Friday, August 31, 2007

What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism

I'll admit it: I was skeptical when the offer came in.

Last month's e-mail from Sourcebooks, Inc., the publisher of Jonathan Levy's book What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism, explained that the book:

offers parents 10 specific ways to help their autistic children interact better in the world. The techniques Jonathan outlines in this book were developed by the Autism Treatment Center of America and have produced dramatic results with children whose illnesses range from mild Asperger’s Syndrome to severely autistic. Even following only some of the 10 suggested methods can produce positive changes in autistic children. Of the over 800 families that Jonathan has worked with in the past 12 years, only 3 did not see differences in their children.

It sounded promising, of course. But "1o specific ways" to help my autistic child? I mean, if it were that easy - well, I wouldn't really need a book on it, would I? But, I figured, what did I have to lose? I decided to give it a try.

I'm so glad I did.

Levy's book is a quick read. It's easily accessible and instantly understandable. And it's full to the brim with suggestions and examples that resonated with me - that sounded like just the thing to help me approach this or that issue that I'm currently working on with Bud. Levy does, indeed, suggest ten specific things, and he makes no mystery of them - they're listed right there in the table of contents. They are listed, even, in the publisher's press release. They are:

1) Don’t react
2) Make eye contact a priority
3) Join the stims
4) Coping with crying
5) Give the child as much control as possible
6) Focus on attitude
7) Work one-on-one in a nondistracting environment
8) Be dynamic with the child
9) Go directly to language
10) Make sure food isn’t part of the problem

But it's not the list itself that is the goldmine in this book; it's the way that Levy unpacks the list. For each item, Levy provides four things: 1) a good description of a specific problem; 2) a very tangible suggestion about how to address the problem; 3) solid philosophical underpinnings that explain why the suggestion makes sense; and 4) a real-life example of the suggestion in action. And best of all, it is not only easy to understand what Levy is explaining, but it is also easy to implement the suggestions he makes.

Levy is honest and up-front with the fact that he approached his work through one very specific model, the Son Rise program, which he used in his work with the Autism Treatment Center of America. I'll be honest and up-front with the fact that I have almost no familiarity with the Son Rise program, so this post is neither an endorsement for nor a critique of it. I will say, though, that many of the suggestions he makes and examples he gives - especially those that resonated most with me - also seemed to fall in line with many of the philosophies that underlie RDI.

That's not to say that I agreed wholeheartedly with everything Levy had to offer. I found some suggestions that seemed not-quite-right for Bud and me. I found only one that seemed entirely wrong. But, mostly, I found gem after gem after gem. And here's one of the things I liked best about Levy's style and philosophy: In three different places in the book - including the introduction and the conclusion - he made statements like this:
I ask that you read this book with an open mind and heart. If there is advice or activities in the book that you don't agree with, don't do them. Understand, though, that everything here is my best advice to you.

I'm glad I read this book when I did - just before the start of a new school year, as Bud is transitioning into a new school setting with new professional and paraprofessional staff. This is exactly the sort of book I want to pass on to the people who'll work with Bud in the years to come - easy to read, easy to grasp, easy to implement. I have a hunch that my copy of this book will be well worn by the end of the fall semester.

Levy provides ten suggestions of things you can do right now to help your child with autism. I'll just provide one:

Read this book.


kristen spina said...

Wow. So glad I popped over here this morning. Those 10 things seem a lot like the things we've learned to do by trial and error--the things that if I were to try and come up with a list for the school, I'd never be able to articulate in such a clear and focused way.

I'm off to Amazon right now. My son will also have an all new support team at school and if this book rings true once I've read it, you can bet I'll be passing my copy along as well.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I skipped through a review of that [somewhere?] and like you I was a bit dubious [and also we're not at that stage]
However, I did think that way back when we were wading through research, papers, evaluations and siren were going off all around us about 'early intervention' it would have been very helpful to have had something straightforward and simple - like a mini map.
Best wishes

Drama Mama said...

Okay. Done. Over to Amazon right now.

The author had the good sense to keep the book succint and clearly outlined.

Parents with special-needs kids don't have much time to read. Just give us the facts!

Phoebe said...

IMO, Son-Rise, Floortime and RDI are all variations of fantastic relational approaches to connecting with an autistic person.

Added the book to my wish list, thanks! I bet hubs will enjoy is a lot. He doesn't have as much one-on-one with That Boy as I do and he realy lilkes clear guidelines to follow.

kristina said...

"Don't React" has long been important for us----I guess I like to think of this as "bending like the grass in the wind."

Eileen said...

This sounds like just the kind of book I need to read right now. Thanks for he suggestion MOM!

Wendy said...

Well, I'm sold. I guess, thanks to you, Mr. Levy will see a huge jump in sales today. Thanks for the recommendation.

floating in space said...

Just the kind of book I'm looking for! I could really use some help with #1.

Anonymous said...

Can I just explai nsomething about the eye contact issue from my own perspective? There are two reasons why I don't make eye contact. The first is that, for me, it's rather uncomfortable, not painful, but maybe the equivalent of a bad itch. The other reason is that I cannot make eye contact with someone and understand what they are saying, the words start to sound as though they're in a foreign language and in extreme cases I lose track of the fact I am being spoken to completely. I've read others on the spectrum recounting similar experiences. So I can make eye contact and appear to be paying attention, or I cannot make eye contact and actually pay attention.
If you wish to compromise then asking your child to look at the bridge of the nose might be ok.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I just ordered it.

What an interesting comment from "Bullet". Thanks for sharing. Just one more example of how we expect people with autism to have to change to live in "our" world!

Ange said...

I wish I could not react. I have a physiological reaction even if I try not to verbally or physically react to something my oldest does and he feeds off whatever vibes I'm trying to push off as 'nonreactive' (I'm high anxiety).

As far as eye contact, I agree with bullet. I am not on the spectrum, but if I even think about the purpose of eye contact or catch someone's eyes all I can think about is eye contact and I can't concentrate on what I'm saying or listening to. I have a hyperawareness of nonverbal communication and it really bothers me. My son does pretty well with eye contact unless it is demanded of him and then he can't do it...he will face your face but his eyes go straight up to the right (grandpa is notorious for forcing Bubba to look at him when he 'misbehaves' and then grandpa gets furious about the eye contact thing. Hmmm maybe that explains my issues since he is MY dad....) ;)

Anyhow, the book sounds interesting and I like the fact that the author doesn't demand strict adherence to his words.

Anonymous said...

I am glad for bullet's comment. This has been explained to me before and I have seen that my son cannot listen AND look at me at the same time. So if I want him to absorb what I'm saying, I do us both a great disservice in demanding eye contact. In other situations, he's got great eye contact, though.

Sounds like a great book and I'm going to put it on my wish list now! Thanks.

Karen in CA

Anonymous said...

I'm dying to know the one thing you would not do!You are my go to girl when I want more info on autism. I could spend hours following links starting with you (truth is I do) I am a parapro working as a 1:1 for a non-verbal autistic boy in a self contained classroom with 7 boys. and I do home based habilitation, and my son is on the spectrum.
I have been reading your blog for a year. I started reading it the week my son and Bud were starting first grade and we were dealing with many of the same challenges.
I turn to your blog whenever I am feeling frustrated and worn out by autism. and whether it is a picture by Bud (The soft soap dispensers had me in giggling for days!) or quality information you've made accessible I feel re-charged and hopeful!
You made my day when you came clean about liking country!!!!I feel very alone at times!!! Brad and Dierks (and Starbucks) help get me to a good place in the mornings to go in and give 100% to the boys I work with.
p.s I am SO envious of your writing!!!!!

MOM-NOS said...

Bannie, I'm so glad you "de-lurked" to leave a comment. Welcome! And thank you for your very kind words. I purposely didn't identify the "one thing" in my post, because I thought that I'd be unfairly calling attention to it instead of to the many, many insights I gleaned from the book. I'll say this - it was a suggestion about how to respond to a specific kind of echolalic statement, and Levy said something about it like "You are not being sarcastic to your child if you do this," but I thought, "Yes, you are." (I can't quote him exactly, as I have already lent out my copy to the folks at Bud's school!)

As for the country music, I recently got to see Brad in concert - so terrific! His songs are even more fun live than they are on record. And Dierks recently released his fall tour dates, and it looks like he'll have a show within driving distance from here. Between the two, that ought to carry me for a while!

Bullet, thanks for sharing your perspective. I've always been uncomfortable with the "look at me" approach to trying to increase Bud's eye contact. RDI's focus on the development of ability to "reference" other people and read their faces for critical information with which to understand the context and expectations in a situation is a lot more comfortable for me.

Anonymous said...

Will certainly look into that. With autism you can never stop learning!

Anonymous said...

from my (only) one-week training at the son-rise institute and the first 6 months of our home program and what i now know about RDI, the approaches do share a lot. not everything, but this underlying respect for the child, parent-led "relational" intervention. thanks for the review. the only thing from that list that gives me pause is the eye contact--the how of making it a priority. it bugs me when people ASK for eye contact, which they definitely did at son-rise when i was there (almost 3 years ago). i love the RDI way of giving a reason to look. that has always made more sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation - the book is excellent (read it in one day). I've now passed it along to all of my son's 'significants' and will also encourage his teachers and aides to read it as well.

I consider your blog to be an anchor in my own tsunami of a life at this point (son is 4 and diagnosis occurred just this year). I don't really care much for country music but I dig everything else you have to say!