As a therapist working with children with Asperger’s syndrome, I find it most helpful to begin teaching social skills with an explanation of what I will be helping them do in our sessions together. A child with Asperger’s is usually average to very smart in the areas of facts and black-and-white rules. Unfortunately, people smarts has to do with recognizing and understanding emotions, which are much more hard to pin down. And so, I explain, I will be working to help them increase their people smarts.
By the way, emotional intelligence is a hot topic in business circles as well. And we find that children with Asperger’s are not the only group of people that need help in this area: we all need it, young and old! It’s just that emotions too often just make no sense to children and adults with Asperger’s. I am currently reading through an excellent learning and teaching tool called Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders, byDr. Jeanette McAfee. I use a lot of the material from this book when I am teaching children with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and I’d like to share some practical tips you can apply immediately to increase yours and your child’s emotional intelligence.
The broad idea here is that recognizing and coping with one’s own emotions is the foundation of emotional intelligence. The very first step I want to introduce to you is to be able to identify and label your own emotions, starting with the simple emotion of happiness. The first thing that both you and your child can do is to create a scrapbook (you can also call this a “Pleasures Book”) by collecting and entering into the book the following:
- diary entries
of events of things that make you and your child happy. These items could include written descriptions of happy events, to the box label of a favorite game, photos of a special friend, or lyrics of a special song.
Assignment: Create a scrapbook or even an online website (I have used weebly.com to create free websites) dedicated to emotions. Your first step is to create a book of Pleasures, or a book of Happiness, and include all the items listed above. Get creative. Do this exercise together as a family, or one on one with your child who has Asperger’s. This is a fun way to get the basics down of identifying emotions, especially positive ones, to begin with.
Categories: Social Solutions Tags: aspergers children, children with aspergers, parenting children with aspergers, parenting my aspergers child, social skills for Aspergers, teaching children with autism
While reading about some of the social challenges that young people with Aspergers face, I came across a letter written by a young man in a private high school. He wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper. He realized that he was different from his peers, and he was embarrassed that he had no girlfriend.
“I feel so miserable that I want to sit down and cry. I have considered using alcohol and amphetamines to overcome my shyness but the first makes me sick and the other is a Class B substance. My thoughts are often violent, resentful and increasingly suicidal.
Is there anything else I can do? I don’t think I can live my life like this: no social satisfaction and no prospect of happiness or starting a family.”
This young man’s cry for help is speaks for thousands of young people across the nation and across the world. Professor Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist in England, provided some very helpful strategies to help this young man turn things around. I would like to share some of them with you.
- Define yourself in terms of your thoughts, feelings, strengths, and beliefs, rather than by your diagnosis. In other words, realize that young people everywhere, with and without the diagnosis of Aspergers, struggle with making social connections. Yes, it will be more of a challenge to young people with diagnoses of Autism and Aspergers, but there are solutions available.
- Seek out help in the form of professional counseling, if and when your discouragement over your social difficulties leads to depression or anxiety, as with the example of the young man at the outset of this post. You need to have constructive ways to think about your challenges, as well as specific social strategies and ways to manage your emotions. All of this can be obtained with a collaborative partnership with a skilled therapist who is well acquainted with Aspergers syndrome. Patricia Robinson is one example of many compassionate and competent therapists and coaches who increasingly offer specific help and tips both in person and online, to young people and adults with Aspergers. She writes a blogs tailored to both children and adults.
- Your social skill challenges are likely to be around communication; inflexibility of thought and behavior; difficulties with relationships and empathy; and discomfort with eye and body contact. Here are some suggestions and resources offered by Dr. Byron: Socialeyes: Exploring the Social World with People on the Autism Spectrum. This resource is a program that can help young people with Aspergers acquire skills such as how to start and carry on a conversation, as well as maintain eye contact. In the course of watching the teaching and the DVD’s, you can start to re-train your brain to think in ways that will help you relate to others.
- Dr. Byron also recommends two very useful books that you should obtain, read, and study. The first resource, by Dr. Jed Baker, is called Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communications Problems. This workbook contains a wealth of information for you, if you are diagnosed with Aspergers, and for those who are working with you, such as a coach or a therapist. The second great resource is called The Asperger Love Guide: A Practical Guide for Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome to Seeking, Establishing and Maintaining Successful Relationships (Lucky Duck Books), written by Genevieve Edmonds and Dean Worton.
In my next post, I will include more resources, tips, and solutions to help you bridge the seeming divide between yourself and meaningful friendships. Until then, I do hope that you will check out these resources and apply them!
For the answer to this question, I turned to some information from Tony Attwood, a renowned expert psychologist in the area of Asperger’s syndrome. “The answer is a resounding ‘Yes.’” according to Dr. Attwood. After many years of clinical experience, he has found that explaining the diagnosis to the child with Aspewrger’s syndrome is extremely important.
By giving the child an accurate picture of Aspeger’s syndrome, you will be helping prevent inappropriate coping mechanisms (which may include reactive depression, too much use of imagination to escape reality, aggression/acting out, denial).
Dr. Attwood describes an exercise he goes through with the Asperger’s child and his/her parents. It’s called the Attribution Exercise. Picture a large whiteboard, or piece of paper. The therapist takes out this whiteboard or piece of paper, and divides it into two columns. One column is called “Qualities.” The other column is called “Difficulties.”
There can be a different large piece of paper for different members of the family. First, the mother or father can fill out their own piece of paper, identifying his/her own qualities and difficulties.
Qualities may include the following:
- practical abilities
- how this particular person expresses and manages their feelings
Difficulties can include any areas of growth/deficiences (for example, this writer struggles with ‘handyman’ skills, and with organizational skills: just ask his wife).
After the mother/father has done his/her turn, the child with aspergers can then do the exercise, with some support and encouragement from the parent. The therapist can comment on the child’s qualities and difficulties, finding areas of commonality with the diagnostic criteria for Aspergers Syndrome. Then, s/he can explain that scientists study different patterns in behavior, and when they find those patterns, they give the pattern a name. The therapist can then explain that, over 60 years ago, a doctor in Vienna, Dr. Hans Asperger, studied children with similar characteristics, and published the first clinical description that has come to be known as Asperger’s syndrome.
Next, the therapist, and you, can congratulate your child on having Asperger’s syndrome. Explain that they have strengths and talents (e.g., extensive knowledge about certain subjects, ability to draw with photographic realism, attention to detail, talents in mathematics or writing) , but that they also have a different way of thinking.
Next, I like to talk to kids and their parents, helping them understand that they have a lot of mental ’smarts’ (intelligence), but that it is equally important to learn “people smarts.” This is an opportunity to discuss emotional intelligence. I then frame myself as a coach, and talk to them about coming to coaching to learn people smarts to help them manage their emotions and make friends.
How about you? What has been your experience as a parent, teacher, or professional? Are there any topics or suggestions that I left out? I welcome your suggestions and feedback.