Learning the culture of autism

Still on vacation in Autismia, trying to learn the ways of the native culture.

Already our little excursion has borne fruit.

Anita reported that when our “big guy” with ASD became agitated last week she was able to see his behavior for what it was, and knew all to well from experience where it was going. Instead of trying to reason with him, she just said, “Hey, buddy, would you like to play a quiet game of checkers with me in another room?

“Sure would, bud,” he replied. The time spent was more than worth it and, needless to say, Anita got whupped at checkers!

Last week we began watching a dvd by Carol Gray, who pioneered the use of “social stories” to help people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Creating social stories can help a person with ASD “see” the situation he or she is struggling with in a non-threatening way.  People with ASD frequently experience a lot of anxiety due to their inability to read social clues and decipher what is going on with the people around them.  People with optimally functioning social skills swap non-verbal social cues with lightning speed, on the fly, without thinking about it.
Why the anxiety?  Well, do you feel anxiety when you come home from work and your spouse or significant other has put on the stone face and you have no idea why? Suppose you went to work one day and everybody there was like that.  You'd surely expect to be fired by noon. Would you feel anxious?

Think about Kafka and the “faceless” bureaucracy.

No, on second thought, don't.

The point is, if you can't read faces, they all look the same. 

When I began to get the gist of where Carol was going, a small light bulb went on:  Oh, yeah–that's what I'm doing when I journal!  I'm literally stepping outside the whirling stream of human interaction and putting things down on paper so that I can look at my situation objectively.  I'm lucky enough to be able to do that for myself.
Jesus told social stories and we call them parables, and so did Aesop when he wrote his fables.  We NTs (Neuro-typicals) have had our social stories forever.  Ours, though, rely on intuition, metaphor, and imagination to make their point, so they don't always work too well for people with ASD.

Social stories for people with ASD are like the old Dragnet TV shows:  “Just the facts, ma'm.”  They seek to present information that a person with ASD is not able to intuit or deduce from the whirlwind of sensory information swirling around him.  They help work around some of the common traits of ASD, like tactile defensiveness (not wanting to be touched).

Here's an example of a social story written to help a child who needs to get a haircut:

When my hair gets long I need a haircut.
It is important to have a haircut so I look good.
I will look different with my haircut. Looking different is ok.
My hair will grow back again.
When I have my hair cut we will go to see (name of hairdresser) – insert photo
I will sit in the chair quietly.
The haircut may tickle but it will not hurt
When the haircut is finished mum will say “finished now” and I can get out of the chair.
Mum will be happy, the hairdresser will be happy.
My hair will look different and it will look good.

This week we start writing social stories of our own.  First we'll write them for one another, and then next week we'll explore how to write them for our Ranchers.

Photo courtesy:  http://www.visualphotos.com