Find help and online resources for:

Mental health problems

 

A basic understanding of autism is a prerequisite for good facilitation at home, at school and in kindergarten. Here you read an easy-to-understand introduction about children and young people on the autism spectrum.

 Image: Dreamstime (with licence)



 

Diving from a cliff

How would you react if you were told to dive from a very high cliff, right into the ocean?

Most of us would reject this, and at least if we were told to do this it at an inconvenient time. For example, right now!





What teachers, daycare staff and other adults often ignores is an essential feature of children or young people with autism, namely that much of what we ask them is so difficult and inconvenient for them that we actually ask them "to dive from the cliff".

And we do it all the time!

 

Examples can be:





  • The child has always worn striped socks, and you demand that he / she change into plain socks
  • The child has always written a letter in a certain way, and you demand that he / she write the letter differently
  • The child has never worn a reflective vest before, and you demand that he / she must wear this in order to join the class trip
  • The child has a way of solving a specific task, and you ask him / her to use a different strategy
  • The child is sent out during free time without knowing what he / she is to do, and without having strategies for finding out what he / she is to do
  • The child has a particularly high stress level one day, and you require him / her to do what he / she usually does
  • The child has an emotional breakdown (meltdown) and you demand that he / she be able to communicate with you in a "polite way"

 

 

  1. The overall project

    The overall project that the kindergarten / school should have for the Asperger / autism student is to prevent the child's brain from being constantly overloaded by stress.

    Many of the autism symptoms (and to an even greater extent the additional difficulties such as behavioral difficulties, coercive actions, school refusal, and anxiety) can be alleviated when the kindergarten / school facilitates well enough. 

    Many teachers and kindergarten staff get both one and two aha experiences when they get a real introduction to what autism entails (and does not entail).

    Competence development on autism / Asperger's is therefore step 1 if you have a pupil / child with an autism spectrum disorder in the child / pupil group.

 

Briefly about autism

Autism is a disorder that is affecting more and more people. 

 

  1. The ability to social contact, social interest or social skills
  2. The ability to communicate, eg to pick up non-verbal signals, to understand nuances in language, and to understand the intention of the other
  3. The ability to be flexible in thoughts, behaviors, and fields of interest

 

Autism comes in many different degrees, and we are therefore talking about a range of autism disorders - the autism spectrum. Autism spectrum disorders can therefore include everything from people who are completely disabled by their autism and who are dependent on round-the-clock follow-up at an institution to people with high-functioning autism. Common to autism spectrum disorders, however, are the three mentioned difficulty areas above.

Asperger's syndrome is considered a disorder within the autism spectrum, and is characterized by a normal level of ability while also having the autistic core symptoms. Many children and young people in this group are seriously misunderstood in schools and kindergartens, and can go on for years without the actual difficulties being captured or facilitated.

Often it is the additional difficulties that come into focus - eg behavioral problems, difficulty concentrating, learning difficulties, anxiety, obsessions / actions - and the real problem is overlooked: namely the basic difficulties that children have in relation to social functioning, communication, and having it necessary flexibility in thoughts and behavior to be able to function in everyday life.

 

The comprehension difficulties go both ways

One of the most characteristic features of an autism spectrum disorder is that these children or adolescents have difficulty understanding. And at times it may seem that there are no limits to what can be misunderstood. But an equally relevant problem is the comprehension difficulties that the adults who work around the child have, with a view to understanding the child / student. 

When the child constantly misunderstands, and when the adults have too little knowledge about the child's difficulties in understanding, everyday life quickly becomes unmanageable and unnecessarily stressful for both the child and the adults who work with the child.

The first thing to work with in relation to children and young people with autism is therefore not to remedy the child comprehension ability (although this is also important), but to make teachers / adults better equipped to understand what autism is.

Only then will it make sense to start working actively to alleviate the child's difficulties in understanding.

 

The autism brain works differently

We can simply say that the autism brain works differently from what a neurotypical brain does. It is not a question of a disease or a poorer way of functioning - but of the brain interpreting the information it receives in a different way than what is usual. 

 

An illustration of the autism brain

One way to illustrate how the autism brain works differently from a typically developed brain is to use the example of the difference between a train and a car.

  • Cars are the type of vehicles that most of us are most familiar with. Cars are common. Cars are more flexible than trains. A car can drive on very different roads, and there is no point in stopping, turning, driving a different route than you had intended, and in general cars are quite practical and flexible. A train is also convenient, but in a different way. The train is less flexible, it has to run on rails, and it has to follow certain timetables. On the other hand, it can run very fast and be really efficient when everyone is doing what they are supposed to. If, on the other hand, the car were to try to do the train's job, or vice versa, it would not work. In the same way, there is a difference between having autism and having a neurotypical brain. One is not better than the other, but there are two different ways to be.

 

 

  1. Filtering problems

    Children and adolescents with a typically developed brain have the ability to filter the information they receive in a functional way. In other words: A lot of information is given, the insignificant is filtered out, and you are left with a suitable amount of information.

    Children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders often have problems with this filtering mechanism. This is a common feature between autism and ADHD. In other words: A lot of information is given, the insignificant is not filtered out, and you are left with too much information or with a completely "wrong" part of the information.

    An example: A child with autism has been on holiday with the family for a few months and is back at school. The teacher asks: "What have you been doing during the holidays?" And the result is an outburst of rage in the child. Why? Because the child misinterpreted the question, and thought that the teacher asked him to tell absolutely everything that happened throughout the holiday.

  2. Automation issues

    dreamstime bil xs 25623431

    Image: Dreamstime

    Automating functions is an important part of the way our brain works. A common example is what happens when you learn to drive a car. In the beginning, everything is new and you act very mechanically, but eventually the driving is automated. That is: we can drive the car without thinking about how we have to do it; it goes by itself.

    Also in the social area we learn to automate different behaviors and functions. Much of the social interaction is governed by implicit knowledge, that is, "unspoken" knowledge, unwritten rules, norms and expectations that neurotypical children learn automatically, simply by being in a team with other children and adults. 

    People give each other messages through their eyes, but I do not understand what they are saying (young man with autism, Wing, 1992).

    I have to think theoretically towards what you learn from yourself completely automatically (Ros Blackburn).

    It is the "mysterious obviousness" children and young people with autism struggle to get along with.

    Examples can be:

    • when is it appropriate to say "hello" or "good bye"?
    • how much should I talk, who should talk first, when should I take a break?
    • how much / little eye contact is common?
    • what behavior is expected of me in that and that situation?

    Children and young people with autism must therefore learn a lot of these skills by using energy on it, while for most children it goes more by itself.

  3. The cognitive overload / exhaustion

    dreamstime stop xs 20274959

    Image: Dreamstime

    All children and young people can be cognitively overloaded, that is, "it gets full at the top." While more neurotypically developed children have a lot to go on. When they start the day in kindergarten or school, they therefore have the opportunity to endure a lot of uncertainty, a lot of change in routines and plans, a lot of pressure, and a lot of stress in general. 

    It is different with children and young people with autism. Having autism is in itself associated with so many challenges, that many are "almost exhausted" most of the time. That is, they have little to go on before it becomes too much. 

    This can be illustrated by saying that all people have been given a jar of energy. For most children, there is normally a lot left before the jar of energy is empty, while for children with autism it is a short way until it is empty. Therefore, very little extra stress is needed for it to lead to a breakdown in the child. It is important to know that when the child is exhausted, it is exhausted. Then it is no use putting hard against hard, but the only thing that matters is to give the child the opportunity to calm down and regain control.

    - When the child is exhausted, the child is exhausted. Then there is no point other than to let the child calm down, and get the brain freed from the overwhelming stress.

    Preoccupation with routines, sequences, and unavoidable ways of doing things can be the child's coping strategy to try to keep the world under control. We can therefore also say that the more compulsive the child with autism is, the more it may indicate that the child is experiencing stress, and there may be symptoms that its everyday life is too unpredictable. It will then be wise to work on giving the child a greater sense of control, overview and mastery, then often the compulsive behavior will also subside.

  4. The problems of understanding the nuances of language

    Children and adolescents with a neurotypical brain have the ability to relate to the many inaccuracies in language, such as metaphors, to interpret what is said in light of the context, and so on.

    Children and young people with autism, on the other hand, will strive much more to give meaning to the many nuances of the language. 

    A great way to become more aware of how imprecise our language really is is by reading The Absurd Gallery (Norwegian only). Here are many good comic strips based on linguistic misunderstandings.

    Examples of misunderstandings can be:

    • "Look up the book on page 23," says the teacher. Does it mean to "look up" the book, that is, to bang the book on the desk? the Asperger student may be wondering.
    • "Now I have the floor," says the teacher. A student with Asperger's may react with anger and protest in indignation that the teacher dares to "seize" something as fundamental as "the word." If I am thus deprived of the word for good, the Asperger student may wonder.
    • "Time flies", says an adult to the child, and the child reacts with anxiety and fear. Is it dangerous? the Asperger student may be wondering. Does that mean time is running out? Are we left timeless as it flies its way? Is it deadly?
    • "Write a story over two pages," the students have been asked to do. The Asperger student solves it by writing one word on each page, and is brilliantly pleased not only to have done the task, but also to have solved it in the most effective way imaginable.
  5. The deviant social interaction

    dreamstime xs 39849889

    Image: Dreamstime

    Children and young people with autism / Asperger's may have deviations in their social interaction with others in different ways. Many people find it difficult to start and maintain a conversation. Many people wonder what social rules apply, and many need to withdraw a lot for themselves as you spend so much effort on being able to behave normally. 

    It is a myth that everyone with autism spectrum disorders is antisocial and does not want social contact. On the contrary, many children and adolescents with Asperger's syndrome are distinctly social, or rather: they may have a strong desire to be with other people, but strive to achieve it in a good way. Then the road will also be short to withdraw from the social; not because you want to be alone, but because being social is so tiring.

    Many with Asperger's describe a profound experience of not fitting in; a feeling that "I must be coming from the wrong planet." Building self-confidence in the child with autism / Asperger's, and providing help to become socially included, will therefore be very important for the child's well-being and mental health.

  6. The problems of being flexible in thoughts and behavior

    Typically developed children and young people have a certain amount of leeway in relation to being flexible. This may mean, for example, that they will be able to do things in slightly different ways from time to time; to tolerate others doing things in slightly different ways from time to time; to see solutions when one has encountered a disappointment or a problem; and to be able to cope with changes that occur in the natural interaction with others, for example that a game changes rules along the way.

    The lack of flexibility in children and young people can be seen in the fact that the child has fixed, square, routine and mechanical approaches to most things in life. In relation to some areas of the world, this fits well, and it can all develop into special interests in the child. For example, the child is interested in collecting information about train routes, high mountains, buses, horses, or anything else.

    On the other hand, this rigid approach does not work in many other contexts. In many social settings, square and pedantic behaviors can quickly lead to conflicts (if the child plays out his inner inclinations), or it can lead to the child experiencing dissatisfaction (if the child has a greater reluctance to show who he is and how to thinking).

  7. Hypersensitivity to sensory impressions

    It is common in people with autism spectrum disorders that one has certain peculiarities in relation to sensory impressions. For example, you may be hypersensitive to sounds, smells, visual impressions, or touch. Such exaggerated sensory impressions can for some of the children be among the biggest problems that come with autism, and can for example make it almost unbearable to stay in settings with many people, or in settings with certain smells.

    A term that has been used in relation to autism spectrum disorders is "intense world syndrome. , and that this results in a number of symptoms that are classic in autism.

  8. Benefits of the functioning of the autism brain

    In addition to the various difficulties that often result from having autism, there are also a number of strengths that are similarly common in these children and young people. Some of these strengths are:

    • One can stay focused on the same topic for a long time, if it is interesting
    • You are good at discovering and exploiting details
    • Many are well suited for detail-oriented jobs, for example with regard to computer programming, research, and some creative professions
    • One is often trustworthy, precise, conscientious and accurate
    • One is often emphatically honest
    • One can think differently, and can therefore discover and find out things that others do not think

 

Measures in school and kindergarten for children with autism / Asperger's syndrome 

Here is a selection of relevant measures for children and young people with autism spectrum disorders in school or kindergarten. A more thorough description of recommendations for schooling for Asperger's syndrome can be read here (Statped).

 

  1. Building competence on autism in school

    The most important measure in relation to children and young people with autism spectrum disorders is that the adults must understand what the child is struggling with. Therefore we can say:

    1. Intervention 1 is to understand what the child is struggling with
    2. Intervention 2 is to understand what the child is struggling with
    3. Intervention 3 is to understand what the child is struggling with

    The main thing here is to say that raising the competence of the staff around autism is the most important measure when you have a child with an autism spectrum disorder either in kindergarten or at school.

    - I'm fine as long as my teacher knows what I need, children with autism.

    Without the school or kindergarten taking seriously an increase in competence in the field of autism, it is unlikely that one will be able to take care of the child / pupil in a good way. On the other hand, the chances are high that the child's difficulties will escalate, and that the child will develop problem behavior, anxiety and refusal.

  2. The role of adults: Not educator, but interpreter and guide

    In encounters with children and adolescents with autism, it is recommended that one take on the role of interpreter and guide, rather than educator or "prison guard."

  3. Overview, structure and predictability

    Getting an overall structure and overview of the day is absolutely crucial to lowering the stress level in children and young people with autism. Visual plans should normally be made, with fixed routines for large parts of the day. The clearer the overall structure, the easier it is for the child to function flexibly within the framework that has been set up.

    The use of a day board will be recommended, and there are aids that can be applied for from NAV Hjelpemiddelsentralen to make it easier to produce a good enough overview. Such aids will be able to make the children more independent in the long run.

  4. Token economy and reward systems

    Punishment rarely works well in encounters with children and young people with autism. On the other hand, various forms of reward systems will be important in promoting motivation in these children. It's just thinking to yourself: What reward would be good enough for you to even consider jumping from the 10-meter? In the same way, the rewards must be good enough for children with autism, for them to even consider doing something they strongly oppose. It is important to achieve goals, and to take small steps towards the goal, where the fact that the child approaches the goal must be rewarded in the long run until you have reached a relevant goal.

  5. Shielding from troublesome sensory impressions and when the brain is overloaded

    Having predictability in how to be screened when needed is important for children and young people with autism. However, there can be many challenges in making good agreements with the child about this, not least because many with high-functioning autism have a great need to appear completely normal, and will have to opt out of special agreements. It is therefore crucial that breaks and sanctuaries are on the child's terms.

    There are also noise-canceling earbuds that can be good for many of these children.

  6. To turn down the volume on the focus on the child

    Focus-related performance difficulties are a concept that is sometimes mentioned in the face of autism. This can be explained by what can often happen in the moment we use to remember something that we actually know very well, eg the ATM code. The more you think about what the code is, the more uncertain you become about it. This can also be the case with focus-related execution difficulties. These are difficulties that arise in that you give too much focus on the child and the action you want to see more of.

    An example might be that a child has learned to say "hello" when meeting new people, but if you as an adult are very active in bragging and giving praise to the autistic child who says hello, then this can be overwhelming for the child, and it refuses to say hello for a long time to come. Another example may be that the child has become good at communicating, but if you as an adult make too much eye contact during the conversation, it can be overwhelming, and the child stops.

    The solution to focus-related difficulties will often be to turn down the focus volume. That is, to be aware of the child with autism's "intense" experience of the world, and to adapt the adult's behavior accordingly, by being more measured in relation to how strong the focus is on the child.

  7. Sometimes "weird is good"

    An important factor in being able to succeed with some of the children and young people with autism will be to have a high tolerance limit for which coping strategies the children can be allowed to use. - Sometimes it is wise to wonder, is a motto that can be used in this context. By depriving an autistic child of a particular coping strategy because it is "weird", you can end up depriving the child of any opportunity for coping. It is therefore a great responsibility of the adults in relation to choosing their matches carefully.

    Examples of such weird strategies can be:

    • That the child can only wear garments of a special variety; a particular pattern, a particular color, etc
    • That the child can only solve a task by being allowed to decide some of the task himself
    • That the child must bring special equipment, toys or materials in different situations
  8. Relevant tools and aids

    There are a number of methods that can be good in relation to supporting the school's or kindergarten's work with children and young people with autism. The following examples can be useful, most of which can be found in School Handbook on Asperger's Syndrome (Norwegian) and this article (English).

Also read

Depression

Symptoms of depression

Depression is a common mental illness. But what are the characteristics of depression?…
Suicide prevention and self-harm

13 reasons why NOT

Life can be really crap at times, and especially in adolescence. This is how a feature on…