Person-centered thinking

October 8, 2018
by Tanya

Person-Centered Thinking: What Is It?

Person-Centered Thinking is putting the person first. Through history, the treatment of people with disabilities and the services they receive have been glum. The focus has has been mostly on keeping people healthy and safe, leading to a one-size-fits-all approach in segregated schools, special education classrooms, institutions, group homes, and vocational rehab programs.

Person-centered thinkingAs a community, it is imperative we start looking at each individual person to discover what is important to them to live a life that is meaningful and purposeful to them. Person-Centered Thinking is about truly listening to people who receive services as they pursue their hopes and dreams. Every person has a dream no matter how big or small. As people continue to grow and change, so do their hopes and dreams. The team of people who provide support must recognize these changes and be the champions for the person to see the goals come to life.

A Process that Digs Deep

The Person-Centered Thinking process digs deep, looking at a person’s rituals, routines, likes, dislikes, relationships, and communication styles. No one fits in a pretty little box. All people want to be heard and listened to regardless of their communication style. As an adult, I have control of the life I want to live. Everyone should be able to have a say and control of their lives regardless of their disability.

As a state, Minnesota is required to provide person-centered services for people with disabilities. Minnesota’s Olmstead Plan lays out activities for state agencies “to ensure people with disabilities are living, learning, working, and enjoying life in the most integrated setting.” Person-Centered Thinking is a central to this end. This must be the way we support the people we love and those we support.

Listening Changes Lives

As a Person-Centered Thinker and Planner, I have witnessed the incredible value it has for all people. Lives are changed for the better when we open up our minds to listen. From a young man moving from supported living with four roommates into his own apartment he hopes to soon share with his fiancé, to another woman building her own creative business on Etsy and training others on Person-Centered Thinking, powerful examples abound.

As a mother to a now 18-year old man living with autism, I have seen Person-Centered Thinking give my son the opportunity to be heard and supported in a way that he chooses. He now is living a life of purpose and meaning that he shaped versus the life others believe is best for him. All people want to be heard and valued. We all want to be contributing members of society.

For more information about Person-Centered Thinking, please visit the Learning Community
website at

September 24, 2018
by Beth

Communities Engaging Autism

Big news!! We’ve changed our name from “Center for Engaging Autism” to “Communities Engaging Autism.” You’ll see this change unfold on our website and social media in the coming weeks.

Why Communities Engaging Autism?

Here’s the short version:  We’ve heard repeatedly that “Center” was confusing. We aren’t a physical “center” that provides therapeutic services. We do provide education, training, and information. For me and, I hope, for many of you, CEA’s offerings have also provided a sense of connection and community.

Despite the name change, our mission is the same: Connecting young families living with autism to the information, strategies and support they need to engage fully in their homes, schools and communities. We are dedicated to building bridges between research, practice and everyday life.

In my enthusiasm, I’ll offer my perspective on this change as well:

1) I think Communities Engaging Autism better reflects our vision for Social Engagement, Empowered Parents, and Involved Community Supports. These three interconnected, dynamic layers are a foundation for inclusive communities and healthy individuals and families.

2) “Communities” captures the character of our organization. CEA is a far-reaching and flat organization deeply rooted in personal and professional relationships among parents, individuals with autism, writers, teachers, therapists, trainers, and others. We are creative, flexible, and collaborative learners who share our strengths and contributions. We meet in familiar community spaces where families can connect to one another.

I have much more to write on the words we have chosen to use. I will post again next month about how I envision CEA living into those words. I’d love to hear your thoughts: In what ways does “Communities Engaging Autism” reflect (or not) your experience here? Comment below or contact us with your thoughts.

September 3, 2018
by Beth

School Day Mornings Are Like Onions


While cooking this weekend, my mind wandered to back-to-school logistics. I had a nagging feeling of anxiety. It wasn’t about teachers, academics, or IEPs. No, not yet at least. My anxiety was about mornings and had been building for awhile.

The white teardrop center of my halved yellow onion fell onto the cutting board. I put it back into the crispy, potent layers and kept slicing. My eyes started to sting and soon I was chopping with tears running down my cheeks. You’re probably wincing in anticipation of the part where I slice into my finger. That didn’t happen. Our mornings are rough, but [usually] not that rough.

One reason I see similarities between school day mornings and onions is because of the stinging frustration that builds into a blur all too often. Shoot, I need to pack lunches! “Honey, if you don’t get down here now, you won’t get breakfast!” He knows I won’t withhold breakfast. I know yelling from downstairs doesn’t work, so why do I keep doing it? OUCH!! Damn those LEGOS! “Darling, put this on please.” I recall driving to school tense and with a lump in my throat, trying to reassure my angry daughter who has been waiting for a half-hour. I dare not recall last year’s tardy tally.

“This year will be different,” I reassure myself, scraping the chopped onions into the frying pan.

The second reason school day mornings are like onions is that there are so many layers to the issue of what makes mornings challenging. Thinking through the layers has been insightful to me. I hope it resonates with other parents and that my humble reality check is reassuring.

On the outside layer, I’ve long been focused on my son’s autism. I am fluent in the “what might be going on here” lingo: self-care tasks, executive functioning, motor planning, and anxiety. Having a name for what’s happening and knowing what to do are two very different issues. From early childhood to the round of occupational therapy my son just finished, we received ample support, but nothing seems to stick. Honestly, I feel strained and wary of the latest “great idea” for our perennial struggle. With the exceptions of the universally useful checklist on the way out the door and our whiteboard weekly schedule  other visuals are initially interesting but not sustained.

Environment is another layer of this metaphorical onion. I realized when puppy proofing our home (add five onion layers) that clutter was a problem. Stacks of books and piles of laundry line our living room. Mail, art, and notebooks clutter our countertops. Legos, dolls, and science projects bury the bedroom floors. Welcoming puppy forced us to declutter. Moving most toys out of my son’s bedroom has made clean-up easier and covering the LEGO table with a sheet at night cuts down on first-thing-in-the-morning building. I feel more focused and less overwhelmed too, at least when the puppy is sleeping.

I know that sensory input and physical activity are another layer. The few mornings that we get outside to swing or take a bike ride before breakfast have been fantastic and refreshing. But urging either child out of bed, through the bathroom, into shoes, and out the door before I have had my coffee is a rare feat.

I am also realizing that my patterns and wellbeing are a central layer. I so enjoy the quiet of the late evening that I stay up too late and shirk my morning prep duties in favor of reading or relaxing. Anticipating our frustrating mornings from my warm pillow makes getting started seem impossible. And, recently, when the occupational therapist named “time management” and “organization” as areas to continue working on with my son, I felt like my cover had been blown. Time management and organization have always been challenging for me! Luckily I have some gradeschool-level supports to help me. So, here I am, at the teardrop center of the onion. This is where little-by-little growth begins. Excuse me while I go pack lunches and get to sleep.

August 17, 2018
by Beth

Jeanne Loves Books: August 2018

The Big Umbrella was cowritten by a mother-daughter team, Amy June bates and Juniper Bates. The two were inspired by sharing an umbrella in a rainstorm. The Big Umbrella is a sweet, wrap-its-arms-around-you book with limited text, lovely clear illustrations and a gentle message of inclusivity and generosity.

The story begins with a two-page illustration of a plain hallway with a big, red umbrella leaning against the door. “By the front door … There is an umbrella.” An observant little reader will spot the lines of a mouth, nose and closed eyes on the umbrella. A child dressed for rain goes out with the umbrella in hand. We see the top of the umbrella against the outline of a city skyline on one page and then we turn to a full two page spread with the umbrella fully open. “It is a big, friendly umbrella…It likes to help.”

The pages describe numerous ways the umbrella helps and how it gathers various creatures under its ever-expanding span. There is some wonderful humor as we see web feet and hairy creatures sticking out from under the umbrella along with various children. “It doesn’t matter how many legs you have, … There is ALWAYS room!” The final illustration reveals the humorous and joyful gathering under this generous umbrella.

Fun with Reading:

Notice the different expressions on the umbrella and talk about what they tell us.

Notice the end pages. What do the illustrations of the inside front and back cover tell us?

Identify and describe the different people and creatures on the final two pages.
There is a lot there including an octopus, dogs, chicks, a ballerina, families….

July 22, 2018
by Beth
1 Comment

Care Mapping: Sketch Your Resources

Have you ever heard of care mapping? It is “a family-driven, person-centered process which highlights a family’s strengths and communicates both the big picture and the small details of all of the resources needed to support a child and their family” (Antonelli & Lind, 2018). I learned about care mapping in a fellowship training last fall and was immediately drawn to the colorful, visual way of capturing information.

A few months later, I joined my kids around the pile of colored pencils and sketched our care map. It started with us, right at the center. It branched out to include formal and informal relationships and resources. Of course, a lot of the circles related to my son’s needs, but I put myself on the map too. I defined “care” broadly to encompass overall wellness. I hope my daughter and husband will add their resources and relationships too.

Care map branching out from center with multiple colors

My rough care map. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Sketching the map felt like a gratitude practice. I recognized the almost-family relationships of support we enjoy and appreciated how a sense of community builds my resilience. I realized that our network of specialists and therapists has grown in recent years to the point that we, at least for now, have the right people in the mix for our needs. I also saw how each family member contributed his or her strengths to support one another.

The mapping process also helped me realize that, in an effort to be efficient and provide relevant information, I unconsciously filter details with each of the professionals we work with. What’s relevant to the occupational therapist versus the pediatrician versus the social/emotional coach/therapist? Do meltdowns and emotional reactivity fall into sensory or social/emotional category? Both? Or maybe they’re related to executive functioning. Which specialist deals with that anyway?

This filtering can be problematic. My assumptions about each person’s expertise might not include the full picture. My understanding of the numerous labels (i.e. motor planning, executive function, pragmatic language, etc.) are likely incomplete. I am pretty good at sleuthing out the root of my son’s struggles, but I often struggle with stress and fatigue. Connecting all the dots over time can be really challenging. I am hopeful that our care map can enable others to get a sense of our whole picture and improve communication and coordination.

Finally, I experienced recently that having the care map in my mind’s eye helped me handle the information overload that came with our educational evaluation process. After reviewing a 25-page evaluation documenting his strengths and challenges, I was losing sight of the child at the center of it all. My mind was drawn to the details, the terminology and measures. But envisioning the circle of my son and our family, I felt more confident naming my child’s struggles and strengths in terms of my day-to-day observations and the patterns his teacher and I had seen through the school year. I rooted down in my circle. My concrete comments generated input from our team that made sense to me and included examples of what was working and what could change in the next IEP.

I encourage you to grab some of the Crayons laying underfoot and get started. Remember, care mapping is a process you will revisit and change. Check out some of the ideas and resources below for more guidance. Don’t overthink it and, please, put your own resources on the map!!

Ideas as you sketch

  • Use a different color for each family member. Add multiple colored outlines around shared supports/resources
  • Add dotted lines to illustrate which circles work well with one-another (i.e. school and therapist). Recognize and celebrate the unique asset that these connections are!
  • Add a grey shadow around circles to represent past versions of a resource/support. For example, include a grey shadow a school or clinic your child no longer attends. This history is often the source of valuable learning and important relationships.
  • If you prefer, try a mind mapping app

Additional resources:

Check out care map creator and special needs parent, Cristin Lind’s website for her story and map.

See Boston Children’s Hospital’s research and PDF handouts for families and professionals.

Comment or email to let me know if you find a care map useful and how you use it – [email protected]

June 20, 2018
by JeanneLovesBooks

Jeanne Loves Books – June 2018

Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Amberley

Monsters are fascinating and scary for kids. Monsters can be in a dark closet, under the bed or in any unexplored, dark spot. Usually, the idea of monsters is fun or exciting, but it can also lead to serious childhood fears.

Go Away, Big Green Monster! is a book for preschoolers that builds a monster and then sends the monster away. The book contains many cutouts showing different parts of the monster’s face in bright colors, one page and one facial feature at a time.

The first page shows two cut out circles with yellow eyes and large size print that says, “Big Green Monster has two big yellow eyes.” When you turn the page, the cutout on that page shows a green nose between the two yellow eyes and says, “and a long bluish-greenish nose.” It continues to add a mouth, teeth, ears, and hair. This first half of the book is done when we get a big cutout and a “big scary green face!” The next page declares, “YOU DON’T SCARE ME! SO GO AWAY, scraggly purple hair!” And so the process of sending the monster away, part by part, begins.

Building the monster feature by feature, telling it that “YOU DON’T SCARE ME,” and then sending it away bit by bit gives the child a lot of control. That is empowering. And it’s really fun.

The text is limited and large. The language includes several adjectives to describe each part of the face as in “scraggly purple hair.” This creates a rich pattern for thought and conversation.

Fun with Reading

  • This can be a very interactive book. It is fun to wag your finger and yell along with the child you are reading with to the statement, “You Don’t Scare Me!”
  • It is also fun to gesture with your hand and repeat with your child the refrain, “go away (teeth, hair, ears etc.).
  • Talk about the adjectives, “squiggly” and “scraggly,” and see if you can find some other examples. Add an additional adjective when describing something and have your child try doing the same.
  • Talk about monsters.

June 3, 2018
by Beth

Hello and Thank You

Hello CEA community!

If you’re like me, you may have read Shannon Andreson’s “Farewell but not Goodbye” post and wondered, “now what?”. In sharing her decision to step down as executive director, Shannon reflected on the ebbs and flows of a child’s developmental journey and the way families respond and adapt.

Resisting my tendency to worry, I focused on my gratitude for Shannon’s leadership and the way the Center for Engaging Autism provided me with information, support, and meaningful relationships during the challenging early years of my family’s autism journey. During that time, my energy and resources ebbed—information, terminology, forms, and systems drained me, leaving uncertainty, overwhelm, and fear. For me, a return to a relative state of “flow” came slowly through building relationships with other parents who “get it” and who model what it looks like to understand and honor their children and themselves as whole, complex people. Realizing that I wasn’t alone and that others walked the path ahead of me was like that moment of pause when an ebbing wave begins to flow forward again. I have gradually channeled this energy into writing, learning, community-building, and advocacy related to autism, family as an asset and an adaptive system, and community as the place where we grow and connect.

Gratitude, hope, and trust prompted me to pursue the executive director position. I am so humbled and honored by this opportunity to contribute to the organization that has helped me “grow up” or, more accurately, “root down” as a parent within a rich community. I am immersing myself in the supportive network, knowledge, resources, and creative endeavors that Shannon, the CEA Board of Directors, and so many talented members of our community have cultivated over the years.

I will most definitely be in touch, and I look forward to meeting you and growing together.

-Beth Dierker

sensory friendly

April 17, 2018
by Editorial Team

Sensory Friendly Sunday at the Walker Art Center

Sensory Friendly Sunday is a monthly, free event for kids, teens, and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder or sensory sensitivities and their families. Make art together, explore the galleries, watch a short film, or just hang out in a beautiful setting.

The Walker has been working with a range of community partners to provide the Twin Cities with the first art-focused, sensory friendly program in a museum. The galleries will be closed to all other visitors, allowing guests to enjoy the museum in an environment where accommodations such as quiet spaces, headphones, and fidgets can be provided.

In order to ensure an optimal experience and avoid crowds, we encourage you to reserve your space ahead of time. Registration is available below.

First one is Sunday, May 6

For more information, e-mail [email protected] or call 612.375.7610.

not norman

April 16, 2018
by JeanneLovesBooks

Jeanne Loves Books – April 2018

Not Norman:  A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett

A young boy wants a pet. He wants a pet he can play and snuggle with. When he gets a goldfish in a bowl named Norman he is really disappointed. “All Norman does is swim around and around and around and around…” This is definitely not the pet he wanted.  NOT NORMAN!

Our young guy tries a number of ways to get a different pet. He tries to trade Norman to a friend who has a lot of puppies. He prepares a great sign, “Norman, One Amazing Fish” for show-and -tell at school in hopes that one of his classmates will want him. Nothing works.

In the meantime, Norman starts proving his worth. He is always there and shows some personality. When our young narrator finally makes it to the pet store and checks out all the other options, he decides to keep Norman. The others “all look like good pets, but they are….NOT NORMAN.”

The cover of the book is a good example of the delightful illustrations throughout the book. They are clear, colorful and frequently include easily identifiable emotions. There is great repetition with Not Norman being a frequent refrain. The text is limited but does include words like twitches, gunky, rescue, tuba, Maestro.  There is lots of informal language too, like googly-eyed, goofy, yikes.

This is a sweet story about overcoming snap judgments about something or somebody. It is also an encouraging story about the value of a pet goldfish for those children whose choice of pets is limited because of allergies or other issues.

Fun with Reading

  1. Word or phrase repetitions are always fun – after the second or third repetition you can pause, point and wait for your child to join you in “reading” it
  2. On a number of pages stop and explore the emotions being depicted in the illustrations
  3. Notice the literacy examples in the story: The parents have included a book, Your Fish and You along with Norman in his bowl. Ask why that is a good idea.
  4. Talk about what role pets play in families

February 12, 2018
by JeanneLovesBooks

Jeanne Loves Books – February

Mine!,  by Susie Lee Jin, is a seemingly simple book talking the big concept of sharing.

Sharing can be difficult for preschoolers  – and for the rest of us depending on the occasion and the item to be shared. Years ago, the almost four-year-old son of a friend took off his coat after coming home from preschool and with a very unhappy face asked, “How much longer does this sharing go on?”

In Mine!, two bunnies sledding down a hill find a carrot. The carrot attracts more bunnies, all of whom want the carrot. There is a fun twist at the end with a great opportunity for guessing whose carrot it really is. The story is really told through the illustrations of the bunnies who are the main characters. The illustrations are large and the faces are drawn with lots of emotion. There are really only three different words in the text:  mine!, ours!!, and yours.  The word mine appears 14 times in the text in various font sizes.

Fun With Reading

  • Using a story like Mine! to engage your child in a concept like sharing is a great way to explore it and the accompanying emotions.
  • Use the wonderful illustrations to help your child recognize facial expressions and their meaning
  • Can your child identify the emotions on the faces?
  • What does s/he think of the way the different bunnies claim ownership?
  • Can s/he guess from the big clue who really owns the carrot?
  • Should the one who first had it and lost it get it back?
  • What do they think of the ending?
  • Have they had some hard times sharing? Have you?
  • On the third or fourth mine!, pause and see if your child will “read” the word

If you want to explore this topic further, here are a couple other titles:

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems and It’s Mine! by Leo Lionni