Your praise may be the only good thing they hear about themselves all day so make it really count.
Another school year has started and my kids are all getting used to the routine of a new grade and a new set of teachers. I spent this morning meeting with every teacher of my children that I could find. My fifth grader’s teacher and I had a particularly long chat. This teacher also had my seventh grader two years ago when he went through fifth grade. We had a good chuckle about what a challenge that was for him, the teacher. My current fifth grader is one of those challenging kids that may find his way to a self contained classroom if school staff can’t find an effective way to manage his behavior at school.

I’ve introduced the Nurtured Heart Approach® into our conversations about my fifth grader. We’ll see how receptive the school staff are to it. I’ve had a great deal of success with NHA® at home. But that’s not quite what this post is about. While we were chatting I mentioned the fact that my fifth grader is a great student of human behavior. This prompted my son’s teacher to go on and on about how sensitive his autistic students are to the behavior and emotions of the staff and students working with them. He seemed in awe of their abilities to do.
I was pleased to hear him make this observation about his students. He described how it might take a typical student a week to figure out how to push the teacher’s buttons where one of his autistic students could figure it out after just one go. Often times people think that autistic people are not dialed in to what’s going on around them. But the truth that my son’s teacher recognizes is that autistic children and adults are often fully aware of the emotional soup that we are all drifting in. Their social challenges put them in the situation of having to be very creative in how they get their needs met. Often times what gets them the most attention is acting out.

At this point I jumped on my NHA® soapbox and pointed out that NHA® is the perfect way to short circuit the negative attention seeking. By refusing to give energy to the negative and instead giving it to the positive these sensitive students can learn how to interact in a healthy fashion with everyone in the classroom.

But going back to the sensitive nature of autistic people, my son’s teacher commented that while not all of his students have been verbal they have clearly been aware of what was said to them and about them. While the main tendency is to characterize autistics by what they cannot do or by what they have difficulty doing it behooves us to remember what they can do. Sometimes we have to remind them about what they can do. The constant focus on what a person can’t do can leave anyone feeling as if they can do nothing.

So if you are a person of influence in the life of someone with autism, or some other special need, take the time to see what they are good at. See what they are doing right. Then take your sweet time telling them all about how awesome they are. The sad truth is that your praise may be the only good thing they hear about themselves all day so make it really count.

 
 
"The Nurtured Heart Approach® is an individualized person centered relational approach to fostering healthy interactions with others. Anyone can use NHA® in professional and personal settings. NHA® digs down to the intrinsic value of the individual to build on a positive foundation to create success." Samantha Pierce Certified NHA® Trainer

I got my first taste of NHA® one wintery Thursday afternoon when the program director of a local agency visited my honors abnormal psychology classroom. I asked the question above and she proceeded to provide a very effective demonstration of how NHA® can have a powerful impact on a person’s life. Her answer grabbed and held my attention. I was hooked in less than five minutes. She mentioned that there would be a workshop on NHA® that very weekend. I wanted to know more.

I wasted no time signing myself and my husband up for that workshop. They were providing childcare so I didn’t have to worry about what we would do with the kids. Sitting on the edge of my seat more often than not I listened as NHA® was explained. Designed to bring out the greatness of the individual it was what I had been struggling to teach my children about themselves for years. I discovered I was already on the NHA® path. It was a gratifying experience as a parent to find such like minded people in the world.

I went home and tried out NHA® on my children. They were as stunned by it as I was. One child declared to himself, in that child’s whisper that has the ability to reach every corner of a room, “Something is wrong with mommy. She’s excited that I’m doing something right!” He was as stunned by the application of NHA® as I was. It makes sad sense if you think about it. How often do we pull out all the stops to celebrate people when they are doing what is right? Unless you are steeped in NHA® you have to admit that that hardly ever happens. NHA® brings to light the power of doing just that. It can transform lives.

In the months following that first workshop I purchased some of the NHA® books and set about dazzling my family with their own greatness. I watched as my children bloomed under the realization that they were indeed formidable human beings. As for myself I was more and more drawn to NHA®. Just to be sure that it was something I really wanted to commit to, I confess to having a reputation for impulsiveness in some quarters, I took another full day workshop. By the end of that workshop NHA® was looking more and more like the way I should go for myself and my family. They were so many tantalizingly wonderful possibilities with NHA®.

To that end I completed the one week NHA® Certified Trainer Intensive in Syracuse, NY. It would have been a grueling week had it not been for the nature of the subject matter presented. Instead it was an intense week spent delving into the foundations and application of NHA®. I came away from the week ready to guide others along in the path to discovering NHA®.

Now I look forward to the daily challenge of helping others discover and nurture what is good within them. Life is a completely different experience when you realize the greatness that you are capable of.

 
 
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This graphic come from a presentation on the new DSM 5 diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders prepared by Dr. Walter Kaufmann. I like this graphic of the conceptual framework of ASD because it looks very similar to the way that I have always thought of autism. Different people can inhabit several different spheres to varying degrees but still fall within the spectrum. This is why one autistic person can be so different from another but similar at the same time.

 
 
So the DSM 5 is finally available to the public. The new diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorders presents a bit of problem for researchers but also an opportunity. Previous research using DSM IV criteria will not be comparable to subsequent research using the new DSM 5 criteria. What does this mean for the research community? First, even though the diagnostic criteria in the DSM have changed the diagnostic tools, such as the ADOS and ADI-R, have not. So perhaps the data from studies using the same diagnostic tools can be evaluated using DSM 5 criteria. Second, hopefully previous studies will be replicated using the DSM 5 diagnostic criteria. This should lead to a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
 
 
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"Over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go!" The winter holidays are fast approach with the requisite parties, dinners, and family events. All can be overwhelming for those with special needs. Take some time to make a plan so that things can go as smoothly as possible. Remember to plan for success rather set yourself up for failure. Get started with our planning guidelines.

 
 
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The second session of Club Adventure CNY's Neighborhood Nature Camp starts July 30, 2012. There's still time to sign up for the third and final session that begins on August 6, 2012.

 
 
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We're looking for some input on what to discuss here on the blog. Please take a moment to click on the link and let us know what you think. Thanks. Blog survey.

 
 
Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People With Asperger’s Syndrome by Sarah Attwood was recommended to me by Paul Meier and I have to say, it was a good call on his part.

The title of this books says it’s for people with Asperger’s Syndrome but I think it is a must have for anyone who has to deal with any youngsters going through puberty. I’ll mention just a few of the things that stood out for me in this book and made it an enjoyable and informative read.
First, the illustrations that accompany the text are great. The illustrator, Jonathan Powell, manages to capture the confusion that comes along with the whirlwind of changes youngsters experience while going through puberty. I had a good chuckle over a few of them because I remember feeling that confused when growing up and I’ve seen those looks on people’s faces in real life.

Attwood presents information for parent and child alike in simple but accurate terms allowing for the straightforward communication of information that helps to minimize anxiety generally associated with these aspects of growing up. Parents and youngsters both get a clear idea of what’s going and with this knowledge both are able to prepare for the changes of growing up.

This next section alone sold me on the book and prompted me to write this review. Attwood’s insight into how the mind of a youngster works is apparent in her discussion of how and why they have to begin bathing daily. She is very clear, you’ve got to bathe every day and it is not enough to get in the shower and stand there getting wet. You have to use soap. How many times have I had this same conversation with my own children! Attwood explains the process of daily bathing, focusing on specific areas of the body and explaining why those areas need special attention with soap. The fact that she recognizes the need to be this explicit about something as seemingly simple as bathing indicates that Attwood knows her audience well.

Finally Attwood addresses issues of sexuality with a neutral tone that allows parents to bring their own values and moral convictions to the conversation without having to work around anyone else’s agenda on the matter. Such sensitivity can be appreciated by a wide range of people  making the book a useful tool for pretty much anyone who is looking to prepare themselves and the youngsters in their lives for the rollercoaster ride of puberty into adulthood.

 
 
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By Samantha Pierce

In sociology there is a theory, called the Sapir-Whorf thesis (also known as linguistic relativity) , which claims “people see and understand the world through the cultural lens of language.” (Macionis, 2011)* To put it another way, language creates reality. Since Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf first put forth their theories on the relationship between language and reality in the first half of the last century sociologists have come to the conclusion that language doesn’t determine reality in any strict sense. For my part I think our language reflects our reality rather than genuinely creates it. But we still act as if we believe that language creates reality.

Consider the terms used to describe people with developmental disabilities. First we had imbeciles, morons, idiots. All originated as clinical terms to describe the developmentally disabled. We now know them as throw away insults used by young and old alike. In the span of a few decades we have seen the term “retarded”, once a clinical descriptor for those with developmental delays, degenerate into an insult so grave that there is a movement to stamp out the use of the word. It’s called the euphemism treadmill where new terms are developed to replace old terms that have come to be seen as derogatory. Even the term “special needs” seems to be taking its turn on the euphemism treadmill for some.

All of this brings to me to the person, or people, first language movement. “People-first language is a form of linguistic prescriptivism in English, aiming to avoid perceived and subconscious dehumanization when discussing people with disabilities, as such forming an aspect of disability etiquette.” The idea is basically to name the person first and the descriptor of their condition second. In English we usually do things the other way round. Such tinkering with English sentence structure is seen by some as a good thing for the disabled. It is an effort to create a reality where the personhood of the disabled is valued and respected. In essence it is an attempt to apply the Sapir-Whorf thesis in its language creates reality form.

Advocates of person first language claim that we should embrace person first language “To ensure inclusion, freedom, and respect for all.” I agree with some of the sentiments expressed in the above linked article, such as,

“The real problem is never a person’s disability, but the attitudes of others! A change in our attitudes leads to changes in our actions. Attitudes drive actions.”

But I am more than a bit skeptical that acts of linguistic gymnastics will make any forward movement towards better treatment of and greater respect for the disabled. Unless we work to change attitudes about the disabled within our culture and within our society it’s not going to matter what clumsy, politically correct term is dreamed up next to gloss over the fact that the disabled are greatly devalued in our culture.

Person, or people, first language hinges on the idea that a person is a person first and their disability is secondary to their personhood. Now the problem with this kind of thinking is why anyone would think that identifying someone with their disability somehow denies their personhood. Another problem with person first language is that despite the fact that many of the disabled themselves reject the use of person first language and the reasoning behind it other, often nondisabled people, keep pushing for its use. In researching this article I found very few references among supporters of person first language to the opinions of the disabled about person first language (the two references were from Wikipedia and About.com.

 
 
 A recent New York Times article has stirred up a lot of concern about the coming revisions of the diagnostic criteria listed in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical manual (DSM V). Autism specialist Paul Meier shares his comments on the controversy and the upcoming changes in the DSM V.

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DSM V proposed revisions

I will probably be taking an unpopular position. However, I want to calm some people who are legitimately upset as they are concerned about the well-being of their children, and the children of others, regarding the changes in the DSM-V as they pertain to autism. I do not see anyone getting undiagnosed. I do not see anyone getting services loosing those services. Hopefully I can sufficiently explain this to calm people.

There is a critical flaw in the study the NY Times article relied on. They were using 1993 data for the study. In 1993 there was only the DSM-III. Asperger's and PDD-NOS were not even in the DSM. So much more has been learned about autism in the last 19 years using such old data is absurd. 19 years ago they still were not too sure what they were looking for. This would have a huge impact on the data gathered. I am guessing it was all there, but the people recording data didn't know to look for it and therefore could not record it.

As someone who is around autism all day every day, and does diagnostic work, I don't think there needs to be fear about the proposed changes to the DSM coming out in 2013. I need to stay on top of all this, and intimately understand all the details and nuances. It is my job. I work with the DSM-IV and I am also familiar with the expected changes in the DSM-V. The proposed changes came out 2 years ago, and were last tweaked a year ago. The only recent change that ignited a firestorm was there was an article in the NY Times January 19, 2012.

Autism, Asperger's, and PDD-NOS are all really the same thing. With recognizing that, and understanding it in an everyday clinical sense from professionals, the APA is combining the three into one diagnosis of "Autism Spectrum Disorder". This makes complete and total sense, and I support it 100%. The only question then is does the new diagnostic criteria make sense and work.

Part of the problem is that a lot of people do not understand the criteria as they are now, including a lot of professionals. The autism spectrum is not a scale of mild to severe, with the diagnosis you receive depending on the severity of symptoms. Spectrum represents a diversity in individual manifestation of symptoms.