Posts Tagged ‘’

Helping Kids (Autistic or Typical) Regulate Emotions

December 21, 2009

Here are some strategies that are good to teach children to handle their emotions.  These can work for kids with autism, who have a hard time regulating emotions, as well as for neurotypical children.

1.  Validate their feelings.  Don’t diminish what they say by saying they should not be upset.  Tell them you understand they are upset and that it’s normal to be upset.  Identify with them by saying that everybody feels badly sometimes – even adults.

2.  Give them strategies to self-regulate their emotions.  Examples include having them:

  • Take deep breaths.  Have them breathe into their hands or use a windmill or a leaf.
  • Count to 10 or 20.
  • Talk about it with a parent, teacher, or peer.
  • Exercise

3.  Use a video camera to tape them complaining about doing an activity and also tape them acting appropriately.  Show them both versions so they can understand how others perceive them (theory of mind).

By the way, if anyone has any other ideas, feel free to contact me (contact information is at


Autism: What Works and Why

November 1, 2009

I was pleased to see that the theme for the upcoming annual Interdisciplinary Council on Learning Disorders (ICDL) Conference is “Autism:  What Works and Why.”  I’ve been to too many government meetings on autism that focus on the size of the amygdala or genetic components rather than treatments, therapies, and services for children and adults with autism.  The ICDL does an excellent job of working to help improve the lives of children with autism.  I’ll be attending the three-day conference from November 6-8 for the third straight year.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan is the author of the book “Engaging Autism” and the founder of the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model of autism therapy.

The DIR model aims to improve social, emotional, and intellectual abilities in a way that is meaningful for the child rather than focusing on isolated skills and behaviors.  I wrote about the DIR model three years ago on my website,

The DIR method focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships, and individual differences. DIR is based on following the child’s lead and enables the child to learn by doing what he or she likes to do in a fun and meaningful way that resonates most with the child. DIR focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness and attention. The DIR method can also help a child generalize skills initially learned through drills.

There are imitators who switch the DIR letters around, but DIR is the original.  I picked up Greenspan’s “Engaging Autism” again recently and looked at a few of the parts I underlined.  Here are a few of them that are certainly worth repeating:

  • We now understand that the lines of early development are interrelated.  Rather than assessing language skills, motor skills, and social-emotional skills separately, we should look at how well these abilities are integrated, how they work together as a whole.
  • Emotion always comes before behavior.  The child needs to enjoy relationships with parents, peers, and teachers in order to learn. Emotion is critical to brain development.
  • We always recommend that kids have at least four playdates a week, so that their main source of companionship begins shifting from parents to peers…Mommy is still important for security, warmth, and problem solving, but not for going out and riding bikes together.
  • We have never worked with a child or adult who didn’t have a desire to relate to others.

Other than the courses I took at Johns Hopkins University in its Graduate Certificate program in Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders, the ICDL training is just about the best that I’ve experienced.

My Favorite Websites

October 5, 2009

My favorite websites:

Domain Names for Sale

Greenspan’s DIR Model for Autism: Part 1

September 20, 2009

For therapists and families to be effective in working with kids with autism, they should be able to do any methodology.

There is an alphabet soup of different methods to teach kids with autism – Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA); the Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based (DIR) Model; Relationship Development Intervention (RDI); Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication – Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and others.

Regardless of which methodologies are used, programs need to have goals and targets and teach in such a way so that kids can generalize skills to apply what they have learned to a natural environment.  Teaching methods should also integrate academics and cognitive skills; emotional awareness and social skills; exercise, sports, and motor skills; along with spontaneous, imaginative, and creative play.  Skills should be taught in a meaningful way rather than a robotic, rote way.

Children need to develop a relationship with caregivers in order to learn.  The revolving door philosophy of bringing people in and out so that a child has had 100 caregivers by the time he is 10 does not work.  Stanley Greenspan says, “Emotion always come before behavior.  The child needs to enjoy relationships with parents, peers, and teachers in order to learn.”  Emotion is critical to brain development.  It’s more than “cute” when a child is engaged with a caregiver.  The child learns better.

I have been an advocate of Greenspan’s DIR method for the past few years.   The Interdisciplinary Council on Learning Disorders ( says this about DIR.

DIR is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach that focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships with caregivers, developmental level and individual differences in a child’s ability to process and respond to sensory information.  It focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness, and attention.

The goal of treatment is to help the child master the healthy emotional milestones that were missed in his early development and that are critical to learning.  Building these foundations helps children overcome their symptoms more effectively than simply trying to change the symptoms alone.

Then it says this about Floortime:

Floortime, a vital element of the DIR/Floortime model, is a treatment method as well as a philosophy for interacting with children (and adults as well). Floortime involves meeting a child at his current developmental level, and building upon his particular set of strengths.  Floortime harnesses the power of a child’s motivation; following his lead, wooing him with warm but persistent attempts to engage his attention and tuning in to his interests and desires in interactions. Through Floortime, parents, child care providers, teachers and therapists help children climb the developmental ladder.  By entering into a child’s world, we can help him or her learn to relate in meaningful, spontaneous, flexible and warm ways.

Floortime is a component of DIR but not the same.  In Floortime, you follow the lead of the child.  In DIR, once kids move past the initial stages of the developmental ladder, you create programs that revolve around the child’s interests, in which he is emotionally engaged, with meaningful two-way interaction, customized toward his individual differences.  The kids don’t tell you what to do; you just do things that are meaningful to them.  Again, Floortime is only a subset of DIR.  In the lower developmental levels of DIR (Floortime), you follow the child’s lead (but even then that means you follow and join what the child is interested in – the child doesn’t tell you what to do), and in the higher levels there are more structured, therapist or parent-led programs.

Two and a half years ago, I wrote on my website at (see #4) a little about DIR and Floortime, as well as a summary of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

I combine elements of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as well as the Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship (DIR) based method. I believe a combination of ABA and DIR methods is optimal because ABA provides step-by-step instruction while DIR focuses on relationships, emotions and interests. Children need both structure and meaning when they learn.

ABA is used to teach academic, communication, problem solving, behavioral, social, play, and other skills by breaking tasks down into small steps and practicing drills. ABA also uses positive reinforcement and just as much prompting as is necessary. Inappropriate behaviors may be phased out by redirecting to target activities rather than drawing more attention to those behaviors. Antecedents, behaviors, and consequences are tracked to try to determine the reasons behind behaviors and implement appropriate interventions. However, some behaviors may be accommodations children need to manage their body or sensory difficulties. Therefore, I focus on building skills more so than reducing behaviors.

The DIR method focuses on the emotional development of the child. It takes into account the child’s feelings, relationships and individual differences. DIR involves following the child’s lead and enables the child to learn by doing what he or she likes to do in a fun and meaningful way. According to, “DIR focuses on the child’s skills in all developmental areas, including social-emotional functioning, communication, thinking and learning, motor skills, body awareness and attention.” The DIR method can also help a child generalize skills initially learned through drills.

Part of the DIR model includes Floortime, which is based on working with a child at his or her current developmental level, and building upon strengths and interests in a way that is meaningful to the child, rather than just focusing on surface behaviors and drills that don’t always generalize into life skills. Floortime can be especially effective during periods when a child needs more play and less work.

5.     Which is better – ABA or the DIR model?

In my opinion, this question is kind of like asking, “Which is better in football – running the ball or passing the ball?” or “Which is better in basketball – a zone defense or man to man?” They’re both necessary in different situations, and a balance of both may be most effective. For example, you can do repetitive drills broken down into small steps based on the child’s individual differences, interests and relationships, making sure to incorporate social skills and emotions.

In doing so, children can learn valuable skills such as sequencing the steps needed to complete a task. Children with autism benefit from structure, but they will be more engaged if the drill involves something in which they are emotionally invested. The DIR model is harder to quantify than ABA, but DIR is built on relationships, spontaneity and interaction. Children are not robots, and drills can’t be done in a vacuum.

For example, you can teach a child who is obsessed with a particular toy communication and problem solving skills in the following way: Hide the toy in one of your hands and get the child to reach for it and choose which hand it is in. Then you can do the same thing by holding the toy behind your back, or placing it near your face to establish eye contact. Subsequent steps may include getting the child to make sounds or use speech if possible to request the toy. The toy is used as a reward. This example is based on one in Engaging Autism by Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

For the rest of the FAQs on my website, see

Lately, it seems that RDI has taken off as the method of choice.  I can’t really see how RDI is much different than DIR, except maybe that the order of the letters sounds a little bit more catchy.  If anything, RDI seems like an implementation of DIR.  However, this summary from Chicago Floortime Families points out some differences as well as many similarities.

According to (I went there because the RDI website at doesn’t do a good job of describing RDI), children can develop the following through RDI:

  • Dramatic improvement in meaningful communication,
  • Desire and skills to share their experiences with others,
  • Genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for other people,
  • Ability to adapt easily and “go with the flow,”
  • Amazing increase in the initiation of joint attention,
  • Powerful improvement in perspective taking and theory of mind,
  • Dramatically increased desire to seek out and interact with peers.

This looks a lot like DIR to me.  In any case, whether it’s DIR, RDI, or you want to create a new acronym such as IRD or IDR, the goals of each system are the same.

Websites for Non-Profits

June 17, 2009

Websites For Non-Profits is a company that did a great job for me in improving search engine optimization for my websites, and  Their website is  They asked all the right questions and then made behind the scenes changes to increase how searchable my sites are.  They specialize in doing websites, website makeovers, marketing assistance, and SEO for non-profits. and Autism

May 22, 2009

This table shows what types of therapies I do for children with autism compared with some other providers.  I currently have spots available for toddlers and kindergarteners for playdates and other activities during the day.  See for more information.

  Area of Instruction or Therapeutic Intervention
  Cognitive Skills and Academics using ABA, VBA, or other techniques Playdate Facilitation Understanding and Handling Emotions Sports, Exercise, Motor Skills, Coordination Trips in the Community
Coach Mike Yes – Great Results Yes Yes Yes Yes
Most Autism Therapy Programs Yes – Good results No No No No

ABA = Applied Behavior Analysis.  VBA = Verbal Behavior Analysis

Mike Frandsen


May 17, 2009

(I was the first to publish this news, about 12 hours before ESPN formally made the announcement).

By Mike Frandsen

Monday Night Football color commentator Tony Kornheiser was fired yesterday and will be replaced by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John Gruden for the upcoming 2009 season, an unnamed source told shortly after midnight this morning. Gruden joins Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski on ESPN’s team.

Kornheiser will reportedly receive a severance package of one million dollars.  Kornheiser, a former sportswriter for the Washington Post, co-hosts “Pardon the Interruption,” a popular nightly sports show on ESPN with Michael Wilbon.

John A. Walsh, Senior VP and Executive Editor of ESPN, reportedly agonized over letting his good friend go.

In my opinion, it’s a good move. While Kornheiser used humor and targeted the casual fan, the switch to Gruden should please most football fans because of his candor and knowledge of the game. Kornheiser too often stated the obvious, and talked to listeners as if they were in kindergarten.

After the 2006 season, color commentator Joe Theismann was replaced in the Monday Night booth by Ron Jaworski.  Rumors circulated that Kornheiser preferred Jaworski.  While Jaworski does an excellent job, Theismann was even better, and here’s hoping that ESPN considers bringing Theismann back to the booth.

Please see my websites:,, and

Books on Emotions for Children with Autism

April 25, 2009

Children with autism are often very poor at identifying, understanding, and regulating emotions.  They are usually especially deficient in empathizing, or understanding that other people have emotions.  It’s an area that doesn’t get enough attention.  I’ve been meaning to post some of these on my website,, but for now I’ll list them here in this blog along with my ratings.  I’ve listed the levels as beginner, intermediate, and advanced just for simplicity.  For kids who can’t read you can still read the books to them and break them down into simple terms.  These books are great for neurotypical kids as well, of course. 

These books on emotions are different than ones on social stories or social skills.  There are a lot of great books on learning to share, having good manners, and being safe and careful.  Those are all necessary and great but books on emotions take it a step further.  “When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry,” by Molly Bang is a great example that shows a girl getting mad and then getting over it.  Another great book is “Proud of Our Feelings” by Lindsay Leghorn, which shows each child with a different feeling and asks the reader, “When do you feel _____?” 

For teaching children about emotions, when in doubt, I advocate the philosophy of John Gottman in “Raising the Emotionally Intelligent Child.”  The main idea of the book is that it’s best to validate a child’s emotions by telling him or her, “It’s ok to be upset.  I know you’re upset.  Everybody gets upset sometimes,” then offer a strategy, rather than to just say, “Don’t be upset.”  





How are You Peeling?

Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

Fruits and vegetables are made to look like facial


The Feelings Book

Todd Parr

Colorful, simple concepts on emotions.


When Sophie Gets Angry, Really Really Angry

Molly Bang

Sophie gets angry, then cools down.


If You’re Angry and You Know It

Cecily Kaiser

Strategies for what do do when you get angry


On Monday When It Rained

Cherryl Kachenmeister

A boy experiences emotions, the reader guesses which ones.


When Lizzie was Afraid of Trying New Things

Inger Maier

Lizzie is afraid, tries things, then gains confidence


Proud of Our Feelings

Lindsay Leghorn

Each child has a different feeling


Having a Conversation/Feeling Happy, etc.



Customized books for kids with autism


When I’m Feeling Scared

Trace Moroney

A rabbit feels scared in different situations


When I’m Feeling Sad

Trace Moroney

A rabbit feels sad in different situations


I’m So Mad!

Robie H. Harris

Girl goes shopping with Mommy, is mad, then happy.


Sometimes Bad Things Happen

Ellen Jackson

Bad things happen, you can do things to feel better


Timothy Tugbottom Says No!

Anne Tyler

He says no, then tries things and likes them


The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be Sad

Rob Goldblatt

A boy realizes the same things that make him sad also make
him happy.


When I Feel Angry

Cornelia Maude Spelman

Rabbit feels angry and uses strategies to cope


When I Feel Scared

Cornelia Maude Spelman

Bear feels scared and uses strategies


When My Worries Get too Big

Kari Dunn Buron

Strategies for anxiety


What to Do When You Worry Too Much

Dawn Huebner

In-depth explanation of worrying and what to do about it


Andy and His Yellow Frisbee

Mary Thompson

A girl has a brother with autism


The Bear Who Lost His Sleep

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Story about worrying too much


The Penguin Who Lost Her Cool

Marla Sobel

Story about controlling anger


Stop Picking on Me

Pat Thomas

Explanation of bullying


I’m Scared

Elizabeth Crary

Several situations about being afraid and what to do


I’m Frustrated

Elizabeth Crary

Several situations about being frustrated and what to do



Hiring People with Disabilities – the Federal Government Needs to do Better

December 30, 2008

The federal government needs to do a better job of ensuring that people with disabilities can contribute to their missions.  The government should also revise its classifications of disabilities, and ensure that people on the autism spectrum are given fair opportunities for employment in the government.

Most federal agencies have virtually ignored the Schedule A hiring authority, a federal program used to “hire people who have a severe disadvantage in getting employment.”  Schedule A was developed by the government to help reduce the more than 70% unemployment rate of people with disabilities.  These are people who want to work and are more than capable of working.  Several years after federal agencies were made aware of their lack of action on the Schedule A issue, there has been little if any action taken.

I submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to all federal agencies asking how many times the Schedule A was used to hire people with disabilities.

According to my survey at, most federal agencies underutilized the Schedule A program or did not use it at all.  In almost all cases in which the hiring authority was used, hires of people with physical disabilities outnumbered those with cognitive and psychiatric disabilities by a very wide margin.  Here are a few examples:

  • HHS reported that it hired 213 people with disabilities through Schedule A from 2000 to 2008. 198 had physical disabilities; 15 had cognitive disabilities, and not one had a psychiatric disability.
  • The Department of the Interior, which has 75,000 employees, used the Schedule A to hire exactly three people with disabilities.
  • From 2003 to 2008 the Department of Commerce hired 36 employees with disabilities under Schedule A. All were in the physical category except for one in the psychiatric category (none were hired with cognitive disabilities). Commerce has 36,000 employees.

The government needs to be proactive in hiring people with disabilities, including those with developmental disabilities.  In the hundreds of pages of responses I received from government agencies, not once was there a mention of someone hired who had autism.

In the descriptions of disabilities listed by agencies in their responses, the term “autism” never came up, though many agencies did not go into detail.

The classification of disabilities under Schedule A excludes most people on the autism spectrum. The government lists people with disabilities in three categories. The first, “severe physical disability,” would only sometimes apply to a person with autism.

The second category, “mental retardation,” may apply to a percentage of people on the spectrum, but it is now believed by many experts that far fewer people with autism than previously believed have mental retardation.  By the way, this term still used by the government is being phased out in favor of “intellectual disability” or “cognitive disability.”

Finally, the third category, “psychiatric disability” does not cover all those with autism, which should be classified as a “developmental disability,” a term that would be much more accurate and inclusive.

The government should ensure that people with autism and other disabilities are adequately represented in federal agencies.

Please spend one minute of your time and go to, click on the special report, and look for yourselves.

You may say that it costs too much to include people with disabilities in the workforce.  But in fact, it costs too much not to do it.