Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Help Selecting Appropriate Toys for Your Child with Special Needs

At Ableplay, readers will find an independent toy rating system that provides information on toys for children with special needs so parents, special educators, therapists and others can make the best choices for the children in their lives with disabilities. Developed by the National Lekotek Center, the leading nonprofit authority on play for children with disabilities, AblePlay will provide parents, and the professionals who work with them, access to the most useful, product-specific information about the top play and learning products and toys for children with disabilities.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spectrums: Sexuality and ASDs (Kate Altman, M.S.)

One of the (many) neglected areas in ASD research and literature is the subject of sexuality and adolescence. Topics like puberty, sexuality, and related social development, can be difficult for any teen and their parents, but may be particularly confusing and overwhelming for families with teens on the spectrum. These areas are broad—too broad for a single blog post—but it is important that therapists, parents, and even teachers of teens on the spectrum think about how to handle them.

Homosexuality and bullying have been a (sadly) hot topic in the news in recent months. We know that kids with ASDs are often no stranger to bullying and teasing, but we may not always consider that they are also thinking about and struggling with their sexual identities and feelings. Interestingly, some prominent therapists and theorists who focus on teens with ASDs (such as Tony Attwood) have noted, anecdotally, that teens on the spectrum may be even more likely than “neurotypical” teens to explore and question their sexuality. Teens with ASDs may be less likely to conform than other teens, and so may be more likely to explore and entertain non-heterosexual thoughts, feelings, and activities (there is no research evidence to support this claim, that I am aware of at this time).

One of the risks of such self-exploration is not the exploration itself, but teens with ASDs may not protect themselves enough from their peers. One young man I know who has Asperger’s Syndrome, felt that he was attracted to another young man. Therefore, he immediately changed his Facebook status to “Interested in Men”. His classmates noted the change and started asking him questions and making comments and generally referring to him as gay. Luckily, he was not bullied and did not perceive being teased. But he was surprised and confused when he was unexpectedly thrust into the role of “the gay guy” in school. He had not realized that declaring he was “Interested in Men” on his public Facebook page would pigeonhole him as gay in the eyes of his classmates, and he was not at the stage of his sexual identity development to confidently assert he was gay.

What can therapists/caretakers/parents do to help? We must initiate and keep up a running dialogue with kids with ASDs about sexuality and related issues. These areas can be confusing and awkward for teens, and, even more so, for their parents, but the dialogue is crucial. I have told parents of pre-teens: “It is not impossible that your son still has an obsession with SpongeBob AND confusing, complex feelings about his body and sexuality. In fact, it is likely.” If you need help, don’t be afraid to call for backup: seek guidance from a counselor/therapist or another trusted adult in the teen’s life.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Imagine: An Alternative Dimension (Cindy N. Ariel, Ph.D.)

I was reading John M. Ortiz's book, The Myriad Gifts of Asperger's Syndrome (2008) and enjoyed his idea of imagining an alternative dimension where: "everyone follows traffic rules; salespeople are honest; telemarketers only call based on personal requests; news is based on actual facts; politicians follow through on their stated promises; no contracts have 'small print' (this is no longer needed, since every detail is fully spelled out in plain, clear language); airline flights are never overbooked; warranties specify unambiguous facts and are consistently upheld along with their product's patent guarantees; businesses follow through on their promises and responsibilities; repair persons arrive at your home on time as scheduled; people say exactly what they think/feel without playing mind games...Workers do not call in sick unless their ill health warrants it, and do not cheat or lie to gain unfair advantages, sabotage their coworkers, or even as much as take another person's parking spot...the food we consume and the environment we live in would not be littered or contaminated with toxic chemicals and refuse because the highly sensitive people inhabiting it would be well aware of the harms of toxicity..." (pages 9-11).

Well, you get the idea. Reminds me of John Lennon (Imagine!). Also, reminds me to check my own perspective. Sometimes we do things automatically, without question, when another perspective exposes faulty logic, negative consequences, or maybe just a different way of doing things. It's why we need neurodiversity. What would we do without people who challenge our ways of thinking and offer clearer ideas and solutions?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sensory Perspectives (by Kate Altman, M.S.)

Yesterday while I was driving around, running errands, I heard a short piece on NPR about a 73 year-old artist. She's a painter and sculpture known for working in vivid colors and textures. And she is blind and deaf. As she described how she "sees" the world (not in darkness, as people often assume, but a constant swirl of colors and images), I reflected on what it must be like to go through this life with a very different perspective from my own.

One of the wonderful things about working as a therapist is that I get at least a taste for what the world looks like, feels like, smells like, and so on, from my patients. I particularly love working with people on the spectrum, whose sensory experiences are often so different from my own. I realize that such sensory issues can often be uncomfortable and problematic, especially with children, but they can also be exciting and interesting. I always think about a boy I observed in his classroom while I was working with another child. His teachers often expressed sadness for the boy, who was nonverbal and did not appear particularly connected to the other children. But as I would watch him stroke the bumpy cinderblock walls of his classroom, raptly gaze at sunlight streaming through a window, run his fingertips over the smooth faux wood of his desktop, I could easily imagine that he was content and even constantly intrigued by the mundane classroom that no one else much noticed. Of course, I have no right to make any assumptions about what this boy was thinking or feeling, but the serene look on his face made me wish I could, at least for a moment, experience the world through his perspective. These days, we often talk about "mindfulness" as a way to manage stress and anxiety and increase our enjoyment of life. I would venture to guess that this boy lived in a naturally mindful state full of rich sensory experiences that many of us diminish or ignore. His life certainly is not easy and we can only speculate about what he thinks, but, like the blind and deaf artist, he experiences our world in a special and powerful way.