Thursday, February 26, 2015

GSHA - Tim Kowalski

Hello friends!
This is going to wind up as my first speech-language pathology related post on the blog - yaayyy!  I am going to share my thoughts and impressions based on my experience at my first-ever professional conference.

Today (2/26/15) I attended the pre-convention session at the UGA Hotel & Conference Center for the Georgia Speech Language Hearing Association's annual conference.  SLPs, audiologists, and other community members attend to either earn continuing education credits or to learn more about various speech, language, or hearing-related topics.  Today's program consisted of a 5-hour lecture by Tim Kowalski, who has his Master's degree and Certificate of Clinical Competence from ASHA.  He has a practice in Florida that is entirely comprised of individuals carrying a diagnosis of Asperger's (AS) or "High Functioning Autism" (HFA).  He represented himself as an expert in AS and has published six books intended for both children and adults.  His PowerPoint presentation was 99 slides long or something to that effect, and he whooshed through a good number of them.  Anyway, here are some nuggets I took away from his presentation; evaluate them with caution and understand that I can provide some of his sources, but not every slide he gave today cited published, peer-reviewed research.  I'm also not saying I agree with all of the information below; these are just some of the points I think Mr. Kowalski was trying to make.

  • Individuals with AS live in a world dominated by neurotypicals ("normal" people) and will be the ones who need to change to function in the NT world.
  • Individuals with AS may have trouble in the following areas that could impact their success in meeting Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
    • Theory of Mind (ToM)
    • Central Coherence (CC)
    • Executive Functions (ExFx)
    • Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
  • There is no such thing as a stand-alone test to identify issues in pragmatics (i.e., social use of language) for individuals with AS.  A standard score within or above the average range does not mean that an individual has no social communication issues or that he is "fine".  
  • When teachers say "he's doing fine in my class, I'm not worried about him", the translation is "he isn't a pain in the ass when he's in my room".  
  • "All individuals with AS have an anxiety disorder."
  • An individual can exhibit 4 levels of behavior (simplified from Temple Grandin's model)
    • 1 - typical
    • 2 - WTF [we can help this person]
    • 3 - Dangerous
    • 4 - Criminal [at this point, you're in jail...I can't really help you]
  • When it comes to social skills, it doesn't matter what you think of yourself.  It matters what everybody else thinks of you.
  • The biggest prognostic indicator of employment is social skills; those lacking social cognition had less positive employment experiences and showed more preference for solitary activities. A statistic was provided (source was not) that an employment decision is made in the first 20th of a second.
  • Most common comorbid disorders with AS:
    • anxiety disorder
    • OCD
    • PTSD
    • depression
    • paranoia

There was a lot more that happened within the five-hour talk Mr. Tim (as he is known by his clients) gave, including comments about delayed gratification, identifying times when an individual is not "in the zone" in terms of social awareness & social competency, and some of the barriers teachers and SLPs have to supporting individuals with AS.  He made some interesting suggestions about having an individual with restricted interests complete tasks to earn currency that could "purchase" time with preferred activities.  An example he gave was of a person who bicycled to power a generator that allowed him to play computer games.  This reminded me of a podcast on which Temple Grandin spoke about her belief in the value of a job from an early age for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Overall, I was interested in the comments made by both Mr. Tim and the other participants.  Some folks asked about recent research, the parents in the room asked about what to do with their child who has AS, and clinicians gave suggestions for other resources that might be helpful.  I would have liked to see more current research cited, and I would have liked for Mr. Tim to spend a little bit more time on some concepts, but really, he had five hours to go through a ton of information...his topic could definitely be turned into a full 3-credit graduate level course for SLP students.  

I'm excited to see what the rest of the conference brings and am interested to see how much of it I feel is adequately supported by evidence and not simply the words of experts and authorities who use anecdotes and emotion to sway the room into a particular way of thinking.  I'm also looking forward to the way presenters talk about clinical experience and data collection out "in the real world".

What interesting things have you been learning lately in either a course or a continuing education opportunity?  What did you think about my takeaways from Mr. Tim today? If you want to see which sessions are available for me to attend for the remainder of the conference, please click here.  I'm open to suggestions or your thoughts if you know any of these speakers!  Mr. Tim's website.

I'll be back at it tomorrow bright and early :)
Talk to you soon,

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