Saturday, June 22, 2013

5 Stepping Stones to Navigate Through Concrete Thinking

"I'd like to work with senior citizens," said my daughter.

"Do you think those people will like your hair? I am a realist," said the professional job coordinator. 
My daughter's head tilted.
"I am a realist. Do you think those people will like your make up?" she continued.
My daughter's head remained tilted and her eyes squinted.
"Do you think those people will like your earrings? I am a realist, I am just being a realist," she said.
We were safe, I noted my daughter's eyes glaze over and she moved into her inner world.  My daughter is an adult navigating an abstract world with concrete thinking and an auditory processing disorder. I am often her translator and in this case I remained silent unless she requested me to provide more information.  I wondered, "what was my daughter hearing compared to what I had heard?" I was stunned. Safe in the car I asked, "What did you think of the job coordinator." 
My daughter, promptly answered, "Who was that? I didn't get why that Realtor cared about how I looked, Grandma always says she likes my hair and make up. And Grandma's friend told me to get more piercings and said she'd do it herself if she was my age. That Realtor was weird."

Step One - Recognize concrete vs abstract thought processing — For those of us who live, laugh, work and love persons with concrete thinking we sometimes "get it" and sometimes we don't. Often we are so busy living our lives that we miss the understanding of the person we are trying to mark trails of success and plant opportunities for learning. Instructions given by professionals, parents, caregivers, teachers and other people close to the person with concrete thinking must take their thought process and life experiences into into consideration at each step of communication or instruction.

Here's an example:

"Emotions are like waves, you simply ride them up and ride them down," said the therapist, and she repeated her statement three times for additional understanding, moving her hand up and down like a wave and finally finishing with "You ride it up and down."
In the car, I always encourage playback of what happened in the session and work through additional understanding.
"You know what I don't get?" my daughter asked.
"How come she wanted me to get in a wagon and ride up and down."
I translated what the therapist was trying to explain and how emotions can be loud or calm, big or small, and we talked together about examples of loud emotions and calm emotions and when they happen and how they change. Then we talked about what the waves in an ocean are like - we live in Minnesota - and how they work.

Find the love in each stepping stone.

Step Two - Recognize concrete thought processing is a valuable skill and honor it — Concrete words name and describe things in detail. They provide clear direction, and what you say is what you get. My friend, is a manager in manufacturing and he shared how he values the people doing visual inspection of his products versus the robotics and machines they had implemented.

"I would put my functional employees up against my other employees, visual computerization and robotics on any given day. My functional teams would beat them hands down in quality, consistency and skill. I have one department I've been thinking of changing to the employees who understand what I need and once I tell them what the job is that I need completed, it is exactly what they do."

A word, picture (sign) or phrase is concrete if:
  1. It provides specific meaning. 
  2. It is specific, particular, real and tangible
  3. It is characterized by or belonging to immediate experience of actual things or events
A word, picture (sign) or phrase is abstract if:
    1. There is little or no attempt at written pictorial representation or narrative content
    2. It is unclear, indefinite, imprecise, indistinct, slight, hazy, vacant or obscure
    3. The words or phrases do not provide specific meaning
    4.  It is insufficiently factual
    5. It has only intrinsic form
     National Security Example:

    "____, return to Homeland Security. _____, return to Homeland Security."
    I looked at my daughter, "What did you do?"
    "I don't know. Maybe I forgot something," she answered and we trucked back up the concourse, to miss our plane and see what we forgot.
    "Are you ____?" the uniformed agent asked my daughter.
    "Yes, I am," she answered.
    "Were you carrying a lighter?"
    "Were you carrying a lighter?"
    "You were carrying a lighter?"
    "No, I put it in my sock so I wasn't carrying it."
    "We are heading to a conference to speak on fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, my daughter has a brain injury. She is answering you with all honesty."I pulled out our book, The Best I Can Be, Living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. My daughter is beautiful and no one would realize she had a hidden difference.
    "Your sign was wrong," my daughter said.
    "What do you mean?" asked the agent
    "Your sign said, do not carry lighter, so I put it in my sock so I wouldn't carry it. You should put a lighter with a circle and line through it, then I would have thrown it away."
    On our return flight, my daughter noticed that all the signs had been changed.

    Step Three - Persons with concrete thinking may hide  — He is so witty and funny and expressive! But what if what you thought was funny was actually the way that persons understood what you said. What if the question you asked was also the question that person answered. What if what you asked was a matter of life or death?

    Winner 2012 Best USA
    Books - Young Adult
    Fiction, Mom's Choice
    Gold Fiction - Adults
    and Young Adults

    Excerpt from The Whitest Wall
    Turner pressed record. “Are you Kevin James Abbott?”
    Turner recited the Miranda warning. “Do you understand?”
    “Can you sign this paper that says I have read you your rights?”
    “Sure.” Kevin liked signing his name.
    “Do you want to talk to me?”
    “Yes.” Kevin knew he was innocent. He hated Doc Johnson, but hating someone was no good reason to kill him. He’d tell the truth for a ‘stay out of jail’ pass. He was a good talker and had bamboozled his way out of police situations before. What was that word—no contesto, no commento? Kevin fixated on a small black fly as it walked across the table.
    “Kevin, do you know why you’re here?”
    “I killed Doc Johnson?”
    Turner was surprised the confession came so easily. “Did you have an altercation with him?”
    “Tell me when Doc Johnson made you mad?” Turner sat back and relaxed with his arms behind his head. Kevin’s eyes rolled up to scan from left to right. He was quiet. Turner waited and smiled.

    Step 4 - Realize it is brain based and for some people it cannot be altered - Sometimes the path and stepping stones we follow can get a bit messy. Sometimes they seem to have random patterns we find hard to understand.

    Concrete ideas are usually visible and objective. Thoughts in concrete thinking are derived from the senses touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste). Thinking is characterized by actual words, objects, events and the absence of concepts and generalizations. Therefore, problem solving is accomplished in a concrete, systematic fashion based on what is perceived, keeping to the literal meaning of words, as in applying the word dog to a particular animal and not to all dogs.

    Most children move from concrete thinking to abstract thinking between the ages of seven and eleven. These children begin to process ideas that involve complex visual or language-based ideas that are not easily associated with concrete ideas. Abstract ideas are often invisible, complex, and subjective. Abstract words refer to concepts or ideas-things you cannot see, hear, taste, touch, or smell. Examples include; love, success, freedom, good, moral, democracy, and any -ism.

    Children entering abstract operations began to understand the meaning of things learned with a desire of trying to explain the how and why. They begin to interpret, summarize, and discuss. As they progress they are able o break down knowledge into parts and show relationships through comparison, experimenting, and categorizing. Eventually the production of something original is brought together from the components of previous knowledge and they are able to make judgements based on established criteria.

    A child with organic brain injury may progress into adulthood with concrete thinking. What I have observed with these adults is that they ARE ABLE to compare, categorize, experiment, judge and produce original work, but they do it with tangible information. The ability to have SMART concrete thought is a value in today's information abstract world. We must learn to understand and value it. One of the FASD Life Experts I consider a good friend explains, "My mind walks, it doesn't jog. If my world gets too loud, I have to find space to quiet my brain."

    Anne Russell from Australia gives an excellent example: "One young woman with FASD was told, ‘Don’t come home after dark,’ so she stayed out on the porch all night.” This is an example of a person with organic brain damage trying to do the right thing but because of the injury to her brain was unable to be sufficiently flexible to see that the instruction meant something different.

    Last week my husband had a conference to attend, and after dinner, one of my adults piped up, "Dad saw Superman today."
    "How did he do that?" I asked knowing he is not a great fan, or had told me anything about it in the morning.
    "He drove his car," answered the man looking at me like my brains had just fallen out of my head.
    "Ya, you know - rectangular box with wheels and a steering wheel," chimed in another. 
    I laughed at them poking fun of me. Later alone, with my husband I asked, "How'd you get to Superman today?" He answered quickly, "After we had lunch at the conference, they passed out 3D glasses and told us they had a surprise - our classes were over and we got to watch the premier showing before it was available to the public."

    Step 5 - Know the difference and appreciate when you fall in between the cracks - Be aware of what you are saying – all the time. Understand that if the person is doing something that you have expressly told them not to – review your instruction and see if the person has translated what you said literally.  Did you use specific language:  people, places, numbers, dates, and details.  Be wary of particularly ambiguous terms.

    My daughter states this clearly, "Don't use mostly, sometimes, maybe, soon, fast—I don't do that—I do yes and no, I do Tuesday at 3:00, I do give me ten minutes of quiet time, I do it will be finished at 5:00 pm and I do true and false. Don't tell me what I can't do—tell me what I can do. Don't just say no! Give me choices to handle your no. I don't need to know the how come, I need to know my options for the next steps of action. No puts my mind into a chasm of no opportunity, it takes away my ability to think. Tell me what you need, want, desire and I will do my best to help." 
    1. Abstract thinking is like grabbing thoughts, ideas, and explanations,  but when you look into your hands there's nothing there? You can't have abstract ideas in your physical possession. 
    2. Concrete ideas you can see, touch, hold, show and prove! "My green minivan has a flat tire" - shows a picture, can be touched and if you look at the tire you can prove it is flat. That is a concrete statement vs "The vehicle won't go."

    For example:
    Abstract Concrete
    Police Officer
    Drove away in a car
    Said or told
    Bus, car, train, canoe
    Girl who stole my purse
    Tiger Woods
    John's idea

    When using sensory words - does the person understand the word you may use to describe it.
    1. Taste - bland, biting, bitter, brackish, briny, metallic, minty, nutty, peppery, salty, sour, spicy, sweet, tainted, yeasty - (if you use the word biting will it make sense?)
    2. Touch - cold, hot, warm, tickly, harsh, gritty, grainy, clammy, chilly, tingle, sting, smooth, rough, numb, knobby, harsh, sticky, slithering, jarring - (if you use the word jarring will the person understand?)
    3. Sound - hiss, whisper, whine, screech, snap, swish, splash, creak, crack, gurgle, murmur, hum, cry, giggle, chime, clatter, clink, crackle, buzz, blare, bellow (if you use the word bellow will it get confused with below?)
    4. Sight - flash, flicker, glare, glitter, muddy, spark, foggy, bright, cloudy, glow, shimmer, chalky, dappled, inky.

    • Be aware that persons with organic brain injury may have trouble filtering out distractions, fighting their impulses and make poor decisions sometimes by obeying "EXACTLY WHAT YOU SAID!"
    • Be aware of what you are saying – all the time. 
    • Understand that if they are doing something that you have expressly told them not to – go back over your instruction and see if they have translated what you said literally.

    Idioms are abstract and you can get some wonderful or deadly surprises. An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally, like “bought the farm” has nothing to do with purchasing real estate, but refers to dying.

    Abstract Idiom
    Actual Meaning
    Concrete Misunderstanding
    A chip on your shoulder
    You think you know a lot
    What? There are no chips (potato) on my shoulder
    You're high as a kite
    You are drunk or on drugs or very very happy
    What? I am standing on the floor.
    Out of the blue
    Something unexpected happened

    Step safely on the stones of concrete language to allow the person to "gain the real meaning of what you are trying to communicate" and not get the wrong idea. 

    When your brain works well in concrete language and struggles in abstraction, simple listening becomes overwhelming. Conversations become one-sided. Progress forward ceases. By keeping your conversations in concrete language you allows the person to remained engaged in your conversation.

    Avoid the dangerous ground of abstract language with it's grey areas of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

    Visit our website for more ideas.

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Would you expect a person without vision to learn to see by poking them in the eyes?

    Learning to see the trail by walking in the forest

    What wires together fire together and for our WHOLE lives our brains continue to grow as we continue to experience new things. In Live Abilities natural classroom program we mark trails for self-discovery. Joyful self-discovery allows a person the greatest learning opportunity. Because our learning strategy begins with a trail guide marking trails our participants must first learn to look and see the markers of opportunity.

    A forest is filled with exciting experiences-a line of ants helping each other carry a dead insect carcass to their hill, the calls of different birds, the chatter of tiny creatures, footprints heading in unknown directions...  

    Nature allows us to think outside of our inner thoughts. 

    Natural movement in natural settings through play allows us the opportunity to GROW NEW BRAIN CONNECTIONS.

       "Scientists are discovering that physical activity alone is enough to trigger a boost in brain cell proliferation and that specialized exercise programs may help repair damaged or aged brains.  For twelve years in Denmark, an experimental School in the Forest for kindergartners proved an innovative and effective way for children to develop school readiness skills. The children climbed trees, ran, played games, developed their imaginations, explored and learned about their surrounding world with their teacher. The results were first graders ready to learn.
        Getting your arms and legs moving and the heart beating faster increases the blood flow to the brain. This blood keeps our brains healthy by feeding our neurons with oxygen and nutrients.
        Our yard became a playground with balance structures, hammocks, tire and porch swings, hula hoops, bubble blowing sticks, chalk and jump ropes as neighborhood teens joined in the fun to help Liz. We all had a reason to go back to child’s play and have fun doing it. Who said any of us should outgrow childhood?
        The sun smiled on us as we climbed new mountains and planted gardens.  Fourteen years after Liz joined our home, she finally rolled down hills and played sidewalk games. Liz smiled at the snowflakes as they fluttered down on a cold night. She stuck out her tongue in a rain shower and caught raindrops on her face. The time arrived to make snow angels and take walks in the rain."
    Can we create new neural pathways? What can you discover in these two pictures? There are thousand of opportunities to learn  through experiences in a natural classroom. Click each photo to see what you can discover when you look deeper.

    Many thanks to Jim Strohecker ( ) for his original idea about the sensory awareness walk listed below. In honor of the people I love I keep sharing what I learn. Blessings to families and persons living with prenatal exposures to toxins—together we can make a difference.

    Try a Sensory Awareness Walk this week and leave a comment about your experience. In the beginning and perhaps for some people forever - please do not mix the modalities.
    • Begin by allowing your mind to focus on your breathing as you walk. Simply notice your breath. Don’t try to do anything with it. Just notice.
    • Where in your body do you feel your breath? Your abdomen, chest, back, or even high in your collar bone?
    • What do you notice? Is your breath smooth, rhythmic and easy? Is it hesitant, sporadic, or labored?
    • What else do you notice that perhaps you haven’t noticed before?
    • As you focus on your breathing, does anything change without you having to purposely try to change it?
    • Shift your focus to what you see.
    • What are the shapes, textures, movement, and colors that you notice?
    • Can you look without naming the objects you see, even for a few seconds, but just see them as shapes, textures, movement, and colors?
    • If you are in familiar territory, are there things you notice that you’ve never seen before?
    • Shift your focus to what you hear.
    • What sounds do you hear?
    • Listen more and more deeply, what are the sounds underneath the sounds you normally hear
    • Even for a few seconds, can you hear what you hear without naming the sound?
    • What are the nuances of the sounds? Are there aspects to the sounds that you never noticed before?

    • Now shift your focus to what you sense in your body.
    • As your body moves, what do you notice? Gently scan your body as you are moving, starting with your feet and ending at your head.
    • Can you feel your muscles as they move?
    • Can you feel the touch of your clothing, air, or sun on your skin?
    • What can you notice that you’ve never noticed before?

    • Now see if you can bring breathing, seeing, hearing, and sensing all together as you mindfully enjoy your walk.
    • Don’t worry if you find yourself quickly shifting between these channels of awareness. Just keep practicing and see if you can, even for a few seconds, be aware of them all at the same time.  What do you notice that you haven’t noticed before?
    Want some more great ideas also visit Integrated to Live Blog