Autism And Other Pervasive Disorders – Idioms And Literal Language

I’ve been taking a graduate course in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the last few months and I’ve loved it so much more than I can say. Having been out of the school circuit for 17 years, it’s definitely been eye-opening across the board! But nothing beats the feeling of learning more about ASD and other pervasive developmental diseases – I’ve truly found my passion, and am ever eager to apply what I learn to my volunteer work with children, teens, and adults of varying disabilities.

In a recent discussion we talked about idioms – a type of “language” that we all use without really thinking about it. Neither, therefore, do many of us consider the implications on individuals with autism or other developmental disabilities and delays. As I prepared for the discussion, I realized that I couldn’t think of any I had used “off the top!” Sure enough, as I snooped about online, I discovered I use quite a few. For example:

All ears                                                It takes two to tango

Blessing in disguise                          Method to the madness

Chomp at the bit                                Not playing with a full deck

Cry over spilt milk                             Off his rocker

Curiosity killed the cat                      Once in a blue moon

Devil’s advocate                                 Over the moon

Silver lining                                         Piece of cake

Hit the hay                                          Speak of the devil

Hit the nail on the head                    Take it with a grain of salt

My classmates also came up with a hefty array of phrases, many of which I hear or say myself (“I lost my marbles!” comes to mind. 🙂 )  In combination with meticulous observation of my own idiom usage (for the purposes of this assignment) I found that I say them with relative frequency in every day speech. . .as does just about everyone around me. The funny thing is that I actually had to look up examples – using idioms is so much a part of our language that I wasn’t even aware. This sentiment was, as it turns out, shared by my classmates…

Having learned throughout my course that individuals with ASD often take language literally – truly at its face value – I am now far more attentive to my verbal language when communicating with them. Paired with deficits in social skillsets (such as joint attention, inability to read body language, verbal tone, cues and so forth), the literal translation of idioms could pose a substantial challenge during interaction. Our course has touched on the multitude of challenges that children with ASD face in the realm of communication (which includes a lot more than just “verbal language.”) The point has also been made that it isn’t always obvious to an outsider that someone with ASD won’t understand conversation, as some have a large (and impressive!) vocabularies.

I recall once saying (prior to my class, in a volunteer capacity) “you could be a pro!” to a child with ASD kicking a soccer ball. He asked what I meant and I realized that I didn’t say “professional soccer player,” which is what I needed to express in order for him to understand my meaning. While not an idiom per se, the language was not complete – an abbreviation I took for granted was not clear to him. This experience was eye-opening and I realized I needed to up my awareness when conversing with an individual with ASD. It is not at all a matter of intelligence – I find many to be incredibly bright…and they are! – more that I need to recognize the common trait of taking words exactly as spoken. I myself have a tendency to read into what I hear, sometimes taking comments as literal and serious.

Despite that English is my only fluent language, I always loved learning foreign languages in school. I remember purchasing books that offered slang and street French / Italian (even Latin!) so that I could perhaps utilize the language in the way native speakers do…or at least follow their conversation. Slang and idioms are a HUGE part of a culture’s social structure – they are thrown around with such frequency that not understanding them can pose a substantial language barrier as well as, at worst, flat-out social isolation. Think about learning a new language in school, then being immersed in that culture. The stream of communication of someone native to the language will be riddled with idioms – we all do it! We might then find ourselves saying, “what do you mean?” just like the child with ASD asked me.

This is a massive task for teachers because there are infinite ways in which idioms may present, and there are in the order of twenty-five thousand in English alone. (Wikipedia, as retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiom ) We read an article written by Temple Grandin earlier in the course and she mentioned how she has to mentally retrieve visuals and concrete memories based on previous experiences to know how to respond appropriately in social situations – what a daunting task! When we study a specific technique in Ninjutsu (a current Martial Art of mine) we sometimes discuss that the founders of the Art did not always teach a follow-up submission or takedown with it – the reasoning was that there are so many permutations, the task would not only be overwhelming, but students would be trying to remember far too many combinations (diverting attention from the more important fundamentals.) Way to go, Temple, for mastering that ability!

In the case of language, however, not learning idiomatic expressions will absolutely leave a child at a disadvantage – out of the realm in which peers and others knowledgeable about their disabilities (and therefore able to accommodate), an individual with ASD may be left bewildered by the normal conversational style of society. Again, as above, potentially leading to isolation and less opportunity for interactions (which also means less practice!)

Teaching generalization is vital for the individuals, and I do think key idioms must be addressed. That all said, I think that a learning program must – as all instruction – be highly specific, and tailored to the individual with ASD. If he or she is at a level at which more can be mentally digested, perhaps more idioms can be taught – but I sincerely believe that core fundamentals of are crucial, and must – as an order of operations – be learned before attempting to master more descriptive, idiomatic expressions. (I did see, per the below, a plethora of visual representations of idioms, which would be a perfect way to introduce them to children with ASD!)

Martial Arts – Respect Your Beginnings

I’m not sure I’ve seen a cuter image…!

Respect those who teach you, and who give selflessly to further your growth and learning in life… And respect where you came from.  Your actions and behaviors will speak volumes of their own when you uphold values so noble as these.

 

 

6 Personal Tricks To Maintaining Willpower

Every so often I’m asked what I do, or how I stick to my guns, in order to reach the goals I’ve set for myself. Some of my friends have said I stick to my routine like my life depends on it.  While it’s *generally* true that I color in the lines, it doesn’t mean it’s a piece of cake all the time. Cake? Where?!  Is it chocolate!?  (See what I mean…?)

Some days it’s a challenge to keep myself on track, but I do have a few tried-and-true tricks to help me stay on the bandwagon when I want nothing more than to hurl myself off it!

Now it may be I’m already that crazy personality type that pushes myself extra hard…in everything…(and boy, is that exhausting!) It could be that I like routine. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen other people succeed, and I want to get there too.  Either way, these tricks do come in handy, and are worth a shot if you are having some difficulty motivating. . . They have helped me enormously, and continue to.

What is willpower, though, anyway?  Willpower is typically used to refer to that miraculous, supernal compass that allows us to abstain from whatever it is that ISN’T so good for us…  Or, as the dictionary puts it:

For me, that would be eating whatever I want, not getting up and exercising most days, and not following through with the things that will help me grow as a person, or in a field I’m interested in.  I’ve admitted to myself full-on how much easier that life would be…but when I think about the implications of walking that path, I’ve rerouted very quickly…

So there’s tip #1 right there…

TIP #1 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning the Implications

This trick works for me the majority of the time.  I don’t really consider it as guilting myself into things, it’s more that I focus on the implications of NOT doing the action I’m struggling with, OR staying where I am…which is not where I want to be.  I know that if I decide to abandon my dietary habits, I skip my physical activities, give up on something I really want to learn (which I almost did recently!)…I’m going to suffer on a number of levels.  I’ll feel more exhausted, depressed about how I feel / look / not achieving, my skin will probably freak out, the doctors (I’m sure) will be on my case, and I’ll very likely be in a shitty mood all around.  Bad for everyone!

Then there’s tip #2…which is similar to the first, but it puts things in a positive light (which, frankly, is where I personally prefer to be.)

TIP #2 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning…and FEELING…the Goals

When I focus on my goals, I get the most bang for my buck – more so than #1 because, again, I’m making this positive.  I focus on what I want most – whether to maintain my current condition, learn more about a subject I’m new to, achieve the next rank in my Martial Art… Whatever the goal is, I focus on HOW I WILL FEEL once I HAVE IT.  That’s how the magic begins.  How to keep it going?  Picture it as if you ALREADY HAVE IT.  Once you get there, you’re golden.  There are mornings that getting up and spinning is the last thing I want to do.  But I focus on the feeling of “that felt great – I did it, and I worked hard, and now I’m ready for the day!”  Focusing on the feeling I’ll have in accomplishing that goal makes all the difference.

TIP #3 – Progress Snapshots

Progress snapshots can take a lot of forms – it really depends on what the goal is. If it’s with regard to my Martial Arts, I’ll make sure to take periodic photos of my attendance card to see just how far I’ve come, and how close my next test is.  If it’s with regard to physical condition, photos go a LONG way.  Photos help us to keep track of how we are doing in the most real sense – I’ve caught myself being off track from pictures plenty of times!  It’s not easy to see ourselves as we really are sometimes – photos keep us honest.

TIP #4 – Staying Gentle with Ourselves

Life is a challenging journey any way you slice it.  There will be ups and downs, and days you don’t damn well feel like “making a gratitude list!” That’s okay.  What’s important is that you are gentle with yourself in understanding we all get a little sidetracked from time to time.  Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling fully.  Then dust yourself off, remind yourself how far you’ve come / that you have made it through successfully before (and I guarantee that you have!), and get to it!  Wallowing in our shortcomings is incredibly dangerous, and a surefire way to keep the negative cycle going.  Chin up  – you can do it!

TIP #5 – Sharing Our Progress

Don’t forget to share your progress with those you trust and love – I assure you that they will want to share in your joy, encourage your continued journey, and would be willing to help you in any way they can.  That’s what loved ones are there for!  You aren’t alone, and you don’t have to go it alone. If you are having a tougher day, it’s okay to ask  a loved one for help, to vent, or to ask for a proper kick in the ass – like being brutally honest! – when you need it. 

TIP #6 – Changing Our Language and Inner Dialogue

I’m as guilty of the next person of putting myself down, and putting road blocks in my own way with negative thoughts or language.  It’s vital that we work on using positive language, such as “I can!”…and using it all the time.  When we are stuck in a rut, or feeling miserable about past failures, that’s when using positive language (and / or replacing negative language) is the most important.  We must remember that there is always a new opportunity waiting – there is no better time than the present to get back on track, and we can do that at any moment.  Forget four letter words like “can’t” as they serve only to derail.  Make sure your language is positive, and you are on your way!

Willpower can be hard to come by all the time…but it is NOT an impossibly-achieved, elusive superpower.  The more we work at it, the more we will have.

You have everything it takes to get back on – and stay on – track, so long as you really want whatever that goal is.

So. . .

In SUMMARY:

TIP #1 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning the Implications

  • DO stay honest with yourself about the full implications of staying where you are 
  • DO visualize, and own up to that result (of not following through)
  • DON’T throw in the towel!  You have what it takes!

TIP #2 – Internalizing / Visualizing / Owning…and FEELING…the Goals

  • DO focus on how you will FEEL once you attain your goal
  • DO picture yourself already achieving that goal (this is the key to the miracle!)

TIP #3 – Progress Snapshots

  • DO take periodic “snapshots” to keep you honest with your progress
  • DO take photos, as they are the more true picture of reality than we sometimes like to pretend
  • DO be creative! Taking a picture of a school report card, or positive e-mail from the boss counts!

TIP #4 – Be Gentle With Yourself

  • DO praise yourself with affirmations when you do a great job of making benchmarks
  • DO share your joy with those you love, as they will be proud of you also!
  • DON’T beat yourself up if you had a tough day

TIP #5 – Share the Joy…AND the Challenges!

  • DO share your successes with your loved ones
  • DO share your struggles if you need or want to
  • DON’T isolate yourself.  You don’t have to brave the journey alone!

TIP #6 – Change Your Inner Dialogue 

  • DO use positive language, and try to use it all the time
  • DO believe in yourself and say it aloud if necessary
  • DON’T wallow past failure
  • DON’T give in just because you are in a bad place.  Without change, it’s going to stay that way.
  • DON’T use “I can’t” or “it’s too hard” or I’ll never _____”

You’ve GOT THIS!

Fearless

Fear of failure is common amongst us all… It is a painfully debilitating attitude which not only keeps us from learning, but potentially also from something we may truly love.  

To impose such binding limitations without offering our minds, bodies, and souls the opportunity to experience and grow with life is an injustice beyond reason.  There is never a rational explanation, nor any excuse – we must, in the face of fear, step forward, lest our lives slip from our fingers while we watch.

 

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Committed

I have come a really long way, and I’m incredibly proud of that.  But I also know I have much to learn. . .and that’s okay. The journey is a lifetime.

Each day is a new opportunity to be a better person – a better human being to myself, and those around me. We all deserve a happy and fulfilled life, but that very much begins with US.

My competition, much as they say, is myself yesterday.  It isn’t a friend, neighbor or celebrity. It’s me, myself and I.

I am committed to choosing the high road.  To standing up for what I believe in, and loving life fiercely.  

I am committed to holding myself accountable, and to the standards to which I hold others…at a level just above that.

I am committed to being kinder to myself, because I’m a goddamn powerhouse with a heart the size of the globe.

I am committed to seeing the good and the beauty in all things, and to always make “the best of it” – worse isn’t a long shot for many, and I guarantee hundreds of thousands of people want what you have! 

I am committed to being a better and better version of myself, to bring hope and joy to those around me, to give back as much as I’m able, and beyond…but also without losing myself in the process.

I have a list of goals and dreams miles long…and I believe they are all achievable.

It starts TODAY.  Ten minutes ago.  Life beats to time, and time is a drum that doesn’t stop.

The only control we have rests with us – LEARN. Live. Be kind to others, especially those who are there along the journey with you.  

There’s room for all of us to succeed in our pursuits – Let’s be better together.