Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Autism Looks Like: Face Blindness

According to the Dana Foundation, up to two-thirds of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulty recognizing the faces of people they interact with on a daily basis.1 The medical term for this condition is developmental prosopagnosia, often referred to as face-blindness. For these individuals, matching a name to the face of someone close to them, such as parents or siblings, can be difficult. Instead other characteristics such as voice, smell, body type, or clothing may be used to identify people they know.

For my son Hayden, facial recognition was always difficult.  No matter how often they came over, he ran upstairs as soon as his grandparents, uncles, or neighbors came in the door. He viewed everyone as a stranger. Once at Cornerstone he saw a new person and asked his therapist, “Is that my mom?” He also used to follow people at the park who had a similar body-type to my brother. I had to watch him at all times, because even though he wasn’t a ‘runner’ (a child who may run off), he would follow complete strangers to their car in the parking lot if they were similar to his Uncle Bill in size and shape.

In the hopes of improving his ability to recognize faces, I started reviewing with him some pictures of his close family. We worked on learning Uncle Bill’s face, and how to recognize the real Uncle Bill. If I knew that Grandma and Grandpa were coming over on Saturday, we started on Monday night the week before, looking at pictures of them and labeling them. Every night I’d point to a picture and say, “Who’s this?  Grandma.”  He was not yet vocal but enjoyed pointing at all the faces repeatedly so I could tell him their names.

When Saturday came around, he was less likely to be upset that Grandma showed up. He was familiar with the concept of Grandma, and had seen her face all week. After months doing this activity, he would go to her when she arrived, rather than running in the opposite direction! Eventually he could label Uncle Bill’s picture as well, and is still able to recognize him today, despite seeing him just a few times a year. And I am glad to say he no longer follows strangers out into parking lots!

To study the faces, I made a head shot page for each family group. (For example, there were separate pages for each of the following:  relatives that we only saw once a year, my side of the family, and my husband’s side.) You could also have a page for neighbor kids, teachers, or medical practitioners.  It is important for the photo to just be of the face and nothing else. As mentioned before, other aspects of the body may be clues for recognition. For example, an individual with Autism may look at weight, height, shoes, jacket, or other clues, rather than focusing on the face.  A face shot will help the person focus on facial features for identification. The free photo program Picasa2 allowed me to pull the headshots from the photos on my computer so that all the faces were the same size on the paper. 

I then laminated each page with contact paper and had it ready to practice before big holidays and family events such as Thanksgiving and birthday parties.  I changed the photos once a year for anyone who changed in appearance. 

Identifying family members, pets, and therapists is actually an early program at Cornerstone for many clients. If your child is new to a center, be sure to send in pictures for this program. Practicing this at home is a great way to generalize the skills learned in the center to your home. If you have questions, check in with your child’s BCBA.

 Below is an example labeled family group.

For more information, go to:  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Fall Updates 2014

Hayden has thrown his glasses at daycare twice so we're holding off on wearing the glasses for now. He had some aggressive behaviors a week ago but since then has had a good week at school. His insurance approved for him to receive home therapy through Cornerstone Autism Center, so we will soon have a therapist coming to our house a few evenings a week to help him.  I am beyond thrilled to have this help for him! Things they might work on include anger management, taking his pills (focusing on the task), doing his homework, learning about big problems vs little problems, and other types of things. I am grateful that this is happening for our family and can't wait to learn new things for Hayden. His case conference meeting was stressful again. I am hopeful that the school and Cornerstone are able to collaborate and work for Hayden's best interest. I will write more when it's all said and done. I think the issues with school are what have kept me from writing recently. Since I'm unable to write about that, and it's my main stress in the land of Autism, I have been at a loss for what else to say here. This post is my attempt to say a few things about everything else in our world right now! Sorry it's not uplifting and inspiring, but at least you know we're still here!  :)

Both kids went to the dentist and had no cavities. It was Rylie's first time and she did well. It was helpful for her to see her brother being very brave. I have a dentist FUA post to write about him if I ever get to it.

I'm trying to add a new supplement for each child from their doctor's recommendations once a week, rather than once a month. We've also taken some things out and adjusted. The kids' biomedical programs seem to be going very well. Joe has benefited from his supplement program and fell asleep last weekend with just essential oils. I've noticed an improvement in how wounds heal thanks to keeping up with my vitamins instead of skipping them as often. :)  Currently we're focusing on Hayden's hyperactive behaviors and focus, and adding some rice flour back into Rylie's diet to see how she handles it. She has done well so far but she's only getting a small amount each week. The purpose really is just that she is always feeling left out because she can't eat what the rest of us are eating, so I'm hoping the addition of rice will allow her to have a lot more food options.

We are working on getting Rylie to stop sucking her thumb. She only does it at nap and bedtime now, but it's affecting her teeth so we want to do what we can. She has a sticker chart and the promise of a 'big girl bike' but progress is slow. She has good intentions in the daylight but once in bed that thumb is in there securely.

We've been working on eating meals together and having family game night when we can. Joe and I are slowly trying to move everything toward being healthier and more sustainable. Some day we'd like to have a large garden plot, bees, chickens... This was our first year with a garden so we'll take baby steps.

Both kids seemed to have grown a foot in the last month, which is great, especially for Rylie! We are looking forward to the holiday season ahead, spending time together and giving thanks for what we have.

And now it's time for pizza and The Walking Dead.  Thanks for reading, have a good night!  :) Sheila