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The Autism Playbook for Teens: Imagination-Based Mindfulness Activities to Calm Yourself, Build Independence, and Connect with Others

Ramkumar, Aishworiya MBBS, MRCPCh (UK)

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: April 2017 - Volume 38 - Issue 3 - p 232
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000430
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Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioural Paediatrics, Department of Paediatrics, National University Hospital, Singapore

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest.

This book is meant to help teenagers with an Autism Spectrum Disorder develop mindfulness and awareness of their thoughts and actions. It details several imagination- and thought-based activities to deal with various situations and tasks in everyday life from anxiety to dealing with new experiences and identifying one's feelings. It is divided into 3 subsections, namely, Calm your Body and Mind, Use your Thoughts and Feelings to build Your Independence, and Reach out to connect with Others and Direct your life. They are arranged in a progressive order, such that the skills learned in the first section are built upon for the subsequent ones. The sections are divided into chapters, with a total of 16 chapters with topics, such as “Soar with Your Butterflies: Calm Your Anxiety,” “Basic Meltdown Prevention: Managing Anger,” and “Practice Kindness: Make Friends.”

The book starts off with a very basic practice of observing and relating to one's breathing and using that to gain better control of emotions. It details a step-by-step approach to doing so, giving a “scenario” for each setting and concrete instructions to follow to achieve the intended effect. What's positive in this book is the fact that it explains numerous tasks in daily life by breaking them down into discrete steps. This includes speaking up in a classroom to do a presentation, getting lunch at the school cafeteria, and even dealing with unwanted and negative thoughts. Furthermore, it clearly spells out what is acceptable socially and the consequences expected if one does something less desirable. For example, Chapter 14, “Practice Kindness: Make Friends,” details the basics of making friends and giving compliments, including how to formulate a compliment, when to give it, and the expected reaction to it. By giving pointers, such as “Don't approach someone if they are busy talking with a group of other people just to give a compliment,” it explains many a social rule that a typically developing child will know but will be a challenge to someone with Autism. The book is written in relatively simple English with plenty of anecdotes from the daily lives of American teenagers that would make it easy for the reader to relate to. Although it is targeted toward teenagers, it can be applicable to younger readers as well provided that they can understand the content and are capable to follow the exercises mentioned.

The Autism playbook for teens is clearly meant for children with Autism who are capable of reading and understanding English prose. It requires that one be able to relate to the American context that the book is set in, so that they can practice the exercises suggested. As such, some of the content may not be applicable to international readers. Having said that, the majority of the scenarios discussed and activities suggested can easily be applied to children from all over the world, with only some minor modifications required for some of the scenarios. Moreover, as with all self-help books, the book is only as effective as the extent to which the exercises are followed and incorporated into daily life. Reading it alone will not be a solution to the day-to-day challenges faced by many an Autistic child. In summary, this book will prove to be a useful companion for teenagers with Autism as well as health care professionals who work with them to assist in navigating the myriad of social rules and complexities in daily life.

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