10 tips from Sue Larkey’s seminar.

I recently attended Sue Larkey’s seminar on Teaching Strategies and Behaviour Support. Here are 10 tips that she covered in the seminar:

1. Not all strategies work for every child, and not all strategies work all of the time. If it’s not working, move on and try something else

2. No=never. The word “no” can trigger a meltdown. If you say no, and you mean not now, don’t say no. You say no, they hear “never”. A day after the seminar my son illustrated this very point. He was writing his grandad’s birthday card. He couldn’t fit the whole of a word on one line so I told him that he could use a hyphen and finish the word on the next line. He got very upset and wanted to scribble the word out and start again. When I asked him why he told me his teacher said that he wasn’t allowed to split the word up. So he applied that rule to all situations.

3. You cannot stop a behaviour. Each behaviour serves a function, so replace the behaviour with another behaviour. For instance if a child constantly chews their clothes, replace this with a sensory toy designed for chewing. This will help the child stay calm and concentrate. To just stop them without replacing the behaviour with an alternative will cause the child anxiety and make matters worse.

4. A sensory meltdown is different to a behaviour meltdown. There is no warning and it strongly triggers the fight or flight mechanism in the brain. It is a catastrophic reaction to social or sensory experiences. If they run and don’t look back it is sensory and no amount of rewards or bribery will work with them. They need comforting or solitude until they calm down. Don’t tell them to calm down as the meltdown may escalate, or ask them what’s wrong as they can’t tell you. A behaviour meltdown is different as it is a response to frustration, and will often end with emotional blackmail (!). The child is assertive and calm during this time. If you are unsure of difference, Sue says, look in their eyes.

5. Children on the spectrum are often multisensory or kinaesthetic learners (also called tactile learners) and respond to multisensory and hands on learning. They often concentrate better while playing with a fidget toy or moving around. They also respond better to rote and repetitive learning, and not problem solving learning, which schools have been moving towards.

6. Their intellect is their vanity. They may have the ideas and have done the work in their head, but may be slow to put onto paper. Do not humiliate them by telling them they have done no work. Get someone else to be their scribe or use Dragon software

7. Some children with ASD have a “veneer of coping” during school or social events. They are exhausted trying to be good, social and jovial, but when they get home they just want to relax and unwind. If any demands are put on them during this time, they may go into meltdown. This can be a problem when homework is expected.

8. During school, their should be a ratio of 25 minutes schoolwork, 5 minutes of special interest. This will serve as a reward, but also allows them to relax and refresh before moving on to further school work. At home, home is for relaxation so the ratio should be 25 minutes relaxation to 5 minutes work or chores. But for those children who have a veneer of coping, homework may be a step too far, so maybe an arrangement can be made where they do homework at school.

9. When children know the routine and are relaxed, you don’t always need to continue using all strategies all the time. Use common sense when to use and when not to.

10. Consequences do not work for children on the spectrum.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Fragile X link?

Neurorocker at en.wikipedia

 

When I started to really dig into the genes behind Aspergers and Autism, it seemed that it isn’t as clear cut as I initially thought. After researching the brain science of Fragile X syndrome (and the FMR1 gene) to establish how it could cause Autism and Aspergers, I discovered that that there isn’t just one gene that causes ASD. It seems there may be a range of genes, all of which seem to have similar effects on the developing brain.

In this post I shall discuss the FMR1 gene that causes Fragile X syndrome and its link to Autism.  Fragile X Syndrome is so called because a small section of the genetic code is “repeated on a fragile area of the X chromosome” (source PubMed Health)

According to the National Fragile X Foundation:

“FXS is the most common known cause of autism or “autistic-like” behaviors [sic]”

“Fragile X syndrome can cause a child to have autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) though not all children with fragile X syndrome have autism or an ASD.

  • FACT: For between 2% and 6% of all children diagnosed with autism, the cause is the Fragile X gene mutation.
  • FACT: Approximately one-third of all children diagnosed with fragile X syndrome also have some degree of autism.
  • FACT: Fragile X syndrome is the most common known single gene cause of autism.”

The A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia notes that the symptoms of Fragile X are very similar to those with Autism:

  • “Delay in crawling, walking, or twisting
  • Hand clapping or hand biting
  • Hyperactive or impulsive behavior
  • Mental retardation
  • Speech and language delay
  • Tendency to avoid eye contact”

The reason Fragile X caught my eye is that one of the most common symptoms or signs of Fragile X is the hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli, as outlined by an article in Science Daily:

“New research provides insight into why fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of autism and mental retardation, is associated with an extreme hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, smells, and visual stimuli that causes sensory overload and results in social withdrawal, hyperarousal, and anxiety. The study, published by Cell Press in the February 11 issue of the journal Neuron, uncovers a previously unknown developmental delay in a critical brain circuit that processes sensory information in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome.”

This is consistent with my view that the majority of symptoms associated with Autism and Aspergers are caused by sensory overload. In response to this article the Shared Attention website notes that: “This seems to support so-called experimental therapies (e.g. sensory integration) that theorize that plasticity in sensory processing can afford lasting positive changes in neurological function and behavioral outcomes. In other words, by using natural interests of the child to harness their attention and engagement, it may be possible to use purposefully engineered activities to modify and naturalize those pathways”.

And it seems that treatment for a child with Fragile X is similar to those with Autism and Aspergers. Source: Medicine.net:

  • Know the learning style of the individual.
  • Develop a consistent daily schedule or routine.
  • Use visual signs (pictures, sign language, logos, words) and concrete examples or materials to present ideas, concepts, steps, etc.
  • Prepare the individual for any changes in routine by explaining them ahead of time, possibly using visual signs.
  • Include functional goals with academic goals; for instance, teaching the individual the names of different pieces of clothing as well as how to dress him/herself.
  • Provide opportunities for the child to be active and move around.
  • Use computers and interactive educational software.
  • Provide a quiet place where the child can retreat and regroup.

So how does the Fragile X gene lead to symptoms similar to Autism?

This from the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

“Normally, the FMR1 gene makes a protein needed for your brain to grow properly. A defect in this gene makes your body produce too little of the protein, or none at all.” The link between the FMR1 gene and the hypersensitivity displayed in Aspergers and Autism has been established (see academic paper)  . The nerve cells in the brain initially grow extra branches, which could explain the hypersensitivity to various sensory stimuli. This could lead to the premature turning off of the “critical period” as discovered by Merzenich. The nerve cells eventually “prune” the branches so that the nerve cells appear normal, but at this stage it could already be too late, as the brain is left with the “undifferentiated brain maps” discovered by Merzenich.

According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia:

“Boys and girls can both be affected, but because boys have only one X chromosome, a single fragile X is likely to affect them more severely. You can have Fragile X syndrome even if your parents do not have it.

Fragile X syndrome can be a cause of autism or related disorders, although not all children with fragile X syndrome have these conditions.”

The symptoms are more likely to be pronounced in boys, girls may only exhibit behaviours such as shyness.

But the FMR1 gene cannot be the only cause of ASD. The main issue with this as an umbrella answer to ASD is that males with Fragile X cannot pass it onto their sons, due to the fact that they only transmit the Y chromosome, and not the X. (source: Autism Help)  But it seems that many boys with Aspergers and Autism have a father who also has it. In addition the IQ of a person with Fragile X Syndrome is highly likely to be below average, although this is not always true for girls. Although the research in this area may be slightly inaccurate, as medicine.net points out:

“Attention disorders, hyperactivity, anxiety, and language processing problems can interfere with test-taking skills and learning. Because many people with Fragile X have these problems, a person with Fragile X may have more capabilities than his or her IQ score suggests”

So the search for the common cause continues…

Academic Papers on Fragile X:

http://www.fragilex.org/pdf/kaufmann-et-al_autismandfragileX.pdf

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19441123

On Empathy

THE COMFORT © Marshhawk | Dreamstime.com

 

I was just about to write a post about my views on empathy, and I came across an article that totally supports my view. Before I share it, I would like to talk about my own experiences, having Aspergers myself. I was thinking about whether my ability to feel empathy was due to a coping mechanism I had developed, but I doubted that this was the case and so I thought back upon my early life… Read more of this post

Sensory Overload

GRADUATION? © Socrates | Dreamstime.com

 

Many children with Aspergers may be over- or under-sensitive to certain sensory simuli, for instance sound, cold, touch or light. Over-sensitivity can lead to sensory overload and the Aspie child will do all they can to block out the sensations. This can lead them to be more wary of particular environments or want to avoid social gatherings. This may also cause them to become anxious or angry. Read more of this post