The following was submitted by Dave Kot, MS, who is the Founder and Script Writer of Face Value Comics and an Autism Spectrum Disorders Consultant. You can learn more about him and the services they offer at their website linked above. Face Value Comics is also on Twitter and Facebook. It looks like some really cool, useful stuff and an interesting approach to autism. Thanks Dave!
Children with an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis (ASD) may have difficulties adapting to interpersonal changes. This barrier should not be confused as their unwillingness to engage, or as diminished intelligence. Helping children frame social activities makes transitions easier, and a simple formula may help.
Sociologist Abraham Maslow developed a series of hierarchal needs. These personal goals reflect individual choices, but serves as a good model for everyone. At its basic levels, Maslow suggests food, clothing, shelter, etc. More advanced needs include employment and higher education. At its pinnacle, Maslow believes service and following a morally respectable life helps attain inner-peace and purpose.
“SaWS” is a new emotional template that may help generate an action plan for parents and their children with ASD. This acronym stands for helping kids feel “Safe,” “Wanted or Loved,” and “Successful.” Each step builds upon the next. For example, children who do not feel safe may have difficulty seeing themselves as wanted or loved. Expressed attention is given to the feelings about each item, rather than the actuality of each step. Reinforcing or teaching safety helps a child who is already well-protected and nurtured UNDERSTAND and appreciate their reality.
Many children with an ASD diagnosis also have an Individualized Education Plans (IEP), or similarly named educational-inclusion strategy. Parents partner with public schools to develop a personalized approach to their child’s academic and behavioral goals. Using SaWS, parent and child have an edge (pun intended) on helping reach their maximum potential. Here are some suggested implementations of SaWS at home or school:
SAFETY: Please address fire safety rules, from “stop/drop/roll,” to meeting locations in the event of a fire. Place great emphasis on individual recognition of fire safety, from kitchen stoves to smoke detectors and home fire drills. Public schools’ fire/smoke alarms may sound differently than family smoke detectors. Ask this question: Is the first time a child hears their family’s smoke detector going to cause a sensory-overload problem in addition to necessary escape? Preview and review smoke detectors as part of a family safety plan. Help children feel safe.
WANTED OR LOVED: Professional experience suggests children with ASD do exceptionally well understanding facial features. While they may lack long and strong gaze retention, research by Michael Spezio et al (2007) indicates how children with ASD scan the face longer than simple eye contact. Magnify children’s vocabulary for emotions beyond words like “happy” or “sad.” Personal experience with my daughter has revealed a gold mine of deep and quiet feelings. She shared volumes about her personal experiences, using emotional vocabulary in relation to events. As an example, she felt “afraid” for her friend who threw a temper tantrum, not “angry,” and her ensuing actions made more sense to me from her perspective.
SUCCESSFUL: Identify personal interests and build meaningful opportunities to showcase these talents. For example, a family “art gallery” promotes a budding sculptor. Furthermore, this talent can be appreciated by society as a realistic career or job. Identify good actions, and promote their long-term social utility. Reinforce maintenance activities, like personal hygiene, too. Plant seeds of success by giving meaningful, developmentally-aged appropriate rewards. Help make more intangible rewards tied to the successful activities or interests. For example, a trip to the art museum may be more beneficial than a new toy. However, think long-term whenever possible, and capture these moments to build genuine self-worth by accomplishment. Always think long term! Standardized academic tests only measure one set of intelligences, using criteria from collected, impersonal, statistical data. Nobody knows a child better than themself, and/or their loved ones. Having success means having some failures. This human eventuality makes having a safe place to experiment more important. Having support from loved ones – for a child’s efforts alone – helps water the seeds of potential.
While individual experiences may vary, try utilizing a SaWS approach for future goals. Make opportunities to enhance emotional empathy and intellectual understanding. By clinical definition, children with ASD may not understand subtle social nuances. Parents and educators can help magnify a child’s beautiful talents and accentuating positive experiences. This is one way to feel safer, feel more loved and wanted, and feel appreciatively successful.
Dave Kot, M.S. & Founder of Face Value Comics
P.S. I invented SaWS during my career as a professional therapist working with children having ASD.
Spezio, M.L., Adolphs, R., Hurley, R.S.E, & Piven, J. (2007). Analysis of face gaze in autism using “Bubbles.” Neuropsychologia, 45, 144-151.