Monday, November 26, 2012

Giving Tuesday

Have you heard of this concept?  There's Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving which generally helps big box retail; and Small Business Saturday follows that, whereby consumers are encouraged to "shop small" and patronize their local retailers.  Today is Cyber Monday, and I'm sure many of you are postponing reading this week's blog to get all the online deals.

Tomorrow is an important day for autism awareness, acceptance, and empathy.  At least it is to us at Good Friend.  Giving Tuesday is about looking at the bigger picture -- drawing back from the sales and the hype and considering how you want to make a difference.  How do you want to give?  Do you want to give of your time to your favorite cause?  Do you want to donate on behalf of someone on your gift list?  Do you want to purchase something that supports your beliefs?  Do you want to share your priorities?

Good Friend is drawing very near to reaching directly its 20,000th person with its awareness-acceptance-empathy message.  This has happened because you have given.  If you've purchased a DVD, you are both sharing the message with others through the use of the peer sensitivity film and helping us to teach students to be good friends to their classmates with autism.

So on this Giving Tuesday, please honor our 501(c)(3) nonprofit: Buy a t-shirt for your favorite service provider or relative, make a donation in honor of a loved one with autism, or share our mission with your Facebook and twitter contacts.  We are so thankful for your support!

Monday, November 19, 2012

I speak autism!

As part of Good Friend's Peer Sensitivity Workshops, Denise and I conduct phone interviews with the primary caregiver and most relevant staff member so we can get an understanding of how our student subject "ticks".  We have a prescribed form we go through, typing answers and sometimes delving deeper into comments as we go along.  I often find myself chuckling at many of the described behaviors.  Clearly, the interviewee doesn't find these eccentricities nearly as charming as I do.  As a result, I can sense the parent's or teacher's confusion on the other end of the call about my lighthearted giggle.  Sometimes, I have to explain.

I have two children with ASD, ages 13 and 11.  And I've met dozens and dozens of individuals with autism through my experiences, both personal and professional.  As I make connections about these amazing people and consider the factors driving many of their behaviors (preferences, aversions, repetitive acts, etc.), I can't help but feel blessed to know them and understand the meaning of these behaviors.

For example, I've heard about so many children with ASD, boys in particular, who do not like babies.  I've come to understand that babies present a host of unpredictable sensory experiences (i.e., loud crying, smelly spit-up and messy diapers) that make being in their presence anxiety-provoking for these guys.  This is true for my own son, who has several young cousins -- many of whom have gone rather "unappreciated" by my boy until, perhaps as preschoolers, they're ready to show some interest in his favorite topics.  So these moments of his endearingly awkward interactions flash before my eyes as I'm talking to these teachers and parents, and I have to smile.  Sometimes out loud.

But making connections and understanding how people with autism are wired doesn't mean that autism is my native language.  I speak it because of cultural immersion, but I wasn't born with autism in my body.  So while this immersion makes me fluent in autism, it doesn't make a true expert.  Certainly, I can interpret autism for neuro-typicals who don't speak the language themselves, but the best way to understand autism is to interact with the experts.

Not sure why your person with autism behaves in a specific way?  ASK (politely in a moment of calm and clarity)!  You might be surprised about the insight you gain and the level of self-awareness your person has.  Little or no reliable means of communication yet?  Play detective!  The Iceberg Model of Autism (Eric Schopler, TEACCH, 1994) reminds us that the observable behavior is just the tip of the iceberg, and what's beneath those acts is generally a combination of environmental contributors (sensory perception, social or processing differences, etc.).  Listen actively.

What discoveries have you made as you've learned the language and culture of autism?

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Power of Compliments

This week, I'm going back to Tony Attwood's presentation ...

So many of the things he said during last week's seminar resonate beyond the population of individuals with ASD.  He spoke of the importance of compliments in relationships, particularly as they apply to romantic relationships.  In fact, nearly 15 years ago, he worked with Carol Gray to develop a prescription of sorts for compliment formulation and delivery for adults with ASD, available through this download.  The argument for the necessity of such a manual is rooted in both the complexity and the benefits of compliments.
submitted by Gagandeep

The definition seems straight-forward enough:


A polite expression of praise or admiration.

But the practicing of compliment delivery is littered with subtleties that sometimes we neuro-typicals take for granted.  Questions arise:  How many compliments should I give in a specific time frame?  And what should I compliment someone on?  Does it matter if the compliment is given to a man or woman?  Are certain compliments inappropriate to give to a stranger, but okay for a close friend? ... and many more.

When we were developing Good Friend's curriculum for Peer Sensitivity Workshops five years ago, we were inspired by Ellen Sabin's inclusion of an exercise in The Autism Acceptance Book that encourages classmates to compliment each other.  When we practiced this in schools, we were dismayed by how difficult it was for elementary school-aged students to understand and deliver compliments.  They, particularly the girls, have little trouble complimenting an article of clothing or a hairstyle, but speaking about character or skills in a kind way is clearly not an inherent ability for most students.

Imagine how much more difficult it can be, then, for these NT peers to compliment their classmate with ASD!  With the societal disorder of seeing differences as deficiencies, looking for the expressions of praise or admiration for a person with autism seems foreign.  But when given the proper focus on a person's strengths instead of his weaknesses, the compliments flow freely.  And since Tony Attwood notes that people on the spectrum crave positive feedback and are desperate for respect and value, we who surround these individuals should be lavishing compliments on them as well.

What was the last compliment you gave your person with ASD?