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Social Story Books by Swanky Brain

Why Social Stories Work…

Why do they work?  Here are a couple reasons:  Children on the spectrum are visual learners; so a Social Story with vibrant supporting pictures immediately resonates.  Just as important is the choice of words used in the story. Also, all children retain information when it is repeated to them. So, when a Social Story is read repeatedly, it gives children an opportunity to process the positive messages.  This allow for a shift in perspective. Then, it becomes easier to take those messages and make them applicable to real life situations.

Please preview sample pages of our books at the attached link:




Josh’s Boredom Box

Winter School Break has begun…  I’d decided to spend the holidays at home relaxing, for a much needed r&r with my family. That’s before I realized that we have 3 weeks vacation!  Yikes!!!  Naturally, the dreaded “B” word was spoken in hour two – 9:00 AM – of day one of our stay-ca… Josh, my Tweener declared,  “Mom, I’m boooooored!!”   Next was the incessant, “Can I watch TV?”… and the invariable tantrum, taunting his siblings, whining, you name it!

Thank goodness Abby, Case Manager extraordinaire from ACES paid us a visit that afternoon.  After listening to me vent about the situation, she said – “Let’s help him make a Boredom Box before I leave.”

So… that we did!  We pulled many items, ranging from his many Lego pieces, to a Chess game. When an item was too large, he wrote the name on a sheet of paper. He also wrote the words “Use My Imagination” on a blank page and placed everything inside a box. He named the box his “B Box” and was placed in charge of decorating it.  With her experience and expertise, Abby coached Josh through pulling items from his bedroom to place in his box as well as writing a note for reference during times of boredom.  She used great imagery with perspective shaping, painting a picture of Mom’s “bubble” of thoughts and feelings when he was nagging because of boredom.  She made him feel excited about navigating his world independently.  She was encouraging and supportive.  Josh was fully on board!
Joshua wrote:  “My “B” Box.  I will occupy myself without asking Mom for TV.  I will use my “B” Box when I have finished all my normal tasks and feel bored.  I won’t bug Mom and ask for TV.

P.S. I have the most amazing imagination in the universe… So I will use it with my “B” Box!”

Today was day one of Josh using his “B” Box. I checked in on him a couple times; served his meals.  Josh totally self-manged today.  He did not nag me once!  So far.. so good!

So…  Here’s to the “The “B” Box!  … And Abby!

PS…If you have not heard of it before, or need a refresher on the idea, google “Boredom Box” and you will find loads of images and ideas.

The Wand of Silence!

A Way To Experience Moments Of Peace And Quiet…

There are moments in your day or week or month when life gets overwhelming and you simply need time to yourself!  In those moments, an effective tool I’d like to suggest you utilize to achieve that goal, is the “Wand of Silence”.  Visual tools are very effective for kiddos on the spectrum.  You can create something similar for your home and call it whatever you like.

Here is how it works:

  1. Create your “Wand of Silence”.
  2. Have a Family Meeting show them the “Wand ” and explain to your kiddos that there are times when you need a break and you will ask for their support.
  3.  Explain to everyone… From Teenager to Toddler – and even Dad, if you must – exactly what will happen.  That you will hand them the “Wand” and that means total silence and quiet movements in their own space – bedroom or play area – until you come and take it back from them.  You may even want to write a Social Story to reinforce this idea to the kiddos.
  4. You may also need to explain to some kids who are literal in thinking, that they can come to you in an emergency and explain what that is in your home.
  5. Finally, after your five, ten, or thirty minutes of “silence” retrieve the “Wand”.  Remember to take a minute to praise heavily and show some appreciation to your children for their consideration.

For the best results, I’d recommend that you begin with very small increments of time, then build upon that.  I’d also recommend that you begin with no more than one break a week.  Remember, this should be used at times when you are in high stress.  It is not to be used for daily breaks or it will lose its effectiveness.  

Happy “Silence” & Peace!

The Potty Party Bag!

Time Proven Tool in Behavior Modification!

Potty Bag Picture

Potty Party Bag

Today, it’s called “The Potty Party Bag!”  Sixteen years ago, it was called “The Telephone Prize Basket!”  My daughter is now twenty years old… when she was four I was Sales Director for a direct sales company.  When my Clients would call, I needed her to settle…  It was impossible for her to sit still for a nanosecond and when I was talking on the phone, she wisely knew she could get my attention by climbing onto the kitchen countertop.  We developed a system around it.  It started with a Social Story whereby we simply stated the need for her to play quietly when Mommy was talking on the phone and also the dangers of climbing on the counter top.  Then when Mommy got off the phone, she could pick any prize she wanted from the “Prize Basket!”   The Telephone Prize Basket, was heavily adorned with ribbons and festive decorations and was placed on top of the refrigerator.

Today, my five year old son is being potty trained… So Theresa, his ABA Supervisor made this “Potty Party Prize Bag.”  Each time he goes potty on the toilet,a tremendous celebration ensues and then he gets to select a prize from “The Potty Party Bag!” Guess who mastered “The Potty” in a week?


“Empathy, Enabling or Empowering?”

Here’s what I know… I understand without any doubt or confusion that when my ten year old son is tantruming wildly, even sometimes ferociously; or when my daughter misplaces her homework yet again; or when my five year old son reverts to biting, just when I thought we had nipped that behavior in the bud…  I am very aware and accepting of the fact that these are symptoms of Autism or ADHD.

I have empathy for my kids!  I know when I am experiencing feelings of frustration and fatigue; being totally worn out from trying to be a supportive parent it pales in comparison to what my kids are feeling.  They sometimes feel a tremendous burden living with their symptoms. Seemingly never being able to get it right! Constantly and sometimes harshly being corrected by adults and often being ridiculed by peers. When well-meaning professionals supporting them have such low expectations; they are afraid to voice their innermost dreams.  Even though I do not have Autism or ADHD (ahem!) I can relate to their pain.

What I urge you to watch for and gauge, is having that empathy translate to accepting maladaptive behavior or allowing our children – any age on the spectrum –  to develop bad and sometimes harmful habits; because we are just so tired.  Enabling our children does not serve them well in any way and it is detrimental on many levels.  The results can also be devastating. Teaching our children coping strategies is a gift of a lifetime.

Knowledge is power!  Information is liberating and elevating…Education is the premise of progress*  So how do we empower our kids?  We empower ourselves!   I recently took a course facilitated by Dr. John Erratt of OUSD about perspective and perception of kids of the spectrum.  It was one of the best hour I have invested in myself in a long time.  The next time that course is offered, I will pass on the information to you.

Here’s what I recommend…  Sit with your children and spouse and discuss the challenges you are individually facing coping with any aspect of the diagnosis in your home.  Make a commitment to find the source of support for your family.  I urge you to partner with Agencies that provide any type of Behavior Support so your family can learn coping strategies. Help is only a telephone call or email away!
*Kofi Annan

When They Soar!

This is such a beautiful story… One of courage and determination!  When kids on the spectrum succeed, it gives us a collective feeling of pride and hope.  

I urge all parents to forge ahead in battle for your child!  My sincere wish is that we continue to have the courage and determination to seek out the best resources for our kiddos.  To never allow anyone to force us through the path of minimal achievement.  To remind everyone on our child’s team that the road less travelled by is simply a road.  And… because “that is the way it has always been done” does not mean it will apply to our son or daughter.

I see a world for our kiddos where they are fully integrated in society.  Where IEP’s and 504 Plans become the useful tools they ought to be.  Where society has a broader understanding and acceptance due to the resonance of our collective voices. Where all parents are informed and can become consensus builders and chief collaborative problem solvers on behalf of our kiddos.  Where all our kiddos can soar!  May be all experience that feeling!  

Happy Mother’s Day!

My sweet Sam, who is nineteen, was working on a College project due last week. She has two more weeks before this Semester is over and is working hard and maintaining a B in this particular class. So she was busy highlighting decadent aspects of the food item, getting a slammin’ photo and outlining the nutrition contents to put on the brochure she was creating. We were on a time crunch and when her ride arrived; got her off in the nick of time. Those of you with kids on the Spectrum will appreciate the fact that we were completing the project the day it was due. Nonetheless, during the entire time putting her project together, she was doing her best – quite successfully – to remain poised, and not have a tantrum outburst from frustration. Even though she had many challenges, she’d drawn on the skills being taught to her by her support Team, and remained relatively calm and focused on the task at hand. Her anxiety was clear to me, only because I am Mom. I was supremely proud of her… Her ability to self-manage! Moments after she left, I opened the refrigerator door and saw that she had placed the “Clorox Wipes” in the juice section and left her V-8 Juice container on the kitchen counter. A tangible evidence of her anxiety. It touched my heart…

I am frequently told that I am a great Mom. (Sigh/Gratitude) What fortitude I have to raise children with Special Needs… To be driven to educate others along the way! More often than not, I do not respond to the compliment because I do not know what to say. During those moments my thoughts are with many Moms whom I meet, seeking answers for their children with special behaviors and challenges. Who are leaving no stones un-turned trying to find solutions and oftentimes some semblance of peace for their family, at that moment. More importantly, Moms who realize that they are the glue that hold their family together… The core… And the rock. The only person who can effectively spearhead the effort necessary to make a difference in the life of their child/children. I meet these Moms and I am so appreciative of their efforts. So on this Mother’s Day, I pay tribute to them! To all Moms who care for and love their children unconditionally. Who walk the extra mile and do the “and then some” to help their kiddos with Special Needs, because that seem to be standard to attain effective outcomes. We are in an extraordinary club. YOU are are to be applauded!

On a personal note, I could not be more blessed, humbly favored, overwhelmingly grateful and tremendously proud, to be Mom to my children. The honor truly is mine.

And today my thoughts are with Gina Tidwell Jacoy… who lost her son Jerritt Van Es so unexpectedly on August 10, 2014. Words are inconsolable on a day like today. While our hearts weep for her in sorrow, I can only be grateful that she raised a beautiful son who showed kindness to mine. Jerritt left an indelible mark on my Zach!  We will always remember him.

Autism – A trick to curbing Rigidity

The ‘trick’ is anticipating!  Knowing what will come of new habits formulating.  Then, consistency in implementing a few steps.  Additionally, simply having a firm hand with an empathetic heart.  When my 10 year old tantrums – and I do believe the universe conferred with him when they were creating the definition of the word – the entire family feels defeated.  So I work at identifying his triggers… the antecedents to his tantrums or disruptive behavior… and helping him do the same.  Reducing and/or eliminating the episodes is our goal.

He got the latest version of a video game he really wanted for a Christmas present.  Here’s what I knew was going to happen:

1. He was going to be very excited!  And he was!

2. He was going to ask to play with it immediately.  And he did…. for 6 straight hours!  He skipped lunch.

3. This would be his “go-to” and only preferred activity for the foreseeable future.   And it was…

We have a system whereby all “electronics” must be checked into my bedroom on a table I have named “The Docking Station.”  That way, no one succumbs to the urge to play at midnight.  So every morning the gadgets are checked out of my bedroom.  I decided to see how long this new obsession would go on and also give him an opportunity to enjoy his new toy.  Finally, on day eight day when he came to me bright an early in the morning to check our his video game, I told my son I was very busy and would get to his video when I had a minute.  I sat at my computer and worked.

He interrupted me a few times and I finally asked him not to come back… I suggested that he self-manage for a while and I will get to him when I had a free minute. My son sat for three hours and stimmed… shaking his head from side to side to alleviate his anxiety and in anticipation of receiving his video game to play.   He did not touch another item in his room.  What was I seeing?  A new rigid pattern was developing… a ‘tantrum in the making.”    I eventually gave him the toy but before he started to play, I told him we needed to chat in about one hour.  He committed to our meeting.

I started the chat by saying… “Hey, I noticed that you are playing your new video game eight hours or more every day and not using any of your other toys, art collection or writing manuals…What’s up?”  We proceeded to engage in conversation and negotiated a new strategy for him using his new video game in addition to his other activities daily.  That was done with some Collaborative Problem Solving communication strategy.  I also utilized the ABA strategies I’ve used for years with my children, including writing a Social Story.  The matter was dealt with before there was a chance of escalation.

As with much of what we do, it is a process… I have great empathy for my son.  There are some beautiful aspects of his Asperger’s Syndrome that makes him unique and amazing.  I am so proud  him.  I also understand his impulses.  His rigidity and need for routine.   In addition, I also am just as aware of the world we inhabit and understand the importance of helping him find ways integrate.   This will be vital to his socialization later in life.

So the ‘trick?”  Observe!  Anticipate!  Adjust!  Get ahead if the potential problem…  It works!

Connecting Feelings to Life Events

Part Two:   In my recent blog, I shared about supporting Adolescents with  Behavioral Disorders and Mental Illness in order to help them integrate in society, rather than become an outsider.   I shared that there are five areas on which I focus, raising my kids on the spectrum.  The first is self-confidence.  Instilling self-confidence in our kids is critical to their well-being.  From an early age I have taught my kids self-management; a precursor to self-confidence.   Teaching our adolescents self-management leads to self-reliance. This instills self-confidence and helps our adolescents create their ideology… We can help our kids growing up on the spectrum feel confident enough to decide how they want to occupy space in the world.  We can help them gain acceptance and understanding of their unique abilities and become comfortable in their own skin.  Read my blog posted in June:   Self-Confidence: Helping Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders & Mental Illness

Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on feelings and emoting in our home.  I’ve taught my kids over the years how to connect feelings to events in their lives.  This is a huge and very important process which has yielded tremendous emotional balance, or at the very minimum, the beginnings of empathy.  In my opinion, if a child or adolescent can connect to a feeling it strongly enhances their ability to process events and situations.  This gives them the foundation for empathy, compassion, self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-expression.  These are important attributes to adolescents feeling complete.  When my son, now eighteen, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two; I eventually ceased to live in the way we were accustomed and started on a path of understanding his world.  As a toddler, he refused to let me hug him, let alone sit next to him on the couch to watch a Barney episode.  Each time I inched closer to him, he moved to the very end of the couch.  As a mom, I inherently felt that somehow an emotional void was there and I wanted to rectify that between us.  So I would cut pictures from magazines with Moms and their toddlers bonding… hugging, watching TV, playing at a park, etc. and I would show it to my son.  I would make up any story to share with him about these people and then end it with this is how Mommy and Z can play, etc.

Over time, and with the help of some exceptional ABA therapy (my kids received ABA-Applied Behavior Analysis and PRT-Pivotal Response Treatment intervention from the age of three),  I was able to build upon my “feelings” photos and dialogue as a natural part of our daily experience.  We now use “feeling charts” in our home and as an example, if my nine year old had bad day at school or was in a fight, I would ask him to describe to me from beginning to end, his perception of how the events unfolded.  At pivotal points during his relaying of the events, I would ask him to share how he felt in that moment.  If he was struggling with identifying a feeling, I would take him to the “feelings chart” located in the foyer of our home and ask him to “grab a feeling” from there that describes what he was experiencing during the event.  Throughout the years, my children have been able to access these feelings in their frame of reference when they are in stressful situations.  Over time, they have those feelings memorized and if we are driving, for instance or in a public place and something upsetting occurs, I would encourage them to take a deep breath and then think about the feeling chart at home and “grab a feeling” to tell me what they are experiencing in the moment.  This helps them process and articulate.  This helps them express, rather than suppress.  This reduces the tendencies toward explosive behaviors.

There is an indescribable feeling you experience as a mom when your eighteen year old son with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) gives you a hug as a natural response.  Just about a two weeks ago, we were in Palm Springs visiting Granny and Grandpa O and he threw up violently after eating Greek food at a restaurant.  He was ‘trying something new’ and it did not sit so well with his sensory processing.  When we returned to our hotel, and after his shower, he approached me with outstretched arms for a hug to feel better.  My son is 6’2″ tall and wears a size fifteen men’s shoes.  This is a rare event, him reaching out for a hug.  My heart still tugs in overwhelm.  My mental flash-back rapidly travels to him as a toddler shunning me.  I am instantaneously gratified for both of us that throughout the years and with the help of many Behavior Interventionist, and the consistent guiding hand of Mom, he is able to emote and I am able to be the recipient.   As an Advocate to advance the cause of understanding everyone with disabilities and particularly those on the Spectrum, I feel compelled to teach and continue to tell our story in hopes that it makes a difference.

Self-Confidence: Helping Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders & Mental Illness

With the recent increased attention to Mental Illness due to the horrifying mass killings in Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook Elementary, The Aurora Colorado Movie Theater and other Institutions, I thought I would share some tips on how I’ve prepared my kiddos over the years to integrate in society.  My four children range from age four (4) to eighteen (18).  Each has their own unique experience living with Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], other Behavioral Disorders; Intellectual Disability, and Depression.  As a parent of a family with behavioral disorders and mental illness; I know first-hand how navigating the public mental health and education systems can oftentimes be enormously challenging, exasperating and intimidating.  “Approximately one out of five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder,[1] and more than one in four shows at least mild symptoms of depression.[2][].  Understanding the dire consequences if I did not take up the gauntlet and ensure that no stone was ever left unturned; I have dedicated my life out of sheer necessity, grit and determination, to help my kiddos and others achieve and succeed.  My mission is to help kids break through all the barriers created by these sometimes overwhelming systems so they can live their best life.

Adolescents can take steps to live successfully with behavioral disorders and mental illness.  I believe my kids have learned very successfully, how to strike a balance in that sometimes tumultuous roller coaster of emotions, from rage to isolation, that come with behavior challenges and mental illness.  I believe the key to our success comes from two areas…  First is self-identification/self-confidence.  From a very young age I’ve instilled in my children a strong sense of who they are and their strengths.  I’ve helped them learn to exude their essence and identify where they fit in any situation.  We’ve practiced this on a daily, ongoing basis at home…  It is our way of life.  As a result, generalizing has become natural and second nature to them. Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on feelings and emoting in our home.  I’ve taught my kids over the years how to connect feelings to events in their lives.  This is a huge and very important process with tremendous results.  In my opinion, if a child or adolescent can connect to a feeling it strongly enhances their ability to process events and situations.  This gives them the foundation for empathy, compassion and self-expression.

In this series of blogs, I will share five areas that have helped my kiddos throughout the years.  Here is the first:

#1. Self-Confidence: – I’ve always felt it important that my children were self-aware.  That they understood who they were; and felt comfortable in their own skin.  That their self-perception was extremely important and ultimately the barometer by which they should measure performance.  The fact that they may look, think, learn differently did not diminish their value or self-worth.  I’ve taught them the importance of defining their own success and not to measure it based on the achievements of others.   The “Systems” we’ve utilized in our home encourage and support performance at any level.  There are built-in components to help my kiddos challenge themselves to do and achieve more at their pace.  We also wear or disability on our sleeves – not in an attempt to draw attention or sympathy – but to establish with confidence our limitations and boundaries in any situation.  Some examples of this would be my child telling a teacher, “I know I am not looking directly at you when you are speaking to me.  The reason for that is I have Aspergers Syndrome and I have a hard time making eye contact.  That does not mean I am not paying attention to everything you are telling me.”   Also, my child would tell a teacher, “I see the class rules say I must sit still in my chair.  I have ADHD so it it very hard for me to sit still for a long time.  When I need to, can I be allowed to walk around a bit during class?”  At Church, I would explain to someone staring at my son “stimming” with an object or rocking… “My son is diagnosed with Moderate Autism and right now he is feeling overwhelmed with all the sounds and movement around him.  What he is doing is soothing to him.  He will stop when he is settled.”  I’ve never “shushed” my son or made him feel uncomfortable being himself, wherever we were.  I’ve never given him the impression that I was embarrassed by his behavior. That was just a part of our life experience…  His journey.  I’ve always used any such situation as a “teachable moment” to those around us.  I’ve modeled that for my kids and they have learned to do the same as they develop their self-advocacy skills.  I’ve taught them that from self-confidence comes self-advocacy; and this will become more vital to them as they grow and mature.

More to come…

[1]Schwarz, S. W. (2009). Adolescent mental health in the United States: Facts for Policymakers.Retrieved March 28, 2014, from

[2]Child Trends. (2010). Child Trends Databank: Adolescents who feel sad or hopeless. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from