A Light Touch – Understanding Autism

Jonas Torrance provides creative therapy & behaviour support for autistic children. His first book, Therapeutic Adventures with Autistic Children: Connecting through Movement, Play and Creativity is published by JKP on 21st May. Here, Jonas describes a case study in which a little understanding went a long way.

Jamie, an autistic boy, is in maths. The boy behind him begins to absentmindedly stroke Jamie’s back with a pencil. He lets the pencil drift up, and then back down. Jamie starts twisting in his seat, shouting and tearing off his clothes. The maths lesson descends into chaos.

A few days later, Jamie is able to explain why he was so distressed – the sensations of the pencil on his back made him think that the whole back wall of the classroom was collapsing, and that he was about to be crushed to death.

autistic childrenThese days there is a good deal of understanding around the sensory issues that autistic children face. Ear defenders, for example, have become a common accessory for those with sensitivity to sound. But it’s important to realise that, to the autistic child, the ear defenders are not simply useful for reducing noise levels. The tightness of the headphones is also a factor – for some children this pressure gives them the sense of their heads being held together and contained. Continue reading

Focusing on Children With an Incarcerated Parent by Judi Goozh and Sue Jeweler

Judi Goozh is a retired award-winning speech-language pathologist. Sue Jeweler is a retired award-winning, Who’s Who listed teacher. Judi and Sue were nominated for the 2013 White House “Champions of Change” award. Their books, Tell Me About When Moms and Dads Go To Jail and Tell Me About When Moms and Dads Come Home From Jail come out on May 21. For more information or to purchase your copies, click here.

Our educational experience taught us to “get to know the whole child” in our work.  As teachers, we found children struggling academically, socially or emotionally as a consequence of their family situations.  If there was a divorce or death or deployment, the school counselor always provided us with resources.  Unfortunately, there were no materials for children if they had an incarcerated parent.  Thus began our mission to create books that would support these children, their families, and the professionals who serve them.

Children, who are victims of their parent’s crimes, are often afraid and confused by the changes in their own lives.  Research showed us that children with an incarcerated parent are impacted socially (acting out behaviors, friendship problems, communication), emotionally (depression, anger, confusion, feelings of abandonment), and academically (attention, concentration, learning issues, poor grades).  We learned that on any given day more than 7 million children may have a parent in prison or jail or under parole or probation supervision and that, without effective intervention strategies, as many as 70 percent of children of incarcerated parents may become involved with the criminal justice system.  We also learned that parental incarceration is associated with a two-fold increase in risk for mental health problems in affected children and that multiple issues face families when the formerly incarcerated person returns home.

Our book, TELL ME ABOUT WHEN MOMS AND DADS GO TO JAIL, presents a scenario about a child who witnesses the arrest of a parent and includes questions that are asked by the child and answered throughout the process from arrest to incarceration.  The second book, TELL ME ABOUT WHEN MOMS AND DADS COME HOME FROM JAIL, tells a different story about a child who finds out his dad is arrested and, after spending time in jail, is coming back home.  The child has many questions about what will happen and, throughout the story, his questions are answered.   Even though the stories are about a child and his dad, the same story, questions, and answers are true for a child whose mom is arrested and, after spending time in jail, comes home.  Both books include activities for children and tips for parents and professionals on topics including: jail visitation guidelines, handling conflict, communication strategies, and a list of resources and further reading.

 

In addition to writing the books, we have given presentations to educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, criminal justice personnel, pediatricians, child welfare personnel, foster parents, public librarians, and White House senior staff members.  We help audience members recognize the fact that they may have contact with children and families through their jobs but also as neighbors and even within their families.  Our message includes actions we all can take to make a difference for these children:

  • Re-think our own preconceived ideas and stereotypical attitudes about crime, the incarcerated parent, the family and the idea that the child will probably follow in this downward path.
  • Educate others.
  • Be compassionate.  Help break the cycle – do not assume nothing can be done.
  • Make sure that children who have an incarcerated parent are properly assessed and supported.
  • Give appropriate support during the initial period of adjustment and throughout the process of reunification.
  • Prompt open discussions with either the parent or the child in a safe, caring, and confidential way and have the child or parent talk about their experiences, and help them to deal with the emotions and consequences that follow incarceration.
  • Encourage the parent to come to the school to tell the counselor, the principal, the teacher or the case manager that his/her spouse has been arrested.  In addition, it is important to get the parent to give permission to talk to the child.
  • Encourage and investigate cross collaboration among different agencies in the community such as social service providers, pediatricians, and other mental health agencies.

It has been said, “A man’s family serves his time with him.” Our goal has been to build awareness and sensitivity to the situation that children of incarcerated parents find themselves in, through no fault of their own.

Visit our website to learn more about this issue and our work:

http://www.creativefamilyprojects.org

 

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

“Lap Therapy” Time by Beth Powell, LCSW

Beth Powell, LCSW, is owner of Beth Powell’s In-Family Services, an outpatient psychotherapy private practice specializing in trauma informed care. Her new book, Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt publishes this month.

Bye-Bye Baby Bunting.

Daddy’s gone a hunting.

To catch a little rabbit skin,

To wrap his Baby Bunting in.

                                       Mother Goose

When I was a small child being cared for by my aunt, she sang this song while rocking me to a slow 60-beat-a-minute rhythm.  My aunt took over my care when my mother’s mental illness made it unsafe for my sister and me to be with her. What a contrast in care! My aunt’s rhythm, voice, words, touch, and smell were so much more soothing than my mother’s.  With my aunt, I could relax. I didn’t have to struggle to get away or dissociate into a floppy, non‑moving, barely breathing, pretending-to-be-dead little girl.  My aunt exuded safety and calm that soothed my restlessness.

Resting against my aunt’s chest, I felt the slow, consistent beat of her heart.  I relaxed into the protection of her arms wrapped gently around me.  Her voice, vibrating from her chest into my ears, awakened the proprioceptive neural impulses in my face that told me where I was in time and in space.  Grounding me with her body, she held me so I wouldn’t fall.  Wrapped in her loving arms, I felt safe enough to close my eyes.  The sweet smell of my aunt’s skin pleasured the lower, emotional center of my brain, enticing me to lie close and be still just a little bit longer.

The more my caregiver sang and rocked me, the more her song and her rhythm calmed and relaxed her.  As she calmed and relaxed, so did I.  We shared a pleasurable experience.  We connected in a happy, healing way.  My receptive language was developing.  Her words and touch assured me that there was someone much bigger and stronger than I was who had my best interests at heart.  She was unafraid and confident in her ability to nurture.  She put me first.  By her loving actions, she was forming a template in my brain of safety–security–protection–trust in a higher power through a concrete, much-bigger-than-myself human being.  The safety and security I felt in her arms paved the way for my future belief and faith in a loving, abstract, not-of-this-earth higher, heavenly power.

Adults create healthy, secure attachment in children through positive “real” non-virtual, physical interaction with them.  Caregivers are able to instill in children safety–security–protection–trust because loving, protective adults instilled it in them.  My birth mother couldn’t instill that in me.  But my aunt and uncle, my grandma, and my first‑grade teacher, Miss Beetles, could. They were the human caregiving angels God sent my way. Thus, in spite of the hard beginnings I had, the template was established, in childhood, for the “me” I am today because of caregivers like them who somehow understood what I needed and were able to provide it when I needed it.

Internalized safety–security–protection–trust is the base from which self-esteem, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-strength, and altruism develop. It is the support upon which mature character or the internalized Fruit of the Spirit must build.  Without an internalized secure base, children develop anxiety and self-deception.  When a child has a secure base in childhood with positive attachment to a preferred, stable, protective, and physically present primary caregiver, then a healthy relationship with God, whom we cannot see, is much easier.

Insecurely attached and developmentally traumatized children often succumb to unhealthy control, anxiety, mistrust of those who love them, and abusive behaviors.  As adults they either become their own God (unhealthy narcissism) or they may find God in substances or toxic behaviors. Reversing unhealthy belief systems is difficult but not impossible. It’s work that is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for parents who take a child’s antics personally, as if it is “them” whom the child is out to get by interpreting their“can’ts” as “won’ts.”

Therapeutic caregivers of hurting children seek the sources of the unpleasant symptoms that they see, and they address those sources from a psychological, neuro-behavioral, socio-emotional and spiritual growth perspective.  Children need to trust that adult caregivers can and will protect them.  This trumps any other socio-emotional need in childhood.  This is the base upon which the quality of the relationship with self, with others, and with God is built.  A child who has experienced significant neglect, abuse, loss, and chronic and acute stress has an even greater need for safety-security-protection-trust experiences with loving, mature, and stable adults.  They have a harder time developing trust because it has been broken, sometimes again and again.

Below is a therapeutic activity that caregivers can share and enjoy with the children in their care to help them establish an essential base of safety–security–protection–trust.

Caregiver–child rocking chair time to help calm brain and body

It’s not just about rocking infants any more.  Larger children who hurt can benefit from rocking, too.  And so can the caregiver.  This comforting act helps regulate children when they are fretting and need help regulating themselves.

It also provides caregiver–child quality “love and bonding” time.  How comforting rocking feels for both parties involved.  Caregivers can even rock themselves when they feel out of sorts, and it helps to re-set their brain.

Rocking caregivers should add a slowly-sung comforting song, hum something spiritually soothing, or just gently make a “shush” sound with their lips and tongue while taking slow, long, and deep breaths to not only better regulate themselves but to give the child something to match.   A regulated parent helps regulate a child.  The drawn out “shush” sound and the slow, rhythmic rocking replicates the sound and the movement the gestational infant at least should have received in utero.  This movement and sound helps the baby’s lower brain develop in a healthier way to better manage stress.  It also helps the older brain do the same.

Caregiver-initiated knee-bouncing games to help install rhythmic synchronicity and nurture trust in children

One of my favorite close times with the adults who loved and enjoyed me as a child was to “Go See Mr. Brown.”  I’m not sure where this knee-bouncing game originated, but it could have been passed down generationally through my South Mississippi maternal ancestors.

To perform this adult-activated activity, the child first sits, facing the adult, on the adult’s knees.  It’s important that the adult’s face and body language convey confidence and fun with lots of facial expression and eye contact.

The adult securely holds onto the child while the child securely holds onto the adult. Then the adult bounces the child slowly and consistently up and down on the knees in synchrony with the words and the 60-beat-a-minute rhythm of the following song:

Mr. Brown went to town

Riding a goat and leading a hound.

The hound barked; the goat jumped.

Threw Mr. Brown right down on a stump!

Surprise! The child does not tumble onto the floor.  Instead, the adult gently, slowly, and securely tilts the child backward as far as the child can comfortably tolerate without showing signs of anxiety and fear.  Then slowly, the adult returns the child to a sitting position on top of the knees.  The adult then asks the child, “Who kept you from falling on that stump?”  “You did!” is the desired answer.  “And I will every time!” can be the adult response.

As the child grows in trust that the adult performing the activity will keep him safe from falling, and will stop if the activity scares him, then the adult may gradually increase the speed and the depth to which the child is tilted back.  In the situation of a hyper-vestibular child (child fearful of too much movement), that may not be by much because the part of the brain which reads and adjusts to movement isn’t working as optimally as it should.  Heed the expression on the child’s face and take notice of resistance in the body to the tilting back movement.  Ask children if they are ready to tilt back.  Don’t force a child to tilt back farther than he or she is ready to go.  That doesn’t build safety-security-protection-trust.

“Lap therapy” time is supposed to be pleasurable and bonding.  It should be mutually enjoyable with lots of eye contact and joyful, loving facial expression on the part of the caregiver!

Simon Faulkner’s 2018 Rhythm2Recovery USA Tour

Simon Faulkner, author of Rhythm to Recovery, will be holding three workshops in the US in April! Learn how to utilize rhythm and reflection in both therapeutic and educational settings and familiarize yourself with a model of practice that has a proven track record for social and emotional development. For anyone interested in fun, interactive rhythmic exercises to use with both individuals and groups, this is the workshop for you.

For more information and to register, visit:

American Rhythm2Recovery Workshop 2018 (10) (002)

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 Sue and Bridie’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.

How do we relate to “old age” and aged care?

old

Felicity Chapman, author of Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care,  is an accredited mental health social worker who has extensive training and experience in psychotherapy and specialises in work with seniors both in the community and facility settings. Here, she talks about the importance of senior-friendly practices and redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care.

We know about our ageing population. We know that, soon, it won’t be a skateboarding teenager that we’ll have to look out for while taking a stroll outside but a speeding mobility scooter – but what about our relationship with “old age” and all those who represent it?

Is it a passionate love affair or something we just do? Or maybe it is something that we can’t even fudge an interest in. Too “urgh” to even think about. If that’s you – I hear ya’. What’s a person to do when all that is blaring in their ears is to “fight the signs of ageing”? Beat that “old age” monster back (only with a certain product of course).

And what about our throw-away society? Much as we might not want to replace and dispose, many of us have little choice. Your eight-year-old washing machine stops working. What to do? Shell out a lot of money to try and fix it or spend not much more on a brand new one? Yep, planned obsolesce is certainly in-built in our life.

You see, even if we have the best of intentions, “old” can become synonymous with “urgh” or “obsolete”. What does this mean for how we view other things when they are old? People when they are old?

I’m not wanting you to hug every grandma you meet or guilt you in to acts of service for older adult populations. I am just appreciating the social milieu that surrounds our Western world when it comes to how we view this thing called “old age” and how much we value, or not, our elders.

My question to you is this – is it time to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care?

It seems like a good time to me. We know the clock is ticking and our cohort of seniors is growing day by day, and living longer. I don’t like being affected by dire warnings of a “grey tsunami” but I do think that now is the time to see our ageing population as an opportunity to celebrate age and all those who represent “old age”.

So, what does it mean to “bring sexy back” to how we view aged care or older adults?

I’m sure Justin Timberlake did not have older adults in mind when he sung “I’m bringing sexy back…” Sexy is often everything that aged care is not. But by using the word “sexy” I am not referring to the high octane experience of being intimate with someone. Who knows though, older adults may well want to talk about such things! How senior friendly to encourage this?

What I mean when I talk about “bringing sexy back” is bringing a sense of spice or pizzazz associated with respect back to our Western society that appears to have lost its way in valuing seniors. I am a social worker before I am a psychotherapist. It seems perfectly natural to me to examine systems at all levels and not accept the status quo if it is at odds with a senior-friendly practice.

Nothing, I believe, should be exempt. From community attitudes, to what governments will fund, to social policy, our learning institutions, organisational mandates and the field of geropsychology – all should be fodder for our discerning eye as we look through the lens of valuing seniors. Bringing sexy back for me means to ensure that, as a society, we are senior friendly and celebrate age in all that we do.

This is not limited to healthy ageing campaigns or practices, as good as they are. As a social worker and a gerontological psychotherapist I am interested in models that extend the good that already exists and challenges what has not yet been challenged. From the way that older adults are engaged with psychotherapeutically through to how our governments and industry prioritise senior health and emotional wellbeing. All systems need to be scrutinized for how senior friendly they are.

For the sake of the current group of advanced seniors – and all of those who will surely follow – it is in humanity’s best interest to develop senior-friendly practices and be excited about the opportunities that await us when we turn our personal and professional energies toward redefining our relationship with “old age” and aged care. In the field of psychology, experts are lamenting a lack of interest in aged care, worldwide.

I hope that my book Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care: A Support Guide can go some way toward exciting and equipping workers – not just psychologists – who are either thinking of “dipping their toe in” to the aged care sector or who are fully immersed already. I also hope that it offers new horizons of thought in how we, as a society, relate to this thing called “old age” and aged care. Whether you are in to aged care or not, I’m sure you’ll agree that everyone on this planet deserves respect and dignity – especially when we are at our most vulnerable.

And if you think that psychotherapeutic work with older adults or aged care is staid and boring. Think again! What a rich mix of things to navigate. It’s seriously interesting!
It is – I think – a little bit sexy.

A Crash Course in Widowed Single Parenting – Top Tips for Keeping It Together

Things Jon Didn’t Know About: Our Life After My Husband’s Suicide is an honest and moving account of the day-to-day practicalities of raising a family as a single parent survivor of suicide with advice on how to talk to children about death and how to support them as they grow up. Author Sue Henderson draws on her experience as a social worker to discusses theories of grief and men’s mental health. Here are her ‘top tips for keeping it together’, taken from chapter 2, ‘A Crash Course in Widowed Single Parenting’:  Continue reading

Are you looking for books and resources to support your work with gender variant individuals?

 

We publish a range of books for therapists, counsellors and healthcare practitioners who work with gender variant individuals. From informative guides to personal memoirs, our books offer support and promote greater understanding of gender identity and expression. This collection includes books that address themes of gender identity, sexuality, relationships, transitioning and mental health. For more information on new books and to receive a copy of our new catalogue, join our mailing list here

The Voice Book for Trans and Non-Binary People

Matthew Mills and Gillie Stoneham

Written by two specialist speech and language therapists, this book explains how voice and communication therapy can help transgender and non-binary people to find their authentic voice. It gives a thorough account of the process, from understanding the vocal mechanism through to assimilating new vocal skills and new vocal identity into everyday situations, and includes exercises to change pitch, resonance and intonation. Each chapter features insider accounts from trans and gender diverse individuals who have explored or are exploring voice and communication related to their gender expression, describing key aspects of their experience of creating and maintaining a voice that feels true to them.

This pithy, practical guide is a treasure trove of rare and wonderful gems – particularly the exercises for trans men and non-binary people, often neglected but vulnerable to crippling self-consciousness and even phobia around speaking. Clinicians and clients alike, I unreservedly recommend The Voice Book to anyone looking to feminise, masculinise, neutralise or just explore the potential of voice.’ – Dr Stuart Lorimer, Consultant Psychiatrist

Who is this book for? Speech and language therapists, healthcare practitioners, counsellors, gender variant individuals

 

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