Sometimes there is just a rule

Working with a 12yo on a writing assignment recently, we got into a discussion about word use. He wanted to use colloquialisms, contractions, and pronouns without first explaining what he was referring to. For example, the assignment was to review a TED talk and respond in a paragraph to a question posed by the teacher. The teacher referred to the speaker using his name and my student wanted to start his paragraph with a sentence along the lines of He has no flippin idea what he’s gonna do at first. While it is great that my learner had heard and understood the content of the TED talk, his rudimentary vocabulary choices were not appropriate to this audience. All new writers struggle with the transition between speaking and writing, but for many students with Autism, this transition is a mystery. In particular, if the act of using their hands to type or write is overly challenging from a motor planning perspective, tools like voice to text offer a great work around. The problem is that now the writer IS speaking the words so what on earth do we expect him to think about writing? Enter the title of this post. I have established with this learner that sometimes there are just rules about life. He does’t have to like it, but writing is not like talking. When writing we have to always assume that the reader has no prior knowledge so we have to spell out everything, even if it small. It is best to use our most sophisticated vocabulary because the words we have written are the only way this person will know who we are. And even though it adds a step/letters/work, we do not use contractions in formal academic writing. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, which I will teach him as we continue to work together but for now, he is learning to live with Sometimes there is just a rule.

Practice makes perfect

I would love to be able to coach kids all day every day but the reality is that my role has limitations. Kids are in school for much of their day and with siblings or parents for way more hours than I could ever provide. I was recently writing a behavior plan to support a middle schooler to practice peer interactions and realized, I am happy to give away the strategies that I think will be helpful to encourage this practice.

Here you go!

  1. In a structured interaction with one peer and one coach (parent or other adult provider), the coach models verbal communication that encourages sharing and positive interaction such as “I” statements and statements that express curiosity about the other person.

  2. The coach models non-verbal communication that encourages sharing and positive interaction such as thumbs up, nodding, or face gaze.

  3. The coach notices when either peer is doing well with noticing things about her peer’s communication. If possible without disrupting the interaction, point out this success to them in the moment, such as “Jane you noticed that she needed a napkin. That was really kind of you to give her one.” Do this for both partners.

  4. When the coach notices a mistake or missed opportunity for either child, state what you observed in a neutral tone. Provide time and space for the child to create a repair or alternate communication. For example, if Sue goes to the kitchen for a napkin for herself but doesn’t bring one back for anyone else, simply state, “Neither of us have a napkin.” DO NOT provide a direct cue to Sue such as “you forgot a napkin for us, please bring one.” The reason for this is that almost always, kids can follow explicit directions. What they have trouble with is reading the situation to know what they should be doing in relation to the other person. By having the coach practice pointing out what they missed, they first strengthens their own ability to notice these things and then strengthen their responses to what they notices. They create their own solutions based on their experience and are more likely to use them without needing prompting in the future.

  5. Provide structured activities that encourage collaboration such as cooking (Jane gets the ingredients while the peer reads the recipe) , creating projects (Sue holds the objects while a peer tapes them together), or creating a performance (Jane plays piano, peer sings).

  6. Document the process of collaboration through photos or brief videos.

  7. At the end of the project, the coach takes 5 or so minutes to reflect on the process with the peers. Each person says one thing that they remember/enjoyed/found interesting about the process. Discuss any discrepancies in experience to point out the different perspectives represented.

  8. 2-3 days following the structured peer interaction, review the photos or video. Point out what you noticed that they did well in terms of communication and collaboration. If they had mistakes or missed opportunities, remind them that they did but that they resolved it. This resolution is key to encoding competence in the peer interactions.

Podcast: Conversations with Synergy Autism Center

Join Barbara and Pam as they discuss the notion that children are not being bad when they exhibit a challenging behavior. Through their usual weekly dialogue, they delve deeper into one specific case that Pam brings up where a child is being characterized as choosing to engage in difficult behaviors or is “being bad”. They talk through how they support families and school teams to move past that thinking to understand that behavior is communication.

The link to listen is here:

Circle the Wagons

We all encounter stressors but our ability to be resilient from those experiences varies greatly. This resilience is impacted by past history, memory, communication, and most importantly relationships.

I have known several clients who were really struggling with stress and anxiety. In particular, middle schoolers who were working so hard all day at school to understand content, negotiate the social climate, and self-regulate, only to come home and fall apart when a parent asked them to do a seemingly small thing like throw a snack wrapper away. In coaching these families, I have suggested that they pull way back on their expectations during these times of high stress from outside factors. My argument in favor of this has been that there is only so much one human being can manage and the fact that their tween is not responding well to simple requests is a signal that they are overwhelmed. The family’s job in that moment is to lower stress where they can and increase support, even for simple things. I call this “Circling the Wagons”. This goes a long way toward showing that child that they can count on their family to be there and help them build resilience from the other stressors they are experiencing. If the child doesn’t understand that they are being supported in this way, they feel that they have no safe harbor from the intense expectations of life and it adds to feelings of incompetence and distress.

Sometimes parents worry that if they lower expectations, it will be difficult to raise them later. My experience has been that when the stress is at a manageable level, a family can reintroduce chores and other responsibilities with less overall fallout. Dr. Ross Greene talks about how kids want to do well and this is no different.

If you find yourself with a stressed out kid, consider giving a little more support for small things, a little less nagging, and increase the message of “we are a team with you.”