Adopting a balanced view

Child and family psychologist and JKP author of the bestselling A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, Colby Pearce, on maintaining a balanced view when caring for children who have experienced trauma in their early lives.
This article first appeared on The Adoption Social‘s guest blog. 

I was born in January, which is the height of summer here in Adelaide, Australia. As such, I have always thought of myself as a “summer baby” and considered that this is why I enjoy the warmer months as opposed to the cooler months. I have a lifelong aversion to feeling cold and for many, many years I felt below my best during winter. I have questioned many people about this and have discovered that most people prefer either the warmer months or the cooler months. Many of them are just not happy until their preferred season returns.

About three years ago, and with the emergence of joint aches and pains during the colder months, I had the thought that it was a bit of nonsense really to consider myself a “summer baby” and defer happiness until it was warm again. I have always been a keen gardener and have a large hills garden. Looking after my garden is an act of looking after my self. Water is an issue as it is scarce and expensive, my garden is large and summer is hot (As I write this it is the fifth consecutive day of over 40C). So, I bought some rainwater tanks and now I pray for as much ‘bad’ weather as possible during the cooler months. I check the weather radar each day and feel let down if forecast wet and wintry weather blows south or north. I still have my aches and pains and look forward to the warmer months when they trouble me less, but I also look forward to cooler, wetter months now as it is a boon for my efforts to maintain a magnificent garden. And the garden? Well, with the additional water supply it has never looked better.

Strong FoundationsWhat has all this got to do with looking after children; particularly those children who experienced significant adversity in the first days, weeks, months and years of their precious lives? Well, it has to do with how we perceive them and the effects of this; both in terms of our own experience of caring for them and their experience of being cared for by us.
I am particularly interested in the idea of “self-­fulfilling ­prophecies”. In Psychology, these take the following form. I have a thought. My thought induces an emotion. My emotion activates a behavioural response. My behavioural response precipitates a reaction in others. The reaction of others often confirms my original thought.

Let’s try one. Thought: “nobody loves me”. A common feeling associated with this thought: hostility. Common behavioural responses to feelings of hostility: withdrawal and/or aggression. A common reaction to withdrawal and aggression: admonishments. An inevitable result: confirmation of the original thought.
Lets try another. He is damaged by his early experiences. I feel badly for him. I try to heal him. He keeps pushing me away. He is obviously damaged.
And, another: He is such a good artist. I am so proud of him. I support and encourage his interest in art. His skills develop and he is often affirmed for his artistic achievements. He is such a good artist!

Children who have experienced significant adversity at the beginning of their life are commonly referred to as “traumatised”. There is much literature about how early trauma impacts the developing child, including their acquisition of skills and abilities, their emotions, their relationships with others and even their brain. This literature focuses on the damage early trauma does and there is a risk that we, their caregivers, see these children as damaged.

One of my favourite allegories is the one that the author Paulo Coelho tells in his book, The Zahir. Coelho tells the story of two fire­fighters who take a break from fire fighting. One has a clean face and the other has a dirty, sooty face. As they are resting beside a stream, one of the fire­fighters washes his face. The question is posed as to which of the fire­fighters washed his face. The answer is the one whose face was clean, because he looked at the other and thought he was dirty.

The idea of the looking-­glass ­self (Cooley, 1902), whereby a person’s self-­concept is tied to their experience of how others view them, has pervaded my life and my practice since I stumbled across the concept as a university student. Empirical studies have shown that the self-­concept of children, in particular, is shaped by their experience of how others view them. In my work, this has created a tension between acknowledging the ill ­effects of early trauma and encouraging a more helpful focus among those who interact with so ­called ‘traumatised children’ in a caregiving role.

I am just as fallible as the next person, and I do not have all the answers. But as a professional who interacts with these children and their caregivers on a daily basis I strive to find a balance between acknowledging and addressing the ill­effects of early trauma and promoting a more helpful perception of these children. I strive to present opportunities to these children for them to experience themselves as good, lovable and capable; to experience me and other adults in their lives as interested in them, as caring towards them and as delighting in their company; as well as experiences that the world is a safe place where their needs are satisfied. I strive to enhance their experience of living and relating, rather than dwelling on repairing the damage that was done to them.

Most of all, I see precious little humans whose potential is still yet to be discovered. eyes

Eyes are mirrors for a child’s soul. What do children see in your eyes?

Coelho, P (2005), The Zahir. London. Harper Collins Cooley, C.H. (1902). Human Nature and the Social Order. New York. NY: Scribner

Prepared for The Adoption Social by Colby Pearce (Clinical Psychologist and Author), ©2014
You can read the original blog post here.
You can keep up with Colby’s blog posts on his website, here.
You can also follow him on Twitter @colbypearce


Assessing emotional awareness after trauma

Grasso_Clinical-Exerci_978-1-84905-949-7_colourjpg-webThis extract taken from Clinical Exercises for Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents by Damion J. Grasso gives practical guidance to assessing and enhancing a child’s emotional awareness and vocabulary prior to therapeutic exposure.
‘These skills are essential for fully engaging in the therapeutic exposure and for processing the emotional content of the trauma memory.’

Read the extract here


Teaser Tuesday-Social Interaction in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Early Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders by Patricia O’Brien Towle is a unique visual guide aimed to equip readers with the skills to recognize autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children as young as 15-18 months old. It provides a systematic framework for understanding theTowle_Early-Identific_978-1-84905-329-7_colourjpg-web complex nature of ASD. From social interaction to communication to restricted and repetitive behaviors, each chapter focuses on key symptoms and uses photographs to illustrate and enhance understanding of presenting or absent behaviors. It is written in an accessible style and covers all of the core aspects of ASD, giving readers everything they need to be able to successfully identify the behavioral indicators of autism.

Chapter 4-Social Interaction in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Difference and delay in social development is at the absolute core of ASD. Some children show normal first-year social development and then start
to lose those skills in the second year, while other children evidence delays right from the start. The behaviors to be described and illustrated in this chapter fall into the following three general clusters:

  •  Social engagement and interest: How does the child show that he is interested in others and ready to be engaged? To this end, where does the child place himself physically so that he has the opportunity to get involved with others? How does the child use eye contact to signal interest in engagement, and monitor the faces of others to extract information about how the interaction may go? How does the child get social interaction going with others, and how does he respond when others initiate social interaction with him?
  • Emotional signaling: How does a child exchange purely emotional information with others, and signal her internal state?
  • Capacity for interaction: How easily does the child fall into a give-and take pattern across a variety of circumstances, from predictable and scripted routines to a free-flowing, reciprocal social interchange? Can he sustain an interaction once it is started?

Download the chapter 4 extract here.

Patricia O’Brien Towle, Ph.D., has 30 years’ experience with early childhood developmental disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders. She is a clinical child psychologist at the Westchester Institute for Human Development and assistant professor of psychiatry, pediatrics and public health at the New York Medical College. In addition to her extensive clinical experience, Dr. Towle carries out research on the prevalence and developmental course of ASD, supervises psychology interns and post-doctoral fellows, and gives presentations to professionals and parents nationally. She lives in Westchester County, New York.

Identify the signs of OCD at school

Jassi_Can-I-tell-you_978-1-84905-381-5_colourjpg-webAmita Jassi, author of ‘Can I tell you about OCD?’ explains some of the common obsessions and compulsions experienced by people with the disorder and how this could effect children at school.

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by unpleasant and recurring thoughts, images, doubts or urges (called obsessions) and repetitive and irrational behaviours (called compulsions). Compulsions, also known as rituals, may be observable behaviours (such as washing or tapping) or mental rituals (such as thinking a good thought to cancel out a bad thought). Compulsions are usually carried out as a way of reducing the distress caused by obsessions. OCD takes many different forms and can range from mild to severe. When children are troubled by OCD they can experience very high levels of anxiety and distress and find that it can take up a lot of their time.

Some common obsessions are:

  • Fears about dirt or contamination
  • Worries about harm coming to yourself or others
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts
  • Thoughts about doing something forbidden or embarrassing
  • Discomfort if things are not symmetrical or even
  • Needing to tell, ask or confess
  • Fears of losing important things

Some common compulsions are:

  • Checking things over and over again
  • Touching or tapping things
  • Seeking reassurance
  • Hoarding or collecting things that are useless
  • Arranging things so that they are ‘just right’
  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting, repeating and re-doing things

The good news is that OCD can be successfully treated and recent evidence shows that the sooner it is tackled the better the treatment outcomes are likely to be.  The recommended treatment for OCD by the Department of Health is a talking therapy called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). It is also recognised that some children may also benefit from treatment with medication from the group called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (or SSRIs). It is clear therefore that young people should not have to struggle with OCD without any support and treatment. The UK’s largest charity for OCD, OCD Action, wants young people, their parents and their school to take action now.

What are the signs of OCD at School?

OCD can affect many areas of a young person’s life, including school life. It is important to remember that OCD affects people in many ways however some of the signs that you may observe in school include:

  • Poor attention and concentration due to distraction from unwanted thoughts or the need to perform rituals
  • Extreme tiredness due to being up late at night doing rituals or the overall exhaustion caused by the constant battle with OCD
  • Frequent or prolonged toilet visits due to completing cleaning rituals
  • An inability to touch objects, materials or other people due to possible contamination fears
  • Excessive questioning and need for reassurance
  • Messy work due to having to repeat rituals such as rewriting or erasing words
  • Repeated lateness as a result of being delayed by rituals
  • Late handing in work due to being slowed down by obsessions and/or compulsions
  • Arranging items on a desk, shelf or classroom so that objects are aligned
  • Repetitive behaviours such as getting up and down from a desk or opening and closing the door
  • Low self-esteem and difficulty with peer relationships
  • Reduction in grades or decline in school performance

It may also be helpful to be aware that OCD can be associated with other disorders such as depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and Tourette Syndrome.

Where else can I find information about OCD?

For more information on OCD and young people, see ‘Can I tell you about OCD?’ or refer to the OCD Action website: or OCD-UK:



VIDEO: Nick Luxmoore reads an excerpt from his new book, ‘Young People, Death and the Unfairness of Everything’

In his new book, school counsellor, teacher, youth worker, Psychodrama psychotherapist, trainer and author Nick Luxmoore explores the problems that arise when death is not openly discussed with young people and offers invaluable advice about how best to allay concerns without having to pretend that there are easy answers. He covers all of the key issues from the physicality of death to the fear of not existing to the way young people’s morality develops and he provides expert insight into the impact these subjects have on young people’s behaviour.

Here, Nick introduces the book and reads an excerpt from the chapter, “Death as an authority figure”.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Top Ten Tips for the First Year of Placement

By Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA, clinical social worker specializing in attachment, grief and trauma, and author of Attaching in Adoption and Nurturing Adoptions.

Parents passionately want to succeed in raising emotionally healthy children. They also want to enjoy their little ones. When their children arrive later in infancy or childhood, most parents are well-aware that they are doing more careful parenting. They are nurturing not only to build a relationship, but to help mitigate any impact of losses or maltreatment.

What are reasonable things for parents to concentrate on during the first year home? How can parents do the best to enjoy their children? They do not want the pleasures of parenting their children dimmed by a chorus of cautions. On the other hand, they do want to make that first year a great start. Here are my TOP TEN hits for a great start to your relationship with your baby or child.

1. Spend ample time in nurturing activities.

The most significant process of the first year home is creating a trust relationship. Intentional and ample nurturing promotes this goal. Restrict your hours away from the little one. Do not leave your child for overnight trips for this first year.

Meet your little one’s needs in an especially sensitive manner. Feed on demand. Respond quickly to fussing. Allow the toddler or child to regress, bottle-feeding, rocking to sleep, lapsitting, and being carried. Let your child experience you as the safe person who is sensitively meeting her needs. Play little games that promote eye contact, like peekaboo, ponyride, and hide-and-seek. Make positive associations between yourself and food.

Rather than children becoming more dependent through this extra nurturing, they instead become trusting. Anxious people do not know who they can trust to help them. More secure individuals understand that they do not have to be perfect and that they can rely on significant others. Children who do not learn to depend on others tend to be anxious or emotionally constricted. Their “independence” is a false one, meaning that they do not trust others and can only rely on themselves. The child who has learned a healthy dependence is more secure in trying new things and venturing out. She always has a safe, home base to come back to—you!

2. Teach children to play with you.

Many little ones have missed the joys of play. Act as an amplifier, teaching toddlers and children the pleasure of play. Most children have missed the experience of having parents express joy as they played. Because of this, their reward centers were not stimulated. This restricted the association of exploration and play with pleasure. Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for play with your children. Younger children may want this in segments. Do not hesitate to use voice tones and expressions that are ones usually meant for infants and younger children.

If your child can already play, then continue to build your relationship through play. Shared enjoyment cements relationships. Make your family one that develops a pattern of having fun. Throughout life having fun as a family builds self-esteem.

While some children take off in play, others cannot stay engaged for long. Continue to stretch the more tentative child, engaging her in mutually enjoyable activities. Look for different sensory modalities that might feel safer or more interesting. For example, a boy who was afraid to play outdoors began to use sidewalk chalk with his mother, even though the grass seemed overwhelming. Gradually a ball was used on the sidewalk, and then onto the grass. Take things in steps if children are wary.

3. Talk to your child.

Parents of infants use exaggerated voice tones to emphasize important concepts. Their “amplifier system” helps children with attention to most important parts of the whole environment. After children move into the preschool age, some of this “cheerleader” amplification diminishes. Continue to use this brighter emotional tone with your child as she understands your shared world—even if she is not an infant.

Explain things to him, even though you might think that the meaning of what you are doing is obvious. Not only are you conveying information to him, you are revealing your view of the world to him. Your voice tones guide him to better understand the context. Be sure to use your fingers and gestures to point out important things to him. This helps him to both attend to and understand the meaning of the context around him. Early language not only teaches us words, but a way of understanding our world through the subjects selected for attention and their associated intonations, expressions, and gestures.

Most of us have an internal dialogue going on during the day. (Yes, we are actually talking to ourselves.) Simply make some of this internal language external. This is a typical activity for parents of infants. However, it tends to diminish as children get older. Since children have missed this early activity, parents should feel free to describe things as they would to an infant.

4. When toddlers or older children have behavior problems, use your body to stop them.

Be gentle, but be consistently and predictably competent in stopping negative behaviors. Do not use over the shoulder commands or across the room reminders. Stay within arm’s reach of the child, moving their hands, bodies, feet, to where you want them to go. Never tolerate hitting, kicking, or hurting. Some parents allow a child painful “exploration” of the parents’ faces. This is teaching that will have to be undone later. Gently move their bodies to where you want them to be. For example, if your little one is reaching for an item, move the child or the item. Use the voice for a back up. Do not remind or repeat several times. Instead, describe in a pleasant manner how precious or pretty the item appears to you—as you move your child. Teach boundaries of respect from the beginning.

Obviously, most parents will not be getting much done except parenting when their child is awake. Remind yourself that your primary job is parenting when your child is awake.

5. Get enough sleep, good food, and exercise to stay in a good mood.

Little ones who have been moved and/or neglected tend to be irritable, fussy, and hard to soothe. Parents use their own positive, well-regulated moods to help calm and engage these little ones. Your own emotional stability will help to steady your child’s moods. A depressed parent struggles to form a positive, secure attachment with her baby or child. Depression makes the parent emotionally less available. The parent who is tired, eating junk food, and inert by day’s end does not give a child a competent source of emotional regulation. Parents who find that their moods are slipping, even with good self-care, should see about counseling and/or an antidepressant. It is simply too hard to do this essential, nurturing parenting while being depressed.

Model respect for yourself by taking time for showers, good meals, and sleep.

6. Be part of an adoption support group.

The relationships between families are invaluable. The relationships can be emotional lifelines on hard days. If possible, find a mentor who is positive, and who likes you and your child. Ask her to be part of your circle of support. We all need to feel understood and authentically accepted. A mentor who can provide that sense of nurture for the parent helps the parent to be a good nurturer. The mentor relationship provides a sense of being heard and accepted, and tips and information. Parents are working harder emotionally when parenting a baby or child who has lived through uneven parenting. Parents need someone who cares for them. Sometimes this can be mutual support, and sometimes one-to-one.

7. Keep a calm, but interesting home.

Match the amount of stimulation in the home to the amount that is within the child’s ability to tolerate. Many children have been massively understimulated before they came to parents. Neglect massively understimulates children. They do not build neurology to process as much sensory stimulation. After adoption, their worlds can suddenly be overwhelming. Things are too bright, too loud, move too much, and tilt too much. Slow things down, buffering your baby or child to the extent that they can process the information coming their way. Often children who are overwhelmed by noise will begin shouting, or those overstimulated by too much movement will begin running with arms like windmills. Lay out predictable, consistent events for the day. Some children find the movement of the car to be disorienting. If your child is having difficulties, try a couple of days limiting the car, determining whether or not this makes a difference.

8. Explain to children basics of your relationships as they gain language.

For example, “A mother’s job is to love you. I will always come back home to you when I leave in the car to go shopping. You will live with me until you are as big as I am. I will not let anybody hurt you. I will never hurt you. We will always have enough food.” One mother told me of her son’s relief and better behavior when she told him that she would never allow others to hurt him. “Why didn’t I think to tell him the first year?” She questioned. “He was afraid every time we went to the mall. He has been thinking for two years that just anyone could haul off and hit him.” Another parent told me of the melting smile that her daughter gave her when she said that a mother’s job was to love her child. “I just assumed that she knew that. But she didn’t. She looked at my face much more after that.”

9. Do watch for signs of an exclusive attachment by the end of the first year.

Children should be seeking out their parents for affection and play. They should be showing off for positive attention. They should prefer being with the parent. They should show some excitement about time together. When hurt or distressed, the child should seek out the parent. In a secure attachment, the child will calm with the parent and accept soothing.

Trauma and traumatic grief are the common culprits when children are remaining wary, fearful, and controlling of their parents. Signs of trauma with younger children include regular night terrors, dissociation (child shuts off emotionally and stares away), scratching, biting, extreme moods, freezing in place, and destructiveness. Parents who see these symptoms should be finding a mental health counselor to help their child. If the child is under the age of three, the parent is given special parenting advice. Usually therapy with an experienced child therapist can begin not long after the age of three.

Do not have an artificial timeline of “fixed in a year,” for the preschooler or older child. Consider the year marker as the time it takes to really get to know your child—not to iron out any behavioral irregularities.

10. Enter your little one’s space—positively.

This often means getting low and looking up for eye contact. It means trying hard and trying patiently for a longer time. You are the one who has the responsibility of engaging your child positively. Do not use punitive techniques to try to build relationships. After all, no one wants to attach to a mean person. Instead, be strong, dependable, available, and kind. Veer away from advice that is strong, controlling, and mean in tone. Sensitive and kind parents gradually build empathy and security in their relationships with their children. That process takes time and the type of parenting that caused you to want to be a parent in the first place!

Maintain a sane schedule as you move into year two. Many parents decide that the first year is the marker until they can re-enter a “normal” schedule. Among family therapists there is national concern about the taxing schedule that Americans are considering “normal.” Resist this widespread but unhealthy pace. Continue to parent with margins of time that allow for sensitivity, with margins of emotional energy that allow for appreciation of those around you. Model a healthy, emotionally fulfilling lifestyle to your child.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

“Itching to Laugh”: Jennifer Cook O’Toole recounts her wonderful evening at the GRASP awards gala in NYC (poison ivy and all)

Jennifer Cook O'Toole wearing her GRASP 'Distinguished Spectrumite Medal'!

By Jennifer Cook O’Toole, author of the book, AsperKids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome. Visit Jennifer’s website at:

You’ve probably heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That always seemed a bit flippant to me. Like someone at Hallmark needed a cute little “chin up” message, and this is what they came up with. But when real life gets really messy, no one appreciates patronizing sentiment. Optimism, yes. But realistic optimism. Maybe life hands you melons instead, and it turns out you’re dyslexic. Or maybe, you really ought to squeeze that lemon into some Corona, laugh in spite of it all, and take a siesta.

This week, I got seriously (and unexpectedly) squirted with lemons.

A few months ago, I learned that I was to receive the coveted Distinguished Spectrumite Medal (DSM) from the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP), the world’s largest Asperger’s support and educational organization. In the company of giants in the worlds of psychology, advocacy, policy-making and social networking, I was to be recognized not (only) for my writing or speaking or consulting — but (tear-jerker) for being a shining example of extraordinary parenting. Of how being a diagnosed Aspie has — far from inhibiting emotional or social growth — enriched a marriage, lifted self-awareness and informed the power and perspective with which I raise my own three Asperkids. It was a very public declaration by Michael John Carley and the entire GRASP Board that the diagnosis is far beyond valid — it is valued.

AND it got better from there. The event was to be held at a gala in New York City (read: trip and getting gussied up — two things that NEVER happen to me anymore!) on the very SAME NIGHT that my first book, Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome would be released! AND the cosmic fabulosity got even more fabulous! The world-famous JKP author, Dr. Liane Holliday Willey (who wrote the forward to my book and has recently offered to be my mentor in this journey – riddling me with insanely amazing compliments and faith), was going to be receiving the SAME AWARD!

Time for a perspective break, I thought, to keep centered and focused in the middle of such hope and energy. So, last week, I took a few moments amidst the choas of preparing and packing for three Asperkids, an Asperhubbie and my Asperself and escaped to my garden. A little bit of pruning, a little bit of digging and sunshine, and the earth seemed to be literally grounding me in its firm grasp. Only it did a little too good a job. Somehow, I managed to get a bit of poson ivy – which quickly developed into a lot of poison ivy, and then into an additional allergic reaction to the adhesive bandages I’d used. My peace and calm was fast dissipating into two Emergency Room visits for steroid shots and lotions and a whole lot of itchy discomfort.

But the day to leave arrived anyway, and off we flew – yours truly trying to keep things in check with antihistimines and creams…by the day before the event, my sensitive redhead’s skin had apparently decided it was time to officially FREAK OUT. The reaction went systemic, riddling me with 400 patches of raw poison ivy rash plus a chemical burn all over my torso from the lotions I’d been told to use. Only one hour before “time to get gussied,” I was in another ER being told there was nothing more they could do – it was just a matter of time until the steroids finally kicked in.

And here was the “life would like to present you with said crate of lemons” moment. For about 10 minutes, I cried. Hard. And I don’t cry. I was mad and sad and just plum ticked off at the unfairness. One chance to get dressed up. To meet Liane. To meet everyone at GRASP. And instead of enjoying the accolade, I was an itchy, burning mess. Couldn’t anything just go easily, ever? This wasn’t fair.

While I wallowed, my Aspergirl suddenly came up to me and placed her small hand on my (unmussed) foot. “Mommy,” she said. “May I come with you tonight?” She’d been uninterested before, and I don’t know what changed for her exactly, but that changed it all for me. Thea-tah. Costumes. Make-up. I was back in the days of my life when the show must go on, and it must be the authentic and in-the-moment and matter.

So on went the eyeliner and heels. I styled her hair and straightened my husband’s tie. And, although the 45 minute trip to the event took over two hours and I missed an interview while sitting in the Lincoln Tunnel under miles of river water…we made it. And never in one room have I ever felt the “yes” of why we all were doing the work we do.

There were young Aspies asking about their own book ideas, adults apologizing profusely if they “accidentally touched you inappropriately” (a wrist tap!) or interrupted your thought. They were using scripts a bit awkwardly, but they used them – and were lovely people. There were world-reknowned psychiatrists whose work will determine the evolution of the term “Aspergers,” and a dad-runner who’d trekked the entire Chilean desert to raise money for GRASP and kids like his own. There was the beautiful, brilliant Liane Holliday Willey (in the flesh!) with her gorgeous daughter (my little girl was totally in love with her nail polish)…and in the middle of it all, there was me.

And so when it was my turn to receive my medal, I brought my little Asperkid up to the podium with me. I hadn’t known I was going to be asked to speak, but the words came easily (as they are wont to do). Life does hand us lemons. Certainly, for those of who are and who love Aspies, we get more than our fair share of pucker power. And we should be allowed, for a few minutes now and again, to cry or pout or say, “No fair!” But then the show MUST go on. Life must go on. Some days, it’s more performance than others – but always, always, we can choose to laugh. And I did. I told my itchy story of misery, of stomping my foot in my own little temper tantrum a few hours earlier, and of choosing, instead, to do what Aspies do everyday. To be uncomfortable, to laugh at the “are you kidding me?” moments, and to never, ever miss the chance to look around us and be totally inspired by the lives we get to share.

“Don’t ever forget,” I implored them, rubbing my little girl’s head, and seeing the amazing honorees around me, “that the different perspective we bring to the world is a gift – just like these Asperkids themselves.” And I looked down into my daughter’s big eyes. This medal was for me, yes (and the ribbon was scratching my poison ivy like crazy!), but seeing the pride and inclusion and inspiration in her little eyes, I couldn’t help but imagine her future. And I couldn’t help but laugh.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

JKP authors Liane Holliday Willey and Jennifer Cook O’Toole win coveted GRASP award!

Congratulations to Liane Holliday Willey (pictured left) and Jennifer Cook O’Toole who have both been honoured by GRASP (the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership) with the organisation’s 2012 Distinguished Spectrumite Medal.

The award will be presented to them at a gala event today in New York City.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers is proud to publish both of these award winners!

Jennifer Cook O’Toole has Asperger syndrome and is the mother to three young Aspie children. She graduated from Brown University, and attended Columbia University’s Graduate School of Social Work. She has previously worked as a social worker, and a teacher in both special needs and mainstream education. She served on the Family Advisory Board for Levine Children’s Hospital, North Carolina, and regularly gives presentations at hospitals and local universities on special needs parenting. In 2002 she was nominated for Disney’s Teacher of the Year Award and she is due to receive GRASP’s annual Distinguished Spectrumite Medal 2012. She lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.

Liane Holliday Willey is a doctor of education, a writer and a researcher who specializes in the fields of psycholinguistics and learning style differences. Dr. Willey is a married mother of three, the owner of an equine boarding facility, and the Senior Editor of Autism Spectrum Quarterly. She also has Asperger Syndrome. A frequent guest lecturer on ‘Aspie’ topics, Dr. Willey is an energetic educator and advocate of Asperger issues. She lives in Rockford, Michigan, USA.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Branding Aspie: “When it fits, the diagnosis ‘Aspie’ is a gift, not a curse.”

By Jennifer Cook O’Toole, social worker, teacher, “Aspie Mommy” and author of Asperkids.

Long before my first baby could read, she knew her logos. Mommy would always stop to answer the siren call of that little green coffee mermaid. As her brothers came along, they too learned the power of the logo – the hypnotic beckoning of the big red bullseye or the promise of new entertainment when a little bitty apple was spotted. Recently, I even discovered that the toy store with the giraffe and backwards “R” sells a Logo Board Game. Let’s face it. Marketing execs the world over pay big bucks to ensure that from our beginnings, we all understand the superpower of branding. And they’re good at what they do.

It all begins with a label – or “logo”, an ancient Greek word meaning, well, “word.” But soon, “logos” took on a lot more philosophical weight. It connoted “opinion” or “expectation.” “Logos” alluded to “reputation” in the same way that, today, we have one expectation for a gift arriving in a little blue box, and a very different one for dining experiences held underneath the golden arches. Logos. Labels. Associated expectations. Branding is powerful stuff.

Now, the truth is that few among us would ever admit to being “label ho’s” (yes, it’s an actual entry in Urban Dictionary). Really, does anyone actually believe an “LV” on a handbag will make her more fabulous? No. But we still buy a whole lot of ’em. Like it or not, we are all consumers and bearers of label mania.

“OK,” you’re asking right about now, “I thought this was an article about Asperger Syndrome. What in the heck does a Tiffany’s gift box or Mickey D’s drive-thru have to do with Aspie?” A lot. We may not want to admit it, but as we’ve just seen, labels do carry a lot of social influence. And we wield them savvily…because although we say others’ opinions don’t matter to us – they do. We do care what others think of us and, because we love them, we care what others think of our mini-me’s (a.k.a., our kiddos), too. We plaster our minivans with public labels of love – displaying their school logos, sports mascots and stick figure caricatures for the world to see.

But sometimes, benevolence betrays us. Sometimes, shame and fear of a label does more harm to our families, our students, our kids than we realize.

You see, many parents, doctors and teachers don’t have a good understanding of what Asperger Syndrome is. Without solid information, they are intimidated by the “label,” and without really understanding it, reject it entirely. When adults are scared or embarrassed by a label they don’t want (for whatever reasons), children are denied the social, academic, and emotional support they need.

I have heard other parents and educators complain that a child is “academically brilliant but socially very immature, and awfully particular about everything.” They may see kids struggling and hurting, and they want guidance. But when answers to their inquiries include the possible label “Aspie,” conversations often end. Fast.

“You don’t want a kid to have to walk around with THAT label,” I have heard well-meaning folks say. They couldn’t be more wrong.

When it fits, the diagnosis – or “label” – “Aspie” is a gift, not a curse. I know – I have three Asperkids and was diagnosed myself as an adult. More than my “Ivy League” diplomas, size I-can-still-fit-into-my-prom-dress jeans, or any professional accolade I’ve won, “Aspie” is my “label” of authentic self-awareness, acceptance and true empowerment. I understand now that I may be different, but I am not deficient.

Why? What does “Aspie” actually mean? In general, “Aspie” describes bright folks who are a lot better with facts than with people; we have a very hard time understanding or anticipating others’ points of view, and therefore find great comfort in anything logical or precise. When the world seems big and unpredictable, it’s only natural to seek anything that will organize the chaos.

Aspies are, by definition, of average to above-average intelligence. In fact, it’s not uncommon for extremely gifted children (especially girls) to be hugely under-diagnosed, simply by chalking particular behaviors up to being “really smart.” Being “really smart” does not make someone hold fast to rules or routines, become overwhelmingly absorbed with a particular topic, be rigid in thought or behavior patterns and generally a bit immature socially. It just makes them smart. Asperger’s accounts for the other stuff.

You’ll see our “Aspie-ness” in interactions with other kids (sounding like “little professors,” being bossy, the “playground policeman,” or just retreating if it’s all too hard); often they’ll do better with children who are younger (they’re more controllable) or older (they’ll take the Asperkid under-wing), or with adults who find the “mini-grown-up” entertaining. Asperkids usually have a “special interest,” which can be all-encompassing and provides a mental respite from the confusing nuances of social situations. Also common are sensory sensitivities (to noises, crowds, textures) and attention troubles.

By nature, Asperkids tend to get a bit fixated on part of a thing, an idea or a situation rather than grasping the whole shebang (psychologists call this missing the “gestalt”). I tell my kiddos that it’s like seeing only the mashed potatoes, but not noticing the entire Thanksgiving meal. We also call it “getting right to the toenail of the matter” or missing the big picture.

Fine, fine. Maybe “Aspie” isn’t a bad thing, then. But is it a necessary label? Why pigeonhole a kid with one more (big) descriptor? Let me answer that question with a question. What do you do at a STOP sign? You stop, right? And what do you do if the sign on the door says, “Push”? You wouldn’t get very far by pulling on it.

Labels tell us how to react to a particular situation. Don’t floor it when you see “STOP” and don’t tell an Asperkid to “just go make friends.” Neither one will have very good consequences.

If/then. If it says “push,” don’t pull. And when a teacher or parent has the courage to worry less about impressions and more about the child involved, great things can happen.

Bottom line: if you think that you may be raising or teaching an Asperkid, then you have a choice to make. How will you react to the label? How will you teach the child, his friends, her school, your family to react? As a mom, a teacher, and an Aspie, I ask you to please – be the child’s champion, and find out more.

To us, “Aspie” is no label to fear or soldier through. It’s real life. It’s relief. It’s potential and promise and game-changing honesty. We are a society in love with labels and logos. Don’t be afraid of this one. Don’t get me wrong – my minivan still breaks for the green mermaid and my handbag is covered in some fancy C’s. But for me and children like mine, “Aspie” may be the most important label we’ll ever get to wear.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Holiday Help for Your Anxious Child – by Deborah Gray

Here are some helpful tips for adoptive parents and foster carers to ensure that holidays are fun for everyone—especially for the anxious child.

By Deborah Gray, MSW, MPA, clinical social worker specialising in attachment, grief and trauma, and author of Attaching in Adoption and Nurturing Adoptions.

Anxious children like to know what their part is in any new event. Beforehand, make word pictures that describe the day’s events. For example, at Christmas you might create the following word picture:

“At the star lighting, your place will be on Poppi’s shoulders so that you can see! You will stay close as we walk down to ride in the horse-drawn carriage. You will hold your hot chocolate and I will hold my latte. We will walk together and smile. Then, we will take our turn on the carriage. You will ride between me and Poppi. After the ride, we will go home on the bus. You will sit between Poppi and me.”

Children need consistency. A regular schedule helps them to handle stimulation. Keep the daily schedule as similar as possible to the normal schedule.

Children also need to be participatory. Always alternate watching activities with interactive ones.

Children can be alarmed by crowds, noisy surroundings, and contact with strangers. During chaotic holiday events that involve lots of noise and crowds, check in with your child frequently, asking them if they want to continue to participate or if they are ready to go home. Taking a few moments out to calm them in the middle of the event also benefits anxious children.

Look at the calendar as a whole, blocking out times and days at home for re-regulating the family. Behaviors indicative of overstimulation are arguing, yelling, fighting, and irritability. Holiday memories of playing games at home under the Christmas tree lights are lovely ones. Not everything has to be done “on the go”.

Go to bed ½ hour earlier for a six-week period during the darkest days—parents too. It improves everyone’s mood.

If there are overnight guests and casual visitors to the home, do make sure that your child still has access to you without having to compete for your time. Let your child be part of the preparation for the guests: making place cards, washing the sinks, plumping pillows, etc.

Children often miss their birth relatives during holidays, especially if they have holiday-related memories with these relatives. Children with local birth siblings will want to visit. These visits happen best a few weeks before or after the holiday.

Family events may bring out adoption-related questions. Often children are observing that their cousins are being described as “just like so-and-so.” Talking about these issues ahead of time is a good idea. Be sure to bring this back to practicalities: What are the pros and cons of looking “just like so-and-so?” Are there other ways that families “claim” its members?

If the holiday is one for which children are given gifts, consider giving one gift per day. Let children have time to experience the gift instead of getting frantically overstimulated. Take time to play with your child.

Get physical. Children will be more relaxed if they get an hour of physical play a day. Go to the park or hit the swimming pool.

Take time to talk about, reflect on, and store positive holiday memories. Anxious children tend to “tag” anxious memories. Help them to process and hold onto holiday memories that are filled with family resonance and fun.

Advice for Parents and Carers: 

Understand your own feelings about each holiday. What really is important to you in the holiday? Is the holiday a religious one, spiritual one, traditional one, or materialistic one? Is your time being spent according to your priorities? What are you planning to do that does not fit into your priorities? Why?

Write down three things that you would most like to do with your child over the holidays. How will you get quiet, reflective time for yourself, which is necessary to keep your child regulated? Do you need to become ill to do this? Can you make another plan?

Write down three things that you will not over the holidays, or that you will do in alternating years. For example, I will bake this year, but not next. I will send cards or emails next year, but not this year. 

Think about what you need to do so that you do not over-extend yourself financially. What is “enough”? Consider this in advance so that you know when to stop giving, buying, doing, going, etc.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.