ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)

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Friday, July 14, 2006: 10:45 AM-12:00 PM
Providence Ballroom II
#1709- When My Autism Gets Too Big!
Many children on the autism spectrum have unusually high levels of anxiety. The source of this stress can include social demands, unanticipated changes, fears, interruption of a favorite activity or and inability to communicate effectively. This anxiety can lead to unwanted behaviors including aggression, screaming and property destruction. This presentation will discuss methods of stress reduction aimed at helping the person with autism calm themselves in times of crisis and remain calm in predictably stressful situations.

Presenter:Kari Dunn Buron, MS, School District 916, Special Education Teacher and Consultant - Kari Dunn Buron is a special educator who has work as both a teacher and a consultant for 30 years. Kari helped to create a Minnesota Autism Network for educators and is the Coordinator of the ASD Certificate Program at Hamline University in St. Paul. In 1995, Kari created and continues to direct Camp Discovery, a summer camp for youth with Asperger Syndrome. Kari is the author of When My Autism Gets Too Big! and the co-author of The Incredible 5-Point Scale. She has presented at several national conferences including 5 ASA presentations.
Children and adolescents with ASD tend to have multiple problems related to stress and anxiety issues. Stress can be caused from such things as social confusion, changes in the schedule or environment, miscommunication, or a sense of loss of control. These problems can include external symptoms such as tantrums, screaming, aggression towards others, self-aggression, destruction of property, or social withdrawal. These behaviors may appear to ‘come out of nowhere' to the parent or teacher who is not aware that the student is under stress. It is important to remember that behavior happens for a reason and that stress and anxiety can play a significant role in triggering unwanted behavior.

High levels of stress and anxiety related to social situations, sensory issues or general frustration are common in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Social stress can lead to a loss of control in social settings such as school. More than any other issue for students with ASD, loss of control can lead to the need to move them out of the general education classroom to a more restrictive educational environment. Therefore, it is critical that we help individuals with ASD learn to recognize and control their feelings.

Consider this, if someone graduates from high school and they do not know how to read, they are far less handicapped than if they graduate from high school and continue to scream or hit other people. It is against the law to discriminate against someone who can not read, but our society does not tolerate threatening behavior. Given the importance of self control, it is concerning that seldom do you find a goal on a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) related to relaxation. Although many children with explosive behavior have had Functional Behavior Assessments and have Behavior Intervention Plans written to support them, rarely is direct teaching and practice of relaxation routines a part of their plan. Those of us who teach and live with children with ASD are often so focused on teaching them other things that we forget that teaching someone to relax can benefit them in the long term more than any other skill.

If we know that most children with ASD have problems with high levels of stress and anxiety, and if we know that varied forms of stress reduction can release physical tension caused by stress and anxiety thereby increasing physical control, then it seems logical that we should attempt to teach the person with ASD to relax when they encounter frustrating situations.

Hans Asperger said in his original paper that the intellectualization of affect is a logical approach to teaching students with ASD. This presentation will focus on teaching strategies that attempt to do just that. Simon Baron Cohen suggests that students with ASD learn best in very concrete and systematic ways. This presentation will include a discussion of how to take social emotional information and feelings from a conceptual format to a systematic one.

The book, When My Autism Gets Too Big, is based on cognitive behavioral management, which is an approach to behavior management that focuses on teaching children to recognize their own feelings of anxiety and then teaching them strategies to help them control those feelings. The example from the book will be discussed along with other examples of cognitive behavior management used to reduce anxiety and stress in students with ASD.

When deciding whether or not to use stress reduction techniques consider the fight or flight response. If a person with ASD is confronted with a situation he does not understand, a disappointment he finds intolerable or an unusual fear, it is likely that he will have a physical response that puts his body on high alert. He may feel that he must either flee the situation or fight back. When a person reaches a state of rage or explosion, they have little control over their behavioral response. It is difficult for anyone to relax when they are in a state of rage or fear, particularly if that person has little control over impulsivity and limited understanding of his own emotional feelings. Stress reduction routines or exercises are meant to proactively help the person with ASD to reduce their levels of anxiety across environments.

Participants will: - learn several strategies for teaching relaxation to students with ASD - be given some examples of possible IEP objectives for teaching the highly anxious student - learn how to use an anxiety curve illustration to teach the adults who work with anxious students to control their own levels of stress

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