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Ask the Rock Doc 
Sound Advice for a Song 
A scripturally-sound, musically-enhanced advice column 
by psychologist/songwriter, Dr Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT 

***Details and implied method of inquiry may be altered in the following correspondence to protect the confidentiality of the inquiring party and to emphasize certain aspects involved in the maintenance of good mental and spiritual health habits.  

Dear Dr. BLT: 

Happy Easter! I’m thankful that Jesus has risen, because that gives me hope, even in the middle of my despair.  If you have any songs that would help me to focus on Christ’s death and resurrection, that would be helpful, but I insist on paying for the songs, so please tell me how I can do so. 

I’m a former rock star wannabe who failed to make it back in the 60s when I played lead guitar and sang back-up in band called Good Fortune and the Cookies.  Folks still call me Cookie and I still have a few devoted fans.  We made one record and it was actually pretty good, but the label we had signed to went broke before they were able to adequately promote us, and we weren’t able to find another other record company that would sign us, so we just ended up gradually performing less and less.  We never really broke up, but ended up drifting apart.    

I am now a mother of 3, a 15-year-old boy who doubles as a rock star wannabe, a 10-year old girl who can’t get enough of Britney Spears, and a 5-year-old boy named Charley, who was recently diagnosed with Autism.  When the teacher first called me in to tell me about my son’s condition, I thought she said, “Your son has been found to be artistic,” so I replied, “Oh, that’s wonderful, I knew he had it in him.”  She must have thought I was completely nuts!

He’s been very good at music, and spends lots of time playing the keyboard in his room, but he is not very interested in books, and his language has not developed to the appropriate level compared with peers his own age.  

I was worried that all three would turn out to have severe problems, since I was severely beaten by my father, and have never addressed this in therapy (though I have attended therapy for about two years now).  

I’ve been trying to research Autistic Disorder on the internet, but there’s so much conflicting information out there, that I’m a bit confused.  In addition, I’ve been having nightmares about my father beating me.  Will you help?  

Cookie in Crisis 

Dear Cookie Crisis 

Happy Easter to you too!  If you’ll give me a moment to look into my doctor’s bag, I’ll see if I can find some songs to fulfill your request….Oh, here’s one:

Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord) 
Dr BLT cover of classic spiritual 
http://www.drblt.net/music/WereYouThere3.mp3 

and here’s an original: 

Resurrection Sunday 
Dr BLT 
Words and music by Dr. BLT ©2007 
http://www.drblt.net/music/ResurrectSunday.mp3 

In terms of the abuse that you’ve suffered as a child, see if this song can help you get in touch with your emotions surrounding the memories:

Through the Eyes of a Child (brand new R&B version) 
Dr BLT 
http://www.drblt.net/music/EyesOfAChild.mp3 
 

I know that you’re insisting on paying, but everything I offer through this column is absolutely free.  If sounds like you’re one of those individuals who feels guilty about accepting free music, so if you really want to help support my music ministry in a financial way, just hit the “Sample and Buy” link that comes up when you visit my website:

http://www.drblt.net 

I will try to help.  As you know, I can only give it my best shot.  I do that with music and what I hope will be experienced as “sound advice.”  

First of all, it is of the utmost importance that you attend to your own issues, so that you can be emotionally and mentally available for your kids, and especially Charley.   He seems to be experiencing the type of problem that requires a great deal of parental attention.  

I have to wonder why you’ve managed to be in therapy for two years without exploring what is probably eating away at you on a daily basis-----------the abuse you received by your father.  I don’t like to make it a habit to judge other therapists, but if it were me, I’d have addressed this issue with you by now, and I would have addressed it in great depth.  

Of course I wouldn’t rush into addressing this pressing issue without first considering your level of readiness to embark upon what I’m sure would be a distressing journey.  But ignoring the memories of abuse doesn’t make those memories and the corresponding emotions go away.  On the contrary, avoidance only increases the power that those emotionally-laden memories will have over you.  

I would suggest bringing up the abuse issue in your next session.  If your therapist still doesn’t pick up on the urgent nature of those past experiences, then I’d recommend that you find a new therapist.

Also, I’d recommend keeping a journal in which you record anything that comes to mind in the way of memories of those abusive encounters.  The song I’ve linked above called Through the Eyes of a Child will (hopefully) help you to begin to get in touch with your emotions concerning the abuse.  It’s an R&B-soul-styled edition of a folk song I wrote concerning child abuse way back in the early 90s.  

Now, in terms of Charley, you didn’t mention whether or not he is attending Kindergarten.  If so, the school that he attends likely offers services to address his special needs.  I would recommend that you follow those services to make sure they are tailored to the specific issues of Charley because each autistic child is different in the way they experience this syndrome.  

You may also seek services outside of the school to supplement what the school is doing.  If you do, make sure that what is being done outside of the school is not duplicating services he is already receiving. 

First of all, one must never forget that there are likely physiological, chemical and even genetic factors associated with autism.  Brains tend to develop differently in children who suffer from autism. For example, researchers at the University of California, Davis have found that the amygdala (involved in the processing of emotions) and the hippocampus (involved in memory) are abnormally large in boys with autism.   This can result in an inability on the part of boys suffering from autism, to adequately integrate informational experience and one’s emotional reaction to it.  Instead, they tend to cut themselves off from their emotions and respond to the environment like little robots or little Star Wars characters.  

In addition, you may need to consult with a Registered Dietician and a Psychiatrist who may consider prescribing medication for your child.  It’s a good thing that your child is still very young because there is greater plasticity throughout the brain and nervous system, and neuropathways are generally more responsive to intervention.   

There are many different approaches and many different techniques that are offered to autistic children.  Floortime, for example is offered in some schools and it involves therapists interacting with children on the floor.  Engaging with the child on the floor, in a variety of interactive imitation play activities allows an autistic child to feel directly connected to the therapist in a personal, playful manner that is not threatening.  

Another approach often used relies upon the Denver model and it focuses more specifically on speech and language skills.  This generally involves having autistic children interact with one another with the therapist directing them and providing the type of structure that advances their communication skills.  There is also something called Pivotal Response Training which is somewhat of a hybrid.  It combines behavioral rewards and play therapy.  

Eye contact is crucial and is consistently rewarded no matter which technique is being implemented.  This is something you should emphasize with your child on a daily basis.   In fact, you may become directly involved in the treatment of your child through a method introduced by Texas psychologist, Steven Gutstein that he refers to as “relationship development intervention.”  This is a parent-based approach that addresses a wide variety of symptoms associated with Autism.   Many therapists who work with autistic children have adopted his approach or some variation of it.  

Getting your child in touch with the five senses, and getting him more in tune with his physical surroundings, will allow him to improve in terms of his functioning.  Autistic children are often so focused on the structure that they impose upon their surroundings that they lose their ability to focus on the immediate sensual aspects of their experience.  They rarely stop and smell the roses.   They tend to be task, rather than process, oriented.  They miss important relationship or social cues and they miss perceptual cues relating to their five senses.  

Take the time to give your child plenty of nurturing and be demonstrative in your display of affection.  If Charley has experienced trauma, this could also contribute to the problem, so make sure he is working with a therapist who understands the trauma, how it is related to his tendency to become detached from his personal and sensual surroundings, and the best methods of intervention.  

I know the idea of “quality time” has become a bit of a cliché, but quality time for a child afflicted with autism generally involves simple activities shared with others.   Whether you are raking the leaves, purchasing groceries, doing laundry or washing dishes, find a way to directly involve your child in a way that allows for a maximum level of personal interaction between the two of you.  Don’t focus much on the specifics responsibilities of the task, but rather, on the experience of it, or the interpersonal process of “working” or “playing” together.  

Finally, empathy, compassion and the ability to display appropriate levels of affection are often compromised in autistic children.  These attributes must be modeled through your example and sometimes you will need to point out cues that will help them to more readily identify social cues telling them when an experience calls for empathy, when an experience calls for compassion and when an experience calls for a display of affection.  In terms of autistic children, the brain’s “battery” for emotional awareness and social/emotional responsiveness is sometimes needs a jump-start.  This could take the form of pointing out a scene in a movie in which an actor is responding in an emotionally appropriate manner, and providing a cuing comment like: “Look Charley, the little girl is hugging her brother because his new toy has broken!” 

If you need to be connected to community resources, email a reply, let me know the city or county where you live.   I’ll help to mobilize those resources for you.  In terms of your own internal resources, I will leave that up to your therapist, your journal, and your ability to raise your own awareness about your own issues requiring personal and professional attention.  Above all, I will keep you in prayer.  We can do quite a bit in terms of mobilizing our own internal and external resources, but these are limited.  Eternal resources must come from our savior, who died and rose again so that we might not only live, but live the abundant life.  God bless you as you begin to find solutions for yourself, Charley and your entire family!  Once again, HAPPY EASTER!

Dr. BLT, The Rock Doc
http://www.drblt.net

If you are a musician in distress, or a family member of friend of one, please write me at drblt@drblt.net 
 
 
 

Dr. BLT, aka Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, is a Christ-centered licensed clinical psychologist and university instructor who specializes in the psychology of modern music.  He uses his original songs as well as those of other artists to address the problems of his patients, including his biggest, sickest, most challenging patient--society.

His face and name recognition, particularly with teens, comes from his short part on a long Cake music video--the Cake video for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that earned the band a nomination for Ground Breaking Music Video of the Year on the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. 


 
 
 
 

 

 
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