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Autism & Asperger’s Conference with Dr. Tony Attwood, Part 4

Posted Nov 22 2010 5:00am

Welcome! This is Part 4 in a series related to the recent Future Horizons conference I attended with Dr. Tony Attwood speaking on Autism & Asperger’s. I apologize for the length of time between posts; the last week or so of my time and attention has been taken up by IEP team meetings at my son’s school.

Here is a recap of what I have posted so far Part 1 discussed the topics of Autistic Personality, Prevalence of ASDs and Asperger’s in Girls.
Part 2 covered the Reaction to Being Different, How to Explain the Diagnosis and the Social Tree versus the Sensory Tree.
Part 3 included Exploring Feelings, specifically related to Cognitive Behavior Therapy, the Amygdala and Common Emotions.

Today will be the final post in this series and will look at the concept of Affective Education. There are two parts to this: the first part is identifying the emotion and the depth, and the second part is fixing the feeling (if it’s a negative one).

For people with Aspergers, emotions often mean unpleasant experiences that get you into trouble. We can turn this around by approaching it like a scientist and saying something like, “Isn’t it fascinating that humans do this?”

Dr. Attwood shared a couple of specific ways that you could work on the identifying and classifying part of affective education.

Emotion Scrapbook
One of them was a scrapbook to illustrate an emotion. He recommended starting with a positive feeling, such as happiness or pleasure. Work with the child to cut out of magazines or draw pictures of people experiencing these emotions or of things and experiences that make the child feel that way. You could also make a list or write about times that the emotion was felt.

If you have more than one child or student working on scrapbooks, they could compare and contrast them when they are finished to see what makes other people feel that emotion. You can also refer back to the scrapbook when you want to talk about that emotion or remind the child of that feeling. Additional scrapbooks could be made on other emotions, positive or negative, that would be helpful to the individual.

Feelings Thermometer
Another idea he suggested was to use a thermometer to measure the degree of intensity of an emotion. After identifying the basic emotion and drawing out a thermometer, you can place photographs and/or words at the appropriate points on the thermometer. This will help to increase precision and accuracy in verbal expression.

When something needs to be fixed, what do we use? Tools. And can any tool fix the problem? No, you need the right tool for the job.

Using the analogy of an Emotional Toolbox, Dr. Attwood shared a number of types of tools, each with a variety of options that can be used to help a person recover from a negative emotion.

  • Physical Activity Tools – offer a quick release of emotional energy. He stated that, once you find something that works for the individual, physical exercise is better than cognitive behavioral therapy or medication.
  • Relaxation Tools – offer a slow release of emotional energy. Relaxation is the antidote to anxiety and also helps with focus and concentration. The degree of stress a person experiences is often proportionate to the number of people around.
  • Social Tools. These could include time with a family member or friend, being with a pet, or even solitude. Affection (with the individual’s approval of the intensity and duration) can be helpful as well. The important thing is to put the events in perspective and imagine what one would like to do or say in a stressful situation (social stories can help with this).
  • Special Interests – can be a means of relaxation, pleasure and knowledge. They can also be thought-blocking and be a distraction during a meltdown.
  • Sensory Tools – adding or removing things that help with sounds, lights, aroma or tactile sensitivities.
  • Medication – this is an area to be very careful about, but it is a tool in the toolbox. This can range from SSRIs to treat anxiety or depression to stimulants for impulsivity, anti-convulsants for mood cycles, or anti-psychotics for sedation. Sometimes you will see people self-medicate when they don’t feel they have other tools available that are working for them.

Although this conference was only a day, I’m sure I have only captured a fraction of the information that was conveyed. If you ever have a chance to see Dr. Tony Attwood in person, I highly recommend you grab the opportunity!

I did want to mention that Dr. Attwood has worked in conjunction with two colleagues to create CAT-kit: The new Cognitive Affective Training program for improving communication . This program is designed to help students become aware of how their thoughts, feelings and actions all interact and, in the process of using the various visual components, share their insights with others. It is a significant investment, but you can see a 25+ minute CAT-kit introduction to see if it might be something that would be helpful to you.

He also made references to various books and other materials that he uses in his practice with individuals who have Aspergers. Here are a few of them Mind Reading: The Interactive Guide to Emotions by Simon Baron-Cohen – This is a bit pricey but is available on DVD-ROM or CD-ROM and allows you to explore over 400 emotions.
Teaching Children with Autism to Mind-Read by Patricia Howlin, Simon Baron-Cohen and Julie A. Hadwin
The Transporters – a DVD series about understanding emotions for younger children using a train theme
Making Sense of Sex by Sarah Attwood
Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships by Dr. Temple Grandin and Sean Barron

I hope all of this information has been helpful to you and given you some things to think about with your child or student (or spouse) who has Aspergers or autism. Thanks for reading!

For more information on other conferences, please visit the Future Horizons website. They also have a variety of books and other materials by Tony Attwood and a number of other authors in their online store .

Note: I attended this conference for free as a member of the Future Horizons blogger review team. I did not receive any other compensation for this post.

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