Saturday, April 14, 2012

Social Skill Autospy In-Depth

          I recently made a post in which I briefly reviewed Richard Lavoie's book "It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success." For this post, I want to focus specifically on discussing one strategy he mentioned that "has been effective in the social competence of thousands of children" (Lavoie, 2005, p. xlvii).

          In order for children, whether they are special needs or not, to enjoy social success, it is vital that they master four basic skills (Lavoie, 2005, p. xxxii).
  • The ability to join a group
  • The ability to establish and maintain friendships
  • The ability to resolve conflicts
  • The ability to "tune in" to others social skills
If a child fails to master any or all of these skills, they are at risk for social rejection and will not be able to positively interact with others. As most caregivers of special needs children know and have experienced, it is especially hard for these children to read and react with appropriate social skills. For instance, many times special needs children often fail to recognize the reason behind someone may be upset with them. Let's say, that your child has a learning disability, which "influence the way [your child] perceives, interprets, process, and explains his world" (Lavoie, 2005, p. xxxvii). Ok...One day after school you pick him up and he instantly begins telling you about how his friends had been rude to him and kicked them out of their conversation. You ask your child to explain what had happened and he basically tells you that he had interrupted an intimate conversation two other peers were having and both had become frustrated and asked him to leave. The inability of your child to recognize cues, such as when it is appropriate and when it is not appropriate to break up an intimate conversation, results in social errors that can leave your child feeling isolated and rejected from the rest of the group. However, a key element in the way that children with a learning disability think, is that many of them fail to recognize that they have done anything wrong or made any type of social error. No matter how long you try to explain to them what they could have done instead, all they know is that had gotten in trouble. They missed the learned experience that was so critical at that point in time. This brings me to Lavoie's strategy for helping children learn to be socially competent.

          Making situations into a teaching experience is critical for any young child. However, it is highly important to remember this idea when working with a special needs child. Since most disabilities last a lifetime, "social difficulties are a direct, not indirect, consequence of the learning problem" (Lavoie, 2005, xxxviii). With this in mind, your goal, should be to make as many situations and experiences into something that you can teach your child. A social skill, you can hopefully help them master.

          Social Skill Autopsy is a technique that aims to help teach children "the right answer" for correcting any social error. This strategy has three basic assumptions:
  1. Most social skills errors are unintentional.
  2. If you accept the premise that the offending behavior is unintentional, it becomes obvious that punishing the child for social skill errors is unfair, inappropriate, and ineffective.
  3. Traditional approaches to social skill remediation-role-playing, demonstrations, discussions-are not effective and seldom on a positive impact on the development of the children's social competence (Lavoie, 2005, p. xlvii-xlviii).
          This technique can be effective because it "creates a real-life laboratory" for children to learn, develop, and apply correct social responses.Social Skill Autopsy has five separate stages: 
  1. Ask your child to explain what happened. You will want your child to tell you the whole story, starting from the beginning.
  2. Ask your child to identify the mistake that he made. This is a difficult stage for many children with special needs. Your child may be unclear on what he actually did wrong.
  3. Assist your child in determining the actual social error that he made. At this stage you discuss with your child the actual social mistake and alternate responses.
  4. Create a short social story that has the same basic moral or goal as your child’s social mistake. Once you present the scenario, your child should provide a response to show that she has learned the skill.
  5. Provide social homework. Your child should be required to apply their newly learned skill in a real-life situation that he identifies. When he has done this, he should report back to you what has happened (Lavoie, 2005, p. li-liii).
          This technique provides the child with immediate feedback, instruction, practice, and positive reinforcement. If, as a parent, you chose to practice this strategy, I feel that it is important to remember that it is challenging to work with a special needs child, especially on social skill development. Everyday activities and interactions that seem simple to you, can be challenging and difficult and their behavior will be frustrating, annoying and confusing. However, if you react with patience and positive reinforcement, you are sure to help your special needs child succeed socially, even if it is only a tiny success.

Best of luck.

Please respond with questions, comments, concerns.
-Kristin L.

Lavoie, R. (2005). It's so much work to be your friend: helping the child with learning disbilities find social success. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Discipline part 3/3- Relationship with child’s biological parents

Hello readers, this is Michelle.  I’d like to point out that this post is written for foster parents, but it’s also good information for parents in blended family (step parents) and anyone who works with foster care or blended families.  Family is important and can be the basis of so much joy- but it can certainly get complicated!
“How you yourself handle the fact that the child has another set of parents cannot be separated from the welfare of the child for whom you are caring” (Felker, 1975)
All foster children have a set of biological parents somewhere.  In most situations, the goal of foster agencies is to reunite the child with their parents; so foster parents interact directly with the child’s biological parents.  However, even in situations where the child’s biological parent is completely removed from the picture (by death, jail, or some other reason), the foster parent will still need to help the child with whatever need that creates.  Many children, even if they don’t want to live with biological parents, want to know things like what their mom looked like, did their dad ever play basketball, and other things that help them figure out where they came from and who they are.
On the subject of discipline, research has found that, when self-reporting, foster parents and biological parents report that they use very similar levels of positive, appropriate, and harsh discipline.  (Linares, 2006).   The author of this study acknowledged that some parents may be “faking good”- giving the “right” answer instead of the true answer.  However, this still shows that most bio parents recognize what those “right” answers are, which is significant because often one component of reunification is that the parent attends parenting classes, but this study may imply that parents already know a lot of the things they should be doing, so how do we help them to do it?  One thing this research found was that parent-to-parent, bio parent to foster parent, cooperation was what really made discipline effective. (Linares, 2006).
Working with a  foster child’s biological parents can be difficult, even painful, because you care about this child who the parent has mistreated.  However, you need to recognize that you may only be in this child’s life for a brief period of time while their biological parent hope to have them returned to their care.  So, for the welfare of the child, you need to develop a positive relationship with their parents.
Felker  (1975) gives us some suggestions on how to develop that relationship.
1)   Support the efforts of the parent to be a parent. Try not to belittle or patronize the parent as they try and maintain a relationship with their child.  They may do things that you think weren’t very smart- but try and find their motivation and what good is present and encourage their efforts.
2)   Play second fiddle to the child’s own parents.  This requires a great deal of selflessness, you may be providing the child with things they’ve never had, and they may still brag about how great their bio-mom is.  Learn to be okay with that. 
3)   Don’t play games.  Assume the best in people, but also recognize that many of the children in foster care may be there partly because their parent has undesirable coping behaviors, one of which may be blaming others.  Talk to the caseworker if you feel the parent is trying to manipulate you.  Most caseworkers have training to recognize manipulation so they don’t get taken advantage of, they should be able to help you too!
4)   Be honest with the parents. Try to help the parent recognize the steps they need to take to be reunited with their child.  It can be difficult, but help them understand why it’s hard for their child when they promise that “next time I visit, you’ll come home with me”, when they haven’t started the process.
5)   Support the caseworker-parent relationship.  You may be in a position to help explain a caseworker’s decision to a parent, or to let the caseworker know how a parent is interacting with their child.
6)   Don’t overreact to criticism. Biological parents may resent that their child has been taken to their home and that they aren’t seen as fit parents.  Often they pass this resentment on by criticizing the way foster parents interact with the child.  Felker states, “Just don’t let it get under your skin- and don’t take it out on the child.  If it is a persistent problem, you should say quite matter-of-factly that you are doing the best you can and that her criticisms make it harder for you to help her child… [don’t] rebuke the mother in the child’s hearing.  The child may be feeling uncomfortable about the parent’s complaints, and torn between two loyalties”
Foster parenting is not easy, besides emotional and physical needs, there are also the social needs of helping them interact with biological parents, siblings, and caseworkers.  It’s difficult, but you are doing so much good.  Thank you for your time, talents, and commitment to these children.

Linares, L.O. (2006). Discipline practices among biological and foster parents.  Child maltreatment, 11(2), 157.
Linares, L.O., Rhodes, J. and Montalto, D. (2010), Perceptions of coparenting in foster care.  Family Process, 49: 530-542. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2010.01338.x
Felker, E.H. (1975). Foster parenting young children: Guidelines from a foster parent.  New York, NY: Child Welfare League of America

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Positive Experiences with Autism

Research on Stress and Autism 
            I found an article on Autism and stress for one of my University courses that I felt was the perfect blog post.  This is important research because it explores a correlation between parents positive experiences with their autistic children and stress levels. Previously there has been research on Autism in preschools and the stress levels of parents. But this is one of the first of research on school aged children with Autism and the stress level of parents (Kafitz, Gragg, Orr, 2010). This research I feel will encourage parents of Autistic children to look for the positive in their experiences, it may help their stress levels. With so much required in the care of a Special Needs child one cannot help being stressed out. It was comforting to me that simple positive experiences with your child could reduce stress so significantly. Also it has a unique sample of fathers with autistic children which is rare, since mothers are the ones who normally participate in studies of Autism (Kafitz, Gragg, Orr, 2010).
            The study was done on 23 couples and their children with Autism, Aspergers ( on the Autism Spectrum), or PDD ( also on the autism spectrum). All of the subjects were from Canada and had differing ethnic origins. This was very good thinking because you know that the final research applies to a bigger group of parents with Autistic children. Then the children in the study ranged from 5-11 years and there was a lot more boys in the study then girls. The reason there was so many more boys is because the ratio of autistic boys to girls is 4:1. The method used was surveying each couple separately on their stress levels (Kafitz, Gragg, Orr, 2010).  Then they surveyed them separately on their experiences of positive contribution from the disabled child.  All of the participants were recruited through either support groups or from speech and language pathologists of the Autistic child (Kafitz, Gragg, Orr, 2010). This was a great idea so that you knew they were looking for help and support for the situation in the home with their Special Needs child.
            The results of the study were that mothers, more than fathers had positive experiences from the child with disability. They also found a negative correlation between the positive contributions of the disabled child and the amount of stress. Meaning the more positive contributions reported the lower the stress level. They really noticed that mothers were able to list a lot more positive contributions than the fathers in the study.            
            The hypothesis according to the researchers  was (Kafitz, Gragg, Orr, 2010) “a focus on positive experiences may buffer against negative well-being.”  The direction is clear that we can look at the positive contributions from the child and then it lowers the stress level. I loved that they were able to find a difference in the way parents (mothers and fathers) thought about their child enabled them to either increase or decrease their stress. So there is a lesson for you, if you are positive about your interactions with your Special Needs child your stress can be reduced. This also means that you and the way you think are the deciding factor in how wonderful your life can be with your Special Little one.
            I know that my experience with my Darling Special Needs Child has been difficult but full of wonderful memories and interactions. I love my boy, and hope that I can always see positive in our experiences, since it has such great benefits.

Kayfitz, Adam D.; Gragg, Marcia N.; Orr, R. Robert. Positive experiences of mothers and fathers             of children with autism. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities 2010, 23,        337–343. Retrieved September 27, 2011, from Academic Search Premier database.

Wong, Virginia C. N.; Kwan, Queenie K. Randomized controlled trial for early intervention for     autism: a pilot study of autism 1-2-3 project.  Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, Jun2010, Vol. 40 Issue 6, p677-688. Retrieved September 27, 2011, from Academic Search Premier database.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Sharpening the Saw" with Progressive Relaxation

Hello, this is Michelle.  First off, I apologize.  This post was going to focus on specific discipline techniques that are useful when working with foster children.  However, I had no idea what a bold endeavor that was- I realized that to explain the reason behind any given discipline technique’s effectiveness requires a lot more information on psychology and attachment than I can provide in a blog post.  I’ll continue to research this and contact the foster care resources in my area to get more information on this, I would love to be able to provide this information. 

However, one component of discipline that is often overlooked is how personal stress affects your parenting.  It’s valuable to take time for yourself so you have more patience with others.  Parenting of any kind is stressful, but parenting children who have special needs can really add to the stress.   Sometimes it’s hard to realize that we need to step back (and sometimes it feels like you have no opportunity to pause- there is too much going on to take time for anything else).  Research, and plenty of experience, has shown though that when we make time to do the things that important to us, we can more efficiently handle our other challenges.  This is often referred to as “sharpening the saw”.  The idea is that you will get more trees chopped if you stop and sharpen your saw regularly than if you continue working with a saw that can barely cut through the tree.

There are many ways to “sharpen the saw”: exercise, reading, date night, religious practice.  One that has stood out to me though is progressive relaxation.  Progressive relaxation leads you through a series of tensing and relaxing specific muscles.  I like progressive relaxation because it has helped me learn to recognize when my muscles have become over tense  (like when I’ve been at the computer too long or it’s really cold outside) and gives me an opportunity to consciously relax them.  This can help reduce backaches, headaches, pains in the neck or shoulders, and other illnesses. (Greenberg, 2008) I’ve created a video, so if you’re interested, give progressive relaxation a try!

Greenberg, J.S., (2008). Comprehensive Stress Management. (10th ed.).  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Book Review: It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success By: Richard Lavoie

                Writing as someone who has experience working with individuals who are living day to day with a learning disability, I understand how difficult it can be to watch a child struggle not only with learning daily living skills but also with forming and maintaining friendships. And in hoping to teach a disabled child social skills, a parent and caregiver become a life-long instructor.
Richard Lavoie continuously emphasizes this point in his book, It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success. Overall, the author seems to understand children and teens with disabilities as he discusses the impact social learning deficits have on their relationships.
                This concept seems to be a major goal of the book, as well as, helping parents and caregivers of children with disabilities recognize that a child’s “deficits” are the result of neurological problems that make it difficult for them to make socially acceptable decisions and remain focused on tasks. The author provides some strategies for parents and even children to practice. The purpose of all of the strategies is to help in reinforcing positive social skills. Along with this, Lavoie maintains that punishment for unwanted behavior is not the key and can be detrimental to a child’s learning, especially a child with a learning disability. In other words, it will stop behavior only in that situation, but it does not have lasting effects.
                A major thing the book lacks is relatable data and research. The author cites some studies every so often. However, the strategies he suggests seem to be based more on opinion and personal experience then actual data. There is no way to know if Lavoie’s theory really works and whether the children he worked with improved their social skills. Despite this, I have implemented some of the author’s suggestions in my daily interactions with the children I work with, and I have seen positive results. However, I feel that it is important for parents and caregivers to remember that each child with a disability is unique and an individual. Just because something might work with one child, does not mean that you will see the same results in another.
                Overall, I feel that this book, although lacking in research, is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to learn more about some strategies to help your child succeed socially. In my opinion, this book is a great starting place, especially if you do not have one. 

Please email with questions, comments or concerns.
 -Kristin L.

Lavoie, R. (2005). It's so much work to be your friend: helping the child with learning disbilities find social success. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reader Response- Discipline Tips for Foster Parents. Part 1/3.

Hello Everyone,
This is Michelle.  A couple weeks ago Kristin wrote a great article responding to the reader question:  I was wondering what the best techniques for discipline are and if they differ from a child that does not have a disability or exceptionality?”
While the information she gave can really apply to all children, I wanted to also write from the specific point of view of how foster parents can effectively discipline.  I’m actually going to post three blogs on this subject.  This first post will be on some effective preventative strategies, the second will be on specific discipline strategies, and the third  will be on what the research says regarding involving the child’s biological parent in discipline (as well as some foster parenting strategies when the ultimate goal is parent-child reunification).
In regards to the reader question, I think the best techniques for discipline are the same for “normal” children and children who have special needs- it’s just especially important to parent children with special needs more mindfully.
One of the things that stood out to me the most in my child development classes in regards to discipline is the idea that you really can pick your battles.  There are times to teach a child how to handle a stressful situation, but there are also times to recognize what situations are stressful for children and see if you can modify those situations.  Again, this is useful with any child but I think it’s especially important for children who often feel that they don’t have a lot of control of their world.  There are several ways to accomplish this:
1.     Establish a routine and stick to it.  People appreciate knowing what’s going to happen in their day, it gives us a sense of control.  So, if you’ve planned something, follow through.  If you want to do something new, give your child advance warning so they know what to expect before they’re being loaded into the car.

2.     Include the child in setting rules and consequences, then follow through.  When you let the child help in this step, they’re more likely to understand why they’re expected to do certain things and it gives you an opportunity to decide together what fair consequences are.  Many children in foster care who have experienced neglect or abuse may not have experience with what a consequence really is.  Even in many healthy homes, a parent may choose a consequence that has nothing to do with the behavior.  An example of this would be:
You didn’t clean your room so you don’t get any dessert.
What does cleaning have to do with dessert?  Children better understand rules when the consequences are related and explained.  An example of this would be:
When your room is messy it’s easier for things to get lost or broken, so we can’t play with more toys until the room is cleaned.
If you already have family rules, make sure you explain what these rules are and why they’re important.
3.     Try to observe what situations are difficult for your child and see where you may be able to make changes.  For example, my nephew will not brush his teeth with “spicy” (minty) toothpaste.  Rather than fighting about it, my sister has chosen to by fruit or bubblegum flavored toothpaste.  While not all problems are this simple, I think many every day hassles can be- it may be worth it to let your child wear mismatched socks or to wash the pink plate because that’s the only one your child wants to eat off of even though it’s dirty (maybe have the child wash it!).  There are times you have to say no, but it’s valuable to say yes whenever you can because it shows your child that you value their desires as well as their needs.
These steps won’t eliminate hard times, but they can help families manage the daily inconveniences and have a happier home.  In my next post I’ll talk more about specific strategies and consequences to help foster children adjust to a new environment. Thanks for reading!
Siegler, R., Deloache, J., Eisenberg N. (2006). How Children Develop. (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
Felker, E.H. (1975). Foster Parenting Young Children: Guidelines from a Foster Parent. New York, NY: Child Welfare League of America.