ADHD ABC|Z is for Zeigarnik Effect: Make Distraction Work for You!

Bluma Zeigarnik

What the Heck is the Zeigarnik Effect?

Bluma Zeigarnik Have you ever been interrupted so often that you don’t know what to start first, next or last? You’re about to make some copies for a lesson you’re teaching the next day, but a coworker stops by crying, and then you look up at the clock, just in time to pick up your toddler at daycare, so that you don’t pay the dollar a minute fine. During your drive to work the next day, you don’t remember all the tasks you completed right before your coworker-in-crisis ran up to your door. Yet you sure remember that you need to do that photocopying!

One day during your prep period, you zoom through all but one task on your to-do list… you were about to call a court social worker back, when a huge fight breaks out in the hallways,  and another kiddo pulls the fire alarm. When your husband asks you what you did that day, nothing stands out except the hallway tussle and the fire alarm pulling prank. And..drats, you didn’t get to make that phone call. That’s the Zeigarnik Effect.

This phenomenon first studied by Lithuanian-born Jewish psychiatrist and psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik. While chilling in a Viennese cafe back in 1927, she noticed that waiters remembered incompleted orders as long as they were in the process of being filled, but forgot them right after they served.

Experience of the Zeigarnik Effect

As a mom and a teacher, I experience the Zeigarnik effect all the time, and I’m sure you do, too. I take the sweet potatoes out of the oven, turn on the dishwasher, and start to fold laundry. Then my daughter hollers for me from her room. The laundry-folding task looms above me like a grumpy cloud, but I have no recollection of the other chores I completed earlier.

(Because of the Zeigarnik Effect, that’s why you think you accomplished nothing all day, when in reality, you did–you just remember the tasks that you started and stopped all day).

If you work in a cubicle, you get zeigarniked (as I like to say) all day long–you start working on a project, then Herman the Time Hog lumbers up to your chair asking about data or Mediocre Mergatroid asks you to redo the curriculum for your training because it’s just not rigorous enough.

Using Zeigarnik Effect as a Teacher with ADHD

Interruptions zap my day like a meteor shower, plus I get zippy ideas all day long (and night, which is why I have a journal next to my bed). Anyhow, here are three tools you can use to make distraction work for you.

1. The Old Fashioned Sticky Note This is the good part! Pay close attention so that you don’t end up in sticky note hell. zeigarnik2 Grab sticky notes and smack them on a clipboard. A clipboard gives you immediate authority and then you can write your zippy ADHD thoughts down to your heart’s content.

Use ! to indicate a thought or tangential thought that you need to put in a mental parking lot (it could be a new invention, or to remind yourself to pick up dry cleaning, etc.)

 

zeigarnik1

Use ? to indicate a question you’re wondering about- or that you need to ask someone something.

 

2. Evernote

Use the Evernote app, downloadable in IPhone, IPad, Android, as well as a Google App for the desktop. I have used this app to do everything from take pictures of chalk talk, the board, writing a to-do list to share with my husband, to documenting graffiti (it can time and date stamp).  It will also automatically categorize notes by tags and categories. Great way to sort out ideas in that ADHD brain.

 

ADHD ABC| X is for EXtreme Consequences for Untreated ADHD

gambling with your life

gambling with your lifeX is for EXtreme Consequences

Despite all the creative, crazy, and wonderful quirkiness that I love about ADHD, there are a few tragic things can happen when ADHD is left undiagnosed, untreated, or ineffectively treated.  Approximately 9% of school-aged students live with ADHD. Yet ONLY 56% receive treatment for it (this includes natural remedies, behavioral interventions, counseling, etc.)

When ADHD is Untreated

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):

  • Kids with ADHD have a 32% chance of dropping out. Students without any mental health impairment only have a 15% chance of dropping out.
  • About 50% of youth with ADHD get suspended, making them more likely to drop out.
  • 47% of incarcerated youth have an ADHD diagnosis.
  • 80-90% are significantly behind by the intermediate grades; 15% have learning disabilities (some professionals believe that this is higher).
  • More likely to get into auto accidents, DUIs, and speeding tickets
  • Youth with ADHD are at higher risk for substance abuse

gettingfiredBut wait…there’s more! ADHD doesn’t just disappear when a kiddo turns 18. Compared to their peers, ADDults (adults with ADHD/ADD) are more likely to:

  • Binge drink, overeat, abuse drugs
  • Gamble and spend impulsively
  • Get traffic violations for speeding, reckless driving, and car accidents
  • Drive drunk and get a DUI
  • Have employment problems, low job satisfaction, and underachieve
  • Get stuck in a low socioeconomic status
  • Smoke cigarettes

(Who smokes anymore except Mad Men actors? My gosh).

images (3)Just because you’ve got ADHD (or you just found out), doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a life of gloom and doom.  

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) has a National Resource Center on ADHD.

Dr. Joseph Biederman, psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School,  stated that ADHD may be one of the most expensive medical conditions in the United States. “Evaluating, diagnosing and treating this condition may not only improve the quality of life, but may save billions of dollars every year.” 

Wow. Is ignoring or not treating ADHD worth the gamble?

ADHD ABC| N is for Normal and O is for Ordinary

I tried to be normal once. Worst two minutes of my life.

I tried to be normal once.Have you ever thought, “Why can’t I just be normal? Why can’t I be like everyone else?”

I know I have.

Definitions for normal in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary include: conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern;  of, relating to, or characterized by average intelligence or development

Blah blah blah.  Now let’s see what ordinary really means.

As a noun, it can mean the regular or customary condition or course of things. As an adjective, it can imply routine, usual <an ordinary day> 3 a :  of common quality, rank, or ability <an ordinary teenager>  or :  deficient in quality

Some synonyms and related words for normal and ordinary include:

average, common, commonplace,  routine,  standard, standard-issue, unexceptional, unremarkable, usual 

why_be_normal_when_normal_means_averageDo you just want to be a normal person? Do you want to live an ordinary life?

Listen up. Now that you really know what normal means…do you really want to be average? Or worse…unremarkable or unexceptional?

The truth is–normal is a setting on a wash machine. Your ADHD is a divine present–you were designed to stand out, create, and infuse life into the world. Accept the gift.

P.S. I’ve found that posting inspirational quotes and spiritual wisdom in random places, like my purse, the car, my journal, etc. are powerful pick-me-ups. The two quotes below are rad reminders:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Psalm 139:13 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Romans 12:6-9 (NIV)

ADHD ABC| J is for Jesus..Is God Mad at You?

307818_2286437433204_1016951790_2566347_383553368_n

307818_2286437433204_1016951790_2566347_383553368_nI thought God hated me.

Really. I thought He loved everybody except me.  He was mad at me. He wanted to punish me. I believed that Jesus was for the homeschooling minivan mafia and people who had cows and ducks decor in their cutesy country kitchens.

Wrong.

Jesus hung out with losers.

Look whom Jesus hung out with…tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen… undignified people you’d probably find at the end of a bar that reeks of stale popcorn and cheap beer. His disciples weren’t exactly the finest frogs in the lake, either.

He wandered around the Middle East, talking to fallen women, raising the dead, healing the sick, walking on water, and knocking over a Moneytree franchise inside a temple.  Now, I’m not saying that He had ADHD, but Jesus was pretty hyper Himself. I’m sure a few of his disciples did. Who else would be up for adventure wandering around with a sandal-clad carpenter who performed miracles?

759660_15865636_bJesus hung out with people who felt less than, who were hungry for a change, and wanted to throw everything down to follow him to a new life.

I threw out my preconceived crazy notions about Christianity. God created all of me, with my zippy ideas and crazy curly hair. He delights in our quirks and loves us as we are. Jesus is there for us, always, always, always, to follow Him when we’re ready.

Why wouldn’t Jesus want to hang out with you?   Take a walk on the real wild side.  You are a treasure. And He’s not mad at you!  

 

 

 

P.S. I found this really cool video about Jesus…watch it below now.

ADHD ABC| L is for Like! You Can’t Please Everyone…

I like you!

I like you!You can’t please everyone, and you can’t make everyone like you. Katie Couric

Deep down in the core of every man, woman, and child–is an innate desire to be liked.   Of course ADHDers want to be liked by other people, and it’s often a more extreme need for us than our neurotypical brothers and sisters.

1. We want people to like us, even if we don’t like them.  Think of all the stupid stuff you did in high school to get attention.  One time girl with Janet Jackson hair in my ninth grade ancient civ class told said, “Some girl came up to me and said you were a bitch….”  I was devastated. I had worked so hard to make sure everyone liked me. I couldn’t believe that this nameless hater actually disliked me!

2. ADHDers only want to start and complete that we like. Do you live by the mantra, if it’s not fun, it won’t get done!  As a grown-up now, I’ve found ways to deal with that. I make myself finish a boring task by rewarding myself with something fun at the end, talking on the phone while working on a mundane chore, watching a movie while folding laundry, or enlisting a friend to come hang out while you work on them.

3. We like to work where we’re liked and appreciated.  A long time ago, in a septic school I worked at far, far away, the principal thought I was too creative, and I didn’t fit in with the cookie cutter staff.  Soon after starting the school year, I wilted and shut down. I would avoid the toxic teachers by eating lunch in my classroom.

If you’re imprisoned in an unhealthy work environment that’s draining the life out of you, here are a few strategies that can help:

a). Pray and journal

b). make sure your side of the street is clean, do a spot-check inventory on your behavior. If you’re being an obnoxious jerk, stop it already.

c). spot your workplace allies fast, and stick with them. If there are none, then so be it!

d). keep your mouth shut and document on

d). do your best every day, hold your head high, get lots of support outside of work, and smile.

e). look for a new job where your skills and talents will be appreciated. If you get a weird gut feeling about the place where you’re interviewing, do NOT take the job!

f). Do not cower before anyone, no matter how low you feel.

And remember what the ADHD Dr. Superhero tweeted…

If you try to please everybody, you will please nobody and get nothing done. You will be like a desperate politician running around appealing to every special interest group and lobbyist that drives to D.C. If you please yourself, then you will end up making a few friends along the way.

Since working harder on my personal growth than anything else, I’ve shed much of an unhealthy, extreme need for approval. I’m selective about the people I spend time with and the environments I’m in. I’m a much happier, more confident, and productive ADHD chica.

How about you?

ADHD ABC|I is for Intuition…and the Terrible Tale of My Twenties

the intuitive mind albert einstein

Intuition by Leah Piken KolidasThe intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.-Albert Einstein

For much of my twenties, I sped on a hell-bent mission to drown out my intuition. Almost whenever the still small voice inside me whispered that I shouldn’t go to certain soirees or establishments, I’d go anyway. Disaster usually ensued.

When I flew to Germany to interview for a telecommunications customer service manager job, the British interviewer did not meet me up at the airport like he said he would.

When I showed up for the interview at the appointed hour, I had a queasy feeling that this was not the workplace for me. The interviewer scrunched up his face while chain-smoking and making disparaging remarks about Americans.   In retrospect it seems odd that no one from the company took me out for coffee or a meal, especially since I had flown 5,080 miles (8175.47 km) across the Atlantic Ocean just to meet with them.

I was so determined to work in Germany at that moment in time that I ignored that feeling. I moved there two months later.   It ended up being one of the worst jobs EVER, EVER, EVER. On one of my last days there, he chased me down the hall, cigarette in hand, all the while shouting at me with his snotty British accent that if I quit he would hire a lawyer to hunt me down.

When I met my future ex in a bar, I had a gut feeling that I shouldn’t spend more time with him. Instead I started dating him.

After dating my ex-husband for a few months, my gut told me to break up with him. I eloped with him instead. When I tired of his shenanigans and verbal abuse, I wanted to divorce him. I got pregnant instead.  During the pregnancy, I could no longer ignore my intuition–I had another human being to consider- my yet unborn daughter.  When I was seven months pregnant, he became violent.  I left him and the country. When he pleaded with me to return, I listened to my intuition, and didn’t go back.

What Does this Terrible Tale of My Twenties Have to Do With ADHD?

ADHDers often have a gifted sensory system. It’s almost like we’re armed with prehistoric spidey senses, which came in handy dandy when our ancestors were off on a mammoth hunting expedition. Thanks to industrial noise, suppression of spirited children in the school system, and modern mistrust of anything non-scientific, ADHDers’ intuition gets suffocated and silenced.

Today so many people run around busy being busy, listening to the radio, watching TV, staring at their smart phones, or numbed out and dumbed out carbohydrates and prescriptive medication. How can you hear your intuition behind all that sensory overload?

How to Recharge Your Intuition

the intuitive mind albert einsteinDo you miss the still, small voice inside of you? Or do you think you’ve never heard from your intuition, and don’t believe in that poppycock? Listen–I’m not into that woo-woo New Age crapola at all and won’t tell you to wear purple robes in your basement or place crystals at strategic axes around your house. I am Christian, and definitely NOT of the Westboro Baptist ilk. I do believe that my intuition is a gift of the Holy Spirit (sometimes I call it the whoosh because that’s what it feels like inside of me).

Anyhow, instead of blasting off like a rocket in the morning and charging out of the house like an elephant on speed, consider rewinding a bit:

1. Go to bed earlier. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of your surroundings.

2. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier. Actually get UP when the alarm goes off.

3. Take 5 minutes to read a short, positive passage from the Bible (like Proverbs, or the book of Matthew) or a personal development book if you are not a person of faith (something by Dale Carnegie is a great way to start). If you are reading for more than 5 minutes, great! If you you HATE READING, think about it. Are you willing to do something for 5 minutes a day if it will improve your life?

4.  Keep the TV, radio, internet, and Smartphone off. This is non-negotiable.

5. Write down 10 things you’re grateful for in a journal. It doesn’t have to be a major manifesto. Are you grateful for the gift of sight, your health, hearing, your family. Sometimes I put down that I’m grateful for food, shelter, gas in our cars, and my dog! This little list goes a long way. Even Oprah swears by it.

Have you lost touch with the still, small voice inside of you? Or do you feel pretty in tune with your intuition? 

 

 

ADHD ABC|G is for Geography…Why Do More North American Kids Have ADHD?

World_upside_down.jpg ‎(800 × 400 pixels, file size: 50 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

World_upside_down.jpg ‎(800 × 400 pixels, file size: 50 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)Geography of ADHD

I have this theory that ADHD could be higher in countries with giant groups of immigrants (like the United States, Canada, and Australia) than in the rest of the world. Our  hyper, dreamy ancestors left the Old Country to chase the American dream. Most Europeans don’t move around that much– a lot of my German friends have stayed in the same town or village for generations.

ADHD Stats in the USA

  • In the USA, about 11% of children aged 4-17  were diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011.
  • ADHD diagnosis rates vary from a nadir of 5.6% in Nevada to a whopping 18.7% in Kentucky.  Why would that be? (Some say that it varies because of high stakes testing. In some states, the scores of children with ADHD are not counted. Or do a bunch of ADHDers really reside in the South? Does eating grits cause ADHD? Or?! ).
  • Latino children are less likely to have parent-reported ADHD.

 ADHD Stats Internationally

  • Certain countries, such as Italy, Sweden, and Iceland may have a lower prevalence of ADHD symptoms.
  • In France, the prevalence of ADHD diagnosis is much lower. A mere 0.5% of children have a diagnosis of ADHD and are on medication for it.
  • In Brazil, doctors prescribe physical exercise over a pill for ADHD.

Dr. Polanczyk et al. reported some fascinating facts about ADHD worldwide in PsychiatryOnline:

  • The pooled prevalence of ADHD worldwide is 5.29%.
  • The reported rates of ADHD for Africa and the Middle East are significantly lower than North America.

I could be wrong, wrong, wrong with this theory…it’s something I wonder about though, when driving around. I mean, what about our ancestors who came here under duress, because they were forced, like escaping war refugees or Africans who were chained in the holds of the evil slave ships? Or do kids present ADHD-like symptoms more in North America because recess, PE, and the arts have been slashed in so many school districts?

Why does North America tend to have a higher rate of ADHD? What’s your theory?

ADHD ABC|A is for ADHD: FAQ about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

ADHD FAQ

Have you been wondering, “Do I have ADHD?” or “Does my husband/child/wife have ADHD?” Let’s start with little FAQ about ADHD.

It’s especially for those of you adults who are 97.3% sure that you have it, but you haven’t been officially diagnosed by a medical professional yet.

What is ADHD?

ADHD, also known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is one of the most prevalent neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders, affecting about 1-7% of the population. It’s characterized by significant problems of attention, impulsive actions, and behavior that are not age appropriate for the individual. To be diagnosed with the disorder, the symptoms must be present by ages six to twelve, and be present for at least six months. You can find a bunch of stuff from the National Institute of Mental Health on ADHD and its subtypes (mostly on ADHD in children).   Here’s more information Adult ADHD.

Is ADHD real? 

Yes. Next question.

What kinds of ADHD are there?

There are three main types of ADHD (some doctors say that there are even more):

  • ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type- mostly spacey, day dreaming, forgetful
  • ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type: hyper, jumpy, impulsive, spontaneous
  • ADHD, Combined Type: This is the two for one meal deal, with a bevy of both hyperactive and inattentive types. This combo fun pack is what I got.  How about you?

Do I have ADHD? Can you tell me if I have ADHD?

I don’t know. All I know is I don’t play a doctor on TV. ADHD is a medical diagnosis that only doctors can provide. Check out this 30 second video with a short 5 question test by Dr. Daniel Amen and his wife, nurse Tana Amen.

Adult ADHDWhat does ADHD look like in adults?

It’s different than in kiddos.  With kids, it looks like spacing out in class, forgetting homework, getting up a lot in class and wandering around.  Adults will have a hard time paying attention in meetings at work, forget to pay bills,

Is ADHD heriditary?

It can be. Genetic and twin studies prove it. It can also be caused by environmental factors, prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco.

Do I have to take medication if I have ADHD?

Not necessarily. There are many ways of helping ADHD, although certain medications can be helpful. Exercise, diet, and supplements can also be useful. Talk over your concerns with your doctor. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a “traditional” ADHD medication, like Adderall, Straterra, Vyvanse, or Ritalin, then don’t do it.  Be careful of quacks and quick fixes! There are unscrupulous grifters and “experts” out there who take advantage of an ADDer’s desperation.

Don’t more guys have ADHD than girls?

Nope. Boys tend to get diagnosed more as children. However, girls tend to be better at hiding disabilities, so they often don’t get diagnosed until they’re adults. (Hey, I didn’t find out until I was 30 years old!)

Can you get me some Adderall?

Absolutely not. I already told you–I don’t even play a doctor on TV.

Hey, Did I Tell You That You’re A Superstar?

gold star superstar

tying shoes shoelacesWhen I was about four years old, I returned to preschool after a bout with strep throat. My friends told me on the playground that we were having a tying our shoes test that day. After recess, we all sat in a circle on our bottoms with our legs crossed. The teacher and class watched each student tie their shoes. She put a star by each student’s name after they completed the task. Since I’d been out for a few days, I didn’t know how. My heart beat thump-thump as I watched each student tie their sneakers.

Upon my turn, I attempted to tie my shoes- the loops and ties confused me- I fumbled, it didn’t work. I felt the teacher’s and other kids’ eyes on me as I struggled to make sense of the laces. The painful seconds stretched out as I reddened and finally gave up. Then she announced to the class, “Everybody can tie their shoes. Everybody but Nancy. Everybody gets a star but Nancy.”

Today I can tie my shoes. I do it differently than most people. Who cares? I can tie them.

I felt so shamed by that teacher it really burned in my mind….I couldn’t fathom why I had this “everyone will succeed but me” block until I traced it back to this event as a preschooler.

In high school my dad would ask me why my A-s weren’t A’s etc. or if I got a C or something he’d be mad. He would always say how proud he was of me and give me attention for my good grades. He didn’t say he loved me until he was dying of prostate cancer when I was in my 20s. There was a lot of pressure to excel academically. In college I felt if I weren’t getting A’s that I was on the brink of flunking. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get A’s, even in college I wanted to please him academically. My brother, on the other hand, felt none of that pressure, got As, Bs, and Cs. We’ve talked about it- he had a totally different experience. I might just be more driven as a first born child.

In fifth or sixth grade, I accidentally blurted out the answer during a game in math class, and the teacher, Mrs. Collins, gritted at me through her teeth,”Nancy, you ruined the game. You said the answer!”

She glared at me with her beady, clumpy-mascara eyes. She didn’t throw me out of the room that day, like she usually did. I never knew why she propelled me out of the room with such zeal. She had me sit on the bench outside of class, and I would wait until allowed back in again. She didn’t discuss her reasons for exiting me, ever, before or after the incident. My father claimed she didn’t like bright girls. She favored the more average girls who thought that she might as well have been a peroxided Virgin Mary floating above the L.A. County smog.

When I Got My Star

When people have called me superstar as an adult, it really made me smile! A teacher friend named Angel (yes, that is his real name) once bopped into my room during class and said, “Hey, did I tell you that you’re a superstar?”

He gave me a post-it note with a star and SUPERSTAR written on it. Those words really spoke life into me. Angel gave me the star I didn’t get in preschool.

Teachers like Mrs. Collins and the preschool powertripper that have taught me to be very careful with words I use with my students and my own daughter- I don’t ever want to sow what that teacher did. I never ever wanted to treat students like Mrs. Collins or this preschool teacher treated me. Shame can sow deep and hurtful, soul-piercing seeds.

Today I have forgiven those teachers. They are just people who had poor communication skills. Who knows what was going on in the preschool teacher’s life? Maybe she had been up all night caring for a sick parent, maybe she had just gotten served with divorce papers? Who knows? The greatest gift I have now is that I am free of the saran wrap I felt that separated me from the rest of the world.

Would you like freedom for true healing? Don’t let a past memory shackle you from walking toward your divine destiny. How has forgiveness freed you? Do you have a fear or resentment you need to let go?

You, too, can be free!

Fixed vs. Growth Mindset: Understanding Autism

understanding autism

Today one in sixty-eight children is born with a form of autism. Advancements in treatment, communication strategies, activism to increase awareness and acceptance of autism, and scientific research have helped educate the public, as well as medical and educational professionals alike about autism. Despite greater autism awareness, some people still don’t understand autism.

My friend K. who has a child with autism said that there are two types of people in this world: people who “get” autism and people who still don’t. (Please note: she does not mean people who catch autism. She means people who understand, empathize, and take steps to accept people on the spectrum).

Among those who don’t understand autism there are two subtypes: people with a fixed, prideful mindset who think that they “get” it. There are also humble people with a growth mindset who don’t “get” it, yet they openly admit it and are willing to learn, like psychologist Carol Dweck’s Mindset.

Fixed Mindset
understanding autismK. states, “People who don’t “get” autism see kids with autism as behavior problems. People who don’t ‘get’ autism think more discipline would take care of ‘the problem.’ People who don’t ‘get’ autism think it is a parenting issue. People who don’t ‘get’ autism have not read a single book out of the hundreds available on the subject.

These people, often well-meaning educators, blame the parents, oftentimes the mother, for their child’s struggles with autism. They escalate kiddos with autism into TFM (total freakout mode– a very scientific term)- and mete out harsh, antiquated punishments to kiddos on the spectrum instead of using research-based de-escalation and crisis intervention strategies, such as Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI).

Such a toxic, fixed mindset and resulting actions harm students with autism. It can cost a rock-brained authoritarian educator his or her job. Worse yet, it could bring on a lawsuit for breaking federal and state laws protecting students with disabilities right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)!

Growth Mindset
Fortunately, most educators today don’t possess such a fixed mindset.  They don’t “get” it and are open to learning more about autism- that’s a growth mindset. One of my accomplished teacher friends told me point blank that she didn’t “get” autism.

She asked me, the parents, and other professionals for input and suggestions for working with kiddos on the spectrum. When I provided her with strategies and approaches for working with students with autism, she would actually use them! She also communicated frequently with the parents, realized that she needed to differentiate instruction more than unusual and provided the student with advocacy strategies. She held students on the spectrum accountable to high, doable standards AND provided them with the accommodations they needed to succeed. This teacher’s growth mindset allowed her to morph this year into someone who does “get” autism.

People who “get” autism can think outside of the box. People who ‘get’ autism try things another way. People who ‘get’ autism are accepting. People who ‘get’ autism are flexible, patient, and caring,” added K.

If you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism.If you don’t “get” autism, that’s okay. Just admit it. That’s the first step. Autism can be complex- as speech language pathologist Michelle Garcia Winner, author of Socially Curious and Curiously Social: A Social Thinking Guidebook for Bright Teens and Young Adults, has said, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism.”

An Open Mind
Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?Want to understand autism better? Consider talking to the students’ special education teacher with an open mind. The speech language pathologist, school counselor, or school psychologist could likely also provide you with helpful input. Get to know students with autism. Adults with autism can also provide you with unique insights about the childhood autism. They are the experts on the autism experience!

If every time you speak to the student it seems that s/he spins out of control, consider learning de-escalation skills, or looking at what your own behavior is doing to provoke the student. Go to workshops on autism, read books like The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome or School Success for Kids With Asperger’s Syndrome: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers. Check out and check out resources from reputable sites like socialthinking.com or autismspeaks.org. When you admit you that you’d like to understand autism better to other professionals, it’s likely that they would be delighted to share their own expertise and resources with you.

I still have a lot to learn about autism- even though I’ve worked with students on the spectrum for a few years now. In fact, the more I learn about anything, the more I realize I have to learn! I pray that I can keep a fresh growth mindset for years to come as I journey from principal intern to veteran administrator.