Prepared by: Nicole Filiberti, LSW
In honor of National Autism Month, we are looking to help define and give an understanding of a thinking pattern used by children, adolescents and adults with Autism.
As a caregiver, friend, teacher or therapist, black and white thinking can sometimes feel intentional or manipulative, especially when it happens again and again and in similar situations.
Black and white, also known as polarized thinking patterns, are ways of thinking that just make sense to people with ASD. Individuals on the spectrum struggle with the nuances and non-verbal gestures and communication that exist in interpersonal interactions and communication standards that may come more naturally to others.
For example, anything lower than a 100% on a math quiz = failure. And, that’s even if the actual grade earned is a 97%. Handling conflicts is a tough one to begin with, but for someone with ASD, an argument or lack of agreement about a topic = no more friendship. A young woman with ASD may get in an argument with a friend at school and immediately feel they are not friends with this person anymore, struggling to understand that disagreements are a natural part of any relationship and can be worked through. These automatic thoughts can lead to significant setbacks in a child's academic and social functioning.
So how can we begin to help our children and adolescents develop a sense of the gray area? Below are a few strategies that can be used to help the black and white thinker in becoming more comfortable in all of the gray areas that life tends to throw our way.
Define the gray area for them
Since black and white thinkers don’t naturally see the gray, it can be helpful for others to define it for them. For example, if a child who has Autism worked on a long-term project in art class and brings it home, claiming they are disappointed with how it turned out and writing off the entire thing as a failure, a parent can ask their child questions such as "did you have to learn any new art skills to make this project?" or "what is one thing you do like about the project?" Asking these questions prompts children to see that both positive and negative aspects of one thing can coexist.
Another way to define the gray and expand the walls of black and white thinking is to ask the child or young man or woman if there are other reasons that a particular outcome may have taken place. For example, if you are driving along on the highway and notice that there has been a car accident, engage the gray area thinking by asking, “How do you think that car accident happened? How else could it have happened? What else? Anything else?” The goal is to help him to identify that it could have been the red car that hit the blue car. It could have been the driver in the blue car was texting or focusing on a phone call. Perhaps the driver in the red car sneezed or was arguing with the passenger and wasn’t processing that the driver in front of her was slowing down.
When gray area thinking isn’t happening naturally, provide choices or ask questions. For example, “Do you think it could have been the fault of the driver of the red car or the blue car? Do you think the driver didn’t notice that traffic was slowing down?”
And here’s another big set of questions – ask about perspective and feelings. “How do you think the drivers of the cars might feel? What do you think the driver of the red car is feeling right now (if the red is obviously banged up more than the blue car)?”
These conversations will not be met with ease and it will take persistence to initiate discussions about other reasons, feelings, and perspectives again and again until the language and thinking patterns begin to change, even if just a little.
Remind children that a bad moment does not equal a bad day
Many black and white thinkers are very quick to write off an entire day as a failure after making one mistake, or having one behavioral issue in school. Hearing from their teachers, parents and peers that the day still has a potential to improve can empower these children to move past their assumptions and generalizations.
This is another tough idea to internalize because one bad thing = bad day. It’s difficult to weigh the good and the bad of the day and come to the realization that although 1 or 2 bad things happened today, it was still a good day overall. Riding the ups and downs of the day is a life skill that will benefit black and white thinkers as they grow older and learn to navigate the world of school and work.
Utilize a visual
Visuals are an excellent tool to use to help expand those parameters beyond the black and white. Incorporating a rainbow with multiple colors or a traffic light visual can assist black and white thinkers by developing alternative options and will lead them to selecting the most likely and realistic outcome. That is, use the colors or different color lights to identify multiple solutions to a problem, or different possibilities that could take place if a decision is made (e.g., to end a friendship because of a disagreement, or to try to work through it and keep the friendship).
A number chart that includes rating scales of 1-10 can also assist children in understanding that the in-between area does exist. The bigger the range, the more the gray area because the nuances of the emotions expands and the child or adolescent has to make a decision how she feels without it being just happy, mad or sad. It could be a combination of feelings, or variations of angry or mad or sad.
Black and white thinking patterns can have quite the impact on everyday functioning, both in and out of school. Incorporating some of these strategies can assist black and white thinkers in challenging their automatic thought patterns. For those who see the world in nothing but extremes, it is important for them to gain some perspective and learn that life rarely fits itself perfectly into an "all or nothing" approach.
It's easy for us parents to get wrapped up in our own thoughts and responsibilities, and can sometimes forget that our children are not always 100% responsible for their decisions. This article from greatschools.org helps explain the physiological influences that go behind some of our children's nonsensical thoughts and actions.
Screens, Phones & Technology - Oh My! Dr Liz speaks about our kids and screen time on Mom Talk Radio with Maria Bailey
Our children are engrossed in social media, their computers, IPADS, IPhones, IPads, TV and anything other screen or social platform. The initial intent of the screen was not for long term and prolonged use on a daily basis.
What should we do as parents?
What is Grit, why do kids need it, and how can you as a parent foster it? Every parent wants to raise a child who is tough, confident, and well-adjusted. When our kids don't have that resilience, each day is overwhelming and daily tasks are anxiety-provoking.
Let's work together on raising our children with resilience to learn, play, and conquer life's small and big challenges!
Prepared by Chrissy Sunberg, M.Ed., AAC
Executive Function Skills Accommodations For Your Child At School
Is it possible for a student to have a high IQ and still fail school classes? The answer, sadly, is yes. You may have a student who is able to learn and retain new concepts and apply them, but maintaining school materials, remembering to write down homework assignments and turn them in, managing time, prioritizing assignments are all skills known as executive functioning skills that our kids are not born with, nor are these specific skills taught specifically to our children.
According to Dr. Russell Barkley, an ADHD guru, executive function (or EF) refers to the cognitive or mental abilities that people need to actively pursue goals. In other words, it’s about how we behave toward our future goals and what mental abilities we need to accomplish them.
EF is made up of seven skills:
3. Non-Verbal Working Memory
4. Verbal Working Memory
5. Emotional Self-Regulation
7. Planning and Problem Solving
When a student has a deficit in one or more of the EFs, they may experience some difficulty in school with planning, organizing, motivation and problem-solving.
So how do we help our children at school? If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD, you may be eligible for a 504 Accommodation Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) if you child requires a special education program and other services.
If your child doesn’t have a 504 Accommodation Plan, reach out to your child’s Guidance Counselor and request one along with a diagnosis provided by your Pediatrician, Neurologist or Psychologist. If you feel that your child requires an IEP, prepare a written request for a CST meeting for your child.
If your child already has a 504 Accommodation Plan or IEP, you may want to consider adding any or all of the following accommodations to help build and maintain your child’s EF skills on a daily basis:
Next time you encounter a student that turns in all their assignments late or can’t seem to get to class on time, they could have lagging executive function skills. Remember, our children don’t wake up with the intent to forget to hand in their homework, or leave their books at school. Dr. Ross W. Greene says, “They would if they could.”
When our children haven’t yet developed their EF skills, it doesn’t make sense to be punitive. Instead, when a child is struggling with a particular EF skill, help them build it up instead of breaking them down.
For more information on EF, you can look up Dr. Thomas Brown or Dr. Russell Barkley, both gurus on executive functioning.
Join Dr. Liz and the parents of Mendham on Thursday April 12, 2018, 10am
at Mendham Township Elementary School
as she presents on the topic of "Raising Kids With Grit"
Today's blog comes to us from Cleveland Clinic.
Coloring is a great way to express yourself. It is a healthy and positive way to let out some of your stress, while also having a little bit of fun!
Prepared by: Michelle Molle- Krowiak, Ed.S., LCSW
Journaling as a Tool for your Anxious Child
The concept of journaling has been around for a long time. The idea is to have a sacred and private place to write down your private thoughts. Those thoughts, good or bad, then have a home, a place to live.
Anxious Thoughts are Distracting
In working with anxious children, adolescents, adults and their parents, anxious thoughts can be mean, popping up during times when you should be having fun with a friend or at a birthday party, listening to a lesson in class, or doing homework. Anxious thoughts are distracting and sometimes, they come back again and again and again and again and again and again.
Oops! I hit ‘Send’
I know you’ve had a moment or two in your life when your feelings were so angry or so hurt, and you wrote a text or an email and it felt good to write it out, right? You felt relieved because you got the swirl of thoughts and feelings out of your head and body, out onto a screen, and you knew the other person read it with all of your intent. Have you ever regret hitting send because the emotion was a little too raw and intense, and maybe with a little bit of processing, you could have expressed your thoughts more directly and with less emotion? Join the large club of the “Senders of the Regretted Text/Email! Hello, my name is (insert your name here)!”
The Intimacy of Writing
A safe and productive way of expressing your thoughts and emotions without the “danger” of hitting the send button is journaling. In our technology driven world, sadly, the art of writing is lost. Our children are lost in the world of abbreviations (LOL, LMAO, TTYL, TU, GM, etc, etc, etc). The act of writing has strong neuropsychological benefits. The multi-sensory aspects of generating a thought, transferring it to paper, the physical act of writing, reading over what you read and making changes to your thoughts (or grammar, or punctuation) is a complex process that taps into executive functioning skills, emotional expression, and communication. It’s an intimate process that also allows gives you freedom to express your deepest thoughts and feelings, whether they are for sharing or for private consumption only! In essence, it’s allowing you or your child to re-connect with your thoughts, feelings, and yourself. That’s an activity that a lot of us have stopped doing because of our rushed lifestyles, overbooking ourselves and our children, and ‘running’ and rushing to get to bed. Where is our downtime? In essence, journaling allows you to reconnect - with yourself!
Think About It
Another way you can use that handy dandy journal is to share your thoughts and struggles in between sessions with your Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT).
When you and your therapist are sitting together, it’s hard to remember what happened in the last week or two weeks. By documenting your thought journey, it’s easy to reference what triggered illogical or negative thoughts that increased anxiety or lowered self esteem. When you are able to discuss together, you now have insight about how you were feeling in that moment and where you are now in your thoughts. What a powerful way to make the connection that how you felt in that moment (no matter how negative or powerful), the feeling does pass, and things doget better.
Even if you don’t end up sharing your journal with your therapist, journaling takes those irrational thoughts or fears and makes them visual and tangible without judgement, just in black (blue, red, pencil) and white!
Show Your Gratitude
In our practice, we encourage parents to sit down with their child at bedtime and create a new routine of using their journal to identify worries so that they can get ‘rid’ of them and hopefully, sleep well. We also encourage the practice of gratitude – for every worry, identify one thing you are grateful for (e.g., I had a great lunch today, I finished my homework quickly today, I loved the sunshine today, etc). We start with the worries and end with the things we are grateful for as a way of pumping those endorphins and promoting positive feelings about one’s self and day.
We didn’t share with you anything you didn’t already know, but it’s all here in one place for you to read and practice. Pick up a journal for yourself or your child and get that pen, pencil, crayon or marker moving!
'Inside the 6th Graders Brain’ is a fantastic article written by GreatSchools.com which is truly relevant to me here and now! As the mom of a 6th grade young man, it’s as if this article was written for me to read! He is my oldest so I’m learning as we go. Middle school, body growth, and brain development is where it’s at! Fellow moms of budding adolescents, read this and be reassured that it’s all part of growth and development!
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles