Learning Social Skills in Natural Vs. Paid Supports

At present, there are 1 in 68 cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders(ASD) according to latest statistical data located at the Center for Disease Control.  Some of the most common characteristics include failure to read social cues and other nonverbal cues from their peers and others around them.   Another common trait is the inadequacy to pick up on social skills as the brain develops but processes information differently.   In the last decade, there have been a significant number of studies on why autistics struggle to pick on social skills.

One such finding has been on mirror neurons which are nick-named, “Monkey See, Monkey Do” according to Science Daily and other resources.    Many investigations have found that mirror neurons fire inside the brain of a neurotypical when he or she observes his or her peers acting a certain way in a certain place.  For example, one might walk into a library and notice that everyone in this atmosphere is either quiet or whisper so they be quiet too.  Whereas, inside the brain of an autistic, where the brain processes information differently, their neurons only reflect the actions of the autistic.  For instance, that autistic’s neurons might pick up the appropriate behaviors of others in that library.  Rather, it would copy the behaviors of the autistic where they might get loud over the excitement of seeing a favorite book Science Daily;  (2005,2008).

 

Homer Simpson Brain

In 2008, a team at the University of California, San Diego ran a study on 10 difference autistic boys by attaching an electroencephalograph (EEG)  in order to look for mu waves that can often be found in humans.  These waves disappear when a humanoid is seen copying the action or behavior that was picked up by the mirror neuron.   All the while, each subject was required to move their hands while watching a video with white noise that contained the image of a bouncing ball.  While they found the mu waves were being blocked normally, the team found abnormalities as well.   What they discovered was that mirror neuron were only reflecting the actions and behaviors of individuals. Science Daily, (2008).

All the while researching have used brain imaging to look for clues on what causes developmental delays in a lack of social skills among autistics.  Such investigations have found damage in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for learning and picking up on social skill without having to be taught directly.     Finally, the was a study that looked at the deficiency in the hormone vasopressin, which is responsible for blood pressure and linked it with lack of social skills.   To investigate, 28 individuals with ASD were looked at by giving them the hormone but the findings came back with uncertain results.  Whether a direct result is ever found, teaching social skills to individuals with ASD is key.

When teaching social skills whether they are a child or adult, there are many tools that one can learn to use when teaching these skills.  Additionally, these tools can be taught in paid supports and in natural supports.  Yet, one set of tools requires a degree and professionals who are licensed and trained or even have the opportunity for a good internship.   The other, which is natural can doesn’t require one to have a degree or special qualifications.  Rather the only requirements needed are patients, understanding, and education about autism, parenting and mentoring.  By the same token,  anyone can teach social skills in the form of natural supports whether it’s a family member, friend or an elder at a house of worship.

Cat and Dog table manners

My the first form of learning social skills, natural supports can be taught at home by families, other adults in the individual’s neighborhood,  employers, colleagues, and friends.  Such examples of social skills include learning basic table manners,   such as not talking with your mouth full, managing anger, using appropriate humor and even ordering from a restaurant.  Another good example that I often demonstrate at my presentations on this topic by using an object so people to learn to take turns talking while holding a certain object while others learn to listen and wait their turn.  I find this helpful being that I tend to dominate the conversation.

Examples of social skills

  • Table manners
  • Turn-taking
  • Eye contact
  • Appropriate humor
  • Anger management
  • Communication
  • How to deal with irate people or bullies

 

 

Temple Portrait
You can find a short video by Dr. Grandin about teaching social skills at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9Z5CCvGiZ4

While there is advice from Dr. Temple Grandin herself, I have created a list of do’s and don’ts when teaching social skills.

 

What should be done: 

  • Be honest and direct with tact: Pulling individual to the sides
  • Mentors visually play the role of individuals
  • Play games at tables– Patrick situation “The
  • loving push.”
  • Baby steps
  • Role play and practice going to parties, places
  • in communities

 

I believe that the main reason why teaching social skills in natural supports is important is because this type of teaching not only saves a family a big amount of money but it also helps build a better foundation for helping these individuals grow.  Teaching social skills naturally can be done when an individual is 21 and over.  For example, I began learning my first social skills by a family member and one of their close friends in 2003.  They taught mine by way or role-playing where one individual with be me and show me how to interact with people by looking down at the ground.  They also showed me that I barely acknowledged others around me by saying “Hello ” and walking away while barely acknowledging them.

Contrarily,  there are ways that social skills should never be taught to autistics among natural supports.   Growing up, I have seen some really bad methods of teaching social skills well as good.  One example would include using sarcasm or hints which most autistics struggle to process as most of us often take everything seriously.  Among this example, you can find a list of don’ts below.  Another thing to keep in mind is when teaching social skills to an individual on the spectrum, they not be taught with the expectation to make an autistic become a cookie cutter person or that teaching can cure autism.  In fact, there is a short list of don’t’s for the community.

 

What should not be done

  • Yelling and screaming
  • Name calling
  • Nagging
  • Calling the individual out on the spot
  • No hints or sarcasm
  • Humiliating
  • Guilt tripping
  • Make the person feel bad because they missed the expectations of social norms

 

While such examples above can get out of hand, good getting into the good practice of helping individuals by teaching them everyday values that the mentor was taught can create growth.

Eye of a Horse
Eye of a Horse offers social skills by observing equine body language https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCNR-lroA8&t=1s

 

Unlike natural supports, which are community-based licensed and certified professionals take center stage and provide broader teaching forms where families and others in the community cannot reach.

Examples entail:

  • Learn to take turns talking or talking more-use
  • rewards
  • Theatrical models to read facial expressions
  • Exercises – Listening
  • How to socialize at parties and social gatherings – mingling, appropriate topics
  • Invite clients to do things in community-tips in the mail – Places like coffee shops
  • shop to practice social interaction
  • PEERS- Teenagers where parents and teens separated.
  • A. 14 Sessions- each week different topic- Coach and teen leader
  • B. Homework each week- Practicing making appropriate phone
  • calls
  • C. Taught table manners
  • D. Example- Jeopardy to get to know each other and finding
  • common interests
  • E. Trained to handle parents with inappropriate behavior –  Keeping them focused when they try to distract others

Likewise,  there is a list of do’s and don’ts for professional running these social skills programs as well.

Do’s                                                                                                                         

  • If the behavior is inappropriate- Pull to side or cal after the event is over and be direct.
  • Have clients sit at different tables-color coding-
  • Mention when there are new clients and
  • introduce new clients to other current clients and talk about interest
  • Offer mentor sessions- one on one.
  • Check in and out.
  • Listen to client

On the other hand, there is also a handful of don’t’s that professionals might find helpful when working with autistics.

                        Don’ts 

  • Correct or humiliate them during the event
  • Minimize client something bothers them-
  • Just say “That’s inappropriate” or “That’s not
  • appropriate” and walk away.
  • Nitpick every little detail of client’s behavior or nagging.
  • Setting the poor example: Sarcasm and name-calling  example, “Put client down and say, “I was just kidding”
  • Laying a guilt trip on the client for everything he or she does wrong
  • Making them feel like they don’t the mold
  • Shout at them
  • Shame them
  • Badmouth their family to them

 

Last but not least, if an autistic is not comfortable attending a paid support,  there are great alternatives to learning social skills. One of those opportunities includes learning on the internet.   One of the great resources out there is a website that was created by another autistic named Daniel Wendler.   The name of his site is “Improve your Social Skills.”   Not only does he offer paid one on one sessions via Skype that offers coaching  session but he offers lots of practical steps that are free as well.

 

Daniel Wendler
Daniel Wendler, Entrepreneur of Improve Your Social Skills.com

Another alternative is the Asperger Experts which is run by two adult men on the spectrum.  One of which goes by Danny Raede and offers lots of ways that an autistic can get out of his or her comfort zone in order to understand why it’s essential to learn social skills. The Asperger experts  Unlike Wendler, AE offers many types of workshops via video, webinars and even conferences that are designed to help autistics and their families grow and get out of what they call, the “Defense Mode.”  While these can be costly, Raede and his team have a list of free videos on their Youtube Channel the “Asperger Experts” along with a blog that autistics can easily read and find helpful tips correspondingly.

 

To conclude this week’s blog, here is a list of resources that I hope families, individuals in the community at home.

Resources in which some are located right here in the Georgia area

Online Supports

Books

  1. “Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism spectrum disorders”:: Elizabeth A. Laugeson and Fred Frankel
  2. “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help spectrum kids become successful adults,” Temple Grandin, Deborah Moore\
  3. “The Way I See it:” Temple Grandin, Ph.D., Foreward Emily Gerson-Saines
  4. “The Unwritten Social Rules of Social Relationships.”  Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.

 

 

 

References

Ecoweekends. (2013, November 12). Students with Asperger’s develop social skills through interaction with horses. .  Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCNR-lroA8&t=2s

European Science Foundation. How mirror neurons allow us to learn and socialize by going through the motions in the head. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219073047.htm>.

Equine Therapy for Asperger’s Children. (Photo) (2010, May). Equine therapy for Asperger’s children. My Equine Therapy. http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2009/11/equine-therapy-for-Aspergers-children.html

Grandin, T [Maine Public] (2011, October 20). Temple Grandin on teachable moments[Video File].Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9Z5CCvGiZ4&t=1s. •

Haelle, T. (2015, July 22).Hormone linked to social difficulties with autism, early study finds levels of vasopressin associated with ‘theory of mind’ tasks in children with ASD [Web log post]. Retrieved September 2016, from https://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news- 51/early-

Sundermeyer, M. (2017, November). Learning social skills through natural and paid supports. (Presentation). Georgia Positive Behavior Supports Conference. Lawrenceville, GA.

I’m Dan (Photo). (N.D). I’m Dan.  Daniel Wendler. http://www.danielwendler.com/

Nydesjo, J.  (2018, February) (Photo) Our musical Brain. Homer Simpson brain.   Jonas Nydesjo. http://www.jonasnydesjo.com/var-musikaliska-hjarna/

Packer, A.J. (2014, November).(Photo) NEVER Land: 15 table manner taboos. Bad table Manners 5 Cat.  Alex J. Packer, PD.D.  http://www.alexjpacker.com/blog/2014/11/2/never-land-15-table-manner-taboos

study-links-hormone-to-social-skills-deficits-in-autism-701556.htmlLatham, C. (2006, October 14). The Asperger experts- AcidRayn.com.  <http://acidrayn.com/2015/11/12/short-review-of-an-asperger-experts-video/&gt;

Social intelligence and the frontal Lobes [Web log post]. Retrieved September 2016 • Laugeson, E., & Frankel, F. (2010).

Social skills for teenagers with developmental and autism spectrum disorders: The PEERS Treatment Manual. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Short review of an “Asperger Experts Video” (Photo).  Asperger Experts: Take it from Us, We’ve Lived It. 

University Of California, San Diego. “Autism Linked To Mirror Neuron Dysfunction.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050411204511.htm>

VanderPloeg, L. (Illustrator).  (N.D). Table Manners. <Book keeping.com. http://fsgbookkeeping.com/table-manners/>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Create a Game Plan during the “Taking Flight” Airport Rehearsal Tours.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, now one of the business in the world, had its third annual, “Wings for Autism” airport rehearsal tour. event on April 11, 2018.  Since volunteering my time with the “Taking Flight: Autism Airport Rehearsal Tours” on a monthly basis, I was able to provide a lot of information to families.   Not only did I provide my monthly tips and advice by speaking over a PA inside the aircraft but I educated patrons who walked up to the registration table in the atrium at the domestic terminal as well. Though these rehearsal tours continue to move forward and open lots of new doors, much work still needs to be done.  In the meantime, families can take advantage of these tips when attending the airport for the tours and when they are traveling. Likewise, airport rehearsal tours are only offered once a month but a rehearsal goes beyond just meeting with airline team members and participating volunteers.  Rather, here are some helpful pointers that families can consider during their visits to an airport with their autistic loved ones.

Me at wings for autism sign
Me at the third Wings for Autism Event

First and foremost, since families receive special passes for each airport tour, not only can they attend the session but take time to exploring the airport.  In the midst of their exploration, I encourage families to take their loved one to a gate where passengers are boarding an aircraft.  When making observations, make sure you check out a few different airlines to compare and contrast the way airlines are boarded so an autistic has an idea of what to expect.  For example, Delta airlines boards by assigned seating and rows whereas Southwest boards by a random first come first serve.

 

A second tip is that autistics cannot have any surprises when learning about a new setting.  Otherwise, the environment would become a threat where they are expecting certain stimuli to set them off due to higher levels of fear and anxiety. Say the door alarm at a concourse gate and the buzzer at a baggage claim carousel.   In correspondence with Temple Grandin, she suggested that having headsets and earplug ready and worn at the gate and baggage claim.  I highly recommend doing so during time exploring each airport so that individuals get a better idea of what to expect.  To add to the surprise sensory list would be inside the bathrooms at the airport where toilets and automatic hand dryers could contribute to the stress of the airport.  Finally, families can take this time to walk through the airport while your loved one wears their headsets.

A third recommendation entails families stopping at a favorite restaurant outside of the airport and purchasing a bag full of their loved one’s choice.  From there, families can take their orders to a rehearsal tour and bring them while boarding an aircraft and have their loved one eat on a carrier.   Yet, if families didn’t bring food through security, I recommend finding an eatery such as McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A and form a habit of taking that food to a nearby gate where an autistic can observe how each boarding process works.

Delta Flight Crews
Team Delta members at the end of a Taking Flight Rehearsal Tour at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

 

Fourth, while at each gate, families can get a better idea of what special accommodations may be offered at each airline and airport.  Following the tour,  I recommend that caregivers and other supports speak to a customer service agent who can assist them in coming up with a game plan when it comes to boarding a plane and selecting the best seats in advance.  Families may also need to know which accommodations are offered at each airline.

Fifth,  while making observations of the boarding process, families can look up a flight beforehand  online or on overhead monitors and make note to practice traveling to that gate with their loved ones while rehearse paying attention to the time that passengers begin the boarding process, which is often 30 minutes prior.  Though not required but highly recommended, bring along laptops, mobile devices and other things that may keep a family busy watching movies.  To set examples, caregivers can get their own work done on their laptops, make phone calls while each autistic finds something that interests them.  Such examples include logging into wi-fi and watching a movie on google play, playing a game or even reading a book.  If there is a flight delay, families can practice letting the customer service agents know they are going to a quieter area but be finding someone to accommodate their needs until it’s boarding time.  At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, located in Atlanta,  a sensory-friendly room is located at Concourse F, which is just outside the international terminal.  For those who live in Atlanta and participate in the “Taking Flight” rehearsal, which includes a visit to the sensory room can practice contacting a CSA so they can practice using the room for respite from the large jostling crowds and overwhelming stimuli.   Notwithstanding, only 2 out of 22,429 airports have sensory rooms which are only 8.29% of the airport population in the US.   At this point, finding a backup plan in a quiet area with fidgets, play-do, and items that block out major sensory issues can help decrease stress levels.  For example, Hartsfield Jackson has a transportation mall which not only provides an electric train but tunnels with art and moving walkways.   After each tour, I often prefer to walk through this area versus taking the train is that most can get crowded along with enjoying the art which is mounted in each well-lit tunnel.

Plane taking off

Sixth, while at the airport, families should find a gate where they can help their child observe a carrier being taxied, taking off and landing.  That way,  individuals will know what to expect when they fly for the first time.   Meanwhile, have lunch or a snack available all the while encouraging the individual to watch the process of a plane becoming airborne and showing them pictures of possible destinations such as Walt Disney World or pictures of Characters and landmarks related to Disney World.

A seventh and final recommendation, which was also suggested to me by Dr. Grandin which includes a video that shows passengers being patted down by TSA officers which can be shared with autistics. Once these videos are seen, families can practice patting down their loved ones.   One way to do that is to find an area inside the airport, past a checkpoint where caregivers can take content of officers patting down a few passengers and put them on their computers and televisions to show their loved ones and show it to them to a few times so each autistic will know they will be touched.  From there, families can practice patting the individual down so they know what to expect upon arrival at the airport.

In closing, I hope that you will find this blog helpful for families planning on attending an airport rehearsal tour. To do so, one can contact their local autism program providers or local airport and find out through the airport’s customer service or ADA coordinators to find out more information.

 

 

 

Why Support Autism Speaks?

(Cover Photo: Autism Walk 2016)

Within the last decade, the organization, otherwise known as, “Autism Speaks” has sought to “Cure Autism.”  In return,  a large portion of individuals living on the autistic spectrum have pushed back and joined the “Autistic Self-Advocacy Network(ASAN).  Numberless autistics have come away with the feeling that Autism Speaks looks at the autistic population as broken and diseased.  Reacting, huge masses of self-advocates have protested events such as walks, posters and even turn having nothing to do with the color blue.   Others have formed the organization, “Red Instead” which is working to provide alternatives to ABA and other popular therapies.  While I agree that we can’t cure autism and find a way to make a person fit into the norms of society,   there are other reasons why I support such an organization.

 

Why Autism Speaks
Pictured: Temple Grandin and me at one of her keynotes in Atlanta: Facebook Profile Autism Speaks Frame

First, being that I am a leader in the autistic community right here in Georgia, I feel that the logical thing to would be to work with everyone.   Yes, I may disagree with the “Cure Autism” attitude and clash with the current vaccination theories,  but I cannot simply avoid running into opportunities related to autism and not avoid this organization altogether.   By the same token, I feel that it’s my job to educate professionals who work for autism speaks that autism isn’t a disease and that we have to push for acceptance and inclusion among communities worldwide.    Despite my actions in proceedings to help, Autism Speaks, I realize that not every professional and family will adopt my philosophy.   Rather, I recognized that this educating will not change people’s minds overnight.  Still, I can give a push by laying the groundwork that these professionals and families may greatly benefit from later.

A second reason why I support Autism Speaks is due to the high volume of families members and people in local communities who are currently very heavily involved with them.  Being that I am a leader, having a series of blogs and working for Georgia State University,  I feel that getting to know the families and various organization individually is key.   For example, there might be a family who is looking to get their child diagnosed and might not know where to go for help.  Others might want to know about airport rehearsals and how they can sign up to take a tour and spread the word to other families.  Say, to support groups designed for parents and guardians.   By the same token, Autism Speaks offers a guest blog WordPress series called, “In Our Own Words” which bloggers on the spectrum can promote themselves.  Although some autistics would look at this as a form of “Tokenism,” I see the opportunity as the “Glass half full.”   In my case, I find that this opportunity will only open up doors for me to get the word out about my blogs.

 

(Pictured above: Delta Flight Crew from “Taking Flight Program” works with Autism Speaks to raise acceptance at airports and planes.

 

A third reason why I support is through the organization is not perfect, I have seen a ray of hope.  Rather than seeing, “Cure Autism” I have witnessed a gradual change in their views on autism.   For instance, in their new page, “Share Your Story Mosaic,”   the message says, “Help Increase Understanding and Acceptance of People with Autism,” which went live on April 1, 2018.  Specifically, self-advocates, family members and people in the community can share 500 character stories and photos relating to their own personal stories.   What’s more is that each individual can share videos on youtube. In responding, I sent three photos and two videos from my youtube channel series, “Hello World with Miyah.”    Being that I am fighting for inclusion and acceptance, another self-advocate felt that I needed to share my story with autism speaks.

A fourth and final reason for supporting Autism Speaks is attending the walks and for a very different motivation. In this case, I attend those walk to serve a different purpose. The first being is that I have no problem participating in a walk for autism particularly due to the feeling that the walk could raise money for essential programs like grants so that families can get things like evaluations and other services.  Other funds could be raised to fund programs like the airport rehearsal tours so that my desires can be put into motion.  A second reason why I wish to attend is that these walks often lack the knowledge of sensory research and have overstimulating events like concerts and other sudden noises such as popping balloons that can set off a panic attack.   Rather, I feel that the walk should be in a park with silver balloons and a silent concert where attendees would listen to recorded music by supporting artists.  During the interval, autistics could either walk with their family or go to a designated sensory friendly area with weighted blankets and other touch-friendly items.  Finally, the walks could have their booths and vendors set up while the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing.

 

Though I have gotten resistance from other autistics, I realize that I cannot please everyone despite their views on the organization and anyone who supports them.  While I could join in and join the boycott, I feel that it’s better to work with the organization as a whole to find a healthy solution that everyone can adopt.

 

Links below:

Autism Speaks Mosaic

http://autismmosaic.org/?key=M3228656-1