How to Support a “Scattered” Child

8081866129_45189a1250_z“How can my child be so smart, yet fail every subject?” This is a common question from parents of bright children. The answer: your child is smart, but scattered. Peg Dawson, international author and presenter on executive functioning, described the impact of executive functioning in her presentation to special education staff in the Federal Way Public Schools.

Executive functions are brain-based skills that help us to be successful in monitoring and achieving goals. They include response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, flexibility, sustained attention, task initiation, planning/prioritization, organization, time-management, goal-oriented persistence, and metacognition. Executive functioning deficits are common in children and adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and in others who are neurodivese.

The impacts can have huge effects on their behaviors at school and home.

Common ASD deficits

  • Emotional reactions inconsistent with the incident

  • Difficulty being flexible when something changes

  • Struggling with sustaining attention in non-preferred situations

  • Impacts on prioritization, often seen in a child’s written expression

  • Difficulties creating and maintaining organization systems

  • Inability to self-reflect and change behavior based on these reflections

hyperactivityCommon ADHD deficits

  • Impulsive behavior, especially when the reward is immediate

  • Struggling to remember several steps to a task and implementing those steps effectively

  • Difficulty attending when the situation is not stimulating

  • Procrastinating on homework or chores

  • Struggling to plan out steps of a project

  • Inaccurately estimating how long something will take

  • Inability to persist towards a goal

How to Help

It’s our job as adults to help children develop these skills and provide opportunities for them to practice. For children with executive functioning deficits, these skills may not be learned from their surroundings; they need to be explicitly taught. Until they are developed enough to practice, adults will need to be surrogates for our kid’s executive skills.

Here are some ideas for facilitating the development of these skills:

  • Provide alternatives to highly stimulating environments. It may be hard for the child to effectively use executive skills when overstimulated.

  • Give close-ended tasks with explicit steps.

  • Shorten tasks or provide breaks

  • Make a checklist for your child first and show him how to use it; then, help your child to make his own checklist.

  • Give 3:1 positives to correctives feedback, with the positives specific to executive functioning (i.e. “Nice job leaving that cookie on the counter, I know that is not easy to do sometimes”; “You did great adjusting to our change of plans”, “I like how you made a goal and then planned out the steps to achieve it”

  • Ask your child two simple questions: “What do you have to do? When are you going to do it?” This helps facilitate the process of goal setting, planning, time management, and task initiation. Then, hold them accountable to their plan.

Want more information about how to help support your child’s executive functioning skills? Consider one of Aspiring Youth’s social skills groups, or red Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare, which is an excellent book that helps explain executive skills and how to intervene.


057-aspiring-headshots-webBreea. M. Rosas, Ed.S. graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Emotion Regulation: The Key to Adequate Socializing

2105532204_3eacd04af5_zMany of the kids we work with struggle with regulating their emotions.

Inadequate emotion regulation can look different depending on the child and the situation. Often, we see kids get frustrated with a situation or peer. Sometimes kids may act out, throwing a tantrum, calling names or crying. Other times, we see them internalize their emotions by shutting down. Or even getting overly silly, like hysterically laughing or having a hard time focusing.

These types of behaviors in the classroom are often addressed as “behavior problems,” which they are. However, they also seriously impact a child’s ability to have successful relationships. Parents long for their child to have friends and want to know how friendships are going after camp or group, but it’s important to remember that without adequately regulating emotional responses, it’s difficult for a child to make friends.

What does emotion regulation look like?

Emotion regulation is the ability to cope with situations that illicit an emotional response from a person.

It could be that a friend doesn’t want to play a favorite game – or at all. Sometimes it’s a change in a routine. While these situations cause an emotional reaction in all of us, there is an expected and unexpected emotional response. According to Michelle Garcia Winner, an expected response is how others expect us to respond while an unexpected response is a response that is unexpected of us given the situation.

Oftentimes, children and teens who struggle with emotion regulation have unexpected responses. Our responses in these situations are indicative of our ability to control our emotions.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maxwellgs/4267310664/in/photolist-7v65MN-89Pzn4-8x58zj-xukB7D-8TTT4C-869vEo-866knM-869vxA-869vvW-869vtE-866kdV-4z7FwW-cHKZYm-8S2ZCj-asF6u1-6RuNEs-5SsDL3-ch816-7v65E9-6y8hqQ-7SmrQ3-mQiJBL-bvkJkS-88TGHU-6vwwiV-4dJwrs-9AXSue-9o9ju-5CFgVX-nB844-93Q4Rz-7v65Ud-3aWiph-4oDYQU-6LxAu3-8WQ8dh-9HTBwc-KA9rU-8F792i-7nEiJU-7nAopc-7nAohe-7nAo56-7nEhWS-7nEhMj-7nEhF9-7nAnAx-7nAnuk-7nAnhz-7nEh9sWhy is this important for my child to make friends?

There are two keys reasons why emotion regulation is crucial for making friends.

  1. Tantruming, yelling, hyperactivity and withdrawal are competing problem behaviors as they all compete with acquiring or using appropriate social skills. For example, if a child is overly excited and cannot attend an event, he cannot learn how to get attention from peers in a positive way. If he is throwing a tantrum, this is interfering with his use of appropriately communicating feelings.

  2. Emotion regulation demonstrates that you are taking other peoples’ perspective. While it’s completely appropriate to feel frustrated or upset, how we act upon those feelings shows how we have considered the thoughts and feelings of those around us. The goal of social interactions is to have people thinking about us the way we want them to.

soccer-1341849_1280 (2)For example, when a child loses a game and engages in unexpected behavior like a tantrum, what might others be thinking? Most would probably think “Gosh, he doesn’t have good sportsmanship. I don’t think I’ll play a game with him next time”.

Tackling emotion regulation can be a challenging task. There are different coping strategies like taking a few deep breaths, practicing mindfulness, taking a walk or a break, or counting to 10 before responding.

Working on emotion regulation with your child is crucial for him or her to have successful social relationships.


Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S. graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Why Aspiring Youth Might be the Perfect Camp for Your Child

Picture 047_resultNow that school is out, it’s time to think about getting your kids involved in summer programs. With options like sports camps, tutoring sessions and wilderness clubs (not to mention good old fashioned unstructured boredom) it can be hard to decide which camp might be best for your child. Maybe you want your child to try something new, but aren’t sure he or she would be interested. Maybe you’re concerned about your child’s behavior if they’ve struggled at a camp or in school in the past.  Aspiring Youth summer camps might be the perfect for your child.

Aspiring Youth offers a variety of camps based on interest, as well as a general age-based camp (the most popular program). This camp is great for kids who are typically functioning but have some difficulty making friends, or those who have diagnoses of Asperger’s, autism, ADHD and other varying ability levels.

There are a few key components of Aspiring Youth camp that make it unique:

  • Small group ratios with masters-level facilitators. The camper to facilitator ratio is 4:1, which is almost unheard of for a summer camp. This allows for activities in small group settings and consistent feedback and facilitation of social interactions. Lead facilitators have masters degrees in fields such as social work, mental health counseling, special education, applied behavior analysis, and speech language pathology. Their knowledge and skills provides meaningful integration of social skills in all activities.

  • friendship-1081843_1280Outdoor-based activities. Many of the kids we work with prefer to stay indoors playing video games and spend little time exploring the outdoors. Our camp is outdoor-based. We meet up at various parks in the greater Seattle area for games, hikes, and unique experiences with nature. Twice a week, campers engage in trail renovation projects. This gives kids a greater appreciation for the parks they visit and instills a sense of pride in accomplishing something important. It also provides an opportunity for working together in groups on a skill most have not done before. Campers stay motivated to engage in trail restoration by the $15 stipend earned at the end of the week.

  • Goal setting around friendship. One thing we like to make clear to our campers is that everyone at camp is working on friendship or communication goals. At the beginning of each week, campers do small-group goal setting: a strength goal to demonstrate one of his or her strengths and a stretch goal to work on something he or she struggles with. Facilitators remind campers about their goals and provide opportunities for them to work on their goals throughout the week. At the end of the week, campers and their facilitators reflect.

  • Options in activities. As most understand, kids need to be able to make choices about their activity if we expect them to be engaged. They like to feel empowered. At camp, we always have options for kids. Some involve structured activities and others less structured. Regardless of the option each child chooses, there is always a facilitator providing feedback and assistance.

With six weeks left of summer, there’s plenty of time to get your child involved in Aspiring Youth camp.  There are several sites in the greater Seattle area. Please visit our website for more information and to schedule an enrollment meeting for your child.


Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S.

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

The United States of Autism

USofAutismUnderstanding autism throughout the country

 It’s no secret that autism spectrum disorder is increasing in prevalence, especially in the United States. There is no race, region, or social class exempt from the impacts of autism. This is clearly demonstrated in the 2013 documentary The United States of Autism, whose host and director, Richard Everts, travels across the country and interviews 20 families who have been affected by autism. The documentary is enlightening, and there are some important themes worth discussing.

 Access to interventions

Access to providers differs, especially when the family and providers do not speak the same language. One family from Puerto Rico speaks Spanish, and they came to the contiguous United States so that their son would have more opportunities. Another family came all the way from Japan. Leaving their homes and their support systems behind for a less familiar place, these families are trying to navigate a complex system in a place that has a foreign culture and foreign language—just so their children can find growth.

Other families indicated that they’ve moved to metropolitan areas to access providers. Financing therapies and interventions is also a factor, as one family from Oklahoma explained, where they are fighting for Nick’s Law to pass so insurance companies would be required to pay for services.

 
Siblings

The interviews highlighting siblings’ perspectives were particularly interesting to me personally since I do have a sibling who is on the spectrum. A few parents expressed concern regarding the attention that was given to the child with autism—resulting in less attention for the puzzle-210786_1280typically developing children. When the children were interviewed though, they often did not express that point of view. Rather than feelings of resentment, their answers reflected compassion with “It makes him who he is,” or “She’s better at some things than I am, and I’m better at some things than her.”

In my house, aside from my mother and me, we don’t often discuss autism. When my 15-year-old brother saw “autism spectrum disorder” marked on a form for my 13-year-old brother, he asked, “Mom, why did you mark that? Tyler is just Tyler.”

I think in many families, this sentiment is shared.

Finding a cure vs. teaching acceptance

The film portrays the cycle that many families go through: wishing for a cure for the poor communication and dysregulation when a child is younger, but as the child grows up, developing a greater appreciation for their quirks. One mother reported “It was a tragedy—that was my initial thought. But now, I see it as a gift.” One set of parents indicated that they desperately wished they could cure their child.

But many felt differently, claiming that autism has made their child who he or she is. From my work with families, this is pretty typical, though it may not be true for all.

Picture 047_resultOne really important perspective expressed in the film is, of course, that of those with autism. One teen said, “Don’t try to cure autism; learn from it and about it.” Another stated, “I believe in the idea of neurodiversity,” compared to finding a cure.

Regarding the effects of vaccines, at least a handful of families reported strong convictions regarding their role on their child’s development. To date, vaccines or mercury contributing to autism is not clear, as countless studies have yet to find a significant link. However, I think many families may hold on to this correlation. We really don’t know the cause of autism. What’s arguably as or more important is finding effective treatments and interventions for those who are affected.

I encourage families and providers to view the documentary and think critically about some of the points brought up. Examine the similarities and differences you find among your family and others.

Remember that you are not alone in your feelings; they are being felt all across the United States.


Breea. M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Social media and teens

Social networking has become a big part of how we keep in contact with family and friends. It allows us to share ideas and connect with people. Given that the cyber world can also be daunting, parents tend to breathe a sigh of relief when their teen has little interest in creating a Facebook account.

technology-785742_1280My brother, who will be 14 years old soon, likes Minecraft and Legos and learning about planets. Facebook isn’t near the top of his interests list. What would someone who avoids social interactions and prefers to spend his time alone get out of creating a Facebook account? Actually, a lot.

He’s missing out on being a part of our family Facebook page and messaging with our grandma. He doesn’t get the opportunity to connect with peers from his school, which is one way adolescents form connections with one another. Social networking has become a critical component of teen and young adult social life.

Yes: it can be scary thinking that our teen is going to be joining the online social world. Especially those who already have a difficult time navigating social environments. So how can we be sure that our teen knows how to safely and effectively interact online?

Teaching the hidden rules of social networking, from The Hidden Curriculum (Myles, Trautman, & Schelvan, 2013).

Social networking comes with a whole set of hidden rules. They may seem obvious to us, but keep in mind that our teens may need them explicitly taught them – just like we teach appropriate social skills in situations like school and in public Have your teen develop a list of safe behaviors online to understand his or her knowledge.

Safetyblogging-15968_1280

  • Only connect with friends you know and trust

  • Keep personal information private or do no include it

  • Never agree to meet up with someone from the Internet without talking to your parents about it first

  • Do not talk to people online whom you do not know

Social interactions

  • Your social media connections can see eveyrthing you post

  • Don’t post anything if you are feeling angry, upset, sad or overwhelmed. Wait until you’ve calmed down to post something, think carefully and have a parent or trusted adult read it beforehand

  • A Facebook friend is not necessarily a real friend

  • Online posts can never be taken back – even if you delete it, it can be saved by others.

Social media is just one aspect of social interactions that can be important. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of social media with your teen and encourage him or her to safely connect with others online if you think its right for your teen.


Breea. M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.

Can my teen attend college?

woman-690216_640Thinking about college can be an intimidating challenge for teens on the autism spectrum, but maybe even more so for their parents.

How will children manage without their special education case managers? How will they do without their social-emotional or behavioral supports in place? Might they flounder in the seas of large lecture classrooms? And of course those executive functioning skills: attention, organization, planning…

You may be thinking: “Is this even an option for my child?”

College is challenging for all, but more so for adolescents who have difficulty with changing environments, new social dynamics and handling responsibility. Thankfully, there are some programs in place to make the high school to college transition a little bit easier. Aspiring Youth offers adult transition programs and individual coaching that can help. Some colleges are now offering support or transition programs to young adults on the autism spectrum. Specifically, there are two options in Washington state:

  • Seattle Central College offers a program called SAILS (Supported Academics and Independent Life Skills). In College 101, students tour the campus, explore interests and develop organizational, time management and independent living skills. Building a relationship with staff helps throughout the year. Once school starts, students in the SAILS program benefit from small class sizes and continued individualized assistance. Your student could even get a job through the Mainstay program which offers employment for students of varying abilities.

  • Bellevue College offers a support program: Autism Spectrum Navigators (ASN) Program. The program focuses on supporting the development of executive functioning, social interaction, self-advocacy and self-regulation skills. ASN provides regular meetings with a trained peer mentor, quarterly career preparation classes, quarterly parent meetings, facilitated communication with instructors and campus awareness and training.

If your child is leaning toward an out-of-state college experience, there are also options for support programs. Post-secondary programs range from community colleges to universities, such as a Rutgers University, University of Alabama and Virginia TECH. For a list and brief overview of schools, visit this website.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Changing behavior: The ABCs

Understanding behaviors can be… challenging. We often hear from parents and teachers:

“She won’t stop doing it, even though I’ve asked her to stop.”

wood-cube-473703_640“It doesn’t matter what punishment I give. He still does it.”

To truly understand the behavior and how to change it, we need to know exactly what the challenging behavior looks like, what “triggers it”, and what happens after.

The ABCs of Behavior

  • The antecedent (what happens right before)

  • The behavior (what the child is actually doing)

  • The consequence (what happens immediately after)

When we understand the consequence, we often understand the function, the “why.”

There are four main functions that maintain behavior:

  • Escape. The child is doing something to escape or avoid doing an activity. Picture this: Every day, after a teacher finishes the social studies lesson, she moves on to math. The child has a melt down and is sent to the principal. Can you guess what he’s trying to avoid?

  • Attention. Some kids do things so they can get attention from their peers or adults. A girl consistently makes inappropriate jokes and her classmates laugh, reinforcing her behavior. What can be less obvious is when the attention is negative. After one joke, the teacher asks her to step in the hall so they can talk. Despite being punished, she’s still getting attention for her behavior.

  • 2105532204_3eacd04af5_zTangible. Things obtained can also maintain behavior. This could be a physical object or a preferred activity. A 13-year-old boy argues with his mom and is sent to his room after dinner for the rest of the evening, where he plays video games. Normally after dinner is electronic-free family time. He is inadvertently being rewarded for his behavior.

  • Self-stimulatory. This can be the most difficult function to address. It’s when a child likes the sensory or stimulatory sensation the behavior provides. A boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is constantly getting out of his seat during teacher instruction. Regardless of the punishment, getting up and moving around provides a stimulatory reinforcer.

 So what can we do?

Once we understand why the child is doing the behavior, we can better understand what to do to change it. Recognize though that it’s not always straightforward. Sometimes multiple functions of the behavior make looking at the antecedent vital.

8081866129_45189a1250_zIf a child has a melt down before each math lesson and is sent to the principal, the antecedent might tell us that he is escaping math. But the child also likes the one-on-one attention he gets from the principal. Now there are two functions of the behavior.

The goal is to let the child have his or her needs met in a positive way. One possible option might be that the child does 8 out of 12 math problems and then gets to spend 10 minutes with the teacher, eventually increasing the math problems and having the attention switch from the principal to the teacher.

So next time you’re struggling to change the behavior of your kid, think about the ABCs and get creative about ways to have your children’s needs met when they’re doing the appropriate behaviors.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Photo credits: Child screaming; Girl in class

Increase activity. Increase achievement.

hyperactivityMany of the kids we know and love show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

We often see this interfering with their school performance. A study recently published in Clinical Neuropsychology supported the idea that children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have better cognitive performance when they’re allowed to engage in physical activity.

What the study found:

The researchers compared a small group of typically developing 10 to 17-year-olds with a group who had ADHD (both inattentive and combined symptoms). Participants were required to engage in a cognitive performance task, and the intensity and frequency of their movements were measured while they performed the task. Basically, they found that the kids with ADHD engaged in more intense movements when they got the answer to the cognitive task correct, compared to the typically developing group.

What does this mean?

I know what you’re thinking: “Hyperactive kids do better when they’re active? No way!” But what the researchers actually found was that children who have ADHD — not only combined-typed but also inattentive-type — engage in more intense movement when answering questions. The researchers believe kids with ADHD actually do better when they engage in movement to self-regulate their alertness. Allowing them to move can help improve cognitive performance.

How to advocate in school:

Kids with ADHD need to move! Even if there aren’t signs of hyperactivity, it’s apparent that even inattentive kids give their best performance when they’re allowed to engage in a physical activity. Present this idea next time you are in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 meeting. Advocate for some possible accommodations for your kid, such as:

  • Allowing the student an alternative to sitting in a chair:

    • Using a wiggle seat

    • Swapping out a chair for a Bosu ball9320845849_4ea7da5a4a_z

    • Standing and using an easel

  • Letting the student take breaks throughout the day:

    • Walk the track

    • Run a teacher errand

    • Help deliver papers in the office

Ensure these accommodations are in place during state testing, class work and assessment time. Remember: these accommodations could be available to your child, but that does not mean he or she HAS to use them. Maybe the team decides walking the track is an option, but he or she would rather deliver papers to classes.

Do what works for your child’s needs so that those cognitive juices are flowing!


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.

Social Skills: Beyond being nice


We’ve all seen it.

The kid who walks up to you, stares you right in the eyes, gives you a big cheesy smile and says “Hello!” while awkwardly shaking your hand. We train our kids to do this. I’ve worked with people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in various capacities and hate to admit that I’m very guilty of this. I’ve put kids on behavior plans to increase eye contact or to increase the number of people they say hello to. I have explicitly taught them to shake someone’s hand when you approach them and to always smile so people know you are happy.

teen-412054_640Over the summer, I was at lunch with my 13-year-old brother who has ASD. He ordered his drink and stared our waitress right in the eyes. I could tell she was uncomfortable. After she walked away, I explained to my brother that staring like that could make people feel awkward. He looked at me, confused, and said “But you said I have to look people in the eyes when I talk to them.”

Yes, I failed.

Last week, some Aspiring Youth staff and I attended the Social Thinking conference. The founder of Social Thinking, Michelle Garcia Winner, said something so simple that really resonated: “Good social skills do not mean being nice all the time.” Absolutely true. As Michelle explained, good social skills are a person’s ability to adapt behavior based on the situation and what you know about the person. The goal is that people react in the way you hope. This doesn’t always mean looking at them right in the eye and smiling. It means that you can use social skills to navigate a situation – any situation. We need our children to differentiate between greeting a peer and greeting an adult; when to be pleasant and when to be a firm advocate for something they believe in.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maxwellgs/4267310664/in/photolist-7v65MN-89Pzn4-8x58zj-xukB7D-8TTT4C-869vEo-866knM-869vxA-869vvW-869vtE-866kdV-4z7FwW-cHKZYm-8S2ZCj-asF6u1-6RuNEs-5SsDL3-ch816-7v65E9-6y8hqQ-7SmrQ3-mQiJBL-bvkJkS-88TGHU-6vwwiV-4dJwrs-9AXSue-9o9ju-5CFgVX-nB844-93Q4Rz-7v65Ud-3aWiph-4oDYQU-6LxAu3-8WQ8dh-9HTBwc-KA9rU-8F792i-7nEiJU-7nAopc-7nAohe-7nAo56-7nEhWS-7nEhMj-7nEhF9-7nAnAx-7nAnuk-7nAnhz-7nEh9s

The Social Thinking conference was a great opportunity to learn how to teach social cognitive skills. It is how to consider our own thoughts and others’ thoughts to interpret and respond to information. The idea of perspective taking is more complex than considering another person’s perspective. As Michelle explains, there are 4 steps:

  1. I think about you.

  2. I think about why you are near me.

  3. I think about what you think about me.

  4. I adjust my behavior to keep you thinking about me the way I want you to think about me.

At Aspiring Youth, from the curriculum we follow in social skills groups to our summer camp social learning goals, we focus on teaching and supporting those important social cognitive skills to our children. If you’re interested in some free articles related to Social Thinking, you can visit this website.


Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.