Auditory Discrimination



    This is our time: Thoughts on How People Respond to Disasters

    August 30, 2016

    Scene from the flooding

    “Neutrality means that you don’t really care

    Cause the struggle goes on even when you’re not there

    Blind and unaware.”

    Collapse (Post-Amerika), Rise Against

    One thing that I don’t mention much, as this is mainly an autism blog and I don’t like talking about myself much, is that I volunteer quite a bit. Most recently I volunteered in New Orleans, helping rebuild from Katrina…many people reading this may not remember the hurricane, may not have thought about it since the media moved on from it eleven years ago…and this pisses me off.

    Every time that a disaster happens, whether it’s Katrina or the Valley Fire that happened nearby in North California, I see the same cycle, something that has made me completely bitter about humanity. Once the media turns away because the flood waters have receded or the flames go out, it’s our time to show who we are. Natural disasters show the best and worst in humanity. Last year that I went, we raised $10,000, enough for SBP, the organization that we work through, to get someone back to their house. This guy came to our work site the first time thanking us for helping somebody in his community…he didn’t know that the money was for him, but he thanked us on behalf of who he thought was some total stranger.

    This year we heard someone talk about being an EMT and riding in a Blackhawk helicopter saving people.

    The best.

    …where are the worst?

    The government and its response, and…us not involved, content in the safety of our homes.

    Because right when people need us most, we turn away from them…elective amnesia, forgetting about what would trouble us.

    I’m writing this now, in the wake of the floods in Louisiana, hoping that people will prove me wrong.

    Please give money or volunteer with SBP, which is now helping with the rebuilding effort in Baton Rouge and the other places affected by the flood. They also have this resource for homeowners.

    Remember this time…please…

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  • Behavior As Communication

    June 22, 2016
    8634577 - the road home.surreal, branch, and the worm.

    In the language of Autism we talk a great deal about behavior as communication, and even more about “challenging” behavior and what it communicates.

    There are countless articles that define specific behaviors, that categorize “challenging” behaviors and that address specific behaviors that are common for autistic children and adults.  We are taught to look for clues in the environment and within recent events for things that might have contributed to the behavior. We are trained to be behavior sleuths. Guardians of structure and routine. Creators of various visual cues and keepers of the therapeutic appointment.

    However, in all of these examples there is a one line of communication that we sometimes forget to discuss:

    What is your behavior communicating? 

    Several years ago while sitting in a waiting room with my son awaiting a play therapy session I observed a mother and son arrive and check in at the reception. The child appeared a few years old than my boy and the two sat in the play area together briefly. I said hello to the mother. She was well dressed with pale blonde hair and very soft-spoken. After a few minutes the therapist came out and called her boy’s name. When he was directed away from playing he began to shout and stomp. This doesn’t phase me, I am no stranger to the difficulties of transition especially in a new environment, but  the mother seemed terribly embarrassed and apologized to me and the therapist several times. I assured her it was fine but was saddened by the depth of the child’s struggle, he was simply enraged, and the strange way the mother was approaching him, even as the therapist tried to guide her. Her cheeks were a deep shade of red, her body was tense, lips pursed, language very direct and pointed. Her anger was palpable even across the waiting room. After some time the mother and child left, canceling their appointment. Perhaps 20 minutes later, just as we were going back into the office, an uniformed officer approached the receptionist and said that there had been reports of a blonde woman hitting a child in a car in the parking lot and they were trying to gather information about who she might have been.

    Whenever we talk about behavior as communication, we must start that journey by looking in detail at our own behavior and our own level of understanding. Communication takes at least two people, and when both are confused about the message neither can move forward.  While we cannot change the stressors of the world or how our children respond in a moment, we can make a choice about how we react and what we teach in that moment. If we are angry, embarrassed, impatient and unwilling to apply compassion we are teaching anger, shame, guilt and inflexibility. Ultimately  what our children remember is not the stress of the moment but the love, or the lack of love, they receive from us.

    Children Learn What They Live
    By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

    Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte

    Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte


    Click here For more on understanding Autism, Parenting and the Brain 

    HALT – A Behavior Checklist 

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  • H.A.L.T. A Behavior Checklist

    June 13, 2016

    When an infant cries it cannot tell us what the problem might be. It is second nature for parents and caregivers to begin moving our efforts through the checklist:
    Is the Baby:

    • Hungry
    • Wet
    • Tired
    • Gassy
    • too hot or too cold


    At some point though we abandon the infant checklist, relying on a child or person to tell us what they are experiencing. However, even the most self actualized of us may find that  we often miss the cues being given by own bodies. Being unable to step back and see the bigger picture can impair our ability to ask for what we need and instead lead to behavior that is uncharacteristic and confusing.

    However, there is a quick and easy checklist for older children and adults that works quiet well, and one that will be very helpful when trying to decipher behavior as communication. It is called H.A.L.T. Your first clue to stop and think before responding to a behavior.

    H. – Hungry : 

    Anxiety and mood changes can often be traced to changes in blood sugar levels. Everything that we eat is converted into simple sugars (like glucose), fats and amino acids  by your digestive system and then delivered to your tissues and organs to be used as energy. When the body is hungry the amount of glucose available drops. Your brain, unlike your other organs which can use a variety of nutrients to function, is critically dependant on glucose to do it’s job. When glucose levels run low the brain perceives it as a life threatening event.  If you have ever found it difficult to concentrate, made silly mistakes or inadvertently snapped at a friend or loved one because you were hungry, you know how real the effect of hunger can be.

    A. – Angry :

    Anger, while a completely normal emotional response, is also a powerful and difficult emotion. Anger can be physical or verbal, and often times the person who is experiencing it may not even know why they are struggling. They just feel mad, and overcome with all the complexities of their anger need to act out.  If you suspect a behavior is linked to anger, take time to connect and give an opportunity to relax before ever engaging the behavior. Then do so with compassion and concern.

    L. – Lonely :

    Sometimes a behavior is simply communicating the need to connect. While it is easy to dismiss this behavior as being bratty and demanding, remember that it takes considerable emotional maturity to recognize your own need for attention, and even more skill to know the right ways to ask for what you need. Pay attention to what happens just before a behavior and just after, often there are significant clues, then respond with care and compassion focusing on the need without reinforcing the behavior.

    T. – Tired : 

    Poor sleep is linked to a variety of difficulties including irritability, decreased self-evaluation, anger, fear and poor motivation.  Sometimes a nap or a good night’s rest is just good medicine.

    So, when faced with a challenging moment, HALT. before you react, then connect and redirect in ways that makes sense!



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  • A Blind Eye – Autism and Abuse

    June 7, 2016


    During the 2015 school year the principal at my son’s school:

    -shamed, humiliated, isolated, discriminated and frightened my 9-year-old son. Verbally attacked me on more than one occasion even demanding that my son be placed in “in-patient” treatment and “medicated.” After being told that he was not to have contact with my son, the principal held him in an office and refused to release him to my care and then chased me to my car when I brought my son to safety.

    This was the school’s response:

    After careful review of a full body of evidence, including a review of the Executive Director’s goals for the 2015-2016 school year, a self-evaluation, staff evaluations, community feedback, staff agreements and handbook, staff hiring processes and performance expectations, professional development, and an expectation that formal professional training on executive leadership will be completed, the Board renewed the contract of Mr. J C  as the Executive Director of **  School for the 2016-2017 school year.


    One in three children identified as having a disability and receiving special education services will be subjected to abuse, be that physical, psychological or sexual. That is ten times more likely than their non-disabled peers. (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000) Research also suggests that the type of disability raises the risk for specific types of abuse: non-verbal children being at greater risk for neglect, children with behavioral needs more at risk for physical abuse. While an older study states that the rate of sexual abuse is nearly two times greater for children with disabilities (Mansell, Sobsey, and Moskal, 1998)   gender bias in diagnosis, the inability -or unwillingness of children, who often suffer neglect as well and lack confidence that anyone will care,  and misattributed and missed behavioral symptoms make the numbers almost impossible to quantify. In cases of abuse within the school system, collusion between two or more adults to cover up abuse is alarmingly common. In a 2011 study  conducted in Ontario, 2-11% of teachers were reported to have been observed bullying disabled students in the classroom when observed by interns who often fail to report the abuse for fear of reprisal.

    The Turning Away: 

    While it is impossible to look at the numbers and  not see a pattern of social behavior that impacts the welfare of disabled students, it is also equally difficult to see proof within the system that laws, organizations and safeguards are effective at providing a safety net. While I could write a great deal about numbers and finance and class sizes, that would just be scratching the surface of the iceberg. The truth is that the problem is deeper and more pervasive:

    First look: A parent posts a video of their child in the middle of an autistic meltdown on social media. They caption the video, “Guess it will be another six months before I can have dinner out with my husband.” The video is received by uneducated viewers like a train wreck. They get a certain sadistic thrill watching someone else suffer, then respond with sympathy for the parent and disgust for the child.

    Look again: A well-educated social paradigm would recognize this sort of public shaming for what it is : abuse. A child in the throes of a meltdown needs the care and compassion of the people that they depend on; to stand back with a camera is unforgivable and speaks to the need for education. A meltdown is a neurological event, the child is responding to multiple sensory stressors, the least of which can be assumed to be parents who are unwilling or unable to apply compassion, understanding, logic or reason to a difficult situation. A well-educated social paradigm would have sympathy for the child, and concern for the support and education of the parent. The act of publicly shaming the child an abhorrent display of abusive behavior.

    Without a broad base of community education and socially supportive programs the abuse and neglect of children on the spectrum will increase, even as they are isolated, restrained, and even murdered by their own parents and loved ones.  Within our communities education professionals are trained to recognize signs of abuse and help identify at risk children. However, if the schools are part of that cycle of abuse the child becomes almost completely without a voice of advocacy, and some are literally unable to ask for help. However, even when the abuse is identified, even when the acts are grotesque, inhuman, torturous and in many cases lead to the death of a child, social stigma and ignorance give an almost free pass to those who offend.

    In the case of my own family intimidation was used to prevent my son from speaking about the horror he was facing at school though true to his nature his behavior was communicating loud and clear. Sadly, deciphering behavior can take time, and with the professionals who I depended on to help me spot the clues were carefully covering tracks, it took longer than it should have to see what was happening. In the end all of the proof in the world was not enough to show how the person who attacked me and abused my son is unfit to be in his position.

    In the weeks that my family worked through and recorded the events of the battle for special education, I was contacted by so many families caught in the same cycle who felt helpless, hopeless and confused by a system that was failing all around them. An advocate from the ARC, after a long talk on day, said to me that it seemed like I was working day and night to elevate the thinking of the people who should have been supporting me. But, she said, you cannot elevate people who are not interested in change. Your efforts are seen as madness. She then said that she was retiring from more than 20 years of working to make a difference for disabled students knowing that things were worse than they had ever been. I am certain there were victories along the way, but not enough and in the end the children are the victims.

    Can we really afford to turn a blind eye?


    Learn the signs of abuse 





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