Monday, May 19, 2014

Talking about an ASD Diagnosis

Following a recent Good Friend Peer Sensitivity Workshop, an observer remarked how she had seen similar presentations about autism, but the presenter never actually used the word "autism".  I thought that was much like talking about reproduction without mentioning the sex organs: not very helpful, and one leaves with more questions than useful information.  I believe parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should approach "the talk" about autism in much the same way they would "the talk" about those reproductive and sexuality issues.  You don't divulge every detail at once, but continually reveal and unpack details as they become relevant.

Though this quotation is often attributed to Albert Einstein,
there is no evidence that's accurate. So let this say
what it will to you in light of this discussion topic.
For example, a 4-year-old with autism might be receiving some sort of therapy as an intervention for related symptoms.  It's okay to let your child know that the lady he sees at school helps him with making words.  A 10-year-old on the spectrum might be struggling with the dance unit in Phy Ed.  It's a great idea to explain that sometimes gross motor coordination (moving big muscle groups) is difficult for her, but she's amazing at memorizing details -- and both are tied to the way her brain is wired.

Because by the time a 13-year-old with ASD is contemplating suicide because he doesn't understand why he's so different and/or being bullied by his peers, you've missed some crucial opportunities to foster self-awareness.

Of course, not all adolescents with ASD will despair of their lives. In fact, the majority will not. However, a study published by Penn State College of Medicine's Angela Gorman, Assistant Professor of Child Psychiatry, and researchers, as reported by Science Daily (March 13, 2013), sets off some important warnings:
The researchers found that the percentage of children with autism rated by their parents as sometimes to very often contemplating or attempting suicide was 28 times greater than that of typical children, though three times less than that of depressed non-autistic children. The four demographic variables [Black or Hispanic, 10 years old or older, socioeconomic status and male] were significant risk factors, as well. 
"That was probably the most important piece of the study," said Gorman. "If you fell into any of those categories and were rated to be autistic by a parent, the more categories you were a part of increased your chances for experiencing suicidal ideation or attempts."
The study also notes that children with ASD who were teased or bullied were more likely to consider or attempt suicide.  An essay in this month's Good Housekeeping magazine by Jackie Mercurio is a painful vignette of that reality.

If you've been following any of the #IMFAR2014 chatter, you might have gleaned that Marsha Mailick, director of the Waisman Center (Madison, Wis.), spoke in her keynote address at the International Society for Autism Research Conference about parent positivity as a powerful determinant of quality of life for adults with ASD, per her research.

What does all this mean for you as a parent?  In my opinion, your child has the right to know about his or her autism.  But I encourage you to keep some things in mind when you decide to have "the talk":

  • Your child will take cues about how to feel about autism from you.  If you're not okay with it, don't expect him/her to be, either.
  • Keep your side of the conversation hopeful, positive, and accepting.  As you explain a struggle connected to autism, be sure to remind about a strength, too.
  • Validate your child's feelings.  Unless you have autism, too, you don't really know what it's like to live with autism in your body.  Don't minimize what your child is experiencing, whether physically or emotionally.  
  • This is an ongoing conversation.  Look for opportunities to add depth, connection, and meaning to the foundation you lay.  Maybe read Jennifer Elder's Different Like Me or listen to The Figureheads' "We ALL Fit" or visit Carly Fleischmann's CafĂ©.
  • You have LOTS to learn from your child with autism, too!  Often times, the one who needs perspective-taking is the one who does NOT have autism.  We each assume others' sensory experiences and social preferences are similar to our own.  That can be dangerous.
  • Look for ways to help your child find his or her "tribe".  It's about the coolest thing ever to observe the interactions between people of similar neurology and realize they have a profound culture all their own.  Encouraging inclusion doesn't mean that you remove your child's autistic manifestations to "fit into" a world created by the majority neurology.  It means you recognize those manifestations of autism and consider them across environments, encouraging systemic changes that will foster meaningful participation.

I recognize that telling your child about his or her autism is your right as a parent.  Please -- consider your child's right to self-awareness and the importance of self-advocacy as you decide what information to sequester.

And let's learn from each other!  For those with autism, do you remember being specifically told you had been diagnosed with ASD?  For parents, do you have some encouraging remarks about your experience with your child on the spectrum learning about his/her neurology?  For educators and administrators, how have you seen self-awareness benefit your students with ASD?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Register for the premiere of 'We ALL Fit'!

We look forward to seeing you at the Red Carpet Premiere Party of our newest autism peer sensitivity film, We ALL Fit!  But your admission to the May 28 event requires a ticket, and you can't get a ticket unless you register online here.  Have the names of your guests ready to enter in the form.  If you want all the tickets for your party mailed to a single address, there's no need to complete the address information for other guests.  Tickets will be mailed May 19.

Doors open at 6:15, and the program begins at 6:30 p.m.

This hour-long event hosted at Marcus Majestic is intended for those age 4 and up.  Formal attire is welcome, but not required.  Popcorn and soft drinks will be served, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors: AutoZone, Wisconsin Vein Center, The Ability Center, and Ford Construction Co.

Email if you have any questions.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's coming! The release of "We ALL Fit" is less than four weeks away!

We at Good Friend, Inc., could not be more excited about the premiere of our latest autism peer sensitivity film, "We ALL Fit"!  Never has one of our products been the culmination of so much research, collaboration, and experience.  With careful consideration of the learning styles of intermediate childhood (ages 6-10), we put together a multimedia presentation that would meet learners where they're at.  With a Community Conversation about Meaningful Inclusion in Elementary School, we covered social emotional topics teachers and parents believed important.  With a research study illustrating what students still needed to know after our services were delivered, we loaded this film with tools.  We field tested and tweaked and tested again.  We gathered feedback from students and teachers and researchers.  And this is it.

On Wednesday, May 28, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., nearly 250 people will assemble at the Marcus Majestic Theatre in Brookfield, Wis., to see "We ALL Fit" on the big screen.  We are currently registering cast and crew and their guests, but will open the event up to the general public in just six days.  Registration will be required to procure a ticket, and a ticket is required for admission.  There is no fee for the ticket.  (Event sponsors such as AutoZone are offsetting costs.  Sponsor opportunities are still available.  Email for more info.)  Since the target audience for the film are students in K-5th grade, the event is meant to be family-friendly.  Our cast and crew are encouraged to wear their finest evening wear to walk the red carpet.  So if you want to go all out, too, feel free!

Here's what inclusion expert Paula Kluth, Ph.D., has to say about "We ALL Fit", which is being considered by film festivals in Toronto and Chicago:
"Another useful classroom resource from Good Friend, Inc.! This short video not only offers ideas for building community in the classroom, but provides opportunities for all learners to build communication, collaboration, teaching, and advocacy skills. With each viewing, every member of the classroom can learn something new about getting and giving support, about friendship, and about true inclusion."
How better to mark Mental Health Awareness Month than with a healthy dose of "We ALL Fit"?!  Check out the music video this week, Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, which now boasts nearly 16K views and more than 300 Likes.  Use it to start a conversation in your class or family.  And keep watching the blog all month for more information!