Drawing on 30 years of professional experience and detailed research, Difference Not Disorder: Understanding Autism Theory in Practice exposes the myths around autism and provides practical guidance on teaching and learning, behaviour management, addressing sensory and physical needs of children with ASD.
Difference Not Disorder
Our recognition and understanding of autism forms a recent story in terms of human knowledge. In my lifetime this story gained momentum, hastening to the current perception of autism as neurological in nature. However, across the globe this neurological nature, viewed at-odds with the neuro-typical one, is considered impaired or disordered. The over-arching aim of this book was to question this assumption while posing an alternative view of difference not disorder because of all the children I had the honour to work with, children with autism were some of the bravest.
There are limitless ways in which I witnessed their bravery. They included venturing every day out into a world with incomprehensible social rules and codes in which lack of or inappropriate response could result in unwelcome, verbal attention or even confusing reprimand. It also included perpetually manoeuvring through sights, sounds and textures that could overwhelm and/or aggravate the senses often without being able to express mounting stress and distress; and/or experiencing revulsions towards some tasks but compulsions towards others in situations where you had no idea of the duration or scheduling of either.
It’s Autism Awareness Week in the UK this week and, while we want to foreground the voices of our autistic authors as much as possible every week of the year, this week it’s especially important for us all to better recognise, understand and accept the variety and validity of autistic experience. With this in mind, the below extract is an introduction to Gillian Drew’s bestselling An Adult With an Autism Diagnosis: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed. Aimed at those who receive a diagnosis for the first time as adults, this book draws on personal experiences to provide positive advice on dealing with life, health, and relationships following an adult diagnosis. With thanks to the author for allowing us to share their story.
When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, at the age of 28, I was sent away without so much as a leaflet to explain what it all meant. As you can imagine, I was left with more questions than answers. What exactly is autism? Why do I have it? How can it be treated? What does it mean for my life? How does it affect work? How does it affect relationships? What are the long-term consequences? Can I still get married and have children? Should I get professional support? Where should I live? How do I explain this to people? Why was I not diagnosed as a child? Will things improve?
Unfortunately, there was nobody I could ask and nobody who could answer. As someone whose only knowledge of autism came from the movie Rain Man, I discovered to my dismay that there were no books catering for the newly diagnosed adult. The vast majority of the literature on autism focuses on children with the condition, and those books that do cover adults assume you either received the diagnosis as a child and therefore understand an awful lot about it already, or are qualified as a clinical psychologist. I craved a book that could help me understand what it means to be diagnosed with autism as an adult.
Failing to find it, I decided to write it myself to help others come to terms with this life-changing news.
With Autism Awareness Week just around the corner, we are delighted to tell you about an innovative resource by Joy Beaney entitled Creating Autism Champions. Here, Joy explains what has inspired the book, and what can be done to increase awareness of and sensitivity towards children with autism.
What made you want to write Creating Autism Champions?
I believe that we need to develop children who are aware of the various needs of people with autism and how they can work, grow and play together rather than putting the onus on those with autism to ‘fit in’ with school and society.
I worked as Manager of an Outreach Service supporting children with autism in mainstream Primary schools. A major part of the work as an outreach service for children with autism was to promote inclusion. The outreach team delivered staff training to raise awareness of autism and recommended practical strategies and approaches to support children with autism. These practical strategies were designed to help the children themselves, as well as their teachers and caregivers. However, whilst these strategies undoubtedly helped the children to cope with the day-to-day problems of coping in school, we found that when the children with autism reached 8 or 9 years of age, new issues emerged surrounding the difficulties they had with social acceptance. We undertook a peer awareness project in local schools developing understanding and changing attitudes to autism so that children could become ‘champions for autism’ and support their peers both in the classroom and playground.
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
Author, researcher, public speaker and autism expert, Kate Reynolds, spoke at an international conference in Greece last October about autism education, health and sexual education, and her book Sexuality and Severe Autism. With some cultural differences and a language barrier, things could have gone very differently, but, as Kate describes in her blog piece below, difference is just a starting point for learning and growth.
I eyed the bag with suspicion. It had been given to me by two Greek psychologists as a ‘thank you’ for giving a presentation at a conference in Larissa, Northern Greece. Purporting to be camomile tea, it gave a stunning imitation of marijuana and left me peering over my shoulder as I returned through customs at Heathrow. This was only one of several gifts I received, including a gift box of spices, nuts and ouzo presented in a gift bag, all left at my hotel.
Described as ‘an excellent read providing visionary insight’ by Jane Miller (County Manager Occupational Therapy and Reablement, Kent County Council), Autism and Enablement shows how to help adults with autism achieve greater independence and become more self-sufficient.
We are very pleased to receive so much positive feedback after the launch of our book Autism and Enablement. The Kent specialist ASC Enablement approach is the first of its kind provided by a UK Local Authority and we are honoured to publish a book on the approach. We hope that the approach is taken up nationally; this is only equitable because enablement is provided across the county to older people and people with physical needs, and increasingly to people with mental health issues and learning disability. We would argue that people on the spectrum are prime candidate for enablement because it is not inevitable that just because you have autism you should be destined to rely on others throughout the lifespan. People we have met have been found to have significant potential for personal growth, increased self-worth and self-esteem, for an increased sense of wellbeing and internal resilience; many just haven’t been offered the right support and neither have their supporters.
All About Me is an in-depth guide describing the practicalities of telling a child or young person about their autism diagnosis. It discusses when to tell, who should do it, and what they need to know beforehand. In this blog, author Andrew Miller explains his reasons for creating the book, and who can benefit from it.
What motivated you to write All About Me?
Telling children and young people that they have autism and trying to explain what it means to them is difficult. The abstract nature of autism, its associated differences in cognition and its lifelong implications make it hard for children to understand, and finding out that they have autism could potentially cause some individuals emotional and psychological upset. Therefore, in some cases it could create more problems for an individual than it might intend to solve.
Embarassment is a highly contagious emotion and easily shared between people. In this extract from The Interbrain, author Digby Tantam explores how the interbrain connection can explain why we so often cringe when other people display embarrassing or shameful behaviour.
For more information on The Interbrain, or to buy a copy of the book, click here.
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.
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.