Social Skills: Just a Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down! by Shawn Amador

Shawn Amador, LCSW, is a school social worker who runs an after school comedy troupe, and is a part time therapist. Her new book, Teaching Social Skills Through Sketch Comedy and Improv Games, publishes this month.

 

Kids and teens with social cognitive deficits have difficulty seeing outside of themselves, which contributes back to having more social difficulty.  Due to their struggles, social skills training could possibly be a trigger or at the least, tap into insecurities.  We need to find ways to teach social skills in real time while interacting, thus also increasing ‘feel good’ brain chemicals which can increase positive feelings about interactions.

When adding theatre, improv skills, play-writing and sketch comedy to social skills training, it’s like adding spoonful of sugar to help the social skills go down!  Shawn Amador, LCSW, has created a program that adds all of these activities together, which makes “Social Theatre”™.  Participants in Shawn’s Social Theatre group therapy, say that it does not feel like therapy.  In fact, we make fun of ourselves through brainstorming socially awkward moments which we make into plays and correct with a more effective social skill  in the next scene.

In Teaching Social Skills through Sketch Comedy and Improv Games, there are activities that are adaptable to many social and intellectual levels from academically gifted, typical, to mild and moderate cognitive abilities.   Moreover, social skills sketch comedy scripts from the book can be utilized in teaching lessons or for performance.

If you would like to try some games that teach social skills, here are some popular games:

 

  • “Red Light Green Light” for Self Control
  • “Mother May I” for cognitive flexibility
  • “Yes, and” improv game for collaborative idea building
  • “Feelings Charades” for feelings recognition and expression
  • Acting out a familiar story, switching roles and acting it out again for perspectives

Inside food anxiety: Leah’s story

Inside food anxiety: Leah’s story

This article on food anxiety is by Jo Cormack, author of Helping Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food.

Have you ever looked into a child’s eyes as they contemplate the plate of food you have served, and thought to yourself “what is going on in there?” Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be a very picky eater, anxious about what challenges the next meal may bring?

Empathy is at the heart of my approach to working with picky eaters, because if we can’t put on a child’s shoes and walk around in them (as Scout puts it, in To Kill a Mockingbird…) we can’t hope to help that child. Seeing food from their perspective is essential.

This article is all about what it’s like to be a very picky eater, struggling with food anxiety. I wanted to share a child’s point of view, but with an adult’s insight and ability to articulate complex and emotionally difficult ideas. So I asked Leah (not her real name) – a parent in my facebook group for parents of picky eaters where I am co-admin – if she would mind recounting her experience of being a very picky eater as a child.

Leah told me how, until she was two or three years old, she ate pretty much everything. But then when her baby brother arrived, she explains that “in protest, I just stopped eating”. I have seen this before; sometimes big life changes can be incredibly hard for young children to process. They feel profoundly out of control and so they search frantically for something that they can control. Sometimes, this can be their eating. It’s one of the few things that a toddler can choose to do, or not do. Continue reading

Making therapeutic board games with kids

feelings

Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett, authors of Creative Ways to Help Children Manage BIG Feelings, are clinical psychologists who currently work in successful private practices in Melbourne. They each have over 15 years’ experience working with children and families. 

Spider Squash, Temper Trail, Goodbye Worry Monster, and Beat the Anger Volcano are some of the board games we’ve created to help children with emotional difficulties. Board games are a great thing to make in therapy with children. While there are a number of excellent therapeutic board games on the market, making your own allows you to personalise them to meet the needs of the child you are working with. You can incorporate their interests and reflect on their individual strengths. Children often talk much more freely when engaged in play and the process of making the game together provides the opportunity for many helpful discussions. They require few materials, can readily be taken home, and are easily adapted for use with children with a wide range of emotional issues. Perhaps most importantly though making board games is fun.

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What exactly is anxiety and why do we need it?

managing anxietyClinical psychologists Sue Knowles and Bridie Gallagher discuss what anxiety is and how, although it can sometimes feel unbearable for many people, we actually need our anxiety to make our lives work.  Their article has been adapted from their new book, My Anxiety Handbook: Getting Back on Track, which provides young people with guidance on how to recognise and manage anxiety’s difficulties.

Anxiety is what happens when our bodies think we are under threat.  It’s a feeling that most people describe as unpleasant, but the physical sensations can actually be very similar to feelings of excitement.  The difference when we’re anxious is that we also have anxious thoughts or interpret the feeling as “bad”.  Other words that are commonly used to describe feeling anxious are “nervous”, “fearful” or “worried”.

Everyone responds a little differently when they are anxious.  Some people feel anxiety mostly in their body with sensations in their stomach, chest and even sometimes their arms and legs.  Other people might say that anxiety is “in their head” because the main thing they notice is that their thoughts go very fast.  These things happen in our body and our mind because when our body notices a “threat”, it responds in the way that it has since we were living in caves.  Back then, we were threatened by predators and worried about being clubbed to death by other cavemen.  Now, we might be more worried about exams and feel threatened by new groups of people.  So, in the way that is has for eons, your brain uses the information collected by your eyes and ears to detect threats in your environment and, without consulting you, releases a number of chemicals that have immediate effects on both your body and the way you think.

These chemicals affect your breathing, your digestion, heart rate, blood flow and muscle tension.  The aim is to make you ready to get very far away from the threat quickly (flight), kick the hell out of that caveman (fight) or pretend you are dead so he goes away and leaves you alone (freeze).  So, your heart rate and breathing speed up, your blood flows away from you internal organs and towards your arms and legs so they are ready for action.  The unintended consequences can be that you feel tense and a bit sick, or get butterflies in your stomach.  You could start to sweat and feel light-headed or a bit dizzy, even though you might be sitting still.  All these reactions are clever ways ways of your brain helping you to be ready and prepared to manage threat.  However, as threats have changed significantly since this threat system evolved, these reactions are not as useful as they once were.  If we don’t understand what our body is doing, then these reactions themselves can cause even more anxiety.

Some people feel anxious every day; other people only feel anxious occasionally.  Some people’s brains will kick off the chemical reactions much more easily than others.  We think, from looking at the research, that this can be because they were either born with a sensitive threat system or because they have had more difficult and stressful experiences, or both.  There are lots of individual differences, but what we know is that everyone experiences anxiety.

When we are anxious, several things happen to the way we think.  It becomes easier to think of negative rather than positive outcomes, we get stuck on “what if” questions, and our thinking brain shuts down and our threat brain (focused solely on survival) takes over.  This means that we struggle to use the bits of our brains that usually would help us to solve problems and see the wider context, because these bits are offline whilst we manage the threat.  This is a really effective way of dealing with physical threats that were common for cavemen, but it does not serve us so well in complex social situations that we find ourselves in now.

That said, we wouldn’t want to be entirely without anxiety.  This may sound silly, especially if anxiety is making your life miserable, however it is important to remember that anxiety is useful and we wouldn’t want to be without it.  We developed flight, fight and freeze for a very good reason and although we now have more complex worries and things to be scared of, we still need our anxiety to make our lives work.

Imagine if parents didn’t feel anxious about their new baby?  Dads might not bother to baby-proof the house, mums might not bother to check that the car seats are attached properly.  None of these things work out very well for the baby.

Worrying about exams might be stressful, but is it worse than not worrying about exams?  If we didn’t have any anxiety about the future, then we would probably just sit and eat ice-cream rather than revising.  After all, which is more fun and pleasant?

In our new book, we do not aim to rid you of your anxiety.  This might sound like a blissful idea, but we really think that your anxiety is an important and useful part of your life.  It might just need some understanding, and maybe some taming, to make sure it is helping more than it is causing you problems.  We aim to provide you with information and young people’s stories that will help you to better understand your anxiety and where it might come from, and to explain a number of different approaches and strategies to help you to feel more in control of your anxiety.  The ideas that we have included come from research studies, our experiences of working with young people, and the experiences of young people and what they have found helpful.

Use code MAH for a 10% discount when you order this book from our website before the 10th February.

If you would like to read more articles like Joy’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Mental Health books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing is a fun, illustrated storybook that will help children aged 5-10 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and/ or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC/ASD) to recognise their sensory needs and to develop tools to support them. To learn more about the book, who better to ask than its authors, K.I. Al-Ghani and Joy Beaney? Chatting to them, we learned a lot about hyperactivity in children, what to look out for and what can help. There’s even a downloadable activity sheet for teachers. Read on to find out more.adhd

What motivated you to write Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing and who is the book for?

Joy and I have worked together in special education for many years. We noticed that there were not many books available that could explain hyper-activity to children in a story format.  We decided to collaborate on this project using Joy’s expertise in Sensory Processing Difficulties, my skills as a story teller and Haitham’s ability to bring it all to life, through his illustrations.
We think the book has something for everyone: It is a story all children can enjoy. A story in which, we hope, children with hyperactivity will be able see themselves in Winston.  They will learn that it is not their fault and instead of being the problem, they could learn to be part of the solution. Parents and educators will have tools and strategies they can use that can help the child to manage their hyperactivity and, if successful, perhaps avoid the need for medication.

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Looking after the Mental Health of Girls with Autism

A Guide to Mental Health Issues in Girls and Young Women on the Autism Spectrum: Diagnosis, Intervention and Family Support is the first book to look specifically at how mental health issues relate to girls and young women with autism, covering theory, research and tailored interventions for support.

In this extract, taken from Chapter 6 on Anxiety and Depression, author Dr Judy Eaton explores the results of a number of studies into anxious behaviour in girls and young women on the autistic spectrum. 

Evidence suggests that an estimated 40 per cent of individuals on the autism spectrum will suffer from high levels of anxiety (Van Steensel, Bögels and Perrin 2011). Clinical experience would suggest that this figure is likely to be higher, particularly amongst those with the pathological (or extreme) demand avoidance profile. In an earlier version of the DSM, DSM-III (APA 1980), ‘sudden excessive anxiety’ and ‘unexplained panic attacks’ were included amongst the core criteria for a diagnosis of autism. However, subsequent versions of the DSM (IV and V) do not include this. The reason for this is not entirely clear. Hallett et al. (2013) cite the meta-analysis by White et al. (2009) which found that between 11 per cent and 84 per cent of children with a diagnosis of autism display anxiety. Of the 31 studies analysed 30 per cent were diagnosed with specific phobias, 17 per cent had obsessive compulsive disorder, 17 per cent had social anxiety and 15 per cent reported features of ‘generalised’ anxiety. Their results suggested that children with autism were twice as likely to develop anxiety disorders compared with their neuro-typical peers. High levels of anxiety have a negative impact upon education, social relationships and social participation and on other members of the immediate family group (Reaven 2011). There is also an increased likelihood that these anxiety disorders will persist into adulthood.

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A worksheet to help young people manage the stress of exams

Age range:

Ages 10+

Description:

A self-help CBT worksheet that provides a host of tips, strategies and behaviour techniques to help young people manage the stress of exams.  It includes an exam stress diary with relaxation exercises to help monitor your emotions, and explains the importance of getting into a good routine, not wearing yourself out but also not procrastinating too much either.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from Kate Collins-Donnelly’s Starving the Exam Stress Gremlin, and is the latest instalment in her bestselling and award-winning Starving the Gremlin series. Full of fun activities based on cognitive behavioural therapy, the Gremlin series teaches young people to manage common emotional and behavioural difficulties such as anger, depression and anxiety.

Self-help exercises to help older children manage worry and anxiety

managing anxietyAge range:

Ages 9+

Description:

An engaging, self-help guide based on cognitive behavioural therapy that teaches young people mindfulness techniques to alleviate their worry and anxiety.  Strategies include ways to shift your attention away from your worry, not to fall into a debate with it, and learning to accept rather than fight your anxiety when it is present.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from bestselling author Dawn Huebner’s new book, Outsmarting Worry: An Older Kid’s Guide to Managing Anxiety.  Written in language immediately accessible to children, it teaches young people, and the adults who care about them, specific skills that make it easier to face and overcome their worries and fears. 

JKP Author Honored as Book Award Finalist

JKP Author Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson was recently honored as an Award-Winning Finalist in the “Psychology/Mental Health” category of the 13th Annual Best Book Awards for his book, Overcoming Anxiety on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT. Selected from more than 2,000 entries from traditional and independent publishers, 400 winners and finalists were announced in over 100 categories. This is the second award for Dr. Wilkinson whose JKP book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools was selected as the winner in the Educational/Academic category of the Next Generation Indie Book awards.

About Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum

Dr. Lee A. Wilkinson’s award-winning book presents strategies derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), adapted specifically for adults on the higher end of the autism spectrum, to help them overcome anxiety and depression, and improve their psychological well-being. The author takes the best of CBT therapeutic techniques to facilitate greater self-understanding, self-advocacy, and better decision-making in life-span activities such as employment and interpersonal relationships.

Accessible and easy-to-read, this self-help guide provides evidence-based tools that can be used to learn new self-fulfilling ways of thinking, feeling, and doing. It includes questionnaires, forms, worksheets, and exercises to help the reader:

  • Evaluate his or her autistic traits and discover their cognitive style.
  • Identify and modify the thoughts and beliefs that underlie and maintain the cycles of anxiety, depression, and anger.
  • Apply therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness, positive self-talk, guided imagery, and problem-solving.
  • Accept the past and achieve unconditional self-acceptance.
  • Deal effectively with perfectionism and low frustration tolerance.
  • Avoid procrastination and learn to maintain the positive changes to their progress.

Used alone or in combination with therapy, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT is an essential self-help book for adults on the higher end of the spectrum looking for ways to understand and cope with their emotional challenges and improve their psychological well-being. It is also appropriate for adults who recognize their autistic traits, even though they may not have experienced major social difficulties and clinical impairment, but who want to improve their emotional well-being. Family members, friends, and others touched by autism will find this self-help book a valuable resource as well.

About the Author

Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, is a scientist, researcher, and practitioner. He is a licensed and nationally certified school psychologist, chartered educational psychologist, registered psychologist, and certified cognitive-behavioral therapist. He is also a university educator and trainer, and has published widely on the topic of autism spectrum disorders both in the US and internationally. Dr. Wilkinson is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, also published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and editor of a best-selling text in the American Psychological Association (APA) School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools. His latest book from JKP is A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Schools (2nd Edition).

Borderline Personality Disorder: One Step at a Time

Tracy Barker, author of A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder, is an expert by experience on how to live with and manage borderline personality disorder (BPD), now a happily married home maker committed to raising awareness of BPD, she has written an emotional and honest piece on how it feels to have BPD, the struggles and how to deal with it; one step at a time.

One step, then take a break –
a few days, to recover.
One step, then rest
before embarking on another.

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