The MI Series: Visual/Spatial

We all know individuals in each of these areas, and for those of us who walk with autism in our lives everyday, we may have seen it a bit more.

Perhaps they can put together a difficult puzzle in minutes, are really good at the game Tetris or something similar, memorized the details of a room layout, or can diagram the inner workings of a robotic device. These all involve visual/spatial intelligence.

I was one of a few girls who scored high in this area in high school (remember the ASVAB test?). This was because I could visually see an object in my mind, in 3D. Granted, I couldn’t get overly detailed with it, but I could (and still can) twist and turn an image or object around in my mind to see it from various angles. This allowed me to answer questions about what the object would look like if turned a quarter turn, or upside down. So for my work, visual/spatial intelligence involves the ability to visualize a noun (person, place, thing) in three dimensions and adjust the visualization to see it in a new way.

If you’ve watched ABC’s The Good Doctor, then you’ve seen this type of intelligence in action when Dr. Murphy visualizes organs and nerve/blood pathways by turning them in his mind to “see” from all sides.

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According to Howard Gardner, spatial refers to “an ability to perceive the visual world accurately, transform and modify perceptions and re-create visual experiences even without physical stimuli” (Gardner, Human Intelligence, p.22).  He includes chess players, artists, and navigators in this group.

I have seen this intelligence in many of my clients, regardless of their age or background. The children can build towers and figure out escape options for their cribs, playpens, or restricted areas. The teens are incredibly good at games like Minecraft and the board game Blokus. A lot of my clients seem to be really good at Legos.

Of course, this is just one intelligence, and we all often have strengths in a few of them. Next week, I’ll look at one of the toughest areas for those on the autism spectrum: Interpersonal.

 

Additional Reading:

Frames of Mind, The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Howard Gardner. BasicBooks, 1993.

Wikipedia: Spatial Intelligence (psychology)

Brain Metrix: Spatial Intelligence

ScienceDirect: Components of Spatial Intelligence (abstract only, full PDF can be purchased)

 

Photo Credit: Disney ABC Media

The (good) trend continues…

It’s really great to see more and more places and communities welcoming autistic individuals in this way. I especially love the “quiet room” idea at the amusement park and handing out toys while waiting in line.

I think I may start a Soul Sunday feature where I post articles and videos like this to show that inclusion is being worked on and spread.

How amusement parks are welcoming children with autism

Thursday Thoughts

After dealing with hurricanes threatening most of the people I know, some family crisis, and a generally busy schedule, I have emerged from oblivion!

The article that pulled me out of, well, life was a somewhat familiar trope for me in this field: the hunt for a “cure” at any cost. This time, though, the focus was an approach I had never heard anything negative about until now.

I have heard about the Son-Rise approach off and on throughout my career. For some reason, it was often interchanged with the DIR/Floortime approach, which is different but seems to have a similar thread of being more naturalistic. I noticed, though, that I didn’t see many families in my work attempting this approach. I went on to study Floortime and ABA more closely, becoming an advocate of the Early Start Denver Model’s combination of the best of both worlds.

This article, though, really looks at what happened when autism therapy became a business. It aims mostly at Son-Rise, but the pattern is pretty familiar for any family who has uncovered every stone in a search for answers. They really go to all corners for their children, and sometimes people/organizations take advantage of that by suggesting that they have all of the answers.

I wanted to say this much: Parents, I know you see many of us as experts, the ones to come in and “fix” everything. I do not see that as my job, and I know others who feel this way. I want to empower YOU, because at the end of the day, you are the ones who love and are with this individual 24/7. Yes, I know lots of terminology. Yes, I have seen lots of clients and gained great insight into the world of autism. I still need YOU. Your child/teen/adult still needs YOU. After every therapy session, homeopathic oil blend, or new breakthrough, it still comes down to you and them. In all honesty, I learn more from my clients than any book, training, or degree program can possibly teach me. They are some of the most amazing people I have ever met, and so are their families.

Anyway, coming off of a really great session yesterday, I wanted to share that. The session wasn’t great because the client had “perfect behavior.” It was great because everyone (me, the parent, and the client) learned something.

I feel like I’m rambling randomly (and I probably am), but I wanted to share those thoughts. The article is below, and opens up quite a dialogue about the Son-Rise approach in particular. Oh, and shout out to one of my former coworkers, Andrew Shahan, who is featured in this article and who I count as one of my favorite trainers. 🙂

A ‘cure’ for autism at any cost

The Value of Connection

I saw an article today on the results of a study about music therapy and autism. The study indicated that “improvisational music therapy, compared with enhanced standard care, resulted in no significant difference in symptom severity based on the ADOS social affect domain over 5 months” (Bieleninik L. et al. JAMA 318, 525-535 (2017).

This is a bit of a letdown to many in the music therapy world, but it is also a call to action of sorts. Some of therapies outside the normal scope of the traditional autism therapies (including music and listening therapies, dance therapy, drama therapy, etc.) can take a lesson from this study.

By improving and adjusting the therapies to accommodate individual differences, focus on connection/engagement, and folding the parents/family into therapy, there may be clearer and more positive results. I have noticed this to be the case in many of the more “traditional” and clinical therapeutic approaches.

I have seen clients improve from these more art-related therapies, but a key component to client success lies not necessarily in the therapy itself (though it may certainly help, of course). The key is connection and relationship. In an article about the study on spectrumnews.org, it was noted that other studies have indicated that having a connection with the music therapist improved clients’ social skills. Working on creating a connection is, in my eyes, the most important part of any autism therapy. If you have engagement, you will naturally be able to do more with and for your client.

Below is a direct link to the article about the study. I would love to hear others’ thoughts about this. Have you tried music therapy before? Did it help? What was the experience with the music therapist like?

Music therapy for autism shows minimal social benefit

 

Female + Autistic = Ignored

Thinking back on all of the clients that I have had, few of them have been both female and autistic. While I have seen numerous mothers who (to me) clearly had the textbook signs of autism, they never had a diagnosis and often presented as more worn and drained than their counterparts.

This is a very real issue in the autism world. I’ve said this before, but looking back at my traits as a preschooler, I had some signs myself. They were never addressed or even brought up aside from one random report. I couldn’t sit still during circle time, had a strange fascination with beating/cleaning the erasers, and played alongside kids rather than with them. I was humorously labeled a “non-conformist,” and that was that.

I’m not saying I’m on the spectrum, but really, how would I know? It’s never been given as a possibility, often because I was too well-behaved (read: quiet), did excellent in school, had friends, etc. The truth of the matter is that the medical and mental health communities do not look for autism in girls/women like they do with boys/men, and this needs to change.

The articles below do a nice job of discussing this further, if you wish to do some more reading into it:

Girls with autism getting a rough deal

Diagnosed at 45 with autism

 

Atypical

Slipping under the radar of nearly everyone I know who works in the autism field, Netflix debuted their show Atypical a couple of days ago. I literally stumbled upon it thanks to an ad before a YouTube video. So today, I watched the first few episodes.

First, I was happy to see that the lead character, Sam, kicks off the series with the decision to get himself a girlfriend. Often in media depicting autistic individuals, they are presented as either asexual, child-like, or something far more sinister. It was nice to see a teenager on the spectrum in media who thinks like a teenager…because, you know, they do that.

Second, it is rare to get a slightly more realistic look at the dynamics of the family like this. This is a bit more raw. You see the mom who is terrified that neither the world or her son are ready to meet each other, the dad who is trying to find his place in his son’s life (and to some extent, his wife’s life as well), and the sister who is embracing her inner Daria while still showing sibling love (and annoyance) for Sam.

Third, we get to see the world numerous times through Sam’s eyes. This is becoming more common in these kinds of narratives. When he gets hurt because of teasing, he doesn’t immediately emotionally react because he is trying to temper the sensory input, which is growing out of control for him. A hurtful sentence (that the girl seemed to think was defending him instead of hurting) pauses the sensory long enough for him to see what’s happening and bolt. I don’t have these sensations, so I don’t know if they nailed it, so to speak.

Fourth, the mom reminded me of so many parents I have met. I’m going to be honest here, just to warn you. On the one hand, I felt annoyance at first because (to me) she was dismissing her son’s desire to be in a relationship by insisting that he wasn’t ready. On the other hand, I still get it. A mom’s job is to love and protect her children, and this mom is trying her hardest to do just that. I could see both sides, and that made the episodes I watched all the more interesting and endearing.

Finally, debate has already started on whether or not Atypical really caught the essence of the life and times of an autistic teenager. So, short review so far: Do I think some things are played up for entertainment purposes? Probably. Does it represent every autism experience? Of course not, nor should it try to. Is it perfect? Nope. Could it be a great dialogue starter? Yes.

I’ve put the trailer for the show below. I would love to hear other’s thoughts about it (the show, I mean). I do plan to continue to watch it, and we’ll see if it gets a second season.