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Get Real

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Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, December 2006

Will next year be better for you and your kids with special needs? "Gosh, I hope so," I hear you say. Me too. I want things to get better every year. With two kids who have special needs, some years have been tough for our family. Recently, even with new challenges, things have been pretty darn good.

One of our best tools to make things better is to "get real." You get real when you do a reality check, examine all your assumptions and make changes to your family's lives.

Now usually, someone telling you to face reality is trying to get you to accept a harsh truth you've been avoiding and deal with disappointment. I think that's why many of us can be reluctant to think about changing the way we do things.

I find a "get real" session has exactly the opposite effect. It helps you let go of things that aren't working and try new approaches that can trigger sought-after progress.

My 23 year-old son, Drew, has Asperger Syndrome. I'm still finding out things about him, learning more about how he thinks, and discovering better ways to relate to him.

I got an insight the other day when I was interviewing Brian King, a licensed clinical social worker who has Asperger Syndrome. Brian learned about his AS in the process of getting an AS diagnosis for one of his sons. Now he counsels people with AS and autism, along with their families, employers and others.

Brian said that after his diagnosis, he realized that he's not good at multi-tasking. For example, the people Brian worked with expected him to make eye-contact and do the traditional things that indicate the average person is paying attention during a conversation. But listening and making eye contact at the same time was exhausting for Brian. He found that he's more of a uni-tasker. Not forcing himself to process visual information while he's listening allows him to more easily focus on what people are saying. If the people he works with can change their assumptions and accept less frequent eye-contact, he doesn't have to expend lots of energy on something that's culturally expected, but not always essential. This enables him to work more comfortably and concentrate more efficiently.

Talking with Brian helped me see some of my son's behaviors in a fresh light. I know that it's sometimes hard for Drew to maintain eye contact. But perhaps the solution isn't helping him train himself to always look at people during conversations.

Maybe it's helping him focus on making eye contact when it's really necessary, but also accepting that it's not always worth the considerable effort. Maybe he can sometimes explain to people that it helps him think to look away while holding a conversation.

When you write your new year's resolutions this year, maybe you could write down the assumptions you've made about your special needs child. Then you could talk about your list in a "get real" session with your son or daughter. Maybe your child is now old enough to understand and explain something he couldn't before. Maybe she can help you revise your assumptions and plan new approaches that help you get along better and provide even better support for her future.

And then, maybe you can use what you've learned to help others understand people with special needs in the new year.

As for me, I'm thinking 2007 would be a good year for an Asperger "get real" remake of the movie, "Casablanca." I've already got a start on the dialog for the new Bogey and Bergman characters.

"Here's looking at you kid...or not."

Have a real special new year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter produces videos that support people with Asperger Syndrome, Autism and other special needs. You can find more articles on his website at You can learn more about Brain King on his website,

Copyright 2006 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.


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