Hello, and thank you for joining us today for the Social Competence Overview webinar. My name is Wendy Szakacs and I am the Regional Coach for Autism and Low Incidence at OCALI in the northeast and eastern parts of Ohio. And I am Julie Babyak, an Ohio State University School Psychology Intern with OCALI. OCALI is the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence. We serve families, educators and professionals working with students with low incidence disabilities including autism, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments and traumatic brain injury. Our mission is to build state- and system-wide capacity to improve outcomes through leadership, training and professional development, technical assistance, collaboration and technology.
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Thanks Wendy. We are glad you are joining us for first installment of the Social Competence Webinar Series. Today we are presenting an overview of social competence.
During this webinar, we will be defining social competence, talking about how social competence and social skills fit together, learning why social competence is so important in the lives of all persons, and then seeing how the characteristics of autism affect social competence.
Before clip: Robin is a young woman with Asperger Syndrome. She explains how many of her autistic features affect her life and her ability to interact socially. You will notice that her facial expression is unchanging. Intellectually, she knows some people consider her behavior and conversation as "odd" but it is the way her brain is wired and she can't just change how she appears because it isn't a choice. She will share that she has difficulty reading other people's faces and body language plus her sensory issues are making social competence more difficult for her and she explains that she has trouble making friends.
Well, I wasn't told that I had Asperger Syndrome, which is a form of autism I've got, until I was about 13 or 14. And I suppose that it confirmed a few ideas that I'd had because I knew I was different, but I didn't know why. Asperger's is a form of autism. Autism is a neurological condition, which just means that the brain is physically different from what is considered to be neurologically typical which is like a benchmark that scientists have decided upon as being, you know, what they consider to be normal. It is a neurological condition that affects three main areas: communication, understanding other people, and social skills. I have problems with reading people's body language, and also making friends and getting on with people in general. What worries me the most is being alone, not having a support network and not having a partner. The actual label if you like doesn't actually change the person, but it does provide answers, and I think for many people on the autistic spectrum, it actually relaxes them. It puts their mind at rest because they know why they're different. When people meet me for the first time, they do notice that I'm on the autistic spectrum, but they may not explicitly know it's the autistic spectrum, they may just perceive me as being odd. I have issues with my senses. I'm hypersensitive, which basically means that the volume is being turned up. So, for example, my eyes can be oversensitive to a particular color. For example, red could appear too bright and kind of dazzle me. And also my hearing can be hypersensitive, so when you're on the tube, when the tube shoots past it can make that squeaking noise and sometimes that can be too much to bear. It's almost like I've become paralyzed within my brain that I can't continue thinking. I take everything one step at a time so if I find I'm having a problem, I see what I can do to improve it. And often what I do is I do have a support network and I speak to the people in my support network and ask them their advice. It's okay to have autism. It's not a death sentence and you're not a different person just because it's got a name. You're still you and autism doesn't take away a person, it's just an addition to a person.
After clip: It's hard for us to imagine that a young woman who is so obviously intelligent, very verbal, and able to recognize her challenges has so much difficulty with social interactions. It is not intentional behavior.
So let's talk about what is important for all individuals in the area of social competence. Some states have developed Social Emotional Learning Standards that are part of their curriculums. These are overall goals that are for all students, and are definitely important for individuals with autism, even though how we teach these goals may need to differ. Being able to know who you are and how to regulate your body and behavior is an important goal; making friends and being able to get along with family, classmates, teachers, coworkers, and community members allows us to function in society; and being able to problem solve and make appropriate decisions gives us positive opportunities and self-esteem. This concept is the core of another related area that is emphasized as children grow into adulthood referred to as "self-determination". Social skills, social emotional learning, self-determination, interpersonal skills and more are all based in "social competence".
So, what do we mean by social competence? Social competence is the ability to interact successfully with peers and adults in a variety of situations and environments. An individual that possesses social competence is therefore able to participate in social situations. Social competence is more than simply learning or mastering discrete social skills, like saying hello, how are you today or please and thank you. There are many things to know, remember, and react to. We all try to follow the social rules we have acquired; we are able to know that other people have thoughts and what those thoughts might be by listening to their language while watching their facial and body language; we can identify and understand our own emotions and the emotions of others, or we converse about them until we gain understanding; we are able to enter different situations and know how to dress, talk, move, and behave.
Consider this quote from Michelle Winner, an author who writes about social thinking: "Social competence means one is able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape that takes into consideration the environment, the people in it, the thoughts, beliefs and needs of the individual and others who share the environment-whether they are in direct communication-as well as individual and collective history of knowledge and experience." Social interactions and behaviors are extremely complex, which is what makes social competence difficult to teach. Because social competence comes naturally to neurotypicals (that's a term for those who are not on the autism spectrum), it is not a natural process for neurotypicals to break down how to acquire social competence nor how to teach it. We use social abilities pretty much every waking moment-choosing what we will wear for the situation of the day; interpreting what is happening when watching TV or reading a book; and how we behave when we are with people. Those that are skilled in social competence keep mental records of people they know and how to interact with them, which is an intricate procedure to recall and react in appropriate ways. As you hear more about the characteristics of autism spectrum disorder later in this webinar, you will understand why social competence is extremely difficult for individuals on the spectrum.
We usually talk about teaching social skills to persons with autism. How many social skills do you think there are? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Those listed on this slide or on an individual IEP are only the tip of the iceberg! It would be impossible to teach each social skill individually, so we want to teach frameworks, approaches, how to think about social situations, rather than trying just to attack this challenge one item at a time. Are social skills still important? Absolutely! They are a part of learning social competence. We will need to continue using assessments to decide what the strengths and needs are for each individual and teach to those specific skills. However, specific social instruction needs to be in conjunction with teaching the tools that allow social thinking to take place.
To recap, social skills are a part of social competence. Social competence is the big picture encompassing all of an individual's abilities to interact, while social skills are separate pieces that support it. Social competence takes into consideration teaching foundational strategies that cover many situations while social skills need to be purposefully generalized. Wendy is now going to talk a little bit about why social competence is important.
Great Julie. Thanks. Next we are going to talk about why focusing on teaching social competence is important in the lives of everyone, and especially persons with autism spectrum disorder.
Before clip: Social emotional learning is a term used to describe learning about social competence. This is a video clip that talks about social emotional learning as it applies to all children.
Speaker on Video: How many of you know a boy or girl here at school who gets picked on and left out and never included and laughed at all the time?
Video Narrator: School can be a mean and dangerous place.
Speaker on Video: Raise your hands, high, high.
Narrator: Evidenced by headline grabbing tragedies and subtle daily slights.
Little girl on video: Gina, why don't you shut up? Who cares what you think?
Narrator: Fortunately, there is growing consensus that teaching social and emotional skills in school can make a difference (Teacher: "We're gonna use it as a tool to help us solve problems.") and there are a number of programs like Resolving Conflict Creatively that teach those skills.
(Teacher: "You gonna wear those old rags to school?")
Linda Lantieri: We are talking about a whole new vision of education that says that educating the heart is as important as educating the mind. And so it's about equipping young people with the kinds of skills they need to both identify and manage their emotions, to communicate those emotions effectively, and to resolve conflict non-violently.
Students: "It's mine!" "No, it's not!"
Narrator: As part of a school wide effort to create a positive environment, 4th graders at Brooklyn's P.S. 24 act as peace helpers, teaching younger students how to handle conflicts.
Student: When the peace helpers were helping solve the conflict, what did you see the peace helpers do?
Student: I'm still learning, "cause if I go in the 6th grade next year, I need to learn how to control my anger cause I have a serious temper problem.
Daniel Goleman: Emotional intelligence is just a key human skill, but it also turns out that kids who are better able to manage their emotions, for example, actually can pay attention better, can take in information better, can remember better. In other words, it helps you learn better.
Narrator: Benefits of social emotional learning programs include improved academic performance and attitudes towards school, a reduction in violence and bullying and other negative behaviors and an improved school environment for children and adults.
Principal: You kow, we're just seeing great behaviors..."
Narrator: As part of a district wide mandate, schools in Anchorage, Alaska have adopted comprehensive, social emotional learning curriculum standards.
Vickie Blakeney: I'm a curriculum coordinator so I am seen in the same office as the language arts coordinator, the math coordinator, the health coordinator, etc to show that visually, politically, everything else that we are going to value this like we value any of our other curriculum. A lot of my job is to look at the already adopted curriculum and say okay, here's a place where if I was teaching this reading lesson I could also hit this social emotional learning standard at the same time.
(teacher talking: what are some of the cool headed thoughts you could have?)
Michael Graham: We are all under the gun to improve our test results, the academics but it's a whole lot more fun to start focusing on that connection with kids and helping people feel good about where they are, the other will follow. Our teachers, I think, are much happier; they like our kids.
(teacher talking: Good job kiddo. Excellent. Practice being cool headed this weekend).
There's research out now that shows that kids involved in intentional social emotional learning programs like we are trying to do right here scored on average 10% higher on their standardized tests. so what are we giving up? We're giving up higher referrals, we're giving up violence in our schools. What are we getting? We are getting kids who come to school because they want to come to school, kids who know how to act when they get into school and hopefully kids who will go into their futures with a better chance of success.
Students: "Dina, I would like to go on being friends."
Teacher: "And, freeze. All right yeah. Nice job."
After clip: So, we learned that social emotional learning helps people feel better, allows children to be able to learn (and we can apply that to being able to work as an adult), and they have fewer negative situations happening in their lives.
Frank Gresham of Louisiana State University and Stephen Elliott of Vanderbilt University conducted a survey of more than 8,000 teachers to ask what ALL students need to succeed in school. What was identified by the survey? Well as you can see, the skills are about having social competence. Being able to succeed in the classroom is dependent upon understanding the social environment and rules.
Consider this statement: "If we increase social skills, we see commensurate increases in academic learning. That doesn't mean that social skills make you smarter; it means that these skills make you more amenable to learning." If you can understand an environment and get along with others, you are more prepared to learn and have a better chance at a successful future. This includes students with autism. The more they understand about the social environment of the classroom, the lower their anxiety level will be, the more they can participate, and the more they will be able to apply their cognitive abilities.
Let's look at what skills employers value. To obtain and maintain a job, the top skills employers look for reflect social competence. Getting along with others, being able to communicate effectively, working with the team, and adapting to change are all important work skills that may not come naturally for individuals with ASD. These are as important to teach as the "hard skills" for jobs, like completing a task and paying attention to directions.
Employment statistics show that we are not doing a great job at preparing students with ASD for the world of work. This research does not show the outcomes that we want for individuals with ASD. Only 6% of those with autism have full time employment and only 12% of those with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism are working; salaries are less than what we want to see being earned. We have shown that social competence helps learning in school and being able to gain and sustain employment, so teaching these skills along with academics is going to increase the chance for them to work and to live more independently.
Look at these percentages. Think of students or individuals you know with autism. Are there more who could be working? YES! Again, the outcomes are not what we want to see and social competence appears to be a contributing factor. We hope college will lead to employment and financial security...but how are we doing? According to persons with ASD, many cannot sustain employment because of not understanding the social rules and hidden curriculum issues of the workplace. Next, we are going to talk about some friendship statistics and then we will move into how the characteristics of autism affect gaining social competence.
Persons with autism want and deserve a good quality of life, as do all people, including social activities and friendships. This is not an easy task for them, and it requires instruction, coaching, and support. Developing a satisfying life that includes social connections and friendships can depend on others' ability to understand the social challenges of autism and how to support those that are faced with these challenges.
This chart shows interactions with friends. Autism is the 2nd lowest category of disabilities in having interactions with friends outside of school or work. As humans, there is more to life than work and we need to teach those on the spectrum how to make and keep friends.
Another study shows that 40% of individuals with ASD NEVER have a phone call from a friend and 39% NEVER meet friends on their own. How can we change these statistics? Let's look at how autism is affecting social competence.
The characteristics of ASD do not make it impossible to gain social competence, but will make it necessary for it to be taught rather than naturally acquired, as it happens for most neurotypical children. Each individual will need to be assessed in various social areas and then have an overall program built on their strengths to teach supports and skills.
Neurotypical babies develop many of the basic abilities to support the development of social competence by 6 months of age. Babies know if a being is human or not; they are using their senses to gain information; they are already interacting with others; and they are using their cognition and emotions to learn what is happening around them, and how to know if others have good or bad intentions. All of this by 6 months of age! For individuals with autism, these developmental milestones are probably not in place in the same time frames, and they may need to be intentionally taught.
Although the terminology we use for autism may soon be changing when the next revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual comes out in 2013, we will continue to talk about autism as a spectrum disorder. So, individuals may be on the classic end of the spectrum and be very affected by their autism while other individuals may be at the high functioning or Aspergers end of the spectrum and may be mildly to moderately affected by their autism, and still others will be in between these extremes with varying strengths and challenges. Social competence is also going to vary in individuals with autism. It is dependent on their age, ability levels, how they handle different situations, the audiences they are interacting with, and environments they participate in, and how they are able to manage the histories of past social situations. We're going to look at eight characteristics of autism that have an effect on social competence.
These are the eight underlying characteristics of autism as identified by Ruth Aspy and Barry Grossman in a program called The Ziggurat Model. The first three are the current diagnostic criteria used to identify autism. The other five are associated features, meaning they are not necessary for current diagnosis, but are often present in individuals diagnosed with autism. We are going to discuss each one and how they might affect social competence. Julie will begin with the first one.
Thanks Wendy. The first characteristic area is Social. There are many traits you might see in someone with autism that can affect their social abilities. Eye contact can be too little, fleeting, or too much. They don't get the "knock it off" look. There may be difficulty with communication, eye contact, and reading body language. This can make social interactions pretty difficult. Although some individuals may appear uninterested in being with other people and interacting with them, according to accounts by persons with autism, that is an inaccurate interpretation of their behavior and we need to help them know how to make and keep friends. Understanding that other people are in a line waiting to take a turn, may not enter the thought pattern of a person with ASD-WAIT is a 4-letter word for many of them. When you don't understand that other people are thinking about you and don't understand how social interactions work, then it is difficult to connect that others are thinking about you from their point of view. The Hidden Curriculum refers to those things that neurotypicals naturally pick up, like not swearing in front of the principal but it's okay around your friends. Temple Grandin, world renowned expert in autism and animal behavior and also an individual with autism, even today as an international presenter to thousands, can find it difficult to enter a conversation in a group of more than 2 or 3 people
Let's read this quote from Dr. Grandin: "Social interactions that come naturally to most people can be daunting for people with autism. As a child, I was like an animal that had no instincts to guide me; I just had to learn by trial and error. I was always observing, trying to work out the best way to behave, but I never fit in. I had to think about every social interaction...I was a scientist trying to figure out the ways of the natives." She describes how a person with autism may appear aloof as if they don't care about other people, or they may seem awkward or odd when they try to interact, or they may seem defensive when others approach them to talk or to do an activity with them. For a person with autism, social competence does not come naturally. It is more of a learned subject, like reading or math. To learn it, we need to provide instruction and supports so they can learn about emotions, how to think about what others are thinking, and how to approach social situations.
The next characteristic we will discuss is the restricted patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. This may appear as pacing, flapping, jumping, rocking, and other physical movements. Persons with autism usually want things to stay the same. They enjoy routine and can be very upset when schedules, routines, or environments do change. Change can bring high anxiety and extreme emotions. This is not a choice, but how the brain is wired. They may return to the same items for play or work when given a choice, because once they become familiar with something, it seems safe. Some may have a fascination or special interest-expert in something, but these interests are usually different from the interests of typical peers or co-workers, like vacuum cleaners or cars from 1952. These interests can override their ability to discuss other topics and have reciprocal, back and forth, conversations. Changing activities, especially if the individual is not finished, can be a challenge so transitions may need to be supported with timers and visual cues.
Sean Barron, a young man with autism, wrote a book with his mother called "There's a Boy in Here". This is a story he shares in the book: "One day I went out into the road. In the back of my mind I sensed that a car was coming, but it didn't mean danger to me. My obsession was too strong and I felt invincible. I had to see the speedometer! The man driving the car stopped, grabbed hold of me, and took me to the house. I couldn't imagine what I had done-why was he so angry with me when all I wanted was to look inside his car? At this age I lacked an imagination..."
"...I simply could not picture things in my mind. It was many years before I could do so. I wasn't afraid of moving cars because I couldn't imagine that they could hit me-to me, a moving car was the same as a parked car, just an object without potential." Notice that Sean's special interest in speedometers overrode any social or safety rules that would apply. He also is able to explain that he could not imagine things at this age. When you try to enter a social situation, being able to appropriately express special interests is key to getting along. Also, imagination is a large piece of play behaviors in younger children, so not having that ability can set you apart. Sean is now an independent adult, working as a journalist and living on his own due to his parents and the school staff who taught him supports he needed.
The next characteristic area is communication. Individuals with autism may have no speech or gestures, some words, may use pictures or a device, or may speak. Some can have some understanding of speech, but have a hard time processing what was said to them and then responding to it. Others may exhibit echolalia, which means that they repeat what is said to them. This may be immediate, or they may repeat a phrase later, or they may have whole scripts, like a scene from a video they watched, they repeat. Eye contact varies also. Some may not make any, some stare constantly, and others are between those extremes. Another point to keep in mind is that some individuals can be very verbal, but they may not actually be understanding the conversation. This can be very confusing for both parties and requires investigation and checking about comprehension.
Here is more information about communication. Many individuals with autism are very literal with language, so idioms like "it sounds like you have a frog in your throat" or "hit the road" can cause a different reaction than you might expect! Individuals with autism see faces and bodies as they see objects, so the slight changes in facial expressions and body language are not seen and interpreted in their brains. This makes communication very difficult. In some situations, a person with autism may be able to repeat a rule, consequence, and how they broke the rule. However, they may not make the connection that it applies to them personally. This can be very confusing and frustrating for teachers, friends, and employers. Keep in mind that all behaviors have an aspect of communication, so if I can't talk or tell you in some way what I need or what I am feeling, I will show you through how I behave.
Before video: Let's watch Nicky at his job as a receptionist. You will see that Nicky is intelligent and has great skills, but he is missing the social hierarchy of his work situation, as well as comprehending how the rules of the office apply to him.
Nicky: At one, I start phone duty. I love it. It's the best. I just love being a receptionist.
"Yes, who is it?"
"Tony Speletski. One moment please."
"Tony Speletski here for Ian? Ok. He'll be right down."
Man: "I don't know how to speak English. "
Nicky: "Well try to say what you..."
Man: "No English. No speak English."
(Nicky speaks Spanish with the man)
Boss: Someone noticed that you were going through Andy Hemingson's mailbox today.
Nicky: I didn't snoop through his box.
Boss: Ok, so how is it...
Nicky: There was a mail addressed to him, and I figured it didn't seem private, and it was something I was curious about, and it didn't seem like a private letter to him, and I thought it would be okay to just look at it.
Boss: Okay, anything in anybody's box directed towards anybody is private. And I can tell you that if people feel that you are infringing upon the office's privacy by looking in mailboxes, that going to, that's a serious issue. It's actually more serious than eating or a lot of other things, or reading your magazines at the table which other people have told me about. If you are looking in someone's mailbox, that's a really serious issue. Inappropriate behavior is noticed.
Nicky: I came to ask you for a copy of that document.
Boss: Right, and that's something else we need to talk about because why do you think, first of all you shouldn't have known that Andy had it in the first place because you shouldn't have been looking in his box,..
Boss: ...but the fact that Andy did have it-what's Andy's responsibility here?
Nicky: He's the director of development.
Boss: He's a department head. So, is it possible that he has something that none of the rest of us have?
Nicky: No, but I was asking if maybe I could make a copy or something.
Boss: But he has access to it, and none of the rest of us do and that's because he's the department director.
Nicky: What I wanted to do was ask you to ask him for a copy.
Boss: Okay, but it...let me try this a different way...
Nicky: But I know...
Boss: As an assistant director of a department I don't have that document so do you think it's appropriate for the afternoon staff assistant to have that document?
Nicky: No, maybe not.
Boss: Maybe not, that's really what I'm trying to get at.
Nicky: I didn't realize that. I thought...
Boss: At the time that...
Nicky: I wanted to ask you because that's that rule, ask you before I ask Andy.
Boss: Right, that was right to ask me, and I appreciate that but at the time that is made public to the staff you will certainly get a copy as well. But it's not public to the staff yet; it's not finished.
Nicky: But I liked the unfinished version. I liked the version that it was.
Nicky: Well, it was, I like the idea of knowing in advance what the dates were gonna be for the next season.
After video: Nicky's lack of understanding the social situations in his office could cost him this job, which is one reason persons with autism have trouble sustaining employment. His supervisor keeps trying to help him understand the situation because she knows his communication skills are different. She is trying to teach him. Wendy will continue with the next characteristic.
Right Julie. Now we will talk about sensory differences. Usually, we talk about 5 senses but we are going to add 2 more: proprioception which is body position & balance and vestibular which refers to movement. Our senses take in sensory information, our brain processes it, and then we react to the input. This experience is not the same for an individual with autism spectrum disorder. The information from the senses may be amplified or it could be lessened. For example, sounds can be extremely bothersome to a person with autism as their system may have difficulty filtering what to listen to and they may be highly sensitive to sounds, like from fluorescent lights or a heater fan. For others, the sense may be under responsive, so they may be able to eat very spicy foods that would bother most people. You will find they either seek or avoid things because they may need more input to raise their alert level or less input to lower their alert level. They may make noises, which can make them appear odd to their peers. When sensory issues build up, the individual can have an anxiety reaction that can cause a "fight", so they are going to need to defend themselves from perceived pain, or "flight", so they are going to try to get away from the source of the pain to a safe place. Sensory issues can be a barrier to thinking about how to interact socially and to be able to tolerate social environments due to noise levels, food choices, and touch possibilities. An occupational therapist can assist with assessment and supports for sensory issues. Sensory differences can interfere with social competence by making it difficult to participate in situations and environments where social interactions take place and to interact with others physically through a handshake or a hug, for instance. The anxiety levels caused by sensory reactions can make focusing on a conversation or activity very difficult.
Before clip: Temple Grandin explains how sensory issues can interfere with an individual's ability to socialize when they can't even tolerate being in certain environments. Helping the person with ASD find supports that lessen the sensory distress can allow for better chances at increasing social competence.
Narrator: What Temple Grandin does so well is describe this alternate reality that many people with autism live in. Although they live in the same world as the rest of us, they experience it in a very different way. It often in attempt to escape situations they find distressing, to avoid sounds, to avoid lights that make them upset and anxious and distressed.
Temple: Now one of the things that can be a huge barrier to employment and college is sensory sensitivity problems. I mean it's impossible to socialize; you're really in a mess if you can't a normal office, work environment. (Buzzing sound) If this doesn't stop really soon, I'm going to go back there and make them stop. What is back here that is making this noise? God, what is making this terrible noise? (Laughter) God this is driving us crazy. Maybe you can unplug it. Thank you so much. (Applause) Well what that was, it was a half-dead empty Coca-Cola cooler and we found a guy back there and he unplugged it. There's something wrong with it and that's just ridiculous. It sounded like a bunch of cicadas going off. But those are the sort of things that can really be a problem.
Narrator: Temple's sensory problems follow her into every area of her life. Do you have problems with what you wear?
Temple: Oh, there's a lot of things I can't wear against my skin. I have a lot of problems with pants. Shirts I can put t-shirts on under them. That solves the problem with shirts but pants, boy, there's only certain things I can wear against me or my skin would drive me crazy.
Narrator: What do you mean; what does it feel like?
Temple: Itch, itch, itch, itch, itch, itch.
Narrator: And that's been like that since you were little?
Temple: Always been that way. Drives me nuts.
Narrator: And is that something to do with your autism?
Temple: Yeah, it's part of the sensory sensitivity problems.
After clip: Isn't it interesting how Temple handles the noisy soda machine during her presentation? Socially, most presenters would probably look to the organizer to take care of a problem like that, but Temple just does it herself. Because we know she is autistic, we allow for that slightly different behavior and the audience even applauded her. As you see, Temple is a very capable adult and still is dealing with her sensory problems. This demonstrates that individuals with autism truly struggle with how they are receiving, processing, and reacting to sensory input their whole lives and that this can interfere with their ability to develop and utilize social competence.
In the area of cognitive differences, we will again see a spectrum of ability levels, which can range from severely delayed to gifted. Please keep in mind that delay does not mean learning can't take place, it just may be in a different way at a different rate. Individuals with Aspergers and high functioning autism can have typical to gifted abilities. Many will remember lists, facts, things you can memorize, but may struggle with abstract concepts. At times, a special interest may interfere with learning "novel" information, but can help if you bridge the interest to the current content. Many will probably have difficulty with organization and generalizing, so we need to teach in a variety of situations with different staff. Multi-step processes and abstract thinking are more difficult and paying attention can be a challenge, especially knowing what is important to focus on in a busy classroom or at a noisy job. Cognitive differences affect what an individual is able to comprehend, how much language they are able to use, and what social competence they are able to develop.
Before video: This young man is responding to another video by a person with Asperger syndrome about high school and how he views the American education system. You will see how his cognitive abilities could interfere with his social interactions.
Hello, my name is Alec and I'm 14 and I'm currently dealing with a grueling high school education. And I was diagnosed with Aspergers. That was a very, very interesting video and I agree with a lot of what you said. American education ideologies, what they promulgate is homogenous thought, and for someone who thinks in a different manner like me, that's almost a sterile environment for intellectual growth. Umm, I am very intelligent and yet I am failing some classes because I cannot understand the abstract instructions of my teachers, especially my Hebrew classes. I can't understand the abstract instructions, and, umm, for simply not doing homework. Also the teachers think that I am trying to patronize them because I am more intelligent than they are and that's very hard because then teachers develop vendettas against me, and at this point I've just given up. I've stopped looking for better schools, and as you said, yeah, the principal, he tried, he attempted, he said he wanted to knock me flat and I would grow again from that meaning that I would act differently and, you know, be neutralized now, have homogenous rather than heterogeneous thought. But that's not gonna happen. I just realized that any high school I go to I'm going to be miserable and I've just stopped caring. I just educate myself at home, but at this point since I look forward to college where at least hopefully there'll be heterogeneous thought, I am going to continue doing my work. But you were entirely right; it's incredibly difficult for someone with Aspergers in school.
After video: Well, if he is frustrating his teachers to this degree, how much more do you think is he alienating his peers? His academic intelligence, his vocabulary, and language abilities make it seem like he should be able to understand the social rules of engagement, but he does not. Many individuals with autism express their inability to understand how to have conversations and make friends even though they are so smart.
We're now going to move on with motor differences. There are various motor differences in people with autism. Some students have difficulty with balance, so they may run into other kids or fall off of a chair. They may not like fine motor activities, or maybe they don't want to hold certain items. For some, the differences can make writing feel like torture. They may gallop or skip rather than walk, and then that can make gym class and athletics pretty be hard. They may have different body positions or seem to be even making faces, but that is also part of their motor differences. Some become the "prompt King" or the "prompt Queen" because starting and ending physical actions is so challenging.
Motor differences can interfere with social competence. Not being able to participate in physical activities with the same physical ability levels can make you stand out as odd or different and can invite teasing or even bullying. Building these skills can help open the door to more opportunities to develop social competence.
All of the characteristics discussed so far can add to emotional vulnerability. Because individuals with ASD have difficulty reading faces and body language, understanding emotions is hard. Due to the wiring in the brain, new situations can make them nervous. Keep in mind, meltdowns are usually a build-up of incidences, so you and the individual may not be able to identify an immediate trigger. Negative behaviors can seem purposeful when you have great language skills and what seems like understanding. It can be hard to believe when everything can be fine for a couple of weeks and then a meltdown comes from seemingly nowhere, that this is not purposeful behavior. But it's not. It is how the brain is wired. These underlying characteristics can lead to feeling horrible about yourself, having high levels of anxiety, becoming depressed, and also extreme upset or even withdrawal. Research is starting to show a tendency towards a higher suicide rate among individuals with Asperger Syndrome than their same age peers. Anxiety and depression can lead to extreme upset, aggression, and self-injury. Not understanding how most people in the world communicate and interact can raise stress levels and make life very frustrating, which does not allow the individual with autism to be ready for social interactions.
Before video: Watch as you see this young man who is so overwrought with emotions from a situation he is trying to understand. He is missing the social implications of the library closing, the parent being in charge of grounding and not the sibling, the recording not being sent to his friend. You can hear his mother trying to understand her son's perspective and keep him calm, so she can try to teach him about the situation. Hopefully once he calmed down, she was able to achieve that goal.
SHOW CLIP 44 43
Anthony: Being really mean to me.
Mom: Who is?
Anthony: Michael. First he says I can't play and he's not my friend and then I cried.
Mom: I'm sorry.
Anthony: And then, and then, I wanted the Army tricks but the librarian locked the door. And then, when I start, and then when we just started playing with Tyler...
Mom: Yeah, and then he had to go home.
Anthony: And then Breezy did, then Breezy party pooped it...
Anthony: ...and she kicked him out of grounding.
Mom: But it's not Breezy who grounded Tyler, it's Tyler's mommy who said he couldn't play. Breezy's just trying to follow their mommy's rules.
Anthony: Rules, shmules!
Brother: There's a, Sam was walking out...
Anthony: Does it matter that I'm a nerd or not? Don't get! Michael, if you're watching this, Michael, if you're watching this, you are going to get hit.
Mom: Why do you want to hit Michael?
Mom: That's not going to solve anything.
Anthony: I'm watching you Michael.
Mom: Sit back. You're watching Michael?
Anthony: I got eyes like eagles and remember...
Mom: Sit back down. Be careful with mommy's camera.
Anthony: And if you beat me one time, (hits fist into hand).
Mom: What happened with Michael today? Was he not nice?
Mom: What did he do?
Anthony: Well, if that could make him better I'm gonna punch him until he rots, so I got eyes like eagles.
Mom: Sit back please. Sit back please. We already heard that part. Mommy wants to know what happened. What did Michael do?
Anthony: I was joining in, and Michael told me, no...
Mom: Can you sit back? I can't see you.
Anthony: ...no, you can't play. There's no room. And he says, "I'm not your friend anymore." Well, that means, tomorrow, Michael, you can't play and I'm not your friend. How do you like that?
Mom: Do you remember what Dr. Furman said though? Anthony?
Anthony: Bye Michael, enjoy your time being a loser!
After video: We see a very verbal person with obvious intelligence struggling to understand why people behave the way they do and wanting to fit in, but not knowing how to be a part of his peer group. Teaching definitely needs to take place for this young man to achieve social competence.
Persons with autism can experience various medical and biological issues. These can have to do with digestion, mood, sleep, and neurology. We can learn what issues are present and how to support the person. Communication about difficulties, such as sleeping habits or bathroom issues, can be very important in how we deal with the individual at school or at work.
If a person has not slept or has stomach pains or has tics or is unable to attend to a conversation, it will interfere with his or her ability to develop social competence. For any person, medical and biological issues can inhibit one's capability to interact socially. Consider that a person with autism is already operating at a disadvantage, and physical conditions again compound their abilities to gain social competence.
In closing, this webinar has reviewed:
*The need to identify the underlying characteristics of autism and how they affect the individual;
*The need to identify how their individualized characteristics impact a person's ability to learn social competence; and
*The need to identify a framework that will allow the individual to learn social competence and will provide the supports to be successful.
If you would like more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next webinar in the Social Competence series is about Assessment as it relates to social competence.
Now if you have any questions related to today's webinar, please type it in the Chat window and we'll be glad to answer it for you.
Slide 46 and Slide 47: no narrative