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A Beautiful Hot Mess

Teaching for Teens with Autism

I work with a fourteen year old girl with autism along side a team of ABA staff for which we provide in-home therapy based services several days per week. I could work on programming for this kiddo all week long because she is simply the best.

Which I had the chance to do this week. 💙

One of the projects I’m working on currently has been writing a program for teaching the differences between friendships, close friendships and romantic relationships. Additionally these teaching targets will help our learner be able to distinguish the difference in heathy/unhealthy relationships and between appropriate/inappropriate behaviors across social interactions.

It is not uncommon for children and teens on the autism spectrum to exhibit deficits in the area of social skills and therefore teaching programs in their ABA plans serve as an effective means for strengthening these skills.

From an essential living perspective, it is important for all children and teens to understand behaviors in social interaction and be able to discern healthy and appropriate circle of relationships into their adult lives.

Who can use these targets?

  • Parents and teachers can use this resource.
  • All kids can benefit from understanding circle of relationships.
  • Kids with autism who have a hard time understanding differences in social interactions.

How to use these targets:

  • Print out target cards (double-sided) and laminate each sheet.
  • Cut each sheet into individual (double-sided) index cards.
  • For kids who have a hard time understanding social interactions it may be helpful to not cover every card in one discussion.
  • Consider introducing or discussing 1-3 index cards at a time until they independently respond with the correct understanding of target item.
  • Prompt discussion or redirection of correct understanding as needed.

If you would like to download the index card materials you can find it here:

friendship-romantic-healthy-unhealthy-relationships-program-target-cards.pdf

If you would like an electronic or app friendly resource of the index card materials you can find it here:

https://quizlet.com/439821787/friendship-romantic-relationships-recognizing-healthy-unhealthy-behavior-flash-cards/?i=21hdso&x=1jqY

Note: Be sure to download the quizlet app on your mobile device before use.

* Tip: Many teens love their mobile devices. Use it to increase motivation for learning! If applicable of course.

* Tip: Star the cards you are working toward mastering OR star a few to break it down into smaller steps for them.

Feel free to reach out with any feedback or if you found this resource helpful. Email: ajarchow@braintrustmi.com

And please remember…

Loved By Grace,

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World Mental Health Day

My thoughts this week have been gravitating to a time period in my life that molded me in many ways after walking away from the experience. It was the first time someone told me I had put to words the pieces of them that they couldn’t understand in themselves. It was the first time others recognized my spiritual gift.

About a year and a half ago, God reminded me of this gift and through gentle guidance called me deeper to it. It went like this:

Pay attention to your spiritual gifts; have the courage and faith to serve from them.

I’ve found myself reflecting on this memory from my past for several days but it seems rather fitting today, on World Mental Health Day. Naturally it is tonight, on #worldmentalhealthday, I have the quiet moment in the week to put these thoughts into words.

The first time someone recognized this spiritual gift in me was at an inpatient mental health facility where we were both patients. Both people who needed help. I don’t know all of the medical details of this other persons story and only vaguely remember what I had said to them in group support discussion but we shared a common thread. We were both in our late teens and admitted for suicidal treatment intervention. Whatever I had said hit them hard and the person immediately looked at me and replied , “How do you understand something I haven’t until now when you just said it? You should be the counselor.”

It was a profound moment and the first time I felt a calling to the helping profession. Which was slightly awkward because I wasn’t exactly a picture perfect person of health. Then here I was helping other people. After all, this moment happened at a mental health hospital because I was a beautiful hot mess.

It is no coincidence so many of us helpers have our own dark mountains we have climbed and because of it we understand mental health is a mountain we don’t have to climb alone.

    How did it get to this point for me? Well, I had taken a razor blade to my wrist cutting the skin but had not hit the vein.
    What was going through my mind? I was tired of feeling like a damaged person incapable of being healthy. I was tired of feeling the reality of that damage as something I would struggle with for the rest of my life. I felt as though being damaged was evidence of my existence being a mistake. That God had made a mistake and I could not bear this feeling any longer in that moment.
    Did I want to die? No.
    Did I wish God would just end the mistake of my existence for me? Yes, that is what I felt in the moment.

The magnitude of my self-harm was absolutely serious and needed to be addressed in a treatment facility.

You might think an intervention program like this would focus on unconditional love, empathy and understanding for persons like me in so much mental pain. While this is true in totality of the experience, the actual process when it was happening is better described as tough love.

There was nobody there the first night holding my hand telling me everything was going to be okay or how sorry they felt for my pain. There was nobody telling me what I wanted to hear or enabling my unhealthy coping mechanisms. Far from it. All of my belongings were secured away from me. I could not have shoes on my feet with any laces or sleep with a pillow and blanket. I could not go to the bathroom without someone monitoring me. I could not shower without someone in the room with me and would have to dry off without a towel. I was assigned to a private room with no items that could be used to harm myself or others with sleep checks throughout the night. I could have water with supervision. Morning through bedtime was not to be spent in my room alone. The days were structured in group or individual treatment interventions, time with the psychiatric nurses or doctor and the rest of the time completing schoolwork.

At the time I remember thinking this was extreme. I didn’t actually do that much harm to myself and I had explained several times I just wanted a release from the pain I felt about myself. As sick as it sounds the release of attacking myself somehow served as a release of feeling everything so intensely. Albeit harmful instead of healthy release.

After the first few days I was gradually given opportunities back and allowed more independence but I stayed in this hospital for a full month before I was able to go home.

You see, tough love was necessary for all of us who were there to understand we can not be healthy individuals without facing hard truths about ourselves. Taking away all of the distractions, enabling, martyring, self loathing just to name a few in order to confront the distorted and/or delusional thought processes that got us to that point was necessary. This was unconditional love that an unhealthy person can not necessarily see. Allowing us to continue to escape a confrontation of our psyche would just bring us the same cycles repeating itself over again. Because the hard truth is that staying untreated would bring more unhealthy patterns, developing or intensifying more harmful behaviors and bringing with it more mental pain.

The experience taught me lessons about resiliency I would not have taken away without having been there. My World Mental Health Month lessons:

    A damaged self does not define my worth nor is it a reflection of being weak especially when I’m struggling because of it.
    I am accountable for self-awareness and getting help when I need it.
    My mental health is a priority. I can not ignore it, explain it away or look at it as an excuse to be unhealthy.
    I’m not less than when I need more help at times than others.
    It is okay to be a deeply feeling individual and feeling intensely can be overwhelming.
    Because I feel deeply, I recognize and empathize deeply for others.
    I can become overly involved with others needing or receiving empathy from me and therefore boundaries are important.
    I will live through any struggle and become stronger from it.
    On bad days something as small as having a pillow to hold is a start.
    Every day is a new day.
    I naturally see the beauty in others even when the person can’t see it in themselves.

My spiritual gifts are unmistakably healer and teacher. There are times in my life when this has been confused with experiencing God’s love. Truth is it points to love but never in place of God’s love.

With that a picture of my puppy and the story about our encounter with Sam that night. Which will have to be a post for another day but another God at work in our lives and for lives story.

#worldmentalhealthday ❤️

Loved by Grace,

Somebody Loves You

My course opens for the semester today. Next up…principles of developing, strengthening and maintaining behavior.

In behavior analysis, we learn that these tasks often accompany its counterpart which is decreasing responses that are maladaptive, problematic or destructive to an individual in treatment. It is important to understand why we are trying change a problematic behavior but perhaps even more important is developing a new behavior in its place. In many cases this means teaching the skills needed in order to acquire desired change. It is even more important to understand we are not trying to change a person to something they are not but rather helping them achieve a meaningful outcome that is important to them.

I sat in on a continuing education class this past week on the topic of social skills training for individuals with ASD. It could also be useful for individuals with various other DSM-5 diagnoses in which there are disturbances within interpersonal relationships.

The presenter had us begin the class with an experiential activity. The class was divided in to three groups and told there were different types of candy hidden throughout the room. The goal was to find as much candy as possible when each group was instructed to begin the task. Group one was able to begin first. A minute later group two was able to begin looking for the candy while group one could continue in the search. After two minutes group three could begin the task if they could find any candy left.

It is probably not surprising to hear group one had found the majority of the candy and group two had gathered the rest. It is also not surprising that group three was not able to find candy. It was what the presenter instructed them to do next that was the take away to this experience. They told group three to approach the others and ask to have some of the candy.

The various types of candy represents all of social behavior elements important for interpersonal relationships. Group one represents neurotypical individuals without skill deficits. Group two represents individuals with mild deficits and group three represents individuals with severe social disturbances. Group three most certainly felt the limitation on some level before they even attempted the task. They could understand to some degree that this limitation impacted them in their environment. If that wasn’t enough they were then faced with improving their candy situation themselves by interacting with the group who did not experience this limitation.

I don’t know about you but if I was in this scenario over and over again after a period of time I would probably say something not so nice like give me some candy now damn it! You already have enough. Or I might just go up and take the whole freaking pile to hell with it. I have the candy now but I still don’t feel great. So I might throw the candy across the room or maybe just throw it all away because I don’t deserve it. Hopefully you can see the cycle going on here…

In order to be an advocate for individuals we must not forget the overwhelming task of learning behavior we have never experienced. More over begin to understand how problematic behavior has formed to serve a person in the absence of something else. All behavior is communication with our environment.

The primary professor for my ABA program shared a great testimony of this in my Foundations of Behavior course. Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz spoke of an individual he worked with in this area of social development. He described an adult who had been referred to his care after a second suicide attempt with little to no improvement in his wellness goal. This individual had a history of chronic depression with little to no social interaction who self reported himself as withdrawn from the world. The person in this testimony may have had some type of DSM-5 diagnosis but a specific disorder was not mentioned in the testimony. What Dr. Martinez-Diaz did shared was that this individual grew up in a home with one parent who themselves struggled with severe mental illness. As a child the individual did not experience healthy parental attachment nor learned social skills for relationships from an early age. He came to Jose after several clinicians and having seen a psychiatrist with no improvement. Medication had not been effective, cognitive talk therapy not helpful and the now second recent suicide attempt. This individual stated they had never developed close relationships with others, was lonely, lived alone and felt an inability to connect with others. The meaningful outcome for them would be to experience a close relationship with a significant other.

After assessment Dr. Martinez-Diaz determined this individual had severe deficits in social skills. Assessment in the direct natural environment observing them attempt interactions with others. While many of us know how to initiate appropriate social interaction this individual did not. He literally approached an introductory conversation with hello I’m lonely, I want to get married and have sex with you. Seems self sabotaging right? But it wasn’t to him.

None of these other therapies had been effective because it wasn’t targeting the function of the problematic behavior, observing it directly and then teaching the behavior necessary for their desired outcome.

The intervention plan identified the deficits present and the goals for teaching these skills. The individual spent intensive time with the behavioral staff with training in conversational activities with contingency of reinforcement toward acquisition. He was trained on appropriate hygiene, conversational skills, role playing video recorded sessions practicing asking open ended questions and play back of inappropriate conversation examples. Play back of his improvement with making eye contact and active listening skills. These tasks were broken down in to small steps and as each element was mastered the next set of social skills was introduced. The final phase of the treatment consisted of the individual wearing a hearing device while walking through the college campus. Staff would instruct the individual to approach a trained volunteer and introduce himself. They would coach him on what to say next and so forth. Data was collected throughout the treatment on his progress. The final phase was to encourage him to generalize the skills learned to his natural environment.

Within two weeks of ending the final phase of treatment the individual reported that he had successfully scheduled a first date. Within a month he came back to Dr. Martinez-Diaz with a different problem. He had met two people and he now had too many dates for it not to conflict. Jose’s response was he no longer needed him!

This was a pivotal change in the persons life. He was able to overcome a limitation that was holding him back from meaningful connection with other people. Suicidal ideation was no longer present because he had developed behavior that he had not experienced without help. My professor and treatment team had quite literally saved a life.

Which is why he is so passionate about teaching applied behavior analysis.

Loved By Grace,

Aimee

Space Stalker

It is possible to control ones reactions and feelings even when one is faced with frightening hardships. The psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl has been credited with the following:

Between a stimulus and a response there is space.
It is in that space where we find our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Many call what I do for a living the behavior super hero’s. I don’t know about super hero but I do know we hold this space mentioned as sacred. We are some epic space stalkers. Major ninjas and we wear black on Friday’s. Just kidding we wear flannel Friday, it’s almost Fall.

We are space stalkers because we will keep you in this space until you get it right. Whatever “right” might be that brings about meaningful change in the persons lives.

Not going to lie, sometimes people get super pissed. I mean, don’t we all want this space to ourselves? I know I do! Do not space stalk me and error correct me when I’m doing it wrong. WTF right? Then it means I have to change. That’s too much work. No thank you. Insert scar on the arm and bruise on my elbow from the past week.

You know what? Jesus space stalks all of us when we let Him. It might even feel like He put our sweet little selves on extinction when we aren’t getting it right. That is a fancy word for ignoring. Nobody there, yep crickets. But the minute we try it His way Jesus is right there beside us. Actually He never left. Perhaps we were just escaping the space stalking? Food for thought.

One of my kiddos learned this escape trick the hard way. Yes, the consequence was horrible. She was probably thinking WTF? If I don’t escape this space stalker lady it means I have to change and that is too much work. No thank you! I’m out of here.

You are probably curious what happened? Well…she stood up to run from the work, fell down mid escape over a chair, landed on her wrist to brace the fall and fractured it. All while we were trying to help her in this space with the different choice. This happened about six months ago and while her broken wrist healed quickly, the memory of it remains for everyone involved. Today she is learning to ask for what she needs by asking for a break instead of trying to escape. Which essentially is her learning that asking for help in this space can be life changing. At the very least it is a heck of a lot better than the six weeks in an arm cast.

Instead of broken bones she has healing.

I often think of the scars on Jesus when He chose the cross. Jesus also had a choice in the space and He chose to heal us. It takes work to let the space stalker change us. In fact we might escape to a few broken bones until we learn differently.

When we accept the help and no longer engage in the escape…Jesus will be our space stalker.

I don’t know about my super hero title in people’s lives with ABA but I do know the super power of Jesus. If we embrace our imperfections, I know love will do the rest. ❤️

Proud to be a space stalker.

Loved by Grace,

Aimee

What Makes A Good Christian?

Have you ever wondered what makes someone a good Christian? Well you can really never know everything about this topic but there a few things that are known traits that make people good Christians.

One thing that makes someone a good Christian is they follow Jesus’ example at all times as best they can and love others with their whole heart. This makes sense because Jesus loves everyone equally so one thing you can do is try your hardest to love everyone equally in your life.

One other thing that will really help you in life is acknowledging that you have faults and sins and instead of just being sorry about those things repent, change your attitude and pray.

This next thing you can do is something a lot of people do on a daily basis. It is to read the Bible and do what it says and along with that allow God to change you. Now I know it sounds simple like it won’t help you become a better Christian but it actually helps you see other situations in life in more of a faithful manner.

Another thing that you need to be able to do is understand that you will be persecuted for your beliefs.

One other thing that you need to do on a day to day basis is set aside time for effective and meaningful prayer because not only will it aid you to becoming a better Christian, it will also give you relaxation time away from the rest of your life.

The next thing you can do every day whether you are with friends or even if you are just out and about is trying to see the perspectives of others around you. In other words the point of view of others. I know that sometimes I get into little fights with my friends and I sometimes need to just think about what they feel like and think of if I were to put myself in their shoes how hard this fight is for them. This helps you become a better Christian because you are thinking about others and not only yourself. This also goes along with being patient with people who do not make you happy or even with people who make you upset. This trick helps me a lot. Sometimes if you are just so upset about something and you can’t forget about it just work and pray for others to the best of your abilities because if they are that bad of people they really need it. This is a trick I got from my mom.

Lastly, it is very helpful to think about keeping your faith through everything because if you are constantly worrying about things you will never live your life to the fullest. All of these things together if you try to work at them every day you will slowly become a good Christian.

This was written by one of my students and to say I’m proud of them would be an understatement.

Loved by Grace,

Aimee

Helium

I asked her if she knew the song was about love? I asked her what the song meant to her in life? I asked her how she connects to it?

The answer was simple. It is about my faith, it’s about Jesus. Okay babe. You already understand the most important lesson about love. The motion picture soundtrack kind of helium…well, it only leads to an empty trail of destruction.

You lift me up and I am found
You lift me up before I hit the ground
You lift me up when I am down, down, downI am stronger because you fill me up
Your love lifts me up like helium
Your love lifts me up when I’m down, down, down, it lifts me up before I hit the ground
You’re all I need
‘Cause your love lifts me up like helium
So very true. ❤️
Loved By Grace,
Aimee

Fueling Up

We can either walk in the flow of God’s power or out of it. We don’t have to fight an uphill battle on our own to live good and pure lives. We don’t have to exhaust ourselves as we try to muster up as much goodness as we possibly can. The Christian life has never been about what we can do in our own power. It’s about fully stepping into the grace-filled flow of His power.

I found myself needing extra Jesus today as I finish out the week. I can never forget that I need to fuel up myself before I can help others. Because that’s precisely when the doubt creeps in and the million questions follow constantly rolling around in my brain. It always comes back to this: Do I handle myself in this world like Jesus would handle it? I’m trying as hard as I can Jesus but is it enough? It doesn’t feel like enough.

Thank you for the reminder this morning Jesus. Needed it. ❤️

Every day I’m faced with this truth at work. The day may go well or it may be a mess. Another child of God may decide to hurt others, hurt themselves or me that day as they learn the small steps of success. Their family has placed them in our care to do the hard work.

To all of the people in my world, we live this creed daily:

It’s not shocking that a disorder marked so deeply by intense emotional dysregulation is so polarizing. The truth is in the middle. Yes, many of us who love a person do not love the disorder because at times we have been devastatingly hurt. It is also true that those we love suffer unimaginable pain. That doesn’t excuse how they’ve hurt us, but some of us – including me – can also recognize all the good in those we love and understand that how they hurt us stem from a horrible disorder – not because they’re awful people.

That’s honesty what sent us on the journey of learning. It is hard to understand how a person we so deeply love and at times make us feel incredible – can also do such horrible things. Honestly, the more we learn the more empathy and deep sorrow we can feel for the struggle and what the internal reality of that must be like.

Does that excuse or lessen the horrible pain inflicted? No. But it helps understand and empathize. We don’t hate the child of God, but do hate the disorder.

I would not be equipped to do my job without a deep personal understanding of this creed. No matter how frightening some of the words within it seem, God’s hand is in everything. Love you Jesus. ❤️

WE ARE ALL A CHILD OF GOD, NOT AWFUL. We do the work, we put in the time.

To my babies at work, to myself and to anyone who needs to hear it. Small victories are always enough. ❤️

Loved by Grace,

Aimee

The Journey To BCBA

I knew it had been about a year since my last blog post. A year and one month to be almost exact. First year down, one to go. What a year, what a journey.

“What can change in a year?”

“Everything,” I reply.

“Even the people you love?”

“Especially the people you love.”

A year ago I was accepted to an ABA graduate program preparing for licensure as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. It was a whirlwind process to say the least but God has always been in complete control. One of my favorite aspects of this entire experience was how it all just fell right in to place. Almost effortlessly. Even so, the biggest unknown a year ago was finding a field practicum site. Remember how I mentioned God is in control? Before I had even received a list of school or agency possibilities from the program I happened to drive right past a Center on the way to my child’s athletic facility. It was then I immediately knew God’s answer to the prayer. Sure enough, there was the name of that Center on the list of approved practicums waiting in my email the very next day. Sure enough, I sent the application. The rest is history…nope just kidding but I am half way there! Only 27 more unit tests, 3 final exams and a killer BCBA licensing exam to go…Did I mention God is in control? Yep, sure is because this girl could not be accomplishing all of this on my own.

Helping write behavior programs this summer while giving the old brain a break from studying and weekly exams. This mind of mine? It for real hurts from learning at the rapid pace. Writing evidence based programs is making it feel all the more real because I’m not only writing the programs, I’m also using them with the kids I work with each week.

I’m so proud of them and the progress they make every day in a world that doesn’t always understand. They are my hero’s. 🌈💙 #lightitupblue

Loved by Grace

Aimee

Confessions of a Teacher, Party Edition

At times, I can be more sensitive than my own good which a trusted person often says is what makes me a truth teller. This right here above was not one of those play it safe kind of non truth telling days.

I feel like remembering that day by writing because God is making it abundantly clear what His call for me might be coming next and why I’m to keep the doubting away.

The other week was part of an end of a school year tradition, parties for meeting reading goals. However, if you didn’t make the goal, you didn’t make the party. It’s not so much the no party part that bothered me but rather the shame witnessed because of it. I’m not involved in all of the reasons why certain kids had not made the goal but I was involved in the exclusion. Why? Because I was the teacher in the room with them at the time of the exclusion.

Regardless of the reasons why, it is already hard enough to be different. In this case, why they were different mattered zip, zero, zippo reading points in the slightest to me. Because here they were being subjected to words from the non different peanut gallery about all the reasons why they weren’t going. Reminder after constant reminder that they were not invited to the party.

Oh my ever loving Jesus this is not okay, nothing about this feels okay. The look on their faces speaks the words that aren’t spoken because I’m too much in tuned for my own truth telling good. Let’s just say had I known, we would have had some cake that day but instead I got to be the one to exclude.

You know what I thought to myself? Not me Satan! It might not be a piece of cake party but we just fine having our own mental health pow wow. I still made them do their school work as any teacher needs to do but not until we had a little group chat and it went something like this…

  • You are wondering what we will be during this hour because you were whispering the question earlier. Feeling like you needed to whisper is hard.
  • We aren’t invited to the piece of cake party and we can’t change that.
  • What do you guys think about the reading party goals? How does it make you feel?
  • You are all exactly right, reading comes differently to everyone and it is not always easy.
  • We should not stop trying but not feeling like trying is understandable, especially when it is hard.
  • Take a break and try again.
  • When you keep trying, it can all change but only when you don’t give up.
  • Here is an example of someone like you, still not easy, but proof in change.
  • We are still celebrating, here are tickets and coupons just for being you.
  • AND, maybe a few last minutes of free time.

Those four kiddos worked hard that next hour and while shame might still come their young way, in that hour, they knew truth. Their different is completely what makes them special. In that hour, it was all they needed to be.

Confessions of a Teacher, Party Edition

Loved By Grace,

Aimee

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