one of those two subjects.  Or he could ask a question about something he heard the person say, such as, “Was the shark really close to the shore?” or “Do you know what type of shark you saw?” Explain that by asking their friend questions about what they are saying we show we are listening. And being a good listener helps us make friends.             

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


            When I conduct social groups at school I like to ask my students,  “What are some of the rules of polite conversation?” This gives the students an opportunity to offer their ideas and opinions, and gives me some information about what the children already know. In my experience, kids often know most of the rules, but have trouble following them in real life conversations. We write these rules on a white board. You can write them on whatever you have at home but everyone should be able to see these rules at all times.  Having a visual reference is very helpful for kids with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).  Here is a sample list of rules of conversation. Please feel free to add anything that applies to your family. Make each lesson your own.

Don't talk when someone else is talking

Look at the speaker/look at the person you are talking to

Stay on topic

Don't hog the conversation

Only talk about appropriate subjects

Use a soft or inside voice / no yelling    

            If your family tends to talk over one another you may need to use an object to let everyone know whose turn it is to talk. You can use anything. I have used a stuffed chicken, a plastic bug, or a stick. Let your kids decide what to use. This will get them involved in all aspects of the lesson.  You can use a different object each day or use the same one each time, whatever your family prefers. Let everyone get used to having a conversation this way.  It seems awkward at first but it is very effective for teaching kids to wait their turn to join the conversation. If someone does interrupt you can say, “Are you holding the chicken?” When the child says no then you can say,   “It will be your turn to talk in a minute. You can wait.”
            Once your family is doing a good job of taking turns talking, stop using the object.  If they begin forgetting to take turns, quietly bring the object back out and hand it to the person who should be talking. This should act as a silent and visual reminder for them to wait their turn. Always begin the conversation without the object anywhere in sight and bring it out only if needed. Eventually you should all be able to get through a conversation without needing the object. If your family has a big problem with interrupting each other, focus on that alone until you get it under control before moving on to another rule. You only want to focus on one or two skills at a time. Otherwise it may be too difficult and overwhelming for your child.
            So....what in the world are we going to talk about? Talk about anything that is of interest to your family, but try to give everyone a chance to talk about something they find interesting for a short time. You can start by asking questions like:

What was your favorite part of the day/vacation/movie etc....
What's the funniest thing that happened to you today?
What's the worst thing that happened to you today? 

When you are ready to have more sophisticated conversations talk about something you saw on TV or read in the paper.  I purchased a CHAT PACK at a local toy store and I've used it for social groups at school and home as well as something fun to do on a car trip. It's the size of a deck of cards. It contains 156 cards and each card has a question printed on it. It is a great way to have a fun conversation with people of all ages. The questions make you think and make for a lively and funny conversation.

Friday, October 22, 2010


 We have all been embarrassed by something our children have said in public. When they are little they don't realize that they are being impolite. They are just saying what pops into their precious little heads. I went grocery shopping with my daughter when she was about three years old. She saw a cute little baby girl sitting in a cart. Her proud father was pushing the cart and shopping. My daughter looked at him and said, "Your baby has her ears pierced." He replied, "Yes she does". So my daughter exclaimed, "Jeepers Mister! That's not a good idea!" I quickly apologized to the offended stranger and then she yelled, "But Mommy that's what you said!”

She was right. I did say that a few weeks before. I wasn't talking about the man in the store or his baby though. She asked me why I didn't have her ears pierced when she was a baby and I simply said because I didn't think it was a good idea. If you are a parent something similar has probably happened to you at least once.

Neurotypical children usually learn not to say everything that pops in their heads. It's one of those life lessons that develops with age and a little instruction. Sometimes children with ASD really struggle with this. They can make a very innocent observation and say something that is terribly offensive. They are not trying to hurt anyone's feelings. They just haven't learned what can be said out loud and what they should keep to themselves. To address this issue I like to use what I call my Mr. Coffee lesson.

Pull out your coffee maker and show him how it works. Show him where you put the filter and the coffee grounds and show him how the water goes through the filter and becomes delicious hot coffee. Now show him what's left in the filter after the coffee is made. The coffee maker keeps the strong offensive grounds in the filter but allows the pleasant warm coffee to come through.

We can learn to do the same thing. Anything that pops into our brain is OK. We can think anything we want. But we should only let the good things come out in our speech. Therefore we filter our thoughts just like we filter our coffee. To filter our thoughts we need to ask ourselves some questions. If the answer is yes to any of the questions we should not say what we are thinking. We should say something different or nothing at all. You can write the following questions on a coffee filter as a visual reminder.

1. If I say this will it hurt the person's feelings or make them sad or angry?
2. Is this something they already know?
3. Would I be upset if someone said this to me?

Present your child with various examples and ask him what he might say in this situation. If what he says is inappropriate tell him to filter it and try again. People with ASD are not always able to understand how another person is feeling. Their brain doesn't always work that way. They often have to be taught how to put themselves in another person's place.

 The coffee filter may be a useful tool in accomplishing this. Try not to take inappropriate comments or behaviors personally. Your child on the spectrum is probably just making an observation or repeating something he's heard. These moments are opportunities to teach a social lesson.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


          We've all experienced what Jerry Seinfeld referred to as a “close talker”.  My daughter used to have a friend whose mother would get so close to my face when she was talking to me that I could actually feel her breath on my face. My instant reflex was to take a couple steps back but then she would step forward.  I kept backing up with her moving toward me until I was backed into a wall or piece of furniture. With nowhere else to go I was forced to stand there with this woman in my face until she finished speaking.  At one point she got so close I was afraid she was going to kiss me!  What on earth was wrong with her?  Did she not realize that she was making me a nervous wreck?  I honestly don’t believe she understood the way I was feeling, but I avoided her whenever possible.  I had absolutely no desire to be this woman's friend.  I wrote her off in my mind as a possible friend for one reason.  She stood too close to me when she talked and it really freaked me out.  She did not have bad breath.  She smelled fine.  She was what I would consider to be a very normal person in every way.  Except for the fact that she got too close to me when we talked there was nothing wrong with her.  But the closeness of her face to mine made me so uncomfortable I was miserable. 
          I'm not proud of the fact that something this small could make me not want to be someone's friend.  But this doesn't make me a bad person.  It makes me human.  Most of us are uncomfortable when someone invades our personal space. Some people tolerate it better than others.  But as parents and therapists for kids with ASD we need to address this issue.
          Many kids struggle with personal space issues. You can't see someone's personal space.  It is implied.  This concept is too abstract for many of our friends on the spectrum.  We have to create a way for them to understand what we mean by personal space.  We also need to explain how we feel when someone is in our space.  Your child may feel differently than you do when someone is in his space.  Ask him how he feels.  Talk about it.  If he says he doesn’t know, get in his personal space and ask, ‘how does this feel?’  ‘Can we have a conversation like this?’  Your child may have never stopped and considered how it felt when someone was in his space so demonstrating what you mean will allow him to experience it and consider it.
          Using a hula hoop is a great way to illustrate personal space.  Stand inside the hoop so he can see how much space one person needs.  A friend of mine actually wore a hula hoop for two days.  It was a constant reminder of her personal space.  She explained to her son on the first day why she had the hula hoop on, and then it wasn’t necessary to continue to point it out. It served as a constant visual reminder. The only problem was that she forgot she had attached the hula hoop to  herself like a piece of clothing and she answered the door.  She spent ten minutes talking to her new neighbor and never once gave her an explanation as to why she was wearing a hula hoop.  I guess the neighbor got a lesson too!  The family next door is a little different.
          Often kids will walk in between two people who are having a conversation.  They don't see this as an intrusion.  To illustrate this, put a large hoop around two people having a conversation at waist level. Now teach your child to walk around.  It is easy when he can see the hoop.  Have him visualize imaginary hoops after he understands the concept with the actual hoops in place. 
          If your child has trouble using an imaginary hoop, give him something more concrete. Tell him if he can put his arm straight out and touch another person he is probably too close. Remember that you are talking to a person who understands things in a literal way. So be sure to explain to your child that it is fine for him to enter your personal space to give you a hug, kiss, etc.  But that he should step back out of your invisible circle once he has given you your hug.  It's not OK to just hang out inside someone's hoop unless he has permission. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Individuals who are on the autism spectrum require more processing time, or thinking time, to understand what you are asking them to do and to formulate their response. So you may think that your child is not listening or that he is choosing to ignore you. Give him a little more time to respond. If you keep repeating yourself you are just giving the child more information to process, which will take longer, and may overwhelm him. Wait longer than what feels natural for you. If after a minute or so there is still no response, ask him if he understands what you want him to do. If he doesn't understand then tell him again in a different way. This way he can hear your instructions again if he needs to, but it won't feel like you are badgering him.

Think of your child's brain as a computer. We have all experienced a slow computer or program. This can be very frustrating. What happens if you keep clicking the program you are trying to use? It takes longer because your computer has to process each and every click. Your computer can't filter out the unnecessary clicks. Your child's brain is doing the same thing. He can't filter out the extra words, so ignoring some of the requests isn't an option for him. And he can't process the language quickly enough to say, "Stop. I heard you the first time."

So give your child more thinking time and you may find that he is listening. He just needs more time to respond.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


 If you are old enough you may recognize this as a line from an old  Johnny Mercer song. And when you are working with children nothing could be more true. As the song says, Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative and don't mess with Mr. Inbetween.”

 Eliminate as many negative words from your vocabulary as possible. These are words like no, don't, can't, won't and not. You may be thinking, 'How am I supposed to do that when my child is constantly doing something he's NOT supposed to do?' You can do it. You just have to wrap your brain around the concept.

 How do you feel at the end of a full day of, "Stop! No! Don't do that. You can't touch that. etc" We've had our fair share of those days. And by the time we went to bed we felt pretty crappy. You feel bad about yourself. You question your parenting skills. Then the guilt sets in. So what do you do?  Let your kids do anything they want?

 Absolutely not. You get up fresh the next morning and tell yourself that you are only going to tell your child what you want him to do. You are NOT going to tell him what you don't want him to do. So what if he's already doing something he's not supposed to do? Then what? It still works. Instead of telling him not to do what he's currently doing tell him what he CAN do instead. Here are some examples:

NEGATIVE                                                                 POSITIVE
1.Don't sit on the table.                                                 1. You can sit on this chair.
2.Don't write on the wall.                                               2. You can write on paper.
3.Don't run.                                                                     3. Please walk to the car.  

4. No screaming!                                                           4. Please tell me what                                   
                                                                                              you need.
Your child may only hear and process part of your message. So if you say, "Don't write on the wall" and all he hears is, "Write on the wall" guess what he's going to do?  But if you say, "You can write on paper" with a little luck he will choose to write on paper. Just be sure to show him which paper he is allowed to use or he may write on any old paper he finds lying around the house like your check book or the letters that your great grandfather wrote to your great grandmother during WWII.

At the end of the day you and your child will both have a better outlook on life if you have accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative. And please don't mess with Mr. In-Between. He is much too vague for your very literal child to understand. Simple and clear directions work best.

 If your child likes music you may want to listen to the song with him at end of the day. It's guaranteed to put a smile on your face and remind you to keep things in the proper perspective.