Category Archives: trends

Teens throwing chairs at B104 Night, Mayfair

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The crowd sang along to Chiddy Bang’s “Mind Your Manners”

B104 night at Mayfair every Memorial Day weekend in Allentown is a great bargain:  $5 entrance fee for nationally known acts.    It’s usually a bit crowded, but where else can you can get $5 seats where you can see the stage? A few years ago we waited a couple of hours and got in the front section to see Jesse McCartney.

This year was Chris Rene from X factor, Chiddy Bang, and Boys like Girls.  My husband and I thought it would be fun to go, and we particularly wanted to see Chris Rene from the X factor. We arrived to a mostly full tent after a rainstorm, and found 3 empty chairs in the middle of a sea of teenagers. As we sat, I saw a ripple of reaction from the teens around us: adults don’t belong here. Girls with long straight hair wearing tiny jeans shorts and crop tanks, smart phones in backpockets visible as they scan the crowd to see who’s here, who is arriving.

President Obama knows the right gestures to use when singing Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”, despite several dubbed viral videos which make him him look pretty… nerdy.  Start by teaching kids gestures that go with songs from preschool like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider and the Chicken Dance. By about 4th grade sleepovers,  girls learn to lock eyes while singing a key phrase, often accompanied by a gesture. but :      “ you can’t keep singing at the same person, that would be awkward, you only like sing a line or two”. For call me maybe, make your telephone at “call me” and shrug at “maybe”.

I see clues that these kids know each other, that they must be from the same school. Open mouthed smiling girls with braces check their phones, and look at each other and laugh.  Girls sit in rows, a few braiding each other’s hair, wet after being caught in the rain. Boys sit behind in groups,  a brave girl or two sitting with a date in the boundary. Finally, Capcee starts the warm-up music: “Teach Me How to Dougie”.  A couple of  teens stand up and try out a couple of dance moves, scanning faces and gauging reactions to each movement. Everyone knows words of the songs , they know which parts to sing aloud, locking eyes briefly and singing phrases at each other. Girls ignore the  boys, until more dominant boys show up at the last minute, striding right to the  most popular girls.

By the time the DJ Capcee gets to “Low”, by Flo Rida, the kids are all up: lines of carefully set chairs block their forward surge.  My daughter gets up to dance, but I caution her to stay  back, sensing her danger in not belonging. While my daughter is standing,  a girl brazenly comes and sits in her seat next to me – I pull my daughter back down into her seat to re-claim the space, and the girl hops over into a boy’s lap.  There are fleeting touches, and a couple who might be graduating middle school risk a first kiss.   Someone starts throwing  chairs into a pile, helter skelter, to make room for the arriving kids, who snake forward.   They never look at us, but their bodies tell us we are invaders in their territory: they  wall us off with the chair pile.   I freeze when someone taps my shoulder from behind, knowing that we are  blocking the path, and parents eyes don’t belong here . The crowd shouting:  “Sex Sex sex sex” , along with a song that I have never heard before, but that they all know well.

After the concert, I did the research…….my sources tell me that  probably they weren’t actually shouting “Sex” it was probably “Shots”, by LMFAO featuring lil Jon,  a song I hadn’t heard before. It sure sounded like sex.

Girls turn to each other and make eye contact, singing phrases, imitating gestures:  Applebottom jeans, boots with the fur…lowlowlowlowlowlowlow.  One girl is suddenly  spit out from the group, and connects with friends on the edge  explaining  with animated gestures. As the chair barrier piles up, my invisible family is a rock in the stream, as teens file around us to join with the larger group. Kids slip and slide, climbing over the chair pile to get  past , and  suddenly the prettiest, best dressed  girl throws a chair in our direction with barely restrained viciousness.

Concert riots are nothing new. This picture of thrown chairs is from a 1980 riot at a Black Sabbath concert. In 1980, fights and thrown chairs resulted in the cancellation of a free Drake concert at South Street Seaport.

We finally give up and head for safety in the periphery.  We excuse ourselves to pass through a group of teens dressed in black: we make eye contact and smile. They smile back with gentle understanding, and suddenly  we are visible again. After we move, the crowd continues to heat up, bumping each other, standing on chairs, pumping fists, pushing forward. I take a tour around the crowd, and I see piles of chairs all the way across the crowd.  It wasn’t personal.

Rob Harvey and Vose. I took my daughter to see my favorite local band, Vose, at Crocodile Rock in Allentown. We had to listen to a heavy metal band before Vose went on. I hadn’t seen live moshing before, and I wasn’t quite sure of the etiquette. It wasn’t that hard for me to figure out to move back away from the circle pit, but  a teenager  with autism might need a cue to figure out where to stand. My older daughter is in college — she’s a much better teacher for this kind of situation.

As the last Chiddy Bang song comes to an end, a security guard wades into the vortex of the group of teens, right into the spot we left, and says something to the charged up teens.   Suddenly, the group scatters, quickly leaving the concert as if with one mind. A Mayfair official gets up on stage and tells the audience they must follow rules: no climbing on chairs, no pushing forward.  But the intensity is already diminished, the danger is over now. The crowd settles listening to calm pop music, and  event volunteers come and rearrange the chairs.

Capcee was a master at revving the kids up, but the security guards knew just how much intervention was needed to allow a good time, but prevent a riot.  This wasn’t even a newsworthy  event:  concert review don’t mention any near melee at the concert.   This is just everyday group behavior at a concert.

I have so many questions. How can I possibly teach a  teenager with autism safe concert behavior?  I had been thinking to invite some of the girls from my social skills group to this concert, but I hesitated. Caution…..often a good thing!   I was surprised to see so many young teens without any adults checking on them. Where were those helicopter parents?  If there were any parents of these kid at Mayfair, they were so far away as to be useless.   The security did manage to prevent real harm, but I can’t imagine that the parents of these kids would be okay with this.    I chose to bring my daughter  so that I could teach her — well, I really thought it might be fun for her– but I couldn’t let her move  into such a complex social situation.   We remain more connected to our kids with autism, who, like the kids wearing black,  are vulnerable and have no protection from the pack.

Here’s a list of popular songs that come up at dances and other occasions.  This list is somewhat different than just “what’s in now”- some songs are important in the context of school dances and parties.   I’m sure I’ve missed some.

  • Lady Gaga, Just Dance, Telephone
  •  Beyonce,  All the Single Ladies
  •  Mary J. Blige Family Affair
  • Sarah Bareilles, I’m Not Gonna Write You a Lovesong
  •  Chiddy Bang, Ray Charles
  • Jennifer Lopez   On the floor
  • C&C Music Factory,  Everybody Dance Now
  • OutKast, Hey Ya
  • Pink, Let’s get this Party Started
  • Nelly, Hot in Heere
  • Miley Cyrus, Party in the USA
  •  Taio Cruz Dynomite
  • Bruno Mars, Grenade
  • Ciara, 1 2 step
  • Right said Fred, I’m too sexy
  • Justin Timberlake, Sexyback
  • Rihanna, We found love ,  Birthday, Don’t Stop the Music
  • LMFOA Party Rock Anthem, Shots, I’m Sexy and I know it
  • Flo rida, Low,  Right Round, Club Can’t Handle Me, Good Feeling
  • Cali Swag District, Teach me how to Dougie
  • Cee-Lo,  Forget you (there is another version with F you)
  • YMCA/Cotton Eye Joe/Electric Slide/Chacha slide /Macarena
  • TikTok,  Ke$ha
  • Eiffel65 , Blue
  • Journey, Midnight Train (aka Don’t stop believing)
  • Katy Perry, California Gurls, Firework, Hot ‘n cold
  • Green Day, Time of Your Life
  • Maroon 5, Moves like Jagger
  • Black Eyed Peas, Imma Be, Boom Boom pow, Let’s Get It Started, I  Gotta Feeling
  • Montell Jordon This is How we do it
  • Enrique Iglesias, I like it
  • Justin Bieber, Baby
  • Reel2reel, I like to move it move it
  • Shakira,  Hips Don’t Lie
  • Chris Rene’s Young Homie has grown on me, and I like his peaceful message:     “Hey, young homie what you trippin’ on
    Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong,
    Life’s too short, gotta live it long,
    To my brothers and sisters when will we get along”

     

Teaching Slang and Idioms

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Swag means style, or confidence in how you carry yourself

Language development goes beyond learning names of objects and grammar to learning slang and idiomatic expressions. It is essential for older children and teens with autism to have a good handle on how peers are using language. Parents may have mixed feelings about teaching slang as it is often associated with non-standard words referring to  body parts and sexuality.  It  feels wrong for adults to intentionally teach about words we really don’t want  kids to use, but children with autism often benefit from direct teaching about all forms of non-literal language.  Kids with ASD can particularly get in trouble with sexually tinged language, for example accidentally using a common word that has multiple meanings.  Peers may find ways to use this lack of knowledge to tease a child with a disability so that others in the group will laugh at the child’s cluelessness.

When kids with autism are small, we first struggle with teaching basic naming. We move from naming to generalization: it’s not enough to name one picture of a cow, kids also need to recognize a cow with different colors and patterns, in cartoons and photos, as well as more abstract toy cows.    Language learning starts out on this concrete level.  Often, speech therapists are “done” teaching language when a child has a reasonable vocabulary and grammar as measured by tests of expressive language. When parents express concerns that a child is not understanding and using speech like his peers, speech therapists may send home a worksheet with 20 examples of non-literal language and idioms, but this is  just a drop in the bucket in teaching idioms as there are thousands of such expressions in daily use.

Higher level academic work is dependent on understanding of abstract language, and reading such literary classics as Shakespeare requires the ability to decipher new meanings. Students with autism will need assistance in progressing  from concrete to more abstract language if they are mainstreamed academically. Parents can support learning about non-literal language by continuing to read aloud with children even after they are reading on their own and discussing meanings of words, expressions, and social inferences. Popular music, TV shows, movies, and cartoons are also rich sources of language that  parents can use children to take advantage of “teachable moments” with children. It can be fun to teach through the use of pictures.  For several years, I put an idiom of the day on my daughter’s laptop, so that she’d see it when she logged on.

Cry your eyes out.  Lists of idioms, as well as funny idiom pictures drawn by children can be found at Idioms by Kids

Selena Gomez crying her  eyes out. Some children do better with pictures of what an idiom really means, rather than humorous drawings of  literal interpretations.

Typical children do not need to be  taught basic idioms, but a child with autism ,may not pick up the meaning in context.  In later  elementary school, idioms may be taught as part of language arts, but children with autism need instruction early, in order to follow basic directions given by adults.  A child may look like a deer in the headlights when you tell him to “hand it over” or to give you a “hand”.  Sometimes an adult will give directives using indirect or idiomatic language, and become upset when a child with autism appears to be non-compliant.   But if you say “Would you mind backing up a little?”,  children with autism  may get stuck on  “Would you mind?”, because they don’t understand that they need to comply even if they DO mind.  They may not understand the variety of meanings of the  word “back”: back up, back down, get your back up, get off my back, behind her back. You can find long lists of these expressions at websites, such as Free Language Stuff. I use this phrases intentionally with children with autism, and provide them with an immediate translation. For example, I might tell a child to “cut it out” and follow-up saying  “that means I want you to stop”.

My daughter, as a toddler, often started screaming if someone offered her a “diet soda” as she thought it would make her “die”

In later elementary school,  no later than 5th grade, it is time to  get  familiar with slang expressions. Slang includes new uses of existing words, as well as invented words. Some invented words are based on abbreviations.  This is more and more common as abbreviations emerge from  “text talk”.  Some text talk is only used during writing /texting (such as CUL8R) but other text talk is increasingly incorporated into conversation such as  OMG, TMI,  BFF, BF/GF, yolo ( you only live once ) and IDK ( I don’t know). Kids don’t need to be able to use these expressions, but it helps if they understand what they mean.

It’s fun to introduce slang in current music, and you can find less sexy versions  of music videos appropriate  for younger kids, such as the Chipette versions of popular songs. Here is a fun Chipettes mash-up of two popular songs: Something To Dance For / TTYLXOX “MashUp” (The Chipettes Version) – YouTube.

Randy Jackson from American Idol is known for his use of expressions such as “Yo Dawg” “you can really sing the phone book” (means you can sing anything) and “that was HOT” (awesome or sexy). Incorrect usage of phrases such as ” he can really blow” (in this context, meaning sing) can lead to trouble for kids with high functioning autism.

Some abbreviations, such as LMFAO, BFD, and WTF  are substitutions for “bad” language. If you don’t know what these mean,  you can look them up on Urban dictionary.com .   It is important to teach kids that although abbreviations and substitutions of bad language are slightly less offensive, using them with teachers and the principal is disrespectful. Many children with autism appear to be disrespectful because they miss the social context of language. We need to  teach them many unwritten rules, for example,  that adults can use command language with children, but school age children are rude when they use command language with adults. Imagine a child with Asperger’s telling the principal to “move it”, or worse, “move your butt”.  When a child is scolded for being rude, it just confuses them, as they may be repeating words they heard on the playground, or that adults used with them.

Kids across the autism spectrum can pick up bad language they hear at school or at home, but explanations should be tailored to cognitive level of the child. Younger children and children with cognitive delays may hear a bad word they don’t understand and repeat it; the heightened attention that follows makes it more likely that a child will repeat the word just for the drama. The safest approach is for adults to use minimal attention and emotion when addressing use of “bad words”.   For children who enjoy drama sometimes it’s possible to teach funny or cute popular expressions, so that they do get the attention they are craving. It might be cute if a child says “Oh….sugar-monkey”  or “aye caramba” as substitutes.

Many  kids with Asperger syndrome think about rules as black and white with no gray area, and so they  may be stressed when peers begin to experiment with language. For children who are strict rule followers, you can  introduce and explain all forms of bad language before they start hearing it at school and seeing it on bathroom walls.   Having a talk about the meaning and usage of words is not likely to lead to these  children using the words.  On the other hand, when an adult role model screams ” !?!@#!” every time something goes wrong, what happens next is predictable.


Bella Thorne and Zendaya are current  stars on the Disney channel. Lyrics of Bella Thornes: TTYLXOX: “Be be be my BFF
Cause IDK what’s coming next
And I’ll be LMHO with the rest
So TTYLXOX”

Keep in mind that usage rules for slang are very specific, and include intonation and body language. Teaching about social context is critical:  kid talk changes dramatically depending on whether adults are present.  Typical children learn that they can say things to a young adult babysitter that they can’t say to their grandmother, but we need to teach this to child with autism.

Moving on to actual slang: The terms sick, mad, dope, fly,  and epic are all positive descriptor words.  Sick implies over-the-top insanely fantastic. Mad seems to be used to replace “a lot of ” as in,”I have mad homework “. It can also mean impressive as in “he has mad skills”.   Epic is a superlative: the term epic fail is what happens when you lose a video game, or make a giant mistake.   Calling someone a tool, or saying something is whack are both negative.  Both have multiple slang meanings – if you don’t know the meanings, look them up!  Other terms: crib (home), bounce  (leave; “let’s bounce” means let’s go), and  ride (car, as in the show “Pimp my Ride”). Tight can mean either “close” as in “we’re tight”,  uptight and closed up  as in ” my mom’s tight”, or stylish as in “those is some tight kicks”.  Swag is a positive word meaning stylish. Saying that someone “killed it” means they did a great job, not that they committed a crime.

Another fun new term is Noob which is short for Newbie, or newcomer, which emerged from multiplayer online games, referring to someone who doesn’t know the social rules of the setting/game. Bromance is a non-sexual closeness between males. A frenemy is someone who you seem to be  friends with, but who you don’t really trust.  Some terms, such as Homie, home skillet, Shortie (or Shawtie) and props have urban origins. Shawtie is an affectionate term for an attractive female, but can also be used for a friend. Giving someone props means to give respect to someone. Junk is a current word referring to private parts on a male, or  referring to a female’s “booty”.

Some teens with autism may start to pick up on new slang  on their own, but it helps to have on-going open discussion of language with open-minded adults to clarify appropriate usage. Adults need to think carefully about how to teach language use, as children who behave like a parent  Mini-Me will have reduced social acceptance.

Sheldon Cooper in the TV sitcom Big Bang Theory has a literal understanding of language despite a genius IQ. The very popular show revolves around Sheldon’s constant social misunderstandings. I feel a little queasy about laughing at him.

Props to my friend and colleague Virginia for helping me with this post,  she is mad fly!

Trendz”R”us

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Harry, Louis, Niall, Liam and Zayn formed the group One Direction and came in 3rd in  Britain’s The X factor. The screaming girl fans remind me of the Beatles US tour in 1964. Their current US tour is sold out,  and tickets for shows in the summer 2013 tour about to go on sale.
Current album: Up All Night
 Hot song: What Makes you Beautiful

My posts have been pretty serious so far – so I thought I’d go a little lighter this time around.  Here’s the latest info on what’s “in” for kids,  including One Direction,  Pottermore,  Skylanders, Draw Something, Pawn Stars, Gotye, Hunger Games, My Little Pony Wedding, and Lego Mini-figures. Typical kids have radars for  “what’s in”: they  don’t need parents to  to help them out with trends.  But our kids with autism be stuck in their own intense interests and may be less aware of what kids their age are liking.

Crossing the Vassar quad late on Saturday night in 1980, I froze when a student greeted me saying “Whip it”.  I think the correct reply was “Whip it good”.

I haven’t always been very aware of pop culture, and I’m not a big fan of Buy Me That behavior from kids.  Parents dealing with autism have enough financial challenges without having to buy every new toy, electronic gadget, and game system in the store.  I am not suggesting that we should encourage our kids to engage in mindless consumption: we hope  that they will be able to think critically about the culture of materialism. But before developing critical thinking, kids with autism need to learn basic conversational skills.  We know popular culture impacts our kids: Barney, Elmo, and Dora are the first words of many children with autism.  Visual images and music are highly motivating for  kids with autism, so why do we abandon them when it comes to teaching conversation and social skills?  Less verbal kids who are not ready for conversation skills may have more social opportunities when they can share excitement about current music and shows.

Parents of children with autism don’t have time to research current trends.   Here’s the latest trends that I’ve been able to dig out.  I’ve skipped over huge categories like sports–and there is still so much more to say about these categories!

Igniter, a rare Skylander character

Elementary Boys :   Pokemon, Legos, Star wars, and Superheroes like Spiderman and Batman,  are beloved by many boys, and a lot of girls  too.  You may not be as familiar with Skylanders:  collectible characters which connect to a Wii platform, the more you collect, the more characters you have to play. The website Pottermore, with new interactive Harry Potter content, opened this week and is struggling to keep up with all  the new member requests.    Ninjagos,  tiny battling Lego figurines on spinners, and  Monsuno, another battling toy, both are linked to TV series and are popular among elementary aged boys.  A 5 Below employee told me that $4 Lego mini-figures are so popular they can’t keep them in stock. She said that more Crazy Bones are sold when they are out of Lego mini-figures.

My Little Pony Royal Wedding airs on Saturday, April 21 at 1pm. Fans of the show known as Bronies are typically male, teenage to young adult, and heterosexual.  Little girls like My Little Pony too.

TV: Victorious, I-Carly, Phineas and Ferb, Monster High and American Idol along gain top TV ratings  for elementary school kids, along with the long-time favorite Spongebob. For kids over twelve (at least!) you can add Glee, Family Guy and the Simpsons. All parents have questions about the appropriate age to phase in more graphic sexual and violent content, with tween 5th, 6th and 7th graders being in the gray area.  These decisions are extremely  important when kids don’t understand the complex social rules regarding what language to be used  in what situation. Either pre-watch shows with questionable content, or at least watch them together so that you can take advantage of teachable moments.   Movies with complex violent content  like the Hunger Games and shows like Glee which introduce teen pregnancy and homosexuality are better waiting until at least middle school. Typical kids are usually aware of what’s popular in the teen demographic, even if they aren’t allowed to watch more mature content. Younger kids can learn about names of characters and basic plot, and can at times participate in a trend through Wii games Glee Karaoke and Just Dance even if they aren’t allowed to watch.  Vampire and witch shows like Vampire Diaries are still in. Younger kids who haven’t watched or read any of the Twilight series will know about Bella, Edward, and Jacob. Big Bang Theory continues to get high ratings, it is especially appropriate for older Aspies who may identify with the quirky nerd ethic of the show.  The Legend of Korra is the sequel to the Avatar, The Last Airbender and is a good bet to be popular among elementary boys. Doc Mcstuffins  is a new favorite for  preschoolers with an appealing theme about a girl who can talk to and heal stuffed animals. Reality shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers are unexpected favorites of many kids.

An drawing of Peeta from Hunger Games on Draw Something, a popular tablet game. Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja continue to be popular.

Music: Older elementary school kids start to become familiar with many pop singers such as  Kellly Clarskson (Stronger), Katy Perry (Part of Me), Adele (Set Fire to the Rain), Flo rida (Good Feeling), Pitbull, LMFAO, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Drake….and we are all anxiously waiting for the release of the music video for Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend. I check Ryan Seacrest’s Top 40 website regularly to keep on top of new groups with unfamiliar names.  Awareness of popular music often starts with preschoolers, who have delighted me with renditions of Rolling in the Deep (Adele), Moves like Jaggar (Maroon 5) , and Dynamite (Taio Cruz).  We are Young by the pop band Fun featuring Janelle Monae will clearly take a permanent place among power anthems. Take advantage of your captive audience during car trips to therapy sessions and tune the radio to popular music.  Selena Gomez is making the transition from tween star on Wizards of Waverly Place to an older teen  demographic, and is taking advantage of all that publicity about her relationship with Justin Bieber.

Videos:    viral videos are always popular, and sometimes there is a particularly hot video, other times I search and just find….puppies and kittens stuck in toilets and young children tripping and falling. The website Know Your Meme can keep you up to date on current viral videos and memes (the terms meme usually refers pictures with varying captions such as  Lolcats).   In searching for one “best” current viral video website, I saw that there were a variety of different lists focusing on misadventures of  animals and children, popular music, commercials, and movies.  Gotye (Go -Tee-Yuh) who performed  on Saturday Night Live last week, could be a rising star or  a one -hit wonder, but his music video is currently hot. His haunting song Somebody I Used to Know was featured on both American Idol and Glee last week.   Older viral videos include bizarre favorites such as Danny after Dentist, Rebecca Black’s Friday, the Bed Intruder song, Shoes, Nyan Cat and Double Rainbow. Because many viral videos have sexual or drug related content or references, you will want to preview videos for tweens.  However, once kids hit high school, if they’re anywhere in earshot of other teens, they’re hearing  constant drug and sex related content, and watching a video together can offer an opportunity to sort out feelings and information on these topics.  Adults may need to intentionally learn about Facebook, as viral videos and internet memes (pictures with humorous captions) are parts of teen culture that are not likely to disappear.

The internet meme: the original lolcat was published in January 2007

“Special Needs” parents may not have contact with parents  who form life-time friendships on the bleachers at Little League while we hang with our autism friends at  Miracle League.  When kids are in special classrooms, we may not meet other parents at Back to School Night, music performances, and birthday parties.  So when we try to strike up a conversation with other parents, they react to our anxious stories about the latest IEP meeting or our visit to the developmental pediatrician as if we were talking about the mating habits of pygmy marmosets.  Talk about movies, music, and sports can fill the awkward conversational divide.  For me, this is a particular issue, as I also work with kids with autism, and the conversation usually sags after “Bless your heart” or “You must be such a special person…..”.

Perhaps the best way to convince you of the importance of teaching kids with autism about popular culture is to invite you to think about the music, movies, and TV of your own childhood and teens. For those who grew up in the 6o’s and 70’s, imagine being unaware of the Beatles, the comic strip Peanuts, Star Wars,  the Brady Bunch,  or peace signs. I love my memories of going to see The Poseidon Adventure and Planet of the Apes with my best friend, and singing all of the verses to American Pie.  I remember where I was when I found out that John Lennon was assassinated. Think about how popular culture played into so many of your childhood memories.  I think we want that  our kids to be  included  in the shared cultural memories of their generation.


The smiley face first appeared in 1963. At it’s peak, the smiley face was on mugs, t-shirts….it was everywhere

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