The authors conclude that if our children on the spectrum are not lovingly ‘pushed,’ particularly away from a reliance on internet technology, ‘the outcome is predictable: continued dependency, vulnerability to internet/gaming addiction, loneliness, and insecurity, and a vocational wasteland.’
By Ruth Mortimer, Ph.D.
The Loving Push: How parents and professionals can help spectrum kids become successful adults (2015) Temple Grandin, PhD and Debra Moore, PhD; Arlington, TX: Future Horizons Inc.
How can we encourage young people on the autistic spectrum to move out beyond their comfort zones in order to learn new skills, move to higher education, get jobs, and gain independence? The authors, Dr. Temple Grandin and Dr. Debra Moore address this question in the The Loving Push. They believe parents, teachers and therapists need to identify the ‘danger zones’ which are constraining these young people from learning the basic skills needed for rewarding adult lives.
Many readers will already be familiar with Dr Temple Grandin, an amazing woman who, despite (or maybe because of) the challenges of living with autism, grew up to be a successful scientist and livestock equipment designer. Owing to her delayed speech, her mother ensured she received intensive speech therapy which enabled her to talk. However, other features of being on the autistic spectrum saw her endure a difficult time during her teenage years due to persistent teasing. With respect to her vocation, Temple was fortunate to have two significant figures in ‘the loving push’ – her high school science teacher and her aunt. Nowadays, Temple is an international lecturer on autism, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and the author of many books on autism.
Dr. Debra Moore is an experienced psychologist having worked with a range of people at different ages on the autistic spectrum. She has developed and facilitates three LinkedIn groups: LinkedtoAspergers, Helping Hands Mentors, and Linked to Aspie Teens. Debra also founded and directed a private clinic for 35 years which was set up to train pre- and postdoctoral psychology interns and fellows. She has been a regular writer with the Autism Parenting Magazine and has contributed to other publications. This is her first co-authorship with Dr Temple Grandin.
The Loving Push looks at a range of issues relevant to young people on the autistic spectrum and how, with the right encouragement, or a loving push, difficulties can be overcome, by learning the right skills. One of the strengths of the book is how each topic is exemplified by various stories from eight individuals. Yes, this is anecdotal evidence, but the discussion of the issues is grounded in real life. As the book is aimed at a readership of both parents and professionals, it needs to bypass academic speak, yet not talk down to people. It has achieved the right balance in this regard. For those who wish to dig deeper, each chapter is referenced at the end of the book.
The book is structured into three sections which I’ll briefly summarize. The first chapter of Part 1 introduces the eight individuals who have generously shared their experiences giving the reader an insight into how each of them have been helped or mentored to achieve their various goals. Their stories relating to their successes are inspiring and serve to encourage one to keep reading. The next chapter discusses the three necessary components identified by the authors for your child’s success: 1) avoiding learned helplessness; 2) learning optimism and resisting habitual negative thinking; and 3) the critical impact of mentors. The last chapter of the section examines ways to break your child’s bad habits.
The focus of Part 2 is on stretching your child and avoiding pitfalls; issues relating to anxiety; and a large chapter is devoted to compulsive gaming and media recluses. I found this particular chapter both informative and disturbing. You don’t need to be a parent of an autistic child to have such concerns as parents worldwide are becoming more alarmed about the dangers of their young people being addicted to video games. In this chapter, we learn that ‘compulsive use ruins educational, social, and vocational development’ and, that males on the autistic spectrum, in particular, can become ‘online recluses in their bedrooms’. Some discussion is given to how the brain is affected by excessive gaming, along with adverse social and psychological effects. As this is not a formal, academic book, these explanations are kept fairly low key. However, the message is still there – beware of excessive gaming, particularly with autistic children. There are plenty of references appended to this chapter, so readers can certainly read up on the neurological and psycho-neurological information if they wish.
The last section is devoted to preparing your child for adulthood and teaching vital life skills for success. There is one topic discussed in this section ‘Teens on the Spectrum Can Be Especially Safe Drivers!’ which rankled with me somewhat. This is my only criticism of The Loving Push and I guess reflects my personal standpoint. For some reason, the topic is mentioned a few times throughout the book and had me thinking ‘is learning to drive the metaphor for these kids’? As a parent of a young adult male who is autistic and has learning difficulties, I do not want him learning to drive. He would not be able to understand a written test and he would be unsafe on the road due to spatial awareness difficulties, anxiety issues and inability to process more than one thing at a time.
Two authors make the assumption that people reading this book will be working with those on the autistic spectrum who are quite capable of driving. The authors have highlighted the difficulties for teenagers on the autistic spectrum grappling with spatial awareness and perceptual difficulties as they try to judge distances, and provide sound techniques to assist them. Driving is definitely a great skill to have, but I believe it can also present a potential danger. I am concerned about the over emphasis on learning to drive and the assumptions around autistic people’s abilities in this respect.
Dr Grandin and Dr Moore provide concrete examples of people on the autistic spectrum who are shaping for themselves fulfilling lives, aided by significant others who have supported and guided them. I think it is hard for any person to negotiate their way through teenage years; there is so much stuff to sift through. Being on the autistic spectrum adds a huge layer with which to work. The authors conclude that if our children on the spectrum are not lovingly ‘pushed,’ particularly away from a reliance on internet technology, ‘the outcome is predictable: continued dependency, vulnerability to internet/gaming addiction, loneliness, and insecurity, and a vocational wasteland.’
I guess what I was left feeling after reading this book was, ‘we certainly need to train the trainers’. We need well-informed people working with those on the spectrum.
I certainly recommend The Loving Push. It is well written and I like its structure. My only caveat is that I believe it is written for higher functioning people on the autistic spectrum.
Bio Dr. Ruth Mortimer
I live in Palmerston North, New Zealand and am the mother of a 21 year old young man with autism and bipolar disorder. When he was 10 years old, he became aggressive culminating in several years of assaults on my former husband and myself. I now have PTSD and high anxiety. However, we are moving on and my son is slowly maturing and hopefully will be able to move into a supported living situation sometime soon. Over the past 3 years, he has been living with another family for which we are most grateful. I love him to bits and he is a beautiful young man. We have been fortunate to have received wonderful support and a very good education for our son.
I also have an older son who lives in Wellington. He is a great support and regularly comes home to visit.
When I was 50 I graduated with a PhD in psychology and have been involved in a few research projects, and tutoring. Latterly, I have been doing some freelance editing/proofreading and writing, working from home. I have not been able to fully develop a career as a psychologist but have accepted that raising a special needs child has had to take priority.
Although I am not on the autistic spectrum, I am a very sensitive person, and can relate to some of the issues that autistic people find difficult such as noise. I enjoy singing in my church choir, music in general, art, reading, and lots of cafe visits.
Header image: Courtesy of Future Horizons