ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)
|Friday, July 14, 2006: 10:45 AM-12:00 PM|
|#1952- Developing Flexibility: Strategies that Help Regulate Intensive Emotional Reactions|
|This practical, useful presentation offers participants proven concrete strategies to help students with ASD develop flexibility and manage intense emotions so that they and their families can fully participate in all aspects of life. Flexibility is critical if youth are to manage unpredictability and stress. Although being flexible is often unknown and foreign to children who are rigid in their thinking and preferences, they can be taught to develop skills in this area. |
|Presenter:||- Judith Coucouvanis is a behavior specialist in the University of Michigan Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. For 30 years she has specialized in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Judith speaks regularly about social skills training, behavior and academic supports, offering practical tips for parents and teachers. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Autism Society of Michigan and as an editorial board member of the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. She is the author of Super Skills: A Social Skills Group Program for Children with Asperger Syndrome, High-functioning Autism and Related Challenges (2005), AAPC.|
Some youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are exceptionally rigid in their thinking and behavior. Their reliance on rigidity and control helps them to predict and manage life's daily events. It is not unusual for such youngsters to insist there is only one way to play a game, one route to the store, or one approach to an assignment. The child may attempt to control every aspect of daily life, including who opens the front door, where family members sit at the table, what order they enter or leave the house, where family members sit in the family automobile, etc. They might argue with every request or direction given by an adult.
When these intense preferences are denied, severe emotional reactions can occur, ranging from extreme anxiety to anger and even rage. Often family and friends describe daily life as “walking on eggshells” because of seemingly unpredictable and volatile mood swings. Some families go to exceptional lengths to follow a child's preferences, only to find a meltdown occurs anyway. It is not uncommon to forego restaurants, parties, worship services or vacations to avoid such severe emotional reactions altogether.
When the unexpected occurs, whether in new or familiar situations, the typical child with ASD is unable to predict what will happen next. This intensifies his or her growing stress and anxiety, and often results in greater rigidity. Learning to be flexible is key to managing this stress. Life is not rigid, but fluid and spontaneous. Flexibility is essential to manage feelings of excitement, anxiety, uncertainty, and even misunderstanding, common feelings when unexpected events occur.
For many children with ASD rigidity is a considerable barrier to social success. It cripples the ability to make friends, restricts the capacity to solve problems and severely impacts stress management. Developing flexibility is essential if children with ASD are ever to overcome this barrier and develop social competence. Children must practice the flexibility that is required when trying to come to some sort of agreement with others, as well as when solving problems.
Teaching flexibility requires systematic methods. Specific problem areas must be identified for intervention to be effective. The first half of this research and clinically-based presentation details the unanticipated events that are common triggers to stress reactions in youth with ASD. It describes the problem areas and offers guidance in how to prioritize intervention. Signs that parents and teachers can look for that indicate increasing stress are described in detail using clinical examples. Observation and assessment methods that can be used to identify such triggers are reviewed.
Based upon extensive clinical experience using case examples, this presentation suggests new ways that parents and teachers can prepare the child for unanticipated events and offers concrete guidance in ways to manage cumulative stress; an often unrecognized phenomena. It details ways to help students recognize their personal stress reactions.
The second half of this presentation offers innovative and successful behavior strategies to teach youth with ASD to handle risks and tolerate ambiguity. Creative, imaginative thinking can lead to successfully making decisions that do not involve arguments and rigid rules of conduct. Teaching a child to be flexible includes an understanding that there are multiple and different ways to make decisions, showing the child there is more than one right way, planning new ways of giving information, and ultimately, determining new outcomes for the child. Practice is a key component in developing such flexibility.
This practical, useful presentation offers participants proven concrete strategies to help students with ASD develop flexibility and manage intense emotions so that they and their families can fully participate in all aspects of life. Flexibility is critical if youth are to manage unpredictability and stress. Although being flexible is often unknown and foreign to children who are rigid in their thinking and preferences, they can be taught to develop skills in this area.
Case studies, handouts and demonstration are used to illustrate the concepts.
See more of The ASA's 37th National Conference on Autism Spectrum Disorders (July 13-15, 2006)