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This Is A Friend Social Story Book

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Swanky Brain’s Social Story Books:

  • Developed For ALL Readers
  • Feature Vivid Illustrations
  • Help Change Behavior Patterns
  • Reinforce Social Skills
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Making Summer Fun! Dancing to “Despacito” brings Joy!

Having four kiddos on the Autism Spectrum can make life challenging.  However with the supports in place in our home, my kiddos are truly learning balance and how to have FUN!  When I am taking the kids out and about, my oldest tunes into the pop music station and seemingly every 20 minutes we are hearing this Summer’s hit song “Despacito.”  Everyone starts singing and boogying in the car.  At that time I am truly grateful for three things:

1) My kiddos have no idea of the translation of the lyrics to the song.
2) We are ALL tone deaf!  Yikes… No judgement here… 🙂
3) I am witnessing this spectacular event!

Additionally, we also have “Dance Parties” at home where we jam to songs like the current summer hit, “Despacito”; having some small intermittent moments of fun and pure hilarity!  This has been quite the evolution…

Some things I keep in mind when supporting my kiddos:

  1. Individuality: They are each on different parts of the spectrum.  Happiness is defined differently for each.  So there is no comparison made.  I encourage each child to be themselves and find comfort and contentment in their individuality.  To love who they are!
  2. Tolerance: Sometimes a child may be having a bad day.  So he then expects the world to stop and everyone else in the family to be droopy and in the doldrums.  It’s difficult and a tall task helping the other kiddos keep their sibling’s feelings in perspective.  Have empathy for their sibling while remaining focused on their goals, tasks and state of mind for the day. Not perseverate and become so drawn into that situation that the feelings permeate.  We work hard as a family with Autism not to allow the crossover behaviors.
  3. Happiness: Sometimes kiddos with Autism and ADHD are rigid and do not transition well.  So an impromptu “dance party” may not sit well with them.  I constantly weave fun into various aspects of their day or planned activities.

How New Habits & Behavior Can Form

A Creative Mind… And an opportunity to reinforce skills.

My seven year old with ASD keeps reinventing his world!  He recently took all his shoes out of the closet and decided to place them in his golf cart and another bin in his bedroom; boldly declaring:  “This is where I will keep all my shoes from now on!”   I looked at his adorable face and gave him props for his creativity and celebrated his ingenuity.  I took pictures of him with his new golf-cart-shoes-bin and left him playing with it for the remainder of the afternoon.

Then, when it was time to clean up his bedroom before supper, I asked him to put all his shoes back in the closet, gently responding to every mild protest he was giving.

Why did I do that?  I am always mindful of habits forming for all four of my children on the spectrum.  Sometimes, habits are created out of boredom.  Other times my kiddos want to be in control and begin a behavior to self-soothe or assuage anxiety.  Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain…  Kiddos with an ASD diagnosis can form and latch on to a new habit in a heartbeat.  That comes naturally to them and it feels right.  Then another symptom of Autism presents itself…  Rigidity.   When rigidity sets in, it is oftentimes partnered with combativeness and tantrum behavior.  By that time, it becomes very difficult and sometimes almost impossible to make them change that habit or behavior.  Behavior Intervention strategies have to be implemented to help revert the habit or situation.  Since my twenty years of experience make me all too aware of how quickly new habits are formed, when I see it in the making, I immediately and reflexively stop and ask myself:  Where will this habit lead us in two weeks, one month, one year?

In the case of the “Golf Cart Shoe Bin” I imagined a day when we were running late for school because we could not find a shoe. Then the situation escalating into a full blown tantrum, when I insisted that he wore another non-preferred pair.  Ultimately, not only would my son be late, but so would everyone else; which would result in feelings of resentment, long faces, with that knowing glare through the rear-view mirror conveying hurt feelings all the way around.

Having four children with ASD upset in a car ride on the way to school is not a pleasant experience!  When I weighed that scenario versus talking him out of the golf-cart-shoe-bin, it was an easy choice.  However, there is more to the matter…  It was teaching my son how to transition back and forth with more ease.  It was also teaching him that some things must remain the way they are for functionality.  He was being taught that he can be creative and have some fun in his bedroom.  Some things can remain the way he created them, others must return to their place, to the order they were in.  Finally, those neural pathways were busy at work adjusting and changing to help him acquire and maintain new skills.  It may have been a tad inconvenient addressing that matter at the end of a long day and having my son return his shoes to the closet.  When considering all the possible outcomes… it was worth doing to prevent him forming a new habit or behavior that ultimately would not work.


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for Adults

Here’s a note from a Mom whose son is receiving Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for adults…

I am so grateful for Adult ABA. My son is now in his 20’s living with a diagnosis of Autism.  When he was younger it was not offered to us.  I had to wait until he was in High School to receive ABA.  At times I am envious of other families who receive ABA when their children are toddlers, wish we were that lucky.  My mind wonders how much more advanced my son would be if he had received the services at such a young age.  My son is what they used to refer to as “Asperger’s” or “High Functioning.”  Looking at his picture, you cannot not tell that he has a disability, it’s a hidden disability.  He struggles with food/textures, time management, social interactions/developing relationships and the big time waster he loves gaming.

Applied Behavior Analysis for Adults has been a godsend for my son; it has been a game changer.  ABA does not cure autism but it teaches him skills, as result of Adult ABA he is building a foundation; a building block to independence.  He is learning how to navigate this complex world we live in.  My greatest fear is that if something happens to me, what will happen to my son?  Who will care for my son?  So I fight, I push him to keep going forward, he wants to gain skills but at times he becomes complacent.  I advocate for the appropriate services that ensure my son receives the skills so he can become the best version of himself.  It can be challenging because he is a young adult, but he still has not developed the age appropriate skills.  He needs to be taught these skills.

My son holds a steady part-time job and is now in College pursuing an education for the career he loves.  I know that there are many families out there that have young adult children that did not receive ABA when they were minors and now the family is facing many challenges, I strongly encourage you to utilize the therapeutic intervention of Adult ABA. It’s never too late for our young adults!

We love to hear these stories about how our young adults can benefit from Applied Behavior Analysis.  Learn more about ABA here.

Childhood Trauma and Health

A must-listen for parents with children with conditions such as ADHD, Diabetes, Heart-Disease or other Mental Illness or Trauma (Foster/Adopt Parents please listen)…  
“The science is clear, early adversity dramatically affects health across a lifetime…The single most important thing we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say this is real and this is all of us.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris – TEDMED 2014
Click on the image to view Nadine Burke Harris’s Ted Talk

Preventing Depression?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if depression could be prevented?   Please take a look at this Ted Talk documentary.    Rebecca Brachman talks about a drug that is already in existence that could possibly prevent depression and ptsd.

It is a worthwhile listen!

Autism – Act Now!

When supporting my children, I ask myself one question…  How will whatever I am doing at this moment help them toward self-management and independence? The assumption I do not make is that they will figure it out on their own, or it will somehow evolve with maturity.  When we support our children with proven, tested strategies they develop a stronger foundation for learning, communication, socialization and behavior, as they grow into adulthood.  I believe this is a vital part of development for children and young adults on the spectrum!  Without these supports it is my opinion that our children/young adults sometimes struggle to move forward.   Here are some helpful hints:

1. Start today! The earlier we begin, the more we increase their chances of success.  It’s never too late….  A toddler is younger than a twelve year old.  A twelve year old is younger than a twenty-one year old.  A twenty-one year old is younger than a forty-five year old. So, no matter the age, there is always an opportunity to help your child/young adult achieve skills to get them to the next level of development.  Just leap in!

2. Start where you are!  Any place in your child/young adult’s development is where you should begin.  The goal is to help them learn to take control of their feelings/emotions/behavior/actions, in order to self-manage and self-regulate.  Whether they are using ABA Strategies or Collaborative Problem Solving, new habits and skills begin to take shape with consistent practice. Enlist the right help for your child/young adult/family!

3. Communicate honestly with your child/young adult.  Let them know this support is important to their development.  Help them understand and buy-in.

In other communication, be direct and try not to be long winded. For example, when dealing with a behavior challenge, I’d say the same words to my seven year old, twelve year old, twenty year old and twenty-one year old.  “You did not give me the courtesy of your time when I was asking.  You chose to – tantrum, pout, back-talk, ignore me, etc. – and now I am busy with something else. When I have the time I will get back to you.”  If the ensuing tantrum, tears, screaming, sulking, pouting lasts one minute, one hour or more that is all I had to say about the matter.  The test for parents is to remain resolved.  It is hard at times!

4. Empower your child/young adult.  Help them to learn to articulate their needs. Let your interaction with your children/young adults be inclusive.  Whether it’s a family meeting, creating a schedule, having a discussion on maladaptive behavior or just goofing off; let it be collaborative in nature.  Help your children/young adults find their voice!  This can be a very difficult process – finding balance and getting the right results – but it is worth it to see them thrive! It is also necessary for their survival.

Mainstreaming Autism


I dream of a world where my six year old can have a tantrum in the park and instead of frowning with disdain, onlookers would at minimum recognize spectrum behavior and at best be sympathetic, perhaps informed or even encouraged by my supporting strategies.

My determination; my decision to leave no stones unturned; my goal to help maximize my children’s path toward a full life and independence is fueled by my belief that remaining silent about mental illness simply creates lifelong societal harm.  It cultivates the shame and stigma and exacerbates the notion that something is inherently wrong with the individual affected.  It erodes families and it stunts the development of the person who has the diagnosis.  It enables parts of society to continue to feign ignorance.  

This morning I woke up to my six year old with an Autism diagnosis making an observation that was intriguing to him:  “Mom it is taking a loooooong time for me to finishing making pee.”  “Wow, I have sooooo much pee in the morning!”  Then he was asking… “Do girls make pee and poop from the same place, Mommy?” “Why do they sit on the potty every time?”

I believe one person can make a difference.  The decisions we make can shape our children’s future.  No matter their age, they are able to read us.  If we are mourning the diagnosis or feel shame, then that message emanates.  When we encourage, celebrate, empower our kiddos; that is who they become, even if it is not immediately evident to us.  Early in my children’s diagnosis I made a decision to follow the path toward their individual greatness.  So, with tremendous vigor, I pursue and embrace growth, and development.  This allows me to celebrate the early morning observations by my six year old during his potty experience… 

Living with four kiddos on the spectrum and experiencing their lives every day, I am privileged with a panoramic view of mental illness.  I am doing everything possible to help the world understand my children and see value in what they bring.  Additionally, I am encouraging other parents and everyone affected by mental illness, to take that journey with me.  We must all become active participants!  I am also doing everything I can to help my kiddos understand the world they live in and carve a path for themselves where they feel they can comfortably fit.  Mainstreaming Autism and mental illness will help bring about better understanding… I believe this will reduce the stigma attached and ultimately contribute to some cure.  Let’s continue to make a difference in the lives of those with mental illness to that end.  Each of us… It only takes one!

Choosing My Battles – My Autism Spectrum Disorder Family

My seven year old – yup he is a year older – jumps on his bed a lot. When he does, I simply say to him, “Beds are made for sleeping.”  I don’t get excited and yell “Stop!” or “No!” because those words feed into his momentary mania and excite him.  As a result, the issue becomes greater than it has to be.  I’ve released my powers to a seven year old…  What now happens for the most part when I hear him jumping on the bed and he sees me enter the room, he stops, grins and says “beds are made for sleeping!”  Then I concur and reinforce the statement, “Yes, beds are made for sleeping.”  

When giving him his bath, I say to him, “Turn and let me wash your tushy.” He sometimes yell out loudly, “BUTT!  Hahaha!  Mom is going to wash my BUTT!”  Then he goes on, “Butt is a potty-word, Mommy.  I should say ‘bottom’ or ‘buns'”.  He looks keenly at me for a reaction but I keep my practiced poker face and simply respond, “Tushy and bottom are good words, sweetie.”  Meanwhile, I am laughing out loud in the back of my mind.  I don’t reprimand or preach at this time!

Then, at random moments he yells out loudly to his siblings: “J-Fart, S-Fart, Z-Fart, Mommy Fart!  Hahahaha!”  Of course my eleven year old is poised for battle and starts yelling back.  I glare at him with a practiced look that means stand down and ignore your brother.  My eleven year old sulks and walks away.  Work in progress but I instruct the siblings to ignore him.  I encourage them to go to their rooms and close the door and I reward them when they do.  Then I give my seven year old a choice of two activities he may want to engage in.  I’d say something like, “Do you want to build a train track or would you like to play with your play-dough?”  Redirecting him is always a great option to practice.  I never offer TV or I-pad during these instances.

My seven year old goes potty independently.   Sometimes everything works out great.  Other times, he comes to my bedroom and tells me he is scared of the bathroom clock.  Everytime he does, I immediately stop what I am doing (poker face – no excitement) and go into the bathroom with him. I never want my children to be fearful, whether it is real or imagined.  I stand at the door while he goes potty and washes up and leave.  In this instance, I feel it is more important that he masters going to the potty, wiping and washing up.  I can throw out the clock but then realistically we cannot throw out everything he is afraid of.  So after he masters the potty experience, we will deal with the fear of the clock issue.  Since he is not complaining during every use of the potty, the clock is not an issue I need to prioritize at this time.

My eleven year old recently received an award from school during Assembly.  His Teacher sent a note inviting me to come to school to see him receive this award.  The note was stapled.  There is a Wednesday folder that comes home from school, so that particular evening I’d brought the folder in my bedroom and did not replace it in the box in the livingroom.  That night before my son went to bed he brought the note to me…  He said, “You are invited to an assembly tomorrow I am receiving an award.”  He handed me the note.  I immediately noticed the staple was removed and my name on the front.  I asked him if he saw who the note was addressed to?  He responded he did.  I asked him why he opened it?  He said he wanted to know what his teacher was telling me.  We discussed it for about fifteen minutes and he simply did not get what the big deal was… He wanted to know what was in that note and that was the end of it as far as he was concerned.  One of my argument to him was that it was illegal to open someone’s mail.  He replied that the Postman did not bring the letter to me, he did!

After one of his tantrums, he recently told me he does not access his calming strategies because he does not like the idea that all these people – his Therapists and I – are telling him to. He admitted that he knows the strategies work, however he does not want people telling him what to do.

In this case, I chose not to battle these issues with my eleven year old because I realized a while ago that there is a larger plan that had to take place.  Arguing with him is an exercise in futility.  This year – 2016 – I reduced the majority of my extra-curricular activities to spend time with my son to to strip down all the issues relating to his behavior that were wreaking havoc on our family.  I came to some conclusions that I will share with you in my next post.

Finally, today we had a great family outing!  We joined The Center For Autism for the annual Autism Speaks Walk fundraiser.  We were to meet up with the group of folks walking with The Center at 10:30 AM at a designated location.  Well, since this was our first year participating, I did not have history to rely on.  So we went to the area but everyone was not there as yet.  The announcer began a countdown 5..4…3…2..1… and said, “Lets Walk!” and my twenty year old son with moderate Autism took off!  He had his game-face on!

The night prior, I had primed him for this 5-K; created a social story and rehearsed our fun day.  We were set to walk!  So off he went with his 6’4″ stride.  I tried to stop him but he insisted, “Mom. the man said to walk!” so I just shrugged and ran to catch up with him!  He was already anxious with such a large crowd and we were there to have FUN! Trying to explain to him the idea of waiting for our group was not in the cards.  We did not get to walk with the folks at The Center but took some lovely pictures with them subsequently.

Living with a family with Autism, ADHD, Oppositional Defiance and other neurological deficits can be challenging.  What I strive for is supporting my kiddos in their individual evolution.  I believe that collaborating with them and helping them understand their responsibility to themselves and others is a formula that is critical to their success.  I find myself having to be extremely flexible – but always true to my values as a parent – and choosing my battles moment by moment.

Tantrum Interventionist 2.0

Tantrum Interventionist 2.0…   My eleven year old’s behavior fluctuates moment by moment.  He tantrums.   Sometimes in the morning when he opens his eyes waking up, I see that look on his face… his countenance and demeanor… I just know today will not be an easy one.  I know sometimes he cannot control whatever it is that’s happening inside of him, but I also know that behavior is learned.  Understanding that young kids are malleable and the urgency of making the most of today, I work with making most moments of maladaptive behavior teachable ones for him.  We find ways to help him learn about his responsibility in managing his behavior. Fortunately for us he has a great, professional, committed, behavioral team.   This blog is a follow up to my newsletter article of September 11th.  Here is a link:

I decided to share a few steps we are taking with him:

  1. Communication:   My son receives in-home ABA services.  It is so important to be on the same page – the exact same paragraph – with his support team.  I try to communicate his behavior effectively to the team so we can compare what we are both observing and continue to make adjustments to his therapeutic plan.
  2. Education:  It is important that my son understands what the team is doing for him…  Every step of the way!  It is important that he understands himself and his behavior.  His Team Supervisors are superb at developing ways to teach him that he can process and understand.
  3. Consistency: Even though it is sometimes frustrating to hear him complain as most eleven year olds do, we all stick to the plan supporting him.  We use the same language and strategies because when he succeeds it’s amazing to see his confidence grow!  Consistency certainly works!

Today during my son’s ABA session his BI – Behavior Interventionist – reviewed his schedule and realized that he did not do his laundry.  He was supposed to complete that chore prior to his session which began at noon.  So she informed him that he would sort his laundry at his scheduled “free time” during his session.   He immediately began to whine and complain.  His BI continued to write her notes for a brief moment and then briskly said to him:  “All you need to say to me is: ‘OK I’ll get the laundry done.'”  He was so irritated but repeated what she said.  The significance of that is his entire team, including me, are helping him understand his behavior.  What he should do and how he should act and respond in order to be appropriate at home and fit in at school and during other social activities.  We have decided for this time, that is an important area of focus in his support and we are all very consistent redirecting his whining.  What I know for certain is that if we simply allow him to continue to do that, it becomes a new behavior.

TANTRUM INTERVENTIONIST – September  11, 2016  Newsletter Entry

There are so many titles I am proud to hold…  Mother, daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, writer, advocate, educator… friend.  However, right at this moment, the title I am most pleased to have is “Tantrum Interventionist!”  You see, my eleven year old had a colossal tantrum last Sunday.  It left us all very drained and me discouraged.  But what’s a Mom to do?  We continue on.  We have no choice!  So fast forward to today… Somehow I believe he was trying to go for two Sundays in a row.

This morning I woke him up 7:00 AM and he did not feel like getting out of bed (well that’s not entirely true – he was playing a ‘game’ with his brother) so he snarled at me “turn off that light.”  I immediately knew what type of day this could turn out to be so I ignored him and waited for him to leave the room in order that his brother could get dressed.  For added measure, on his way out the door he kicked down the brand new clothes hamper I’d bought him one day prior.  I just continued to look straight ahead, I did not even glance at him.  Then later he put on one of his newer school shirts for the day.  He likes the same style of shirts and I had asked him use only the old stained shirts on the weekends and the newer ones for school.  Our conversation ensued on which shirts he should be wearing.  I was attempting to revisit the previous conversation we’d had as a reminder to him.  In order to help him remember which shirts he should actually be wearing on weekends.  He kept interrupting me with literal translations of what I was saying and just being mean spirited with his attitude.  Responding, “I forgot” or other times he was just shutting down altogether and staring me in the face.  What bothered me most was seeing the other kids tiptoe to their rooms and my oldest son gently closing the sliding door to the kitchen in order to avoid the potential unpleasantness.  It was only 8:00 AM!  So, I suggested that he accessed one of his calming strategies and he finally said to me.  “You are annoying me.”

Without missing a beat I responded to him, “You are annoying me too!”  He had the nerve to look shocked!  I continued, “I am completely amazed and find it incredulous that we seem to have this one conversation incessantly.   Never ending…  Do you think this a walk in the park for me?  No, it is not!   I am HUGELY annoyed!  But do you see me frothing at the mouth or flailing or screaming my lungs out or pitching a colossal tantrum because I am annoyed?  No, I am standing in front of you calmly going over this same conversation for the umpeenth time because I care.  I am controlling my impulses to yell and scream.  I am accesing my calming strategies and reigning in my control.  That is what we do, honey.  Almost everyone in the world learn to control their annoyance, frustration,  anger and behavior.   And that is what we are all trying to help you learn!

I continued to tell him.  “You have an elite team of professionals supporting you. Helping you in every possible way. You know exactly what choices are available to you right now and you are being silent because you prefer to lash out.   You have reminder cards right there in that cabinet in case you forget your strategies.  Yet, you are waiting for an opportunity to tantrum.  So here’s my suggestion.  Since you are not accessing your strategies right now, let’s get you on your elevator to the 50th floor and count down.  Then, when you are on the 1st floor if you feel up to it come and see me in the kitchen so we can continue this conversation and sort out these shirts.  If not, you can go up to the 100th floor.”  One of the many conversations I have with my son is not giving away his power to anyone.  Especially his emotions.  Learning to cope with them is vital in life.  If not, it eventually becomes the determinant of achievement in life.   I tell him if he does not learn to control his emotions and lashing out continues to be a way of life, he will end up potentially giving his power to others who will make decisions for him. That may result in grave consequences.  Others may not understand that he has Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome… Or what that even means.  But the most important thing is the majority of people do not take lightly to someone lashing out at them. 

 I am not sure what in my posture or words made him  acquiesce but that he did.  He started to count. The truth of the matter is he does calm down after he counts.  He has had a zillion behavior outbursts and tantrum over the years but something about counting down on the elevator is the most effective method of calming that I have seen having an immediate effect on him.  Naturally he hates to use it.  God forbid he is calm!  But when he gives away his power to me; when he does not want to calm himself down, I just ask him to take a short (or very long) ride on the elevator.

A few minutes later, he came back and stated, “I’m ready” and we sorted out the shirts in perfect unison.  He hung up his ‘good’ shirts and I  took pictures of the ‘old’ shirts that have stains on them so the next time he says “I don’t know”  I’ll just have him reference the pictures.  When all was done, I asked him where he was on his thermometer and he replied “green.”  I praised him for re-taking control of his emotions and told him later in the day we will sit to collaborate on solutions.  So, off we were to the next adventure…  Yikes!

Yup…  Reclaiming my calm on a Sunday morning…  Oh Happy Day!