Michigan Autism Conference, October 11-12, 2018

I know that I said that I was taking a break from the blog because of personal issues, but I am just bursting with ideas.

I was recently in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the Michigan Autism Conference, and I learned a lot.

First of all, I have learned that every field struggles with their own definition. If I have to listen to one more “what makes us a field” discussions, I am going to rip of my ears and beat someone with them.

At every conference, no matter the field, this comes up over and over again. For a field that is based in behaviorism, I find it odd that there aren’t some strict descriptive and prescriptive behavioral objectives that can be tracked and continually evaluated.

Secondly, everyone loves to talk about sex. It was a popular conversation topic when I was 16, and now at 39, it is still endlessly interesting. The BEST speaker was Dr. Stein on Sexual Expression. She was a very engaging speaker as well as extremely intelligent. She didn’t miss a beat during her presentation; it was obvious that she has worked in her field a long time.

I learned that I am engaging in behavior that will probably have negative consequences down the line. For instance, I have not properly established boundaries with my son. I use the bathroom with the door open. I have always done this because either I had to keep an eye on Caleb or he would have a meltdown if he were sequestered from me. Unfortunately, I have been confusing “closed door behavior” and “open door behavior.” Taking a bath, for instance, should be a “closed door behavior.” He should have privacy, but alas, my desire for his safety has put a hindrance on another part of his life.

I also need to give him the space and time to be alone with his body. He needs to learn about his body and what he finds appealing or rewarding. I mean, boys masturbate in utero, so why shouldn’t they be able to touch themselves when they are older and more self-aware.

Also, children identify with their chosen gender by ages 3-4. To me that is crazy that my son already knows if he feels like a boy or a girl. Also, biologically, women are bisexual. There are so many aspects of this particular domain that are overlooked because the conversation makes us feel uncomfortable. I mean, do any of us relish the idea of explain the birds and the bees to our children?

Thankfully, I have done one thing right: it is important to properly identify your child’s body parts and use the correct terminology: vulva, vagina, penis, and testicles. I have used clear and simple language to explain bodily functions, including po0ping, eating, and menstruation – why would sex be any different?

Thirdly, there is a need for autism advocates. It is not just the autistic children that need attention, it is the family of autistic children as well. The field has a really high turnover rate because while the field can be rewarding, it is also very difficult. It is important for ABA therapists to take time for themselves and be able to relax. This allows for a mentally healthy worker who is refreshed and ready to put in the work.

I learned about The Healing Haven. There they are doing some of what I would like to do. I want to teach parents how to play with their kids. I want to reach out to diverse communities who may not have the access to child care that other communities have. It may sound funny to have to teach people how to play, but not every culture values play. Growing up, my father would only play Connect 4 or Checkers with us – he had no idea how to be silly and play with us. He never got on the floor and rolled around with joy.

There are many parents who want to raise little ladies and gentlemen, and if it works for their family, than great! But, if it isn’t working, finding a new strategy for play as an adult can seem completely foreign. For the sake of autistic children, we need to stop worrying about whether or not they see an adult as an authority figure, and worry about the adult and child connecting on a deeper level. And that connection is best made through play.

The MAC was a fantastic experience, and I was able to go through the generosity of ASK Family Services which awarded me a scholarship for free entrance to the 2 day conference. I have more thoughts, but for now, I’m thinking about Lloyd Rieber at University of Georgia and Serious Play.

 

Learning with Mad Libs

With a ton of education about education, I am able to think of ways of making homework fun. Now, I’m a dork, so I think flashcards are fun as heck – Caleb not so much. Sometimes you have to hide the homework like you do with vegetables: sneak it into something they like. So, instead of making flax seed muffins, we are playing Mad Libs.

Why are Mad Libs genius? Because Caleb loves playing the game, and he doesn’t realize that he is actually learning. We use Mad Libs Junior, which have the added bonus of giving suggestions for each category; the four categories are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and parts of the body.

Noun: person, place, or thing.
Verb: action or state of being
Adjective: describes a noun

I keep it that simple, and I ask him to define these words randomly during the days. It is all about creating strong neural pathways so he doesn’t forget; it is important to reinforce these pathways on a regular basis, but doing it too much can lead to mental overload. When Caleb hits mental overload, he is done for a few minutes and then we reset.

I mostly use the Mad Libs without letting Caleb look at the sample words. First of all, the more random the words, the sillier the story is. Secondly, giving Caleb the time to come up with an answer of his own is teaching him how to problem solve. Patience is key, and it is hard to know when or if I should rescue Caleb when he is clearly struggling. Right now, I’m playing it by ear; if Caleb is getting emotionally upset, I will try to calm him down and point him in the right direction. But, see, then I worry that I am giving him positive reinforcement for melting down. Of course, that is a whole other topic that I am looking forward to writing about: the difference between rewards, positive reinforcement, and incentive systems. (I literally wrote the chapter on this.)

Serious Play is a concept that Lloyd Rieber has researched and has published many articles in peer-reviewed journals on the subject. Serious play is a way to making learning fun, because after all, we want our kids to be life-long learners. Another fun way to learn is through graphic novels, but that is also a whole other post. For more information about Lloyd Rieber, you can visit his website.

Finally, Mad Libs are great because they don’t take long to complete. There is a tiny delay of gratification that is really helping Caleb; autistic kids aren’t really know for their patience.

Happy Mad Libbing!