Autism, Inertia and Scriptwriting

In physics, the term “inertia” means that an object at rest tends to stay at rest until it is changed (moved) by a force. It’s a term that might also be used to describe the behavior of some people on the Autism Spectrum who don’t start a task, adjust to changes or do a job without prodding from an outside source (often a parent).
Many neurotypicals sometimes dismiss this behavior as a sign of laziness. But it’s far more complex than that. And it’s certainly not deliberate.
It’s possible that ASD individuals need prodding because their neurological wiring equips them with the ability to receive large quantities of information, but not the ability to process or use it all. This complicates the task of navigating an unruly reality. It’s far less confusing to remain at rest than to jump into an unpredictable fray.
Our son (Tristan, a/k/a Tad Shy) talks about this in terms of sticking with a routine:
“Routine is comforting. I like sticking with a routine of stuff I need to do right now. Changing a routine is really hard, even if I know that changing the routine might move me toward an important life goal – like getting a job.”
In producing 9th Planet videos, we’ve all learned about the importance of routine and structured assignments to help us overcome inertia and get things done. Take script writing. Tristan says, “When we were first writing scripts, I had trouble contributing to the work, because we didn’t have a structure. We’d talk about a skill to teach, but didn’t lay out a specific process to get the script written. Then we started having script meetings where we’d talk about different possibilities for situations and what Tad and Bob might say in those situations to teach the lessons.”
“The script meetings make it easier for me to write because they’re now part of my routine. I’m pushed to write a section by a specific time. And when we talk about sections of dialogue, we break the conversations down into smaller parts for teaching, which is also helpful.”
The process of figuring out how to regularly write good teaching scripts has been instructive for us all. For Tristan, the process has offered an important example of how he works best (i.e. “go write a script” doesn’t work, but working through small structured steps with a regular schedule does work).
This learning may translate into longer-term lessons. Tristan says he’s working on learning how to do things without being pushed. The structured process we use in script writing might be helpful. He says, “I’m thinking about how to describe my life goals in a manageable list that I can break down into small steps which seem doable and not so overwhelming.”
Who knows? Maybe his list of life goals will look a little like a script.

Video Shoot – Information Interviews

Scenes from a shoot.

The 9th Planet crew is producing a video about finding a job for our third Skill Set. The video focuses on the idea of doing information interviews to build business networks and create job leads.

The crew shot a cutaway scene at the Jamie Schultz Photography Studio in Hudson, Wisconsin. In the scene, Tad’s friend, Daphne, learns about what it’s like to work in an independently-owned photography business.

A huge thanks to studio owners Jamie and Karl Schultz for opening the doors to their spacious, arty studio in downtown Hudson. Also thanks to Bernadette Lantz, and Sarah Krentz for playing the roles of Daphne and the photography studio owner.

Autism Research Should Put Stronger Focus on Services

Some Key Points by the President/Co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) at a Congressional Hearing on the Federal Response to the Rising Rates of Autism

November 2012

o $217 million was invested in autism research in 2010 by the National Institute of Health.

o Over 95% of the money was used to research questions related to the cause and diagnosis of autism.

o Only 1.5% was used for research to determine the needs of adults on the Spectrum.
o Only 2.45% was used to improve the quality of services and supports for individuals on the spectrum and their families.

Some say we can’t improve the lives of individuals on the spectrum until we unravel its causes. That is not true. Communication technology has been available for many years. and has been used to good effect to empower individuals on the low end of the spectrum – including those who can’t speak.

If we invested one-tenth of the money that we currently pour into issues of causation, we could empower hundreds of thousands more to communicate their needs and live fuller, more productive lives.

The Sandy Hook Shooting – Autism and Empathy

The Connecticut School Shooting – Autism and Empathy

The Houston Chronicle reports that a former classmate of Adam Lanza said, “If you looked at him (Lanza), you couldn’t see any emotions going through his head.” The presumption here being that Lanza’s apparent lack of empathy seems to confirm his Asperger’s diagnosis and may explain the motives for his violent behavior.

This is wrong. It is commonly assumed that people with Autism can’t feel empathy. The truth of the matter is, many on the spectrum feel enormous empathy. In fact, they are overly sensitive and often find it extremely difficult to regulate their empathetic feelings.

When asked, individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome confirm this. A few years ago, young people on the Spectrum talked about their ability to feel empathy in a website discussion on Wrongplanet.net:
“If anything, I struggle with having too much empathy” one person commented. “If someone else is upset, I am upset. There were times during school when other people were misbehaving, and if the teacher scolded them, I felt like they were scolding me.”
Another individual said, “I am clueless when it comes to reading subtle cues, but I am *very* empathic. I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling, and I think this is actually quite common in AS/autism. The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it.”
So why do pundits and commentators leap to make the Aspergers-Non-Empathy-Violence connection when talking about the school shooting in Connecticut?

Because we all want an answer to this senseless killing and we’d like it to be one we can understand. But Autism, like the truth, is complicated. And leaping to a conclusion that Adam Lantz’s autistic tendencies can help explain his violent outburst simply invites a discussion that takes us backward rather than forward and does nothing to help us do the hard work of understanding what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Ability Online – a new 9th Planet partner

http://www.abilityonline.org

9th Planet videos will be available to young people who are registered users of the Ability Online network.  As a bonus, Tad Shy will be participating on website forums to make friends and share his experiences about being on the Spectrum.

Ability Online is a free, monitored and secure online social network that allows young people with disabilities, chronic illnesses or other challenges to connect with friends, share stories and updates, and most of all feel included. No other organization offers a program where the child can be in the safety of their home, using a computer or tablet, to interact with other children facing similar challenges,
The service just celebrated its 20th anniversary and has helped more than 40,000 registered members since its inception, including 2,000 current active members. Most come from Canada, with about 23 per cent from the United States and about 2 per cent from the United Kingdom and Australia.

In addition to fostering friendships among children, the service partners with 200 health-care organizations that provide support to parents, teachers and professionals. Each group of adults has their own special homepage where they can participate in forums, share resources and support each other. Homepages for children offer online mentoring, tutoring and job coaching.

A special friendship-builder portal for children with autism provides online role-playing, forums and problem-solving.

DSM-5 changes for Autism Spectrum Disorders – What about people with pragmatic language issues?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has officially approved changes to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The changes include new – and hotly debated — criteria for the diagnosis of individuals on the Autism Spectrum.
The DSM-5 changes will impact many in the Autism community. Who and how many people will be impacted is the source of endless discussion. While the goal of the changes is to prevent the over diagnosis of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, many are concerned that the new criteria might leave some behind.
One group at high risk of being overlooked are those in the high functioning end of the Spectrum whose challenges in communication involve the use of pragmatic language, which is the ability to vary speech based on different conversation contexts — knowing what to say, how to say it, when to say it, and where to say it. Pragmatic language skills include the ability to recognize sarcasm, take turns in conversations, stay on topic and engage in small talk.
The exact changes aren’t posted on the APA website and until the changes are put into effect, there is little to do beyond keeping a watchful eye on how they’re applied. Hopefully, the criteria will be applied in a way that remains true to a requirement that is listed late but should be treated as a first principal in appropriately diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders. It simply reads as follows: “Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.”

Learning About Jobs – Video Shoot #1

The 9th Planet Skill Set 3 videos model the relationship skills that are critical to finding a job – not just any job, not a make-work job created by a company to fill a disability “quota” — but a satisfying job that’s a good fit with the interests and skills of the person on the Spectrum.

One of the videos in the Skill Set is called Learning About Jobs. This weekend we shot two scenes from the “Learning About Jobs” script at The Bikery, an independently-owned coffee shop in Stillwater, Minnesota. (The snowy shot below gives our northern location away).

In the video, Tad learns how an acquaintance — a girl named Daphne — scored a job interview at a local photography studio even though the studio didn’t have a “NOW HIRING” sign on their door. Daphne is played by Anna Lantz, a talented young woman who also appeared in the Skill Set 2 video called Empathetic Listening. A little ironically, during the shoot, Anna got a message that she’d been selected to interview for admission to a college in California. Way to go, Anna!

The Bikery was a great location. It has colorful walls, retro-to-funky furnishings and bicycles or bicycle parts hanging everywhere. The staff quietly worked while we ran through lines, moved the camera around, changed lights, put duct tape on the floor to mark the actor positions and shouted scene numbers/take numbers/ACTION!! One coffee shop employee even agreed to play the girl behind the coffee shop counter who takes a hot chocolate order from Tad.

Next week, we’ll finish shooting for the Learning About Jobs video at a locally-owned photography studio in Hudson, Wisconsin.