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Posts Tagged ‘meltdown’

Experts Reflect on ‘Parenthood’ Finale

April 20, 2011 21 comments

Emotions run high in the season finale of NBC‘s ‘Parenthood,’ and Max responds. Here is a clip of Max’s meltdown.


The Experts Speak: Hard Times Come Again No More

Intense emotional experiences are difficult for people with autism/Asperger’s. This is very true when the emotional experience involves other people and is not related directly to the needs or desires of the person with autism/Asperger’s. In this episode, Max is unable to relate to the feelings Sarah is experiencing when Amber is in the hospital. Indeed, the disability in being able to connect with other people and to develop an understanding of how someone else might be feeling is difficult and at times even completely alienating. A patient of mine (and an avid “Star Trek” fan) once told me that “having autism/Asperger’s is like being a Vulcan living among Klingons.”

For those of us who are “neurotypical,” we generally get a feeling of connectedness, satisfaction, and comfort when sharing in intensely emotional situations – especially those involving grief and/or death. For people with autism/Asperger’s, they just don’t get those same positive feelings that reinforce the interaction. In fact, a person with autism/Asperger’s will usually find encounters with others who are sharing feelings and comforting one another to be confusing and even frightening. The whole process simply makes little sense to them, and there is certainly nothing that is pleasant or reinforcing about the situation. Trying to get a person with autism/Asperger’s to understand and empathize is to reach the very core of their disability: social and emotional connectedness is the very thing that they are unable to do, or at least not able to do very well. Teaching empathy to someone with autism/Asperger’s is almost like teaching a pig to sing – it is a waste of time and annoys the pig (at least most of the time).

That being said, there are ways that people with autism/Asperger’s can learn to at least approximate feelings of empathy and compassion. With social stories and direct interventions in specific social situations, as Adam attempts to do with Max in this episode, people with autism/Asperger’s can at least “learn the rules” for how someone “should” act in an intensely emotional situation. When this goes well – when they get the rules correctly – they can feel a great deal of satisfaction with themselves for “getting it right.” As much as they don’t understand why people feel a certain feeling, they do often care if people respond to them in an odd or hostile way. When the important others get frustrated, disappointed or even angry with the person with autism/Asperger’s because they are not empathetic or “understanding” someone else’s point of view, it changes how that important other would generally interact with the person with autism/Asperger’s – and that’s confusing and scary.

When Frankie was very young, we began to intervene and attempt to teach the appropriate response to him when he was in a situation where he should clearly be expressing some empathy but “just didn’t get it.” This meant that we had to be vigilant about monitoring his interactions with others. It also meant we had to be ready to step in whenever there was a situation that provided a teaching moment. For many years, Frankie would not follow through independently on any of our “examples.” Eventually, he began to respond to situations in which he should show some empathy but in a very scripted way. Nonetheless, we would reinforce with praise and attention. As time has passed, Frankie has continued to respond in an almost appropriate way to situations where he should show empathy but he is clearly not directly impacted.

Like everything else with autism/Asperger’s, the key has been the intensity and persistence of the teaching. At this point, Frankie may even feel some semblance of empathy, but I know that he will never receive as much from these interactions as I do. I am grateful that at least at this point he, like Max, can feel good about himself and experience others feeling good about him as he struggles to connect socially in a world that often makes little sense to him.

Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.

Visit our Topic of the Week, ‘How do you manage meltdowns?‘ to hear from the community.

The Void a Therapist Can Leave

February 23, 2011 16 comments

This week on Parenthood, Do Not Sleep with Your Autistic Nephew’s Therapist,’ Adam and Kristina are dealt a huge blow when Gaby, Max’s behavioral therapist, gives notice that she can no longer work with them. Adam and Kristina are unaware at the time why she is leaving, but she is visibly upset.

Adam and Kristina are stirring and unsure what do. They are trying to pick up where Gaby left off, but Max is full-blown meltdown mode and it seems there is little hope in site.

Have you experienced the departure of a therapist that affected your family? How did you handle it?

Please stay tuned this week for even more Parenthood discussion. Watch the full episode here, so you will be ready to participate!


The Best Lemonade: Sentiments from a Sibling of an Autistic Kid

January 20, 2011 30 comments

This “In Their Own Words” post by Katelyn Jolley, whose brother Jon has autism. Katelyn is a homeschool graduate, musician, guitar teacher, and sister to a brother with autism. She is also the founder of the Facebook group Siblings of Autistic Kids.

“Ay-yoo,” Jon said.  His head was buried in my shoulder; I could hear the muffled sound of his helpless hiccuping.  In that moment, I felt my frustration dwindle and disappear as it was replaced by something else: tears.  Silent, warm tears to match my brother’s.  We cried together.

It had been another breakdown.  I hadn’t let him play outside, and he didn’t like that.  During these severe tantrums, I had learned, it was nearly impossible to comfort him; I had waited for the storm to blow over.

As I knelt there comforting my sobbing brother, I found myself reflecting on the past two years of our lives.

The very first time I saw my brother, Jon, he was nineteen months old.  It was a chilly February weekday.  As a family, we had made the decision to adopt him.  I remember giving Jon a hug for the first time; he just stood there, stiff.  “He’ll get used to you,” my parents encouraged.

Not long after Jon’s adoption, we started noticing unusual traits: head banging, toe walking, screaming, and lack of responsiveness, to name a few.  In the beginning, we simply equated these things with personality quirks.  But there was another mystery: Jon didn’t get hurt. He didn’t feel pain; at least, he didn’t show it outwardly.  We thought for awhile that he was simply “tough.”  He was a husky kid, after all.  Maybe he had some early-onset phobia of emotional showcases.  Who knew?

We soon realized, however, that something more was going on.  We took him to an Occupational Therapist, who diagnosed him with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  But even then, armed with a fresh diagnosis, we had a feeling that wasn’t the full story.

Jon’s tantrums continued to worsen.  His second birthday came and went, and his communication skills were next to nada.  His younger brother began to catch up to him in developmental milestones.  With time passing and Jon not progressing, we decided to get a second opinion.  We now know that Jon (three and a half) has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

As anyone in my shoes will agree, being a sibling of an autistic kid is not always easy.  For siblings of kids with special needs, denial is often present.  But I have learned that love, unconditional love, is amazing at filling in the gaps caused by frustration and confusion. I’ve found truth in the sentiment, “(S)He who laughs, lasts.”  I’ve learned that acceptance is a mindset. Having an autistic sibling can be a beautiful journey.  It is a remarkably life changing, character building experience – if you let it be.  Along my journey as a sibling of an autistic kid, I’ve learned things I never knew, felt things I’ve never felt, and loved in ways I never knew I could.

If life hands you a lemon, don’t just make lemonade; make the best lemonade on earth and give everyone a straw.

As I knelt there holding my priceless, beautiful brother, the memories kept coming and I felt a sense of overwhelming love.  I wanted to help him; I wanted to keep him safe.

“Ay-yoo,” Jon said again, and tears filled my eyes, for I knew something: “Ay-yoo” was his own imperfect, wonderful way of saying, “I love you too.”

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Click here to download the Sibling Support Tool Kit. This tool kit is for children who have a brother or sister diagnosed with autism. Though the guide has been designed for children ages 6-12, the information can be adapted as needed to other age and education levels. The guide is written in an interactive format so parents and siblings can set aside some quiet time to read the guide together. The intention is to create an opportunity for siblings to focus on their feelings, reactions to their sibling’s diagnosis and get information about autism.

In Their Own Words – Ten Things That I Wish You Would Accept, No Questions Asked

July 30, 2010 47 comments

This “In Their Own Words” essay is written by Lydia Wayman. Lydia is a 22 year old who “resides somewhere on the autism spectrum.”  Her three favorite things are her service cat, Elsie, her best friend and her mom. She recently wrote and published a book, “Interview with Autism,” for parents and caregivers about life on the autism spectrum.

I started blogging almost exactly a year ago as a way to process my circumstances better, as I always process better in writing, and hopefully as a way to demystify autism to parents and caregivers of those on the spectrum. I realized long ago that some people seem to have a knack for handling my quirks, while others … don’t.  This list, “Ten Things That I Wish You Would Accept, No Questions Asked,” arose from considering the things that the most positive people in my life have always done, while also thinking about what some not-so-positive people consistently do that causes a problem. I can’t speak to the truth of these statements for everyone on the spectrum, but I am guessing that there are many commonalities amongst us when it comes to these matters.

1. I can be surprisingly good at one thing (say, remembering conversations precisely as they happened many years after the fact) and surprisingly bad at another thing that you might think should be so much easier (like keeping track of receipts or remembering the procedure for filling a prescription).

2. Just because I have the words to type it does not mean that I have the words to say it.

3. I really do hate to melt down, especially in public. If there were another way out, I would always take it.

4. I never play stupid. If I ask a question or say I don’t get it, it means I don’t get it. Please don’t make me feel dumber by saying that I’m faking it, just because it seems straightforward.

5. What may be slightly bothersome to you, like the waistband on a pair of pants, can cause me to be a witch all day … or at least until I change clothes. If I’m crabby, it’s because something is physically uncomfortable in the sensory realm of things. Until that thing changes, I will continue to be crabby.

6. I can’t control my excitement over cats. So if you mention cats or point out a cat, realize that I’m going to get excited. Let me enjoy it. A little happiness never hurt anyone, eh?

7. I am often completely unaware of self-injurious behaviors. I scratch, hit, bite, and pick often, and much more frequently when I’m agitated for some reason. In the moment, I don’t know that I’m doing it; if made aware, it’s so compulsive that I almost physically can’t stop myself. But using my head, obviously I don’t like the results of it.

8. I am exactly the same person inside regardless of how engaged (or disengaged) I am with the environment and others in it. Yes, you might have to change some things based on how I’m reacting in that moment, but please continue to treat me like the same person that I am.

9. Engagement and happiness do not depend on one another! I can be just as happy off in my own world as I am fully engaged with you. However, a lot depends on you, here. If I’m disengaged and you’re forcing me to “act normal,” then no, I don’t feel very happy. If you’re interacting with me in a way that I can in that moment, then I can be as happy as I’ve ever been.

10. While autism does mean that I am absorbed within myself (aut means self, after all), that doesn’t mean that I don’t want you around. If you can come to me, rather than forcing me out of my world to come to you, then I’d love to let you in. There’s a whole world in here; maybe you should check it out.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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