Book Reviews

 Book reviews by Elaine Nicholson, CEO & Counsellor

Most books available from jkp.com

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Wenn and Beatrice Lawson have surpassed themselves with their book – Transitioning Together…One couple’s journey of gender and identity discovery.  I was enraptured by it and looked forward to turning each and every page.  It is a love story above anything else, but a love story that offers itself to the reader in a way that transforms one’s thinking whether you are transgender au-fait or not. It is helpful, tender, sensitive and kind and shows that love really can conquer all. I will be recommending this book to my counselling clients without doubt…many of whom have been seeking this information for years. I feel sure this book will enrich lives. Well done Wenn and Beatrice!

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I enjoyed reading Luke’s book immensely and will be recommending it to the majority of my teen/young adult counselling clients in the hope that it will go some way towards assisting them through the years of ‘storm and strife’ that accompanies this particular passage of time.

Luke has managed to cover many facets of ‘growing up’, including dating and sex among other things. However, his book is not for the parent who wishes to keep their 15-year-old wrapped in a blanket of innocence, for Luke tells it ‘how it is’, with a no holds barred approach. Using correct descriptors for body parts and various sexual acts, there is an absence of euphemisms.

Luke writes from an autobiographical perspective, not claiming to be an expert. What is clear though is that he is an ‘expert by experience’ and conveys his knowledge deftly like a wise old professor!

If I had to make a criticism of Luke’s book, it is that I would have liked him to have included subjects such as pornography/internet/social media and sexually transmitted diseases also. It is, however, only a small criticism, bearing in mind that there already exists a good selection of books ‘out there’ (jkp.com) that cover these topics by different authors.

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http://www.jkp.com/uk/the-forgiveness-project-33949.html

The Forgiveness Project

By Marina Cantacuzino

What an excellent book! Cantacuzino’s book depicts complicated lives from various nationalities and all walks of life. Allowing a chapter per vignette, each chapter conveys the same message: that forgiveness is key to a more peaceful, calmer and happier existence.

Cantacuzino’s work shows that forgiveness is doable, despite the intensity of past trauma. As the reader journeys through the personal narratives of those who do the forgiving, the reader learns that forgiveness is a notion that offers both comfort and release. The reader also learns that forgiveness is an infinitely better option than a lifetime of intractable resentment, torment and hostility; three emotional states experienced by those who find themselves doing the unforgiving.

I will most definitely be recommending this book to any counselling clients for whom the concept of unforgiveness applies. I have no doubt that Cantacuzino’s book will be a useful adjunct to counselling therapy, helping to pave the way to an improved emotional sense of self for the reader-come-client.

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Help! I’ve got an Alarm bell Going Off in My Head.

How Panic, Anxiety and Stress Affect Your Body.

By K.L. Aspden

What a super little read for children! This book is all about the ‘fight and flight’ response that follows a feeling of high anxiety, fear or intense stress in children.

As a counsellor working in the field of autism, I frequently explain to children about how brain function is altered during times of fear and anxiety, using a flip-chart or whiteboard to demonstrate. But this book is not just for counsellors or therapists.

Fight and flight is a concept that most lay people are aware of. Aspden’s book explains ‘fight and flight’ simply and interestingly, with good visuals to aid understanding. It is a short book – 48 pages long and about a ten-minute read.

I have no doubt that I will be incorporating ‘Help! I’ve got an Alarm Bell Going Off in my Head’ in my therapeutic work with children, and can see it as being particularly useful for those who perhaps suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (conditions that elicit fight and flight responses). It will also be helpful in creating cognisance in the autistic thinker about how their brain function becomes altered when in near-to-meltdown states, which may advantageously assist their self-regulation strategies. Knowledge, can, after all, create power!

I am already considering buying several copies so that my young clients may take a copy away with them after their therapy, to peruse and consider in the comfort of their own home, if applicable in their case.

 

Book review on LEGO-Based therapy

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Like an excited child, fanning through the pages of a Toys-R-Us catalogue in the month of November, the words “I want, I want, I want” were to the forefront of my mind as I turned the last page of this book. It is a therapy-in-a-book. A ‘how to’ manual.

LEGO-Based Therapy is not new. LeGoff et al developed their innovative therapeutic approach in the mid 1990’s and it arose from an ‘inadvertent observation’ of two boys in Dr. LeGoff’s private practice in Honolulu, who, though unconnected to each other, discovered each other through their Lego play. The book on LEGO-Based Therapy defines a particular therapeutic approach. It is a ‘social development programme’ according to its authors, and its aim is to provide a social development intervention for children with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs). It is a ‘collaborative therapy in which children work together to build LEGO models’ (p.27), although can be used in either individual or group therapy modalities. The authors claim that LEGO-Based Therapy may also be utilized to assist other similar conditions that affect the social competency aspect of a child’s development, and so therefore this therapeutic style is not restricted to autists.

LEGO-Based Therapy stems from the notion that children with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) often lack the motivation to improve their social functioning and here we have a therapeutic model that requires both social interaction and communication with peers, something autistic children are inherently not good at and usually shy away from. However, despite this, what gives this therapy a ‘leg up’ is that it is engaging, inviting, and a safe experience for such a client group. Not only that, but it takes a lead from the work of Tony Attwood (Attwood, 1998, p. 96) and his concept of ‘construction application’ and the fact that if a therapist is using a child’s special interests to motivate learning and change for the child, then ardent engagement and subsequent follow-through on the part of the child is likely to follow. In 2008, Gomez de la Cuesta and Baron-Cohen from the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, embarked upon what was to be a third assessment of LEGO-Based Therapy, and they found that children showed improvements in maladaptive behaviour, autism-specific social difficulties and duration of social interaction with peers.

LEGO-Based Therapy teaches turn taking, sharing, making eye contact when needed and social rules adherence (using greetings). This is not random play. It is play with a structure and purpose and yields positive results after only three months’ engagement according to LeGoff et al’s research statistics that were generated both pre-treatment and post-treatment. An impressive 69% improvement was seen in the frequency of self-initiated contact with peers during free play sessions from pre to post-treatment. Other psychology-based tools were used to measure efficacy of the treatment in other areas of functioning, such as Vineland and GARS-SI, and these also showed a ‘statistically significant difference’ for the better.

Specialist roles with associated tasks are assigned to LEGO Club participants, such as ‘parts supplier’, ‘builder’, and ‘engineer’. Children are encouraged to swap roles and tasks and engage in intelligent conflict resolution and social problem solving with very little adult intervention. Also key to this model is to establish self-regulation and peer-mediated corrective feedback very early on, with children reminding each other about the ‘rules’ of engagement as opposed to the therapist doing the reminding. The ultimate aim is for children to develop a relationship that is independent of the LEGO-Based Therapy, with children meeting for ordinary ‘play dates’, which would then indicate a measure of success in their social communications.

There are three activities in a LEGO-Based Therapy group: (1) repairing and restoring existing sets (2) Building new sets and (3) Building ‘freestyle’ creations in groups. In addition there has to be a positive and effective social milieu in place, with staff that are both competent and experienced at the helm (they recommend 2 adults to every 6 children). LEGO-Based Therapy has four core programme levels of achievements with goals and challenges specific to each level. The first level is ‘mode 1 – individual therapy and pivotal skills’. Moving up through the levels is dependent on mastery of collaborative tasks set, for example, once a child needs fewer non-verbal prompts, this marks the start of their learning about turn-taking, and once they have shown that they can turn-take, then they can graduate to ‘collaborative freestyle building’. The children decide movement through the levels, although the therapist has a final veto if dissension occurs. Symbolic diplomas are awarded as higher levels are achieved. Diplomas may also be awarded for ‘engineering quality’ by drop-testing a Lego creation to see how much it can/cannot withstand with gravity. The highest level is that of ‘LEGO Master’ for which they will have initiated/coordinated a larger construction including 300+ pieces. A fifth level of “LEGO Genius’ was created to appease a few LEGO Masters in LeGoff et al’s original study and may take the form of a script and/or short, animated screenplay.

In chapter 7, the reader is informed of how to set up a LEGO-Based Therapy group and is apprised of three options regards play space: (1) a permanent LEGO-Based Therapy room (2) a temporary LEGO-Based Therapy room or (3) a portable LEGO-Based Therapy ‘space’. The authors claim to have tried all three settings and discuss in detail the advantages and disadvantages of each. How a LEGO space should be designed is made clear, and I for one, after having read the book, am in favour of (1). Why? Because after having read the book my preference would be to neutralise this therapy, and keep it very much to itself, save a blurring of therapeutic lines.

 

“…A critical factor in the long range success of a ‘LEGO Club’ is retaining set directions” (page 96).

As the reader approaches the end of the book, ‘Assessment Procedures’ are discussed (assessment forms for re-producing are in the Appendices). There are two elements to this. The first is the initial assessment, and the second is the progress assessment. There should also be annual re-assessments. There are also targeted areas for observation: the first is the ‘frequency of self-initiated social contact’, the second is the ‘duration of social interaction’, and the third target is ‘the frequency of stereotyped movements and potentially stigmatizing mannerisms’. The authors’ stress that observations should be consistent however, in that the same rating criteria are used throughout e.g. Wechsler intelligence tests and Gilliam ASC Rating Scales for example, to measure levels of therapeutic success or lack of as the case may be.

Experiences of running LEGO Clubs are also discussed, with Ruth Howard, Regional Officer of the National Autistic Society (page 112) advising that club leaders should carefully consider the cliquishness of children also…will the children’s differing personality types mean that they will like each other and get along well? A trainee Educational Psychologist, Elinor Brett, who did some qualitative research on LEGO-Based Therapy, details the perspectives of the children in her sample; one of the outcomes was the need to improve the rewards (eg. a brand new LEGO set given with each certificate/diploma).

The authors aver that the LEGO-Based Therapy Club engenders in children the confidence to pursue other relationships in more challenging social contexts. Typically isolated children can feel part of something. In 2008 Luiselli et al commented that LEGO-Based Therapy was ‘the only social developmental intervention currently available to providers’. However, as the CEO of a specialist autism counselling charity that runs a ‘Minecraft Club’ I am aware of how Minecraft (computer game) does very similar things to that which the Lego Club says it does for the ASC client group, and in this regard, Lego seems rather old-fashioned and risks being overtaken. However, LeGoff’s LEGO-Based Therapy still holds value as LEGO is still sought out and enjoyed by children, affording them various developmental ‘gains’ that have been scientifically proven through peer-reviewed research to ‘grow’ with the child over time, enhancing social efficacy, and combating downward trends in areas of social avoidance and anxiety.

There is a caveat to LEGO-Based Therapy: the authors warn: ‘including children with behavioural conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), or other externalizing conditions, who also have social skills problems, is not productive’ (p. 67). With this in mind, I can only deduce that LEGO-Based Therapy and the success of it will depend very much on a child’s diagnosis being firmly and unquestionably as being on, or like, ‘autism spectrum’, and that those children who have a co-morbid descriptor such as ADHD will be discounted. This does not sit well with me, bearing in mind the vast numbers of ASC-with-ADHD children I see in our charity consulting rooms. Nonetheless, I still feel the ‘I want, I want, I want,’ urge, and if I manage to pull my utopian vision off, then our charity’s separate LEGO-Based Therapy room will become a reality; a separate LEGO Club room being my own personal preference!

 

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‘I’ve spent so many years involved in autism education that I’ve tuned in to how these children learn’ says Adele Devine, author of ‘Colour Coding for Learners with Autism’. She is generous also, for the book comes with a CD-Rom that contains resources that can be printed and mounted on card, and why? – To help autistic children create order in their frequently over-complicated worlds. But one might ask – ‘what value does a book on colour-coding for Learners with Autism have?’

The author points out from the outset that research using eye-tracking technology has shown that autistic children are drawn to looking at shapes and colours more so than their typically developing peers. On the basis of that research, combined with personal experience (she works as a Special Needs teacher), the aim of the book is clear, and that is to encourage greater independence and fulfillment for autists in all learning environments.

This book is a helpful aide-memoire for anyone working with autistic children in either a home or school setting. While the more experienced teacher might initially perceive this book to be a ‘teaching granny how to suck eggs’ type of book, the reader does not have to turn too many pages before he/she realises that the author can enhance and illuminate extant knowledge about colour coding and its relevance and importance to the autistic learner population. But it is not only when in the role of pupil that the autistic child may benefit from colour coding, emotionally speaking, the autistic child also seeks comfort in colours, for ‘colours bring order to chaos’ the author advises.

The author posits two important questions:

  • ‘Are we allowing individuals to develop their talents with our current teaching methods?’ and
  • Could we support people with autism further?

Devine is not a ‘know-it-all’ which is rather endearing, and the reader is given the impression that this particular author is on a never-ending quest for knowledge that will aid her work with the autistic population further. She seeks and she finds (continuously) and she is happy to share. She also gets my vote for not using the word ‘disorder’ when referring to the autism spectrum; she uses the word ‘condition’ instead.

Before language development, it has been noted that autistic individuals often use colour to bring orderliness to disorder, but the author warns that educationalists must ‘take care’ about how colours are introduced to the autistic student. She gives the scenario of a difficult train journey, and asks the reader to relate the feeling of being on such a journey to the autistic child’s experience of how they might feel when they first start school.

While I consider that this book might be more geared towards teaching and caring for the Kanner’s autist and his or her needs, for the average-to-higher functioning autist, there is still some benefit to be derived from the author’s recommendations. Devine suggests: ‘presenting useful information clearly is so important from the outset’, and advises the use of colour-coded symbols to show basic human needs such as ‘more’, ‘finished’, ‘toilet’ and ‘help’.

There is a good flow to the book, beginning with ‘colour language’ – a communication method that is one of the first types of vocabulary children learn (colour communicates faster than words or black and white pictures) ending with the relationship of colour to synaesthesia and autism. Colour semantics is also written about, and its usefulness in assisting emerging literacy skills in school lessons is discussed, along with examples of how colour can be used to illustrate science (e.g. process of osmosis) and how colour can be used to illustrate numeracy.

Daniel Tammet, author of ‘Born on a Blue Day’ is often quoted in this book, along with some other well-known autists, and personal case studies. The case studies are used throughout to help show the relationship between autism and colours. What the case studies also show is that the author does not speak from an ethereal platform…her knowledge is based on hands-on, real-life experiences. The case studies give the book a welcoming, easy-read, feel.

 

It is patently obvious that Adele Devine knows what she is talking about, and what is more, her passion to get a ‘good deal’ for autists in terms of their education shines through. Helpful hints and tips abound, and the reader is left with a keenness of wanting to try that which she suggests. I would not hesitate to recommend this book to any rookie teacher or teaching assistant with a burgeoning career in the field of autism education. The more mature autie-educationalist may also be pleasantly surprised to discover an adaptation of an old technique, or perhaps even something new. Much can be gleaned in terms of helpful advice for the autie-parent also.

 

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Reynolds forte is finding an autism-related subject that many would not conceive, like this, her latest book ‘Severe Autism and Sexuality’. Her previous book ‘Party Planning for youngsters on the Autism Spectrum’ was another unusual subject area for a writer of autism-related material, yet she did so with aplomb and expertise. This latest book is no exception. In my opinion it is another ingenious piece of work and shows how Reynolds professionalism (she previously worked as a AIDS/HIV Counsellor) and her familial expertise (she is the parent of a severely autistic young man) have come together to create a sagacious, sensitive, and hence, informative read.

 

Reynold’s says ‘this book is for those with severely autistic young children, seeking guidance about sexuality, when to introduce the subject, what to say and how to say it’ (p.9). In addition, she tackles the difficult subject of how to approach or address concerns when severely autistic children become adults and difficulties concerning sexuality arise at that juncture. She talks about how sex education for the severely autistic population needs, what she describes as, ‘wholesale re-thinking’, based on the fact that many children leave school with only a minimum of sex education knowledge.

 

However, this is not simply a book that can educate and inform. Reynolds makes the point that the book is also about ‘protection’ and that severely autistic children need to possess a broad sexual knowledge, from knowing the correct names for body parts (and understanding their function in sex), to how to recognise and report abuse. Furthermore, concepts such as desire, libido, masturbation, transgender, same-sex and solo sex activity are discussed, along with advice regards Genito-Urinary clinics and their function. She also discusses why it is important not to raise a severely autistic child to think it ‘normal’ to share a bed with a parent/carer, and she explains why… that it is for the child’s protection against a less-benevolent bed-sharer. In a similar vein, she explains why it is a good idea to educate a severely autistic child in public lavatory use and etiquette, and again, this is about protecting the child against possible predators. Reynolds makes it clear that overprotection by parents/carers can leave severely autistic children more open to abuse, and states with confidence that a severely autistic child is capable of more self-protection than they are perhaps given credit for, which means that parents have a duty to make their child or children savvy about sex per se in today’s world.

 

Reynolds gives helpful guidelines on how parents can better educate their severely autistic child on the subject of sex, and avows that greater understanding on the part of both parent and child can reduce anxieties and is enabling for both parties. She also discusses how severely autistic children can, in turn, educate their parents, and affords the reader an insight into her personal life, and of how she purposely mimicked her own severely autistic son’s stimming routine to such an extent that ‘…for the first time he stopped, looked at what I was doing, then looked at my face’.

 

In summation, Reynolds states that intellectual disability should not preclude severely autistic children from exploring their individual sexuality. She asserts that sexuality is, after all, ‘… an integral part of all humanity’ (p.181). Reynolds message is clear: that sex education is recommended not just for the severely autistic child, but is recommended for the parent and/or carer also, and is therefore a critical concept that should be grasped for the ultimate long-term benefit of both parties.

 

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With an increasing number of authors hitting the autism bookshelves, I confess that when I first glanced at the title of this book I was not excited… my tongue was firmly in my cheek and I expected to be bored whilst reading it. However, ‘Party Planning for Children and Teens on the Autism Spectrum’ surprised me enormously, and I was gripped from the outset (page 9)!  I admit that I struggled to put the book down!

 

Reynolds makes it clear from the second paragraph in that she is writing from a familial platform (she has a son with autism) and concedes ‘this may not be a literary masterpiece but I got there in the end’.  Her honest and self-deprecating approach I found to be refreshing, and her maternal love for her son, and her desire to help others like her son is sincere and without doubt. This book is about how to get the best ‘party’ deal for your autistic child/children and the best ‘party’ future. She recognises that social events like parties can often expose an autistic child in a cruel and harmful way, and her aim is to mitigate any damage in this respect. Her desire also, is to create an informed way of thinking for the party organizer, again, to mitigate any damage for the autistic party guest.

 

Reynolds also conveys information in a way that only an Autie Mother can – ‘for some ASD kids, party invitations are so few, that parents/caregivers jump at the opportunity, which increases the stress involved and the likelihood of challenging behaviours’. As an Autie mother, I could relate to her and also, as someone who has a Master’s in Autism I could not fault her (vast) knowledge about autism per se. Moreover, Reynolds understands from a ‘in your shoes’ perspective, which is a position which gains much respect in the autism community.  Her empathy for Autie mothers and their children everywhere is clear, and is perceived as warm and tender.  She doesn’t patronize, but instead she does what us autie Mothers love best… she shares her best tips and practice, and by gosh, the advice is good – advice such as giving an autistic child in near- meltdown mode at a party ‘resistive sucking’, in other words, a lollipop and/or straw and drink to help focus energy and de-stress (Endow 2010).

 

Reynolds book has good flow and structure throughout.  She begins by stating statistics and the ‘triad of impairments’ (Wing & Gould 1979), so to apprise the autism-unknowledgeable reader, but textually, this section is brief and done in such a ‘friendly’ way that those of us who do know this information inside-out do not have to stifle a yawn!  Sensory processing and the difficulties connected thereto she describes well (one of the best pieces of writing on the subject I have ever read) and in a nutshell too, pointing out to the reader that something so simple as choice of food/music/clothing has the potential to ‘adversely affect their relationship with the social world’ (p.15).

 

The fact that autism is a spectrum is pointed out very early on in the book, and explores the various different autism classifications well gives the book a very ‘welcoming’ feel (she doesn’t side-line or discount anyone); the autistic child who cannot speak is considered, along with the HF autistics – ‘avoid games that rely on verbal skills, unless it is a chant that they do together, or you will disadvantage certain kids and increase the chances of boredom and discomfort, which could precede emotional outbursts or other negative behaviours’ (p. 26).

 

Reynolds is one of those authors who ‘gets it’ concerning autism and while I wait with baited breath for anything else this author might write in the future, I would definitely recommend this book to parents and professionals alike. To sum…it’s a bookshelf staple for the Autie household!