Monday, September 27, 2010

The effects of restraint

As I've been writing my support blogs, I've found some areas get repeated. Those are often worth repeating and additional insight. They're worth keeping up front in our minds as reminders of their importance. Kind of like bullying or Halloween safety. Today it's about the use of restraint in meltdowns or other behavior.

First, I want to remind everyone that the proper use of restraint is more than just how a child is held or how restraint is used safely. It's also about when restraint even should be used. Restraint is a last resort only for physical protection of the child and others around him or her. The importance of this cannot be emphasized enough. The first line of defense or action should always, always, always be verbal. That's not taking extremes into account, but may prevent extremes from becoming the norm in a child.

Behaviors that do NOT require restraint would include; breaking a pencil, ripping a piece of paper, stomping feet or being verbally defiant. For that matter general defiance should never be responded to with restraint. Restraint must never become a disciplinary tool. That defeats it's purpose, which is only to protect.

Behaviors that should involve restraint are; head hitting, attempting to stab self or others with a pencil, flailing fits that could harm others or the child, violence that is a direct and fully recognizable threat. Not just tossing a book across the room either.

A singular act of defiance, like throwing a book or pencil, is not an action where restraint is required. If they start throwing everything, which makes it a repetitive action that doesn't stop with verbal or softer approach, that could be a restraint worthy situation.

I want to touch base on an important effect of restraint and it's a significant drawback, even to proper use. One effect I've found in research and reading is that restraint always makes the situation worse before it gets better. Why is that? I think you will find that most of our children on the spectrum are very sensitive to their personal space and anything that touches them. Things that touch or invade space without consent or by surprise can get some interesting and negative reactions. The action of being restrained, not only invades personal space, but adds to already overloaded sensory issues.

This isn't to say, "don't ever restrain", rather to keep this effect in mind if you are going to apply restraint to a situation. The child in the situation will feel worse and act out more before they calm down. That is a natural reaction to such intense sensory trauma. Yes, I said "trauma". Too much restraint, or misuse of restraint can be severely traumatizing. Sensory overload is already like that by itself. Sensory overload and stress overload are like your senses having a seizure event. Have you ever known anyone to have a non-traumatic seizure?

Because of this, the after effect is generally an exhausted person or child. It takes a lot out of you to have your body whip into high gear and hold like that for any amount to time, especially several minutes to as long as 45 minutes. Just 3-5 minutes feels like an eternity. I haven't seen a child go through a 45 minute meltdown, but I've heard of it. I can only imagine that child being out of action for the rest of the day.

So restraint, at first, will momentarily increase all effects of what the child is suffering that makes restraint necessary in the first place.

Now consider what it's like to anticipate being restrained. How would you feel, if you went into class with the conscious thought that you may be held down on the floor today? How would you feel if that was your thought every day? How would you fare if you already had an emotional disorder and that was stressing you out every day? That can be the effect of improper restraint and restraint used as a punishment. That added stress, makes it more difficult for a child to "behave" than without. That child already has a stressor in place that they cannot control and pushes them towards their personal limits of daily stress. This is more than simply learning to behave because of consequences of our actions. This is in excess of anything normal.

When my son throws a toy, I take it away. That's a natural consequence. I do not pin him to the floor. That would not be a natural consequence. Not anywhere in life.

My son has, years ago, had fits where he would bite himself or head bang. In those instances, where verbal failed to redirect him, I did scoop him up and hold him to stop it. He would escalate because that was the natural body reaction, but then, in time, calm down. I still remember the time around being 3 when he looked up at me and wanted to know why he couldn't stop. He recognized there was a problem, even at 3. Kids know and remember. We would do well to remember that ourselves.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dealing with frustration and emotions

Emotions can be intense issues for those on the spectrum. Just because we don't always show emotions doesn't mean we don't have to cope with them. High stress emotions are the hardest, especially if dealing with breaks in routine or unexpected events.

Frustrations need early coaching and support work. Learning how to stop and take a few deep breaths and think about our next actions can be a challenge.

For example, a child is playing with toys but time for the school bus is coming up in fifteen minutes. Even forewarning can trigger a negative response. When that happens with my son, what ever he throws a fit over gets put away immediately. With some things, if he's cooperative, it can stay out until he gets home from school. He knows this and most days it works well with him.

Mostly the trigger is that change in events and interruption to what he's currently doing. It means switching tracks and that takes daily practice. I have been known to interrupt what he's doing in checking on him, just to give him that practice. It's going to happen a lot in life, especially at school or later in life in jobs and social interaction.

Recognizing when an emotion is overpowering is important too. It's okay to take a break and remove yourself from a situation when feeling overwhelmed. I employ this practice with my son as well. Signs that he is overwhelmed and needs a break are things like swinging his fist, hitting furniture, throwing a toy, shrieking, or clawing/biting himself.

I discuss with him that when he feels the impulse to do these things is when to take a break or stop and take a few deep breaths before doing anything else. He knows that it's not okay to hurt himself and that throwing things or swinging his fist could hurt someone else. Even so, this takes lots and lots of practice. There is no fast fix for these feelings or behaviors. Even with medications, my son still needs this practice. It is the coming years and crucial areas of school like Jr High, that I hope for this practice to pay off. Other support areas will be less for him at that time. So it's important to have behavioral practices in now.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Picture day

Well, today is picture day at school. What that means for us is dressing up and looking nice, but that's not all. It means extra care in our morning routine to make him presentable.

As it is, I don't even brush his hair until minutes before we walk out for the bus. That's because it has a better chance of staying that way. If I brush it early, he rubs his head on the floor or wraps in a blanket for play time and it's completely undone.

Then there's coaching that needs to be done before he goes. I tell him exactly what will be expected and that he needs to be cooperative for pictures and the photographer. Fortunately, he loves having his picture taken in general. So hopefully that means he will be eager when the time comes.

He didn't want to put on his nice clothes today, at first. He usually picks his clothes is why and that changed routine for him. He likes having his choice of clothes. Breakfast isn't usually messy, but it's a risk. The biggest mess risk is taking his vitamins.

He doesn't like to chew his vitamins without a mouthful of milk. That creates mess possibilities galore. I try to get him to just chew and swallow but there must be a texture issue with the gummi vitamins. Yes, we have tried all sorts of vitamins and he doesn't like the texture of any of them. These are the only ones I can get him to take at all. And he needs them because his little body is hyperactive in more than just behavior. It goes through sustenance and vitamins just as fast.

But all that is done now for this morning and he's not torn to shreds. His clothes aren't wadded and soon I'll help him brush his hair. Looks like we'll have a good picture day after all. Please feel free to leave comments about your morning challenges and share your own experiences.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Staying in the lines

One thing that seems to plague people with Asperger's (according to some reports and my own experiences) is handwriting. Handwriting involves use of coordination and spatial skills that we can have difficulties with. Currently we are working with my son on his issues.

When he writes his name on a piece of paper, he has trouble defining it inside the lines. It comes out large and multiple words wind up overlapping. He finds this frustrating as it's not intentional. It's a natural difficulty with his condition.

The only real cure is practice. Practice at slowing down to apply skills to paper. Occupational therapy can also help and he does work with an OT. He told me this morning that someone in class told him about lines in a way that's helping him. He couldn't explain past that, but we'll take what we can get.

My own handwriting is horrendous. What's funny is that I'm an artist and I like to draw fantasy creatures and super heroes. I can do a fair job if I put enough time into it. So what's the deal with my handwriting? I have to slow down. Even then, my hand has lost some of its steadiness in time. My drawings have suffered as well as my handwriting.

Some good ways to help your child include working with teachers and getting large print practice workbooks for home. Start with a single line and practice keeping it between two other lines. As he gets comfortable with this you can add lines or letters to practice with. Even so, our natural impulsiveness makes us want to go faster than what our hands can do.

Most importantly, it is controllable and correctable with time, patience and practice. That doesn't mean he will develop beautiful handwriting, but it can get better.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How important is play?

As I said in my last two blog posts, playtime and games can be and are very good for social learning and development. But just how important is play? A local friend of mine who runs the Gameboard here in Sheboygan, has been collecting a great deal of data and shared it with me. I found these links very interesting and I'm sure you will too.

Carnegie Mellon University: (click the name) In 2007 they conducted a study of children playing games and the effect on their education. A quote from the abstract: Theoretical analyses of the development of numerical representations suggest that
playing linear number board games should enhance young children’s numerical knowledge. Consistent with this prediction, playing such a game for roughly one hour increased low-income preschoolers’ (mean age 5.4 years) proficiency on four diverse numerical tasks: numerical magnitude comparison, number line estimation, counting, and numeral identification. The gains remained nine weeks later. Classmates who played an identical game, except for the squares varying in color rather than number, did not improve on any measure. Also as predicted, home experience playing number board games correlated positively with numerical knowledge. Thus,
playing number board games with children from low-income backgrounds may increase their numerical knowledge at the outset of school.

They found that practicing number games did increase mathematical progress of the students.

The Board Game Studies Association: They devote themselves to the study of board games throughout the world. Check out their site by clicking on the name.

Games for Educators: Has helpful articles on the importance of games in the classroom and elsewhere. The site really speaks for itself with in depth information, game finders, and a forum. To really learn the impact of games and their importance, browse this site!

Dr. Stuart Brown: Tells us in the video on the link about how play affects psychology. A very interesting and informative video.

With respect to my friend, I still haven't gotten through all the information she gave me. But I wanted to get this out here because it's important and supportive information to the use of games. For great places to find games be sure to check out the blog I wrote just before this one!

Photo: My son and one of his cardboard cities. How do you think organized game play works for him?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Where to get great games

As a follow up to my last blog about games helping with social skills, I want to touch base on where to get some great games. I want to challenge you also, to expand your horizons and imagination.

To find games, it's true you can go to Walmart, Target or Shopko, but I want you to try another route. In doing this, you will find a selection of games not available at the giant department stores. You will find new games and well worth your time for about the same amount of money.

I want you to check out the local hobby game store. You can find them in your area in the yellow pages under "collectibles", "games" or even "toys" or "comics". In my area there is a store called The Gameboard that sells a wide array of board games to include many educational types.

These are the small business shops and family owned places that you might not know are there. Maybe you've seen them and always meant to check them out? Well, I'm telling you, you should. As I said above, they have access to games the other places done. Educational and imaginative ways of play you haven't considered. Let me give you the names of just a few of these games:

Flip 4 by Mindware games combines strategy and math in an easy to learn format. Click on Mindware for the website.

Yamslam by Blue Orange Games is a dice strategy game with chips, check out the site!

Amuse Amaze by HL Games is a spelling word game that takes you through, yes, a maze. Check it out.

Word on the Street by Out of the Box games (who also makes Apples to Apples) is a word game that you can kind of play tug of war with (verbally).

Zooloretto by Rio Grande Games is about building a zoo and attracting the most visitors.

7 Ate 9 by Out of the Box Games is a card game of math skill.

Other companies to look up are Days of Wonder, Educational Insight, Playroom Entertainment, and Game Wright.

Don't have a hobby store near you? You can order online too. Check out fairs and conventions. Don't limit yourself. And yes, I am saying to support your local hobby and game store.

In my next posting I will be talking about just how important play is to our kids. You won't want to miss it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Social gaming builds social skills

As an avid gamer with a vast personal library, I know the benefits of playing games with friends. Social games help to build social interaction skills in our kids. As you can probably tell, that could be very helpful for our kids on the autism spectrum.

Autism carries a delay in development of social skills that can become permanent impairments if not supported early. Some impairments will always be there, but many can be learned around with practice in social skills. One fun way to practice? You guessed it, social games.

Card games, board games, any that cause you to be face to face, interacting with another human being have great social value. They require interaction to play and stimulate conversation. There is a wide variety of great games out there for all ages. Varieties allow you to find game types that work best for your child. Educational games can be pointed out or suggested by your child's teacher or counselor if you need input.

I'm going to suggest one in particular that my son and I collect together. It gives us great Father/son time as we compare pieces that we collect and build teams and armies to pit against each other in competition. The game is called Heroclix. It's a tabletop game played on a map with small figurines of comic book characters. Surely you've heard of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and the X-men? At least from the movies, no doubt. Figures come in booster packs with five randomly assorted pieces in each. It's always a surprise what you will get and rare figures have value. A booster pack isn't cheap though at around 11 dollars each. The benefits of this game other than a fun time? Sportsmanship, map reading skills, math, and strategy all go hand in hand with the social skills and communication skills that you use in play. Playing Heroclix in 2nd grade really boosted my son's math skills. Now he plays mock battles between good guys and bad guys on his own, rolling dice and adding numbers, comparing numbers, etc. No scratch paper. It's all mental math at two digit numbers that I've never seen go higher than 26 in standard play. You can buy Heroclix online or at local hobby and game stores. Many comic book shops carry it too.

Other great games include Ticket to Ride (building railways in the historic 1800s), Apples to Apples (word game), and there's always the classics like Scrabble, Boggle, Sorry, and Yahtzee. Sorry is a great game for teaching good sportsmanship. You have to learn to accept that the game sends you back to start a lot. How to accept losing and winning gracefully with good manners; all great social skills and important for growing up.

Involve your child in social games. Start a game night or gaming club with school friends or family (or both!). Definitely check out Heroclix (yeah I'm biased). I think there should be more Heroclix players, what can I say?

(Photo is of a custom figure I made combining Superman with the Silver Surfer- not available in booster packs)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Risks of advocacy

My purpose in advocacy is to inform and assist families and people in finding helpful information. I want the general public to simply know and understand more about autism. In doing this, I discovered those who victimize people on the spectrum and their families. I decided that people need to be informed on them as well. Even in that, you have to be careful who you get involved with. Especially who you get involved with on the internet. You have to be careful who you trust. And sharing information on people who may rip you off will make you some enemies. Those people don't like being exposed.

Seeing the depths that such people will go to when they claim to be advocates themselves, has been a real learning experience for me. It's shown me where I need to have a thicker skin to shrug them off. When you are autistic yourself, that's not always so easy. You can get hung up on the injustice of it all and it can get under your skin. But it really is amazing what these people will spend their time on when they could be educating on autism themselves. So this blog is dedicated to all of those advocates who struggle to do the right thing in spite of these behaviors from haters. Also to those of you who want to be an advocate.

Because some people take being an advocate and turn it into the chasing of the spotlight. They think it's supposed to be how they become famous and anyone else who gets any attention besides them is an enemy. It may be anything from jealousy to serious mental illness that drives them. They will go out of their way, spend months of time and even money to do low and terrible things. In short, they resort to internet bullying. At that point, they are not advocates any more and stand for nothing good what so ever. They only care about themselves. Some are full of audacity and false authority at the same time and will try to make you answer to them as if they are some special court. That's different from simply informing on your personal experiences or someone asking for your money and the things they are doing recently (compared to umpteen years ago).

I've already talked about these people in my blogs and anyone who has been following my writing knows the details in and out. My point is that, if you want to be an advocate, you may face people like this and there's more than what I've even posted.

You may, for example, stand up for someone and their rights. You may be supportive to that person and even a friend. That person may turn out to be one of the fame seekers who will turn on you and stab you in the back. When you see those true colors emerge, the best thing you can do is walk away. And that won't feel good. And sometimes, that won't be enough to stop that person. They may go to lengths of posting comments about you under pseudo identities all over the internet. They may follow your blogs and stalk on them just as badly as the pseudo authoritarian.

The reality is that they feel you somehow threaten their success. They want you to fail. What you need to understand and keep in mind about them is this: They are the ones who will ultimately fail. They are on a course of self destruction. You have to keep that in mind and not let that stop you from helping someone else. Don't let them push you down for any reason. Your work will show what you are really about to anyone with any cognitive thinking ability. The same goes for your reasons for doing that work. It will show for anyone who wants to give you a fair chance to be known.

Another risk is the people you defend and their enemies. People who are discriminating or attacking someone you are trying to help, will turn on you as well. It comes with the territory. You must keep in mind that these people have a mob/pack mentality and will act like animals of the same. You cannot educate them and they often have their own agendas. Some, because they think they are better than everyone else when they're just a bunch of dangerous fanatics. They will resort to stalking just like the others and other immature and sometimes frightening behavior.

They will twist your words and post partial quotes from you in manners that completely alter your context. They will post web pages dedicated to you with inappropriate photos, slurs, slander, libel and any other insulting insinuations they can invent. Some of the really sly ones will skirt just short of the laws that would have them prosecuted. Why? Because their true intent is to do harm. Anyone who gets in their way is a target for their rage. They're selfish and psychologically imbalanced. Be prepared.

Now, remember this: Words on a screen, photos posted on a website, insinuations and insults, cannot kill you. They are stressful and they are wrong, but you can brush them off. I have recently had to learn this the hard way myself. You can seek legal action, but under most circumstances, it will be very expensive. You have to balance what it is really worth to you and what that person can really do to you. Even if they take something deep in your past and splatter it like fecal matter all over the internet, calling you a criminal and trying to make it look like you're a total low life, it can only hurt you with people who aren't fair enough to look at the whole situation or the person you are today. There are points where you can report them to the authorities and there are laws regarding misuse of public information that you can report as well. Past that, you have to carry on and not let them stop you.

For example, many of you know that I have a group of stalkers following along and reading my blog. They will read this posting too. They take snippets of what I say and post them with insinuations, accusations and exaggerations for no other purpose than to try and hurt me. They want me to look bad. They want to do damage. But, thanks to the overwhelming number of supportive messages I have received, I have learned something. A few things actually:

1: They cannot hurt me. All they have shown the power to do is alter the light and image of things to try and make them look like something more than what they are, or blatantly what they are not. At this point, the more they do this, the worse they look themselves.

2: They cannot STOP me. Nope. I'll click publish post on this blog and it'll post just like the rest and I'll do the same for the next one and the next one. I have a long history of helping others and will continue to do so no matter what they do. And, as stated above, my work will stand on it's own.

3: They're helping me. Surprised? Consider this: my stalkers continuously post my name in taglines and the subject matter of their blogs. Any reasonable person who reads their work about me is likely to come and look because they simply want to see for themselves. I know this, because people actually found me by googling my name after reading that work. Those persons are some of who sent those supportive messages after reading what they found. So, in the end, I got free marketing out of it. Not that I'm seeking fame, my purpose is stated way above, but even negative publicity is still publicity. So, the more my name is posted, the more it can actually be found. The more my name is posted, the larger my internet presence becomes. And that's despite the negative intentions.

So, if you are considering becoming and advocate, take all these things into consideration. And please, become an advocate for the right reason. Helping others is what it's about.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Advocates Against Fraud in Advocacy

I'm writing this because I want you to know about AAFA and my position with them. I like to be clear and provide information where I can for all who may just want to know.

First of all, what is AAFA? Well, you can see the website and explanation HERE.

If you read the explanation on the page, it's pretty straightforward. The idea is to try to help protect families from being taken advantage of. Families desperate to help their kids get scammed by people claiming to be advocates. It's a devastating blow to an already bleak situation. The family winds up losing money and they have nothing to show for it except financial damages on top of the situation with their child or family member in need of support. Our goal is to create a place you can go to, to ask about that advocate and have extra eyes and thoughts on what you should do.

At this point, it's important to point out that (while I have law enforcement background), we are NOT law enforcement. We are not going to arrest or convict anyone. If we see that a crime may be in process, we report to the proper authorities, just like anyone should.

I have seen some questions come up about AAFA and I'd like to answer them here.

Are we qualified?: All of us have background and ability in researching. The important thing to know here is that the information we research is already public information. Anyone can look it up, but most don't know how. There are no legal qualifications, diplomas or licenses required to look up public information. We do what anyone should do before giving money to anyone. Best of all, we don't charge any fees.

Who do we go after?: First of all, that's not a very good term. We investigate and research. We don't just do that on anyone who comes along. The idea is that you can come to us with questions about an advocate who's asking you for money and we can research that advocate. We don't "go after" people because we "don't like them". We do research because of concerns brought to us by people like you. Then we report on what we find and all of what we find. That way you can see everything in the exact context we find it in.

What do we look for?: News reports, wild claims that turn out to be false, public accessed legal documentation. We basically look to see that the person is who and what they claim they are. We look for up to date and current information that will help you decide if you should give this person your hard earned money. Examples:

-Current criminal history: if the person just got out of prison last week from embezzlement charges or currently faces charges, you should know it.

-Claims of Grandeur: To inspire confidence some may make brash claims about themselves that aren't true. Some can be verified easily (and when they can't it's a red flag). Such as claiming to be an official NASCAR race car driver or DC Lobbyist. DC Lobbyists are all registered on a public access list. We had someone make this claim but couldn't be found on ANY list.

-Multiple Reports of Concern: How many people come forward on their experiences is important to note. If 10s to 20s to even 100s of people are saying they've been scammed by this person, you shouldn't give them your money.

-And how does this person react to us?: If they react by stalking and smearing measures, it says we're on the right track. We'll report on those as well. We've had some of these measures include attacking our religious beliefs, disability status, or education. We've even had web pages dedicated to us in obscene fashion. Does attacking any of that sound like an advocate to you?

In the past I've reported on my personal experiences with people who call themselves everything from and advocate to an organization. Because these people openly ask for donations or fees, reporting on them and experiences with them is little different than sharing experiences with any business. You know, like writing a business review. Let's say you're looking for a mechanic to fix your car. In looking around, you find one but you're pretty savvy and look for reviews. You find out that he's been in the news for being sued a few times and has lots of complaints against his work. Are you going to him? I doubt it. And everyone who had the experience has every right to report on it. Now, if he starts stalking people who report on him and putting up posters about their personal lives (maybe stuff he dug up from 30 years ago in someone's grade school), AND tries to say that's the same thing as done with him... what do you think of him then? Yes, that means there are risks, but we take them, so you don't have to.

We are very open to questions about what we do and we certainly don't think of ourselves as higher or better than anyone else. We simply want to help protect families from scams and false advocacy. If you have any concerns or would like our help, contact us through the website at the link above.

And what's my position? I'm an adviser on the board for AAFA. I do help in the researching and some decision making processes.

You can see another blog from board member, Amy Caraballo HERE.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My law enforcement background

Questions have been posed about my status having been a law enforcement officer with Animal Control. Some are questions of folks who just want to know for specifications and others are people who disregard the enforcement of "dog catcher law" as something less than notable. Well, here are the specifics for all who wonder or want to know.

First of all, these laws are not enforced in the same uniform manner across the country. Enforcement of these laws is still very much in a developing and pioneering stage. In Lincoln, Nebraska it is enforced by what the City and County Attorney's office recognizes as "law enforcement".

In a city of around 250,000 people there are a lot of animal issues. Too many for the police department to deal with alone. So they have Animal Control, a division of the Health Department. It should be noted that in most places Animal Control is part of the local animal shelter.

We enforced city ordinances (laws) regarding to animals and that is far more than just someones dog running loose down the block. Animal cruelty, hoarding, maulings and bites, and illegal animals were all part of the equation. For violations we wrote court citations (tickets) from the exact same ticket books the police department used. So when I say I was "law enforcement" I was, by legal definition of the place I worked.

Those who sneer at the field of Animal Control are generally undereducated on just what goes into doing that kind of work. The field is sadly disrespected and in need of public education. But when they are needed you can bet people are up in arms.

Some who don't like it just don't want to be bothered about their lack of containment on their dog. It's a different story though when we weren't in the neighborhood to catch their dog before the car hit it. Or they don't think we're useful until another stray mauls their child. Law enforcement has to be encompassing, it can't pick and choose.

And I wrote tickets for everything from license and rabies shot violations to cruelty. Cruelty is considered a felony in Nebraska and I even worked the hoarding case that helped make that consideration become law.

As always, open to questions.