Interview with an Autism Expert – Paula Moraine, author of Autism and Everyday Executive Function
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Interview with an Autism Expert – Paula Moraine, author of Autism and Everyday Executive Function

by Janet Price, Regional Director of Community Education and Transition, CLE Rockville

CLE recently had an opportunity to sit down with Paula Moraine, M.Ed. Paula is an educational consultant, as well as a tutor, coach, mentor and author. Her first book, Helping Students Take Control of Everyday Executive Function, was recently followed by her new book, Autism and Everyday Executive Function.

Why is it important to look at executive function challenges differently for a person with autism than for someone with ADHD?

Paula Moraine, M.Ed.I often say that ‘Autism changes the rules’ of executive function. Autism can make everyday social and sensory experiences feel overwhelming. Executive functions are the function of our brain that controls attention and behavior. How we process the world of our attention determines how well we can engage our executive thinking. Everyone needs executive functions in everyday life to help organize behavior so we can decide what we are going to do and how we are going to do it. If the individual with autism experiences everyday life as a bit overwhelming, then in those moments he or she is not able to effectively filter and sort daily activities through their executive functions smoothly.

What are “autistic access points” and how do they work?

I created the term ‘autistic access points’ to illustrate the fact that we do not always have direct access to our executive brain, and we often need to learn to use some new tools before we gain access to our executive functions. For the individual with autism, these tools are vitally important to build background skills that provide the needed access to executive functions. A good example of this is the access point of relationship. It is difficult enough to control our attention, but if the relationships we have in a given situation are supportive, helpful and safe, then our attention is in turn a safe experience. Each access point or tool gives us the background skills needed for the challenges of executive function.

In your book, you talk about your interactions with Pia, the Finnish translator for your first book who also happens to be autistic. How did your work with her, and other individuals with autism, affect your point of view regarding executive function?

Autism and Everyday Executive FunctionPia is an adult autistic savant, and her special skill is the area of autism theory. As a non-autistic individual, I found that my insight was formed through living and working with individuals with autism, and Pia provided me with first-hand accounts of what it felt like to be autistic. It changed everything because I could share an observation with her, and she would tell me what that observation felt like from personal experience. Her comments were profoundly life changing for me, and I gained immeasurable respect for what she described as autistic experiences.

What are some of the top strategies you recommend to students and young adults on the autism spectrum to address challenges with organization?

My top strategy is to keep it simple. Too often, executive function strategies or interventions take the form of a long list of activities that are needed to navigate the most basic experiences. I always recommend that the individual find one activity, or identify one thing he or she wants to change, and work on that one change throughout the day. One small change will have profound effects, and it is often hard to hold the urge to change in check. Executive functions are the slowest maturing part of our brain function, and that should be a good reminder that change comes slowly in the world of executive skill building. In this executive function work, slow is good and small is beautiful.

Newsletter Articles – April 2016

Denise and Chris Cameron

Frequently I find myself reflecting on Autism and how it has formed me into the person I am today. I didn’t choose to walk this journey; but I was indeed selected to raise this beautiful boy of mine. I can see the transformations in myself that are all positive changes.

Each transition of Chris’s life always produced an enormous amount of stress for me. At times, that’s all that would occupy my mind. I often would get very attached to his teachers, to the extent that I would be fearful for him to move on to the next grade level. I never thought the new teacher would understand him or care for him. Always to my amazement, they seemed to be even more exceptional.

Social skills training at CLE Austin

The common features among individuals with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD) are deficits in communication skills, behavior, and social functioning. With instruction and intervention, many individuals with ASD are able to overcome their barriers in communication and behavior. However, social challenges are often harder to overcome because individuals “on the spectrum” tend to stay behind the curve. As they get older, the skills seeming to be “second nature” to neurotypical peers become more complex, vague, or abstract. In preschool, it is socially appropriate for kids to engage in parallel play and this may be the extent of friendships at that age. Parallel play is a relatively uncomplicated activity. In college, interactions with others become as complicated as dating or managing multiple layers of friendships. Try to break this down into teachable steps; it is not easy. Many experts agree that the core deficit in ASD is in Theory of Mind, or the ability to view the world through the eyes of others. Many social interventions are geared toward teaching this skill, often innate in others, by helping students “read” the verbal and visual cues in others.

Meggie at CLE Monterey

My life with autism has been an interesting and challenging life, but I never imagined that I would be advocating for people and kids in the autism community.

It first started when I was in 8th grade. I was not properly diagnosed until I was 14 years old, and I felt like I needed to tell my classmates about why I acted and learned differently than they did. So I wrote a letter explaining my autism and I decided to read it out loud in front of my class, along with my teacher and school principal. When I first went up, I was a little nervous because I don’t always like talking in front of people, but I got over it fast. All I needed to do was read from my letter, and I did. When I was done, I got an applause. That was my first time telling my personal story of autism, and I thought as I got into high school, I could tell more about the autism community.

Nico at CLE Fort Lauderdale

There’s a common assumption that people with autism are considered introverts, meaning that they aren’t very socially active. I, however, am somewhat of a unicorn, meaning a rare example. I am a highly extroversive young man despite my autism. I am most at ease when I am surrounded by other people who care about me, and vice versa. Unfortunately, this preference has caused more than enough problems for me. It has been brought to my attention that when it comes to making friends, I tend to appear somewhat desperate when I approach people. This usually results in me pushing them away, rather than bringing them closer. As for those who stick around, I realize that some are most likely just being polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings.

The Reason I Jump

Here at the College Living Experience Denver, we have ample experience interacting with students on the autistic spectrum who regularly display non-traditional social behaviors. However, understanding the reasons behind these actions has always been a conundrum.

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