Brain Science of Aspergers and Autism Pt. 3: Learned Safety

Eric Kandel, in his book “In Search of Memory”, tells us that positive emotions appear to be processed in a different area of the brain to negative emotions such as fear or anger, which has the effect of inhibiting the amygdala, which is often activated when a child with Aspergers or Autism is having a meltdown or feeling afraid. This could explain why in stressful situations they calm themselves down with certain behaviours, be it repetitive actions, rocking or cuddling a toy.

Kandel’s studies show that by doing something that  is associated with safety, it activates a part of the brain called the striatum, which is involved in positive reinforcement and feeling good. This has the knock-on effect of activating areas in the prefrontal cortex, which inhibits the amygdala, thus inhibiting the anger or fear response.

This seems to me to be a weapon in our arsenal to calm those strong anger or fear responses, whether this is by having a familiar toy to hold onto, or a safe familiar place to retreat to in times of extreme negative emotions.

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Picture Cards

One way to assist a child who has auditory processing difficulties is with visual aids such as picture cards. This is a great way to explain rules or a procedure, write a list, and even make a schedule that your child can refer to. Many children with Aspergers learn visually, and visual aids may help them remember instructions or plans.

You can make your own picture cards or boards, using photos or clip art. Website Do 2 Learn has a very good selection of pictures that you can use, under categories such as home & school, safety, activities, emotions etc. You can download the line drawings for free and your child can colour them in themselves, or you can purchase the colour versions. The images are available as small pictures, a few per page, to print and use on a picture board or reminder strips or as large pictures, one per page, with or without text. They even have a “Make your own Schedule” program.

Below is a Road Safety Picture Board that I created for my son, using pictures from Do2Learn. I created a table in MS Word, copied and pasted the pictures in – one per table cell, resized them to fit, and then added my own text.

 

 

Do 2 Learn  gives tips for making your own picture cards, and also gives some advice for making your own photo cards “When taking photographs to use for communication, it is helpful to make the photograph as simple as possible. Include only one object in the picture or make the background blank. Some individuals have difficulty generalizing, so it may also be helpful to avoid including details such as the title of the book or video, or the labels on a food or drink item”.

 

Thoughts on Road Safety

I wanted to share the following as it resonated with me. It is an embroidery made by a Mum of a child with Aspergers. His excitement over finding a new licence plate caused him to run across the road without thinking.

fixation

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Bad Days for Thomas and his Friends

I found this story about Thomas the Tank Engine on an Autism Support Group Website Library List and I thought it was a nice story for an Aspie Child. It teaches all about railway safety and can be found here: Bad days for Thomas