Other People's Words

Interview w/ writer and speaker Brian R. King

Posted in Uncategorized by Tera on October 31, 2010

This is a transcript of Autism Women’s Network’s interview with author and speaker Brian R. King, of SpectrumMentor.com

[Music]

Sharon daVanport: Good day, everyone, and welcome to AWN radio. We are the Autism Women’s Network on Blogtalk. I am your host, Sharon daVanport, and today is Saturday, October 16, and we’re streaming to you live from the beautiful Midwestern US of A. And joining me is co-host Tricia Kenney. Hi, Tricia.

Tricia Kenney: Hi there.

Sharon daVanport: How are you today?

Tricia Kenney: You know, I always have to tell myself not to sing along with that out loud. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: I know—you tend to do that. One time I did hear you humming along. I was like: “Wow, Tricia’s really getting into this today.”

[Laughter]

Tricia Kenney: It’s so catchy.

Sharon daVanport: That’s okay. That’s all right.

Tricia Kenney: Well, how are you doing today?

Sharon daVanport: I’m doing well; I’m excited. I’ve got a really busy, long day, but my Texas Longhorns are here in Nebraska. And Nebraska thinks that they’re finally going to beat Texas. I’ve lived here in Nebraska for almost 20 years. Everybody said I’d be a Cornhusker fan by now, but I have to just say: “Hook ’em, Horns!” on the radio.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: I have to say it. I know they’ve lost a game so far. They’re not doing really great this year, but they’re still my Texas Longhorns and I’m wishing them the best. If you guys hear screaming going on around here, the tailgate parties have already begun in our neighborhood. You would not believe the mass of people in this town right now, but I’ve already heard some screaming. I believe we’ve got some drunks going down [unknown] [Laughter]. It’s bad around here.

[Crosstalk]

It’s noon. They just popped open their beers. Okay. Well, I’m really excited about the show today, Tricia. It’s really going to be great. I’m so excited to have Brian King on. He’s known as a spectrum mentor, and he’s authored a couple books, he’s a speaker, and he works as a self-employed social worker and is actually a consultant internationally on the subject of Asperger Syndrome. I think the one thing that I really appreciate the most when I hear Brian in his webinars is that he really speaks not as somebody who just knows about the spectrum, but he himself is on the spectrum, his wife is on the spectrum, and they’re raising three sons on the spectrum. So it’s like, wow, when they say “Welcome to [our] house,” it’s really: “Welcome to the spectrum,” right?

[Laughter]

Really, he can speak with authority. I really appreciate hearing a lot of the things that Brian has to offer in his webinars, and he’s going to tell us how he can continue helping everyone, and how we can benefit from that. Did you want to tell everybody how to get in contact with us? They’ve got another week to go for this month’s drawing on the GPS locator from LifePROTEKT.

Tricia Kenney: Definitely. We are doing a drawing at the end of this month on the last show of the month, and that will be for a GPS device from LifePROTEKT. That also includes one year of service with that. So if you want to get in on that and hopefully have your name drawn, all you have to do is send us a message at info AT autismwomensnetwork DOT org. You can tell us who you are and why you need a device, and we’ll put you in for the drawing.

Sharon daVanport: Very good. Excited to be giving away the new GPS locator this month. It’s the first of it’s kind coming through that they’re going to be offering through LifePROTEKT, so it’ll be very nice. All right. Well, I guess we’ll go ahead and bring Brian on now. I’m going to get over to the swithboard here. How you doing, Brian? Welcome to the show.

Brian King: I’m doing splendidly. Thank you so much for having me.

Sharon daVanport: Well, thank you for being here, Brian. In the introduction, we were telling everyone a little bit about what you do. Now, we were hoping that you could fill in all the blanks and tell everyone about what it is that you do and why you do it. I guess we could start with the books. I’d like for you to talk a little bit about the books that you’ve authored.

Brian King: Well,let’s start with the why I do it.

Sharon daVanport: The what? Okay. Yeah, that’d be great. Why don’t you do that?

Brian King: I, like a lot adults on the spectrum today, grew up not kowing it, especially the Aspies. I grew up feeling socially disconnected, feeling like everybody else was catching on better than I was. In spite of my best efforts to be socially endearing to others, I always ended up being ridiculed as a result and never seemed to hit the mark. I would have pretty much one friend at a time. Sometimes I’d have no friend, and I would find my friend in whatever TV show was on that day. I always found a way to make a friend. But being alone, in my own thiing doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary for me.

So marching throughout life, enduring a lot of the bumps and bruises I found myself engaged, married, had our first child. And he was just as precocious and [unknown] as dear old dad, so I thought nothing of it.

[Laughter]

Brian King: When he hit first grade, what we thought was going to be the beginning of his stellar academic career because he was so bright and so curious, as soon as he hit that environemnt, he began doing things we’d never seen at home. He was suddenly lashing out at the teacher; he was becoming obsessed with structure and timeframes and “When is this going to happen?” and “When is it going to stop?” And if it doesn’t happen the moment you said it’s going to happen, he would get mad at you. He would call you a liar and: “That’s not what we agreed to! This is not what you promised me!” It got to the point where he’d begin turning over chairs; he’d begin threatening physical violence, and at its worst, he would try and run from the building.

Tricia Kenney: Hm.

Sharon daVanport: Oh.

Brian King: And for the longest time, the school kept this under their hats. They didn’t share this. They wanted to contain it in the school.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brian King: So when he did this during a field trip, they decided to give me a call and say: “Well, we’ve been noticing these behaviors. [They’ve been happening?] for quite some time and it’s getting beyond what we can do through our typical interventions, so we want to consider some testing and whatnot.” Long story short, he was identified as having something called Asperger’s Syndrome, which I was familiar with a little bit because of my social work background. I had my Master’s degree in social work at that point; I was working full-time as a social worker.

So when it was suggested to me that my son was on the autism spectrum, it just totally blew my mind. I, like most people, had a stereotypical understanding of what autism is.

Sharon daVanport: All right.

Brian King: It’s a nonverbal child who rocks and is in their own world and doesn’t engage, so I really didn’t see how those two came together. In learning this, getting the label for my son and immediately immersing myself into the research, into the testing process to make sure that he was getting all the supports he needed, all kinds of red flaga that are [showing?] up in front of my face as I was checking off things about his sensory sensitivities, his special interests, and then wondering whether this was the parent form or the child form, because it was all me.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Yeah.

Brian King: For most of my entire life. Not only my childhood, but my current life. And as I saw how things were so difficult for him, especially [as] it turns out, his school was more interested in medicating him into submission than actually educating him.

Sharon daVanport: Oh.

Brian King: I had to step up in a big way to be his advocate. They would call me three, four times a week because he’d be in a meltdown. I’d show up to school and find him balled up in the conference room, under a desk, not talking to anybody because that’s where they took him to calm down.

Sharon daVanport: Oh.

Brian King: And I realized: “Okay. The only way this child is going to succeed is if I know everything I possibly can to educate these people who are going to guide him through life.” The more I was learning, the more I understood about myself, going out to parent groups to get traditional support, it quickly became evident that I was able to explain my and my child’s experience better than any of those other parents had in their lives: their psychologist, their OT, their teachers, everybody they went to for their expertise couldn’t tell them what I could tell them.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: The main difference was that I have a very unique skillset when it comes to verbal ability. I’m able to articulate any of my experiences. So it might not necessarily be that I’m more self-aware than your typical specgtrumite, but I am better able to communicate it verbally.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: [They would?] come to me and ask me questions about how to help their child; they wanted to know where my office was and cn they bring their child in? I said: “Hey, I’m here looking for answers just like you are.” But they kept coming to me and saying: No; no. You must open an office; we need your help.” So after about two years of prodding, I finally decided to take that leap and haven’t had to look back since.

And that’s going on three, four years now, so I started with a simple practice in a local area, and within three, four years, now I’m working on my fourth book and I’ve got webinars and speaking out of state and all that. So it’s wonderful how it’s evolved, but the main reason I do it is because I have got to prepare my sons for this world while simultaneously preparing the world for my sons.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: We know the system, as it exists, our kids go through a school that enables them under the guise of helping and support, but unfortunately renders them, well, to be helpless. Then they walk off that cliff on graduation day and have nothing.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: So I’m [here?] to support them and make sure they are equipped. That they are competent, their confident and have the skillset to engage the world. But if they hit this brick wall with a world that says: “Uh-uh-uh. We’re not going to meet you halfway. You need to be like us or you won’t be included.” So I need to educate the world on how important it is to find a halfway point in your relationships, especially if people communicate in a very different way than you do.

Tricia Kenney: Right. Exactly.

Brian King: So that’s why I do what I do.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Tricia Kenney: How long after your son’s diagnosis were your other sons diagnosed?

Brian King: My sons are about four years apart each. My second boy, he had an obvious speech delay from the get-go. So there was no question something was going on with him. We had him assessed right around three years old and he was labeled with autism. It wasn’t until about four, [unknown] five years old that we were able to really understand what he was trying to tell us. So fortunately with early intervention programs, we got him right in at three, started with the speech therapy and he’s really come a long way. But even to this day, you can tell he’s really working hard to pronounce things clearly. I can only imagine how the act of speaking is exhausting for him.

Tricia Kenney: Hm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: Do you find that traditional speech therapy, the way that it is works very well for autistic people?

Brian King: Well, for him, he’s definitely come a long way. But the one thing that I emphasize with the people working with him is how you establish that rapport. Because if you cannot connect with the child as an individual, how can you work with them?

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: So many people, whatever their specialization is—whether it’s a psychiatrist or an OT, a speech pathologist, teacher in the classroom—if they don’t know how to connect with the individual and build trust, it doesn’t matter what your degree is. It doesn’t matter how many workshops you’ve been to. It doesn’t matter how clear you are on the goals for this child. If you don’t connect with that child, you’re not getting anywhere.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So they were doing a lot that was resulting in pushback. He was uncomfortable; he didn’t want to do it. So they’d call it “behavior;” they’d call it “non-compliance;” they’d call it “oppositional.” No, the child doesn’t trust you yet.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: How is the child going to work with you if they don’t trust and connect with you? So I would have to work a lot with them on just those basic relationship skills.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brian King: And the more I realized that I was able to do that, the more that translated itself into what has become my webinars, my six-month coaching program, the book that I’m currently writing. It’s all about the relationship skills that I’ve learned over the years that have allowed me to become effective.

But here’s the key: none of them are about social skills—about how to do the standard practice things that allow us to camoflage ourselves. The skills and strategies that I’ve learned are all about: How can I be on the spectrum but also effectively communicate? I don’t get the nonverbal stuff. I’ve put in every effort I can, read every book on decoding nonverbal cues and innuendo and all that. I’ve picked some stuff up, but there’s so much that’s still missing, that I could either beat myself up and exhaust myself trying to master all of it, or I can find a halfway point where I can communicate effectively without that stuff.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: I’ve found a lot of strategies to do that, and I teach my clients, I teach their parents, I teach their teachers that, and it’s amazing how quickly things shift when they’re actually working together on finding a way to communicate that works for their relationship, as opposed to telling our spectrum kid: “This is the way you need to do it to please everybody else.”

Sharon daVanport: Right. What do you find, Brian, is the way that you’ve helped your family and those that you coach understand that it’s okay for us to find our own way to do it? I think that the biggest challenge that I’ve heard a lot of people express in the different forums that I’ve participated in or even doing this radio show is that they do feel that they have certain expectations out there.

Expectations are good; however, they want people to also appreciate their differences and how they can be successful if those differences are recognized as well. How do you help not only your children, but those that you coach appreciate that they can be themselves but they can also make progress if they adhere to what you’re coaching about? How you’re trying to help them understand and grow towards whatever goal that they have set before them?

Brian King: Well, the one thing I do is I immediately have them examine that concept they have of the real world. “I need to prepare my child for the real world.” What world are you talking about? What they ultimately describe, it always boils down to their own insecurities: “If I don’t do this, somebody’s going to get mad.” “Well, you’re supposed to shake hands.” “You’re supposed to do this.” Why do you have to do that? “Well, if you don’t, they might think there’s something wrong with you. They might think you’re rude.” It’s all your expectation that if you don’t follow the process, there will be a negative viewpoint of you. So I ask them: “Hey, what’s the point of a handshake? Why do you do that?” It’s amazing how many people respond with: “Well, that’s because it’s how it’s done.”

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter] Right, right.

Brian King: They have no concept of what goal is being accomplished by that.

Sharon daVanport: I see.

Brian King: It’s acknowledgement; it’s connection. Okay, well, if you’re looking to acknowledge somebody, how else can you do that? Do you have to shake hands, or are there options? Plenty of options to acknowledge somebody. How can you connect with someone?

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: A common way is eye-contact. Well, what does eye-contact tell you? It tells you someone’s paying attention to you. Really? Can I look you in the eye and not hear a word you’re saying? I can tune out when I’m looking in the eye. Okay, so that’s not a reliable way to connect, so we need to find some other ways. So when I help them establish what the social goal is, then we start thinking about the ways to accomplish it.

This: “It has to be a handshake; it has to be eye-contact,” those are what I call “process issues.” It’s the how you get to the goal. [Unkown] on process. Process isn’t the key; the product is. If you want to connect, if you want to be heard, if you want to have people listen to you, how do you get to that goal? The process is always flexible.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: Their concern is their child won’t accomplish the goal: “Will my child ever have friends? Will my child ever have a job?” But they’re so caught up in process—their process. The way they’re used to; the way that their friends do it; the way that everybody they know does it. Just because of simple familiarity, they haven’t explored other options. They don’t realize other options exist.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: But when I start demonstrating to them how to go about achieving the goal in this [unknown[ different way and they realize that you can actually get there that way, then they start lightening up a little bit from being so married to their process.

Tricia Kenney: Hm. I see that a lot in schools, too, where there’s no reason for the way that they’re just demanding that it has to be done this way other than it’s just the way it is: “That’s the way we do it. That’s what the child has to adhere to.” It’s silly, because all this struggle doesn’t have to be there. All the hardship; all the forcing your will kind of stuff, it doesn’t even have to happen that way and it’s really just being open to that. Being open to the alternative, and how much easier would everybody’s life be if we did that?

Tricia Kenney: And fortunately, the teachers who I’ve been able to work with who realized just how many problems they’re causing themselves by fighting for the status quo. Basically, the way the school system is set up is win-lose. The adults don’t get to have all their needs met and the kids don’t get to have any needs met.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: I tell the student in the school: “You have two choices. You submit or you get punished.” So where in the midst of that are children supposed to get their very unique needs met so they can thrive? Well, there’s no opportunity for that.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: But once I tell the teachers that the closer you get to win-win collaboration, the closer you get to a trusting relationship with a very vulnerable student who’s going to allow you to have some influence, because they realize that you’re actually on the same page with them; you realize and understand to a degree what their needs are and how they need to have them met, so the student’s going to feel safer with you.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: The student’s going to look forward to being in the classroom. But for some teachers, it requires a radical paradigm shift to accomplish that, and for other teachers, they’re so eager to be effective with the student, they’ll listen and apply what it is I give them and they’ll see results more quickly.

Sharon daVanport: Brian, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the webinars that you do? I attended one not long ago of yours; I thought it was really good. I like the different topics that you offer. It’s a pretty good variety.

Brian King: The one that you attended was the ten primary social strategies that i use to navigate life in general. The description of the strategies in there, as I’m sure you recall, was much more along the partnership route, collaboration.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: It’s actually having that open, straightforward discussion about: So how are we going to do us? How are we going to do our relationship?, as opposed to relying on those little subtle innuendos and unspoken clues that don’t give you a clear idea of how you’re doing in your relationship. There’s so many people that will go along and their entire relationship is based on merely an assumption: “Well, I thought you were happy because you gave me this nonverbal cue,” or “Well, you didn’t say anything, so I figured it was all right,” and people relying on the abaence of language as information.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: Oh, yeah.

Brian King: Yes. It blows my mind that people actually conduct themselves that way.

Sharon daVanport: I know. It’s very confusing to me, as well, Brian. That has always blown my mind. I look back throughout my life, and I really need to have that connect with someone, even if it’s just a “yes” or a “no.” But to rely on what you termed the absence of language, it’s so confusing to me. I don’t get that.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. That makes me just insane when that’s going on. [Laughter]

Brian King: The yes or the no, both are very measurable responses. They’re very concrete.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: So in the absence of language, you don’t have any concrete feedback to measure your relationship’s success by. So my strategies are all about inviting the person you’re in the relationship with to verbalize what’s going on, what’s working, what’s not working, what can work better.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: You also negotiate that you are going to allow for that feedback, that you’re going to request it and how you’re going to receive it. If you haven’t negotiated feedback and someone suddenly is honest with you, you might get defensive. You might have your feelings hurt; you might call them rude because you didn’t discuss that.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: You didn’t agree to that as part of your partnership, as “that’s how we do us.” We give each other specific kind of feedback on specific issues, and this is how we agree to hear it. But it’s all verbal; it’s not left to this code that everybody else tends to want to work by. Whenever I teach spectrum students and teachers to do that, suddenly there’s less pushback, there’s less defensivenes, because the egos are taken out of it.

Tricia Kenney: Mm.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: It’s much more about: How do we work effectively together? The parents who are trying to get their kids to do things. I love the question: “How do I get him to do this?” “How do I get my daughter to do that?” [Unknown[ how you’re asking how you’re going to get them to comply and submit to your will. That’s not going to work, because you’re inviting your child to lose in your relationship.

If you want win-win, you want your child to feel like their needs are being met and prioritized as well. [Unknown] on the same page, teach you how to talk to each other, give each other feedback in terms of what’s working and what isn’t. Suddenly you’re conspiring for each other’s success. Whenever I’m able to help two people negotiate that, all the sudden kids that had locked their parents out of their lives and were always saying: “Leave me alone, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” “I don’t want to talk about it,” are suddenly having conversations.

Sharon daVanport: That’s right.

Tricia Kenney: [Unknown]

Brian King: By and large, what I do is I resolve the disconnects between the neurotypicals and spectrumites.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Tricia Kenney: And it’s really, really great the way you put that, because I think it so often becomes that “You’re supposed to do what I say” kind of thing. When you’re trying to encourage your child to be an individual and to be self-sufficient and independent, that kind of goes against that.

Brian King: The entire misnomer of independence is part of the problem, because independence presupposes that success is measured by doing without. If you don’t need somebody; if you don’t need something else, than you’re successful. Well, the bottom line is, and even to this day I am so interdependent with so many people that without their assistance, I wouldn’t have accomplished half of what I’ve done.

I need help in a lot of areas, so I need to partner with the people that compensate for my areas of challenge; that complement my skillsets so that I can do what I need to do. So interdependence is what we’re looking for, not independence. When you look at it, who is independent? Nobody. Unless you’re living out there on the farm, growing all your own vegetables and eating off the land, you’re not independent from anything, including the land. You’re independent with something.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: That’s very good, because everybody says: “You need a support system.” Everybody needs a support system; everybody needs other people in their lives. So, yeah, that makes a lot more sense.

Brian King: There’s always these mixed messages in school. They want you to be independent but ask for help when you need it.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Brian King: But when you ask for help, what sorts of feedback do you get? “Well, did you try it yourself first? Did you try harder? Try it again.”

Sharon daVanport: [Laughter]

Brian King: Kids are supposed to ask for help, but then they’re pushed away and encouraged to be more independent.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: And then the kid is scolded for not self-advocating more. It really [unknown] a mind job that [unknown] on these kids by a lot of educators who don’t examine their own means of going about supporting their students. They don’t look at or understand the implications, the impact of how they do things to the kids because, like the rest of us in society, we are not taught how to communicate.

Sharon daVanport: How very true.

Brian King: People think they’re great communicators and they’re not. You’re not taught how to communicate. We socialize with lousy communicators.

Sharon daVanport: [Laughter] That’s not a good mixture.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Brian King: So when they say to my kid: “Your son needs to [unknown] this opportunity and go play recess so he can learn how to socialize,” I say: “Why? So he can learn gossiping and bullying and backstabbing and inconsistency? That’s not what he needs to learn. He needs to learn how to be effective. He needs to be in relationships with people that are going to meet him halfway and learn how to have a supportive reciprocity.”

What they’ll tell me is: “Well, people are inconsistent. That’s just the way it is.” I’m like: “No, it’s not. That’s the way you tolerate it. If you want to have an effective relationship with my son, I’ll tell you how to do it.” Those who listen, it’s amazing how things turn around. What’s really cool is when I do an inservice for teachers on how to communicate more effectively; how to set better boundaries; how to work better in partnerships. I’m talking about them and their students, but they report back how their relations with each other have improved. So all this is generalizable.

Tricia Kenney: Do you go to a lot of schools to do this type of coaching?

Brian King: I’m starting to do more. Some of them are getting wind of it, because typically, when an outside expert is brought into an IEP meeting, it’s typically to apply some leverage. I’m bringing my attorney; I’m bringing my advocate to get you all to comply with my son’s IEP or my daughter’s Behavior Intervention Plan. What surprises them is when I walk in and I say to the teachers: “Hey, I want you to be successful too.”

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: So if you’re overloaded and your needs are unmet, let’s figure out what we need to do.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: If we don’t support each other, one side loses. That is not a recipe for success.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So if we go in there and we try and bully the teachers into submission, who are trying to bully our child into submission, we’re at war. We’re not in collaboration.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: So the more they get wind of the fact that I’m actually there to bring all the parties together and they experience the results of that and the benefits of doing so, they talk to each other. The word’s getting out to different schools and I’m getting more inquiries to come and do these inservices.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. I think that would just be so benficial to get this sort of input to teachers and administrators. I think if they could see how beneficial it would be to themselves, and how much further along these children would get, it would just be amazing, the amount of issues that wouldn’t be issues anymore.

Brian King: Right. And I’m very hopeful with some of the results that I’m getting so far.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: And again, it’s about stepping outside that idea that the process is what matters. One of you mentioned before the idea that: “That’s how it’s done. This is how we do things in this classroom, and this is how it’s supposed to go.” Well, experience teaches us that if what we’re doing isn’t working, you need to do something else.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: What’s the [unknown] definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Tricia Kenney: Right. [Chuckles]

Brian King: When they do it in the classroom, it doesn’t occur to them that that’s what they’re doing.

Sharon daVanport: Yeah.

Tricia Kenney: And the frustration is very clear. You see it in so many teachers; you see it in so many kids and their parents, and it’s just like; Why: Why does it have to be that way?

Brian King: And it doesn’t have to be that way. What it ultimately boils down to is a bunch of people who believe that if things change, it’s bad.

Tricia Kenney: Right. “Then we have no structure! It’s chaos and children climbing the walls and the whole world goes crazy!” [Chuckles]

Brian King: And some [of them?] also interpret a change as being a loss, because if a situation, if it’s a parent-child relationship or it’s a teacher-student relationship, that it’s set up to be win-lose, the person who has the power thinks that they’re having to compromise.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: They’re having to give something up if they negotiate that position. So in a lot of ways, making these changes isn’t about teaching a skill. It’s about teaching a belief system.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, okay.

Brian King: When you do anything socially, whether it’s shake hands, whether it’s hug, whatever it is, it’s because you believe it’s going to benefit that relationship to do it that way. People don’t do things because that’s how it’s done. They don’t do it just because. They do it because they get a positive result.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: The neurotypicals of the world who just love this stuff and never examined it don’t realize that’s why they do it.

Sharon daVanport: Right. I’ve got a question for you, Brian. When you work with neurotypicals—and for those of our listeners, most everybody knows when we say “neurotypicals” we’re referring to someone who is not identified as being on the autism spectrum. When you work with neurotypicals, Brian, and you’re trying to help them understand their teenager or understand their young child, do you often times find that even though you think you’re working with a neurotypical or they’re not identified as on the spectrum, you see some spectrummy traits, like you did in yourself when your son was diagnosed? Do you find that you see a lot of these different qualities and unique differences running in families that you work with?

Brian King: Oh, without exception.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. [Chuckles]

Brian King: Children are born from their parents.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: You’re going to see characteristics. Now, it’s not to say that there are enough characteristics to also put the parent on the spectrum. There are some times where it’s quite obvious; there are other times where you’ll see those nuances, those same characteristics, and those characteristics are the result or the cause of disconnect.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: What I make sure I don’t do is I don’t label the characteristic. I don’t label the trait. The label I focus on is the desired outcome.

Sharon daVanport: I think that’s really good, though, Brian. I think that’s awesome. Can you explain to us what you mean by that? I think we all should be applying this. This is great advice for all of our listeners.

Brian King: When clients come to work with me, a lot of times it’ll be a school social worker, it’ll be the parent who’s says: “We need to get him to accept his challenges” or “accept his disability.” I said: “Why on earth would you want this child to embrace an idea of his self-concept that’s not good enough? How is that helping him?” “Well, it’s important he knows this about himself.” “No. It’s important that he knows what his strengths are and how to leverage his strenghs to make a social contribution. That’s what he needs to know.”

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: So the label that identifies what his challenges are doesn’t need to have a label of Asperger’s or autism. What he needs to know—this is another important point—Asperger’s is one more way a child is disconnected from the peers he wants to be connected with. So a lot of adolescents and even [unknown] will fight this term. Not because they won’t accept themselves—because it’s one more reminder that their peer group is unreachable, and they don’t want to feel that way.

So this is how I [unknown] the label. I ask them: “So what do you want to accomplish? What do you want?” “I want to make more friends.” “Okay, well, guess what? So do a lot of us. Okay, that’s something you have in common with the general population, now. You feel awkward in social situations? Yeah, well, a lot of people do. Okay, that’s another way you’re connected.” So I find a way to take their challenges and their fears and use that as a source of connection with others, as opposed to a place of disconnect.

Then I ask them what their goal is. “Well, this person I want to talk to, I’m not quite sure how to do it. How do I approach the person?” “Okay, so you would like to learn how to initiate a conversation. Well, let’s talk about what strengths you have and what skills you need to acquire to make that happen.” So it’s all solution-focused, all about identifying your goal and what skills you need to accomplish it. I don’t sit there and spend a lot of time saying: “Well, because you have autism that’s why you have difficulty accomplishing this.” Why do I want to emphasize in my conversation with them the reasons why they have difficulty?

Tricia Kenney: And what does that accomplish?

Brian King: It’s more important to know that you have the difficulty, how it prevents you from getting your goal, what help you need, what skills do you need to accomplish it, and how you get it. So I stay on the solution track. And if the term comes up, Asperger’s, autism, we talk about it in terms of what it means for them, in terms of self-awareness as opposed to self-judgement, which is what happens when you have all of that negative, labelly, deficit kind of thinking attatched to it. So when I work [with] people through that paradigm, it’s amazing how much more qauickly their confidence comes up. I’m the one person who is telling them: “Guess what? This doesn’t mean you’re a broken neurotypical.”

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: So do you think it’s a lot more attatched to the perception that the general population has of the label? Do you think if the perception changed at all to “Autistic is just fine. Thee’s nothing wrong with being autistic, and autistic people are great and they can do anything anybody else can do,” do you think if that kind of perception were shifted in the general population, that would affect this more?

Brian King: The reasonable perception to have of any human being is that a person has their own unique profile of strengths and challenges. When it comes to people on the autism spectrum, we happen to have a label for that. Our profile of challenges has a label, because they tend to be so disproportionate from the mainstream people. But that doesn’t mean you have to be looked at as less than, not good enough, having deficits. One of the key phrases that came out of the Temple Grandin movie is…You remember what it is?

Sharon daVanport: “Different, not less.” That one?

Brian King: Exactly.

Tricia Kenney: Right; right.

Brian King: We’re different, but we’re not less.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: I love that. I’ve got that on one of my profiles. I love that.

Brian King: That could be said of any human being. We’re different from each other; we have a point of connection, but we’re different in many ways. We’re not less than each other.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So one problem I have with the idea of acceptance is when it is proposed with the notion that: “Leave me alone. Leave me as I am. Don’t ask any more of me than I want to give you.” Well, that’s win-lose. There are propoents of accepts who [do say that?]: “I don’t want to change. You change.” That’s not a relationship. Relationships are negotiated. We need to find a way that works for us.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: We both need to do some work. So I ask the same thing of neurotypicals: How do we work together to negotiate a way that we can communicate with each other so that we know we’re understood? So that we can be connected? So we can communicate effectively? So when it comes to being people on the spectrum, it’s more a matter of: When you see us, realize that it’s going to require more work on your part than maybe it would be [with] a neurotypical peer, but it’s not a losing proposition. It’s a learning one.

The person on the spectrum has to be willing to step up, too, and see it the same way: “Hey, I want to connect with you. I want to have a relationship with you. I’m willing to do some work also. Let’s have this dialogue so we can figure out what our halfway point is, so we can meet in the middle and be effective partners.”

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Sharon daVanport: If we could move on just a little bit. Unless you had anything else to add, I’d like for you to talk a little bit about some of the books that you’ve authored.

Brian King: Sure. The first book that I wrote was prior to my even realizing I was on the spectrum. I’m also a 22-year cancer survivor.

Tricia Kenney: Oh, wow.

Sharon daVanport: Okay.

Brian King: But the first book that I wrote is called What to Do When You’re Totally Screwed.

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter] Right.

Sharon daVanport: That’s a good [unknown].

Brian King: The title reflects the absolute, complete state of helplessness that I found myself in. I was 18 years old.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brian King: [Unknown] of high school graduation, I had this abdominal pain that was so severe, took me to the doctor and I was sent from one doctor to the next. I found out that I had testicular cancer. That’s hard enough for a young male, let alone someone on the spectrum.

Tricia Kenney: Mm.

Brian King: So graduated high school, spent the summer in chemotherapy. My friends stopped talking to me, my hair fell out, my doctors couldn’t give me straight answers. How’s that for structure?

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Sharon daVanport: Wow.

Brian King: And you’re life’s completely in chaos.

Sharon daVanport: Umhm.

Brian King: So I lost everything. I almost lost my mind. It was just a horrific experience. So when I got the word that I was in remission, I made myself a promise that I would never allow myself to be that helpless again. Which is one of the reasons why when there’s a problem in my life, I absolutely immerse myself in it until I find a solution, which is why I come up with so many of the strategies that I now teach people. If something doesn’t work, okay, I want to refine it and tweak it and make it more effective, because of that promise I made myself 22 years ago.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: The first book is about that process of getting diagnosed with cancer, having that crisis, making that promise to myself and emerging from it. And becauase it’s from a very logical, Aspergian approach, even though it’s not targeted towards people on the spectrum, a lot of my clients still get that book and find a lot in it.

Sharon daVanport: Oh, yeah. [Laughter]

Brian King: [Unknown] a problem and rising from it. The other two books that I’ve written, one is called I’m an Aspie,, which is also the name of my company. It’s a lot of what I call instructional poetry. It’s not talking about the woods and the bees and the sky; it’s instruction. This is how you think about this—this is how you accomplish that, but it’s in rhyming verse, so it’s a little bit more entertaining. I also wrote a children’s book called Thank You Sammy, which is about a very quirky squirrel who likes everything the way he left it; he likes everything to work in the forest. If things aren’t working the way they’re supposed to, he jumps in to get things back on track. So he’s very much an Aspie.

Tricia Kenney: Mmhm.

Brian King: And the enduring quality about him is his desire to make things work results in him being extremely helpful for everybody. If somebody has a problem, he’s always there to step in and make sure the other animals get what they need. It’s not to be a spoiler here, but towards the end of the story—

Tricia Kenney: He doesn’t die, does he?

Brian King: No, no no no.

Tricia Kenney: Okay. [Laughter]

Sharon daVanport: Oh, Tricia. [Laughter]

Brian King: But what he realizes is how valued he is because of his quirkiness. He ends up getting sick and everybody rallies to support him. He says:”Well, why are you doing this for me?” “Well, because you helped me do this.” He says: “Well, you needed help, so I gave you help.” Because to him, it was very logical: You need help, so I give you help.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: But to them, it meant so much more, and that’s when he realizes what his value was to them.

Tricia Kenney: Aww.

Brian King: It sends a wonderful message to any young or older spectrumite, which is: You can turn your idiosyncracies into something of value if you know how to apply it. Not everything has to be a stim or an eccentricity or an awkward characteristic. When you apply it in the right place and the right way, it has value. If you’re trying to use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail, you’re using the right tool in exactly the wrong way. But if you know how to align it with a screw, bingo. You’ve got a solution. So that story kind of speaks to that.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: The book that I’m currently writing is all of the strategies that I’ve been referring to to meet each other in the middle. How do you negotiate that partnership so that we can have our relationship? The real world that these kids are supposed to be prepared for is comprised of individual relationships, so they need to know how to negotiate each relationship. It’s not a matter of having this one size fits all, make eye-contact, shake hands, go out there and please everybody. That’s not going to happen. It’s; How do yu establish ar relationship with a person in front of you?

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Brian King: They need to know how to master the one-on-one, not master looking in a ten-person group to accomplish the task.

Sharon daVanport: Right.

Tricia Kenney: Very good.

Sharon daVanport: Hey, Brian, this is Sharon. Tricia’s going to go ahead and carry out the rest of the show. I just wanted to thank you again and say my goodbyes. I have to cut out just a little bit early. I’ve got family plans. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, and I will catch up with you later. You guys have a great rest of the hour, okay?

Tricia Kenney: All right, thanks, Sharon. Have a good afternoon.

Sharon daVanport: Okay. All right. You guys have a great rest of the show. All right. Bye-bye.

[Sharon hangs up].

Tricia Kenney: Okay, so it’s just us now. [Laughter]

Brian King: [Unknown]

Tricia Kenney: [Laughter] You were telling about the book that you’re currently writing.

Brian King: That’s pretty much what it’s about. It’s realizing that the relationshipa are a one-on-one proposition. After all, spectrumites are first and foremost unitaskers. That’s when it’s one thing at a time. Let me just focus on the task at hand, and if it happens to be a relationship with the person in front of you, you need to know how to do that.

There’s this push to: “You have to be successful in groups; you have to know how to work in groups,” and my resounding response to that is: “Wrong!” If people are not good in groups, they will not seek them out. When parents or teachers tell me about this wonderful future they percieve for their children, they somehow believe that a social context must be a crowded one. It has to be a busy office; it has to be a noisy cafeteria. That’s ridiculous.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: A social environment is an environment with people in it; an environment where you will likely engage one person, maybe two. When I ask other spectrumites: “What’s your threshold? How many is too many?” it’s interesting how often I hear the number three.

Tricia Kenney: Wow.

Brian King: It’s three people [in total?]. If there’s any more than three, it gets uncomfortable. I’m sure there are exceptions to that; there always is, because we’re individuals. But you have to know what your personal threshold is: how much is too much? No number of social skills is going to change that. When you know what your threshold is, you begin to look at the environment around you and say: “Well, what kind of career path can I take, what social settings can I be in where that threshold will be respected? I can still meet my needs of social connection; I can still find people that are just like me; I can make my contribution in terms of my career path with that kind of a context.”

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: It’s no surprise for myself that I chose social work. I get to be helpful; I get to solve problerms, and I get to work in a quiet office where there’s one or two people in it; where I can adjust the lighting and adjust the sound, make it sensory-friendly. So the idea that I would have to be destined to work for a noisy non-profit agency with kids playing around in the waiting room and it’s noisy and chaos, [unknown] that’s one setting. That’s not the setting that meets my needs, and if it doesn’t meet your child’s needs, well, [unknown] it. Don’t steer them down that path.

Tricia Kenney: Right. What if they’re in a situation whefre you don’t have that kind of control? Often the school setting is like that, where kids are thrown into these crowds, regardless of whatever they’re going through that day. They might be having a bad day; they might not have slept well; they might be hungry, whatever the case may be, where their sensory issues are a little bit more heightened and they’re going to react a little bit more strongly? How do we help our kids navigate through that?

Brian King: Well, it all begins with information. That comes up all the time, where the only indication that anybody has that something’s not working for the child is behavior.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: And they think that the behavior has everything to do about the request that was made: “Well, I asked him to take his book out and he told me to buzz off.” Or: “I put the paper in front of him and he shoved it off the desk.” And they assume the problem is in that interaction; they don’t have any sense of what builds up to it. So in a lot of the inservices, I educate them on just what it takes for this child to be in that space. It isn’t about completing the assignment; it isn’t about taking the test. There are so many other problems than just being there that the child gets to be able to solve.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: That’s typically sensory, if it’s auditory procesing, if it’s a light sensitivity, if you’re hungry, as you mentioned. A child that is hungry has an unmet need; he becomes frustrated and anxious and irritibility [unknown].

Tricia Kenney: Right. And that goes for adults, too.

Brian King: Yeah, absolutely. And how is a behavior plan going to solve that problem of an unmet biological need?

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: You punish the kid because they’re disorganized because they’re hungry? So what it ultimately comes down to is understanding what can potentially sabotage this child’s focus. If there is an issue with any of those, you’d identify that before you issue a consequence. It can’t just be: “Well, that was the non-preferred behavior. It was inappropriate and therefore there must be a consequence.” That’s baloney. If you solve the problem or eliminate the cause of it, the problem won’t exist, so you need to do a little detective work.

You also, as much as possible, need to educate the child. The child can’t ask for help with a problem they don’t know exists.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: It’s one thing to have a conversation with a teacher and say: “Let me tell you about my child. My child has these issues and those issues and whatnot.” The child doesn’t know this stuff. So when an aide or somebody comes to a child that seems a little rattled and says: “Do you need a break? You look like you’re overloaded.” The child says: “No, I don’t need a break. I’m fine.” In many cases, the child knows there’s an issue but doesn’t know what the issue is.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So if you don’t know what the problem is, how can you hear a possible solution and say: “Ah, that’s it. Yeah, a break’ll do”? They just know something’s not working. There’s education to be had by all. When it comes right down to not having the option, the option always exists. But if you don’t know what the problem is, you might not realize that you actually have the solution.

Tricia Kenney: Well, how does that work with a four or five year old?

Brian King: A four or five year old that what?

Tricia Kenney: To self-identify what is going on and to go along with what would make them feel better. I know when my children were younger, one of my sons would just leave. He would go into a different room, and it would be quiet and dark and he would just sit there on his bed, not doing anything, was just chilling out, because he needed a break, apparently. [Laughter]

Brian King: Guess what? My 70-year-old Aspie father still does that.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. [Chuckles]

Brian King: It’s basically disengagement: “Okay, I’ve had my threshold here and I don’t knwo how to let the people around me know that this isn’t working, but I know it isn’t. But I know how to solve that problem, so I’ll just do it. I’ll just leave.” So if you want to negotiate your relationship to be notified of this, then you negotiate: How is he going to let me know that?

But in terms of a four or five year old, what’s working, what’s not working,the way you introduce the language to them is by basic feedback, black and white criteria: “Ok, you seem to really like doing that. You really enjoy doing this activity right now.” Or: “You seem to feel better when you’re in your room sitting on the bed.” Or, if he’s upset: “Oh, it seems that you don’t like that. Is it true that you don’t like it?” Then you’re repeating the words that they can use back.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: “Is it [accurate?] that you don’t like this, because it seems like you don’t like it.” As you’re clarifying and trying to get a sense of what their experience is, because you’re not telling them what their experience is, you’re asking. You’re trying to get to know them. If you’re asking, then it requires an answer. Telling them juat requires them to listen.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So you’re trying to get some self-advocacy teaching simple language. We do this with my five year old. He needs a lot of deep pressure, a lot of hugs.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah.

Brian King: So when he needs some deep pressure, we say: “Do you like it when I hug you? When you say yes, we adjust our tightness. “Does it feel better when it’s this tight or looser?” When you say yesl, “Okay, you like it this tight? Okay, great.” And the more he was able to give that language, the more we can then work on requesting that language.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: Your child can then learn to self-advocate, and negotiate with the teacher to use the same language, so when your child then says: “This isn’t working for me. This is the solution I need,” the teacher now knows: “Okay, I need to support this child to get their needs met.”

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: While I’m introducin those criteria, it’s not just a matter of “something is making me upset.” What is making you upset? And what will make you feel better? Does that answer your question?

Tricia Kenney: Yeah; yeah, definitely. I think a lot of people go in, especially if your child is nonverbal, going into a school setting and we just worry our minds off, going: “How is this school staff going to deal with my child when my child is doing this or doing that, and the teacher reacts in s way that makes it worse or they’re just not going to understand that they’re hungry or something like that?”

I think that really makes us on edge throughout the school day, because we aren’t sure what’s going on with our child. And then of course when the child comes home from school, we don’t get any sort of feedback from the child: if anything went wrong or if any of their needs weren’t met, that sort of scenario. So I think you’re right. There needs to be some sort of communication started in whatever way works for your family, works for your child in communicating what they need or whether or not they like certain things or not, whether they’re verbal or not.

Brian King: With a nonverbal child, it is far more effective to teach the child sign language in moments like that. If the child’s having difficulty focusing and [unknown] write something down, and it would take too long to type it into whatever kind of talking board they have. So a sign that means: “I need a break,” “I’m hungry,” “I need to go to the bathroom,” is something that could be negotiated between the child and the teacher so that the second [unknown] to teaching us what the need is and can meet it.

Tricia Kenney: Umhm.

Brian King: The more complex the communication is between them, the harder it’s going to be to communicate. Too many teachers I hear saying: “Use your words.”

Tricia Kenney: Yeah. [Chuckles]

Brian King: Okay, well, what if I’m too disorganized to use language right now? We need another way. We need a language for crisis. “Use your words”? Language is hard to come by when you’re in crisis. You’re disorganized. Another reason why a child might just get up and leave the room when they’re overloaded: they can’t think of a language, but they know what the problem is, so they leave. So again, it’s finding that halfway point: what’ll work for both of us in this situation?

Tricia Kenney: Definitely. I even hear with verbal high school students when they get overwhelmed, the day has just been too difficult or they had to do a very stressful test or something like that, where they will just get up and try to leave the school without saying anything to anyone.

Brian King: Yeah. What’s also unfortunate is that there were no ways for the child to check in before that threshold was hit, and that’s a whole other complex matter.

Tricia Kenney: Right; right.

Brian King: [Unknown] not ask for help. You don’t want to miss classroom time and you need to stay in here as much as possible, so you’re discouraged from taking care of yourself, because you need to learn how to cope bvetter. So, again, the mixed messages: that we want you to be in the classroom, we want you to be supported, but we don’t want you to take care of yourself because you’ll miss classtime.

Tricia Kenney: Hm.

Brian King: So in terms of sitting down and really fleshing out what do the priorities need to be for “everybody wins,” that can be a very lengthy discussion, but it’s a very necessary discussion.

Tricia Kenney: Right. Definitely. Boy, it would be nice if we could just send you along to every school with everyone that has these needs and just aren’t sure how to vocalize it or to get it done on paper, so it can be brought out. I think what you’re doing is just absolutely wonderful and I really love the way that you put such a positive spin on everything that you do. I watch your Facebook page and the little suggestions you throw out and everything, and it’s all just so very positive.

It’s never: “Let’s do some sort of uprising against the school system” or those sort of things that we see often. So I really appreciate that about you; I think that’s the way to get things accomplished, and I think that’s the way that we’re going to see real change that will affect the future for autistic kids, as opposed to: “Well, this is as good as it’s going to get. Good luck.” [Chuckles]

Brian King: Absolutely. And my website SpectrumMentor.com is undergoing an overhauling now. I’m really looking to shift it into a place that provides exactly what you’re looking for, so that more people can get these strategies and this kind of thinking. In our relationships, we all want to feel supported.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: We all want to feel like we’re contributing; like we’re significant somehow. So this win-lose, go to war, make you do what you’re supposed to, make you follow the regulations, somebody always loses in that kind of a conversation, and that is not how relationships work.

Tricia Kenney: Right.

Brian King: So everything I do is geared towards: “Let’s make it work for us. If we can’t make it work for us, then we can’t be in a relationship together.”

Tricia Kenney: Exactly.

Brian King: “It doesn’t mean we have to be enemies or adversaries. We just don’t connect. So we go our separate ways and wish each other peace.”

Tricia Kenney: Exactly. And wouldn’t it be nice if everything was like that? [Sighs. Chuckles]

Brian King: Well, the world, we can’t, but the relationships, we can.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah, that’s true. Well, I do want to thank you for being with us today and sharing some of the great work that you’re doing, and your perspective and your methods are just wonderful. I hope that people do connect with you. What was your website, again?

Brian King: It’s SpectrumMentor.com

Tricia Kenney: And I hope they can get in touch with you, check out what you’re doing. Where were you recently? I think you were in Wisconsin.

Brian King: I was in Racine, Wisconsin, doing an inservice for a school. [Unknown] in New York state in two weeks to do a presentation out there, and I’m very blessed that I keep getting more offers. So I just continue to do the work and hope for the best.

Tricia Kenney: All right. And we’ll be hoping with you. Well, I hope you come back to Wisconsin, because I’m moving up there, right by the Racine area, actually. [Chuckles]

Brian King: Give me a holler when you’re all settled.

Tricia Kenney: Yeah, definitely. I think what you have to offer is very valuable. Thank you again for being with us today, and we will see you around.

Brian King: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Tricia Kenney: All right. Goodbye.

Brian King: Bye.

[Brian hangs up].

Tricia Kenney: Okay, everyone, that is our show for today. Please join us next week. We’ll be talking with Sheila Spark, and she’ll be talking about some of the work she’s doing and how she’s just been working so tirelessly since the tragedy of losing her son Nathan a few months back in the summer. It’s going to be a really touching show, but she’s certainly an inspiring person, so I hope you’ll be able to join us. That’ll be next Saturday.

In the meantime, keep voting for us on Pepsi project. All you have to do is go to Refresheverything.com/awn and put in your votes. Or you can go ahead and just text 101500 to “Pepsi,” which is 73774, and we will see you next week. Thank you, and take care.

[End]

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