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The CAT-Kit: Cognitive Affective Training ; New Program for Improving Communication
Attwood, Tony with Kirsten Callesen and Annette Møller Nielsen
Future Horizons / Curriculum / 2008-01-01 / 1932565736
Autism Spectrum
price: $250.00 (may be subject to change)
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World-renowned expert on Asperger's Syndrome Dr. Tony Attwood has teamed up with Dr. Kirsten Callesen and Dr. Annette Moller Nielsen of Denmark to create a powerful yet user-friendly tool that gets straight to the core of the thoughts and emotions behind behavior. The CAT-kit offers an easy, hands-on way for young people to communicate with adults, and each other.

Years in the making, the Cognitive Affective Training (CAT) kit is a program that consists of visual, interactive, and customizable communication elements for children and young adults. It is designed to help students become aware of how their thoughts, feelings and actions all interact and, in the process of using the various visual components, they share their insights with others. It is an easy and effective way to work with neurotypical children and young adults as well as with people with developmental disabilities.

The CAT-kit has been proven valuable in a variety of environments:

* Parents report that the materials are excellent resources in conflict resolution among siblings, and for clarifying differing perspectives between age groups. The uncomplicated design and situation-specific uses of the kit will simplify day-to-day conversation and allow parents to deal with displays of emotion or misconceptions that ordinarily would be difficult to manage.
* Teachers and counselors appreciate the CAT-kit for its visual and concrete design. The kit attracts students’ attention and encourages them to talk about their thoughts and emotions in a non-defensive manner. Children are able to communicate their attitudes and emotions by means of the visual aids and are not inhibited by their lack of exact wordings.
* Therapists and other professionals consider the CAT-kit an easy, hands-on adaptation of the cognitive-behavioral strategies they are already familiar with. The kit allows professionals to obtain valuable information regarding the thoughts and feelings that exist behind students’ behaviors, while providing a non-stressful environment where professionals can work on students’ self-awareness and self-control. The CAT-kit elements can easily be integrated into comprehensive CBT programs.

Click on the Table of Contents tab to read more about the individual components of the CAT-kit!

You can also check out this online presentation that shows you how to use the different elements of the CAT-kit. It includes testimonials, Evidence of Effectiveness (the evidence-based research that schools need!), and a printable CAT-kit brochure.
Introduction to the CATkit

Binding: Binder
One 55-page manual, 10+ dry-erase visual tools, and over 90 feelings with corresponding faces and words


“The CAT-Kit does not merely focus on understanding (emotions); it addresses also skills acquisition training and practice. Step by step, this program teaches children the most important functions and needs relating to emotions, to social relationships, and to better coping.”
Professor Tammie Ronen
Head of Bob Shapell School of Social Work
Tel Aviv University

“I have only had the opportunity to use the CAT-Kit a few short weeks and I have found it to be one of the most powerful behavioral tools I have ever used! Children, teens and adults with whom I work, who have autism and other developmental disabilities and even some without disabilities, LOVE using this tool.”
Kathy Kelchner, M.Ed.
Educational Consultant

"I have used it so far for two lessons. The students seemed to enjoy it and I found it very helpful. I plan on using it for other lessons as well."
Michael Berg, NBCT

"I have used the CAT-kit with several kids and LOVE it! ... The kids seem to relate to the face expressions & I always let them put their own 'feelings word' with the face. I don’t tell them what the emotion is."
Connie Spearman, RES

"I have been able to use the CAT-kit with a student I serve for social skills. He has a lot of anger issues and we are able to use the charts and graphs to help de-escalate situations. For example, we used the day element over several days. It helped us pinpoint when the majority of the behaviors were occurring, which in turn, helped us to understand why."
Mandy, NHE

"I do use my CAT-kit for several of my students. I am also getting my degree in school counseling and am working on my internship and I use it when I do individual counseling, and they LOVE it. Some of my counseling students are students with autism and some are general ed kids. They always ask about the kit when I don't bring it. It is so helpful and organized! Thanks for getting these for us!!!!"
Katie, ABA teacher

Here are some more detailed examples of how educators have found success with particular CAT-kit components!

The Measure
“Kris is a fourth grader with an EH diagnosis. He can be very rough and verbally abusive to his peers. He usually does this impulsively and often complains that his friends won’t play with him. We helped Kris place his anger impulses on the thermometer and then placed faces of his friends’ reactions to his behavior on the other side of the measure. Kris looked and looked at the faces. We then placed faces of his friends on the measure to coincide with Kris’ appropriate behavior. These faces were all, naturally, happy faces. We were then able to point out that his friends wanted to play with him when he was appropriate. Kris has started to get it although he has a way to go.”

"I have used the temperature gauge for conflict resolution with one of my students."
Jason, ECE

“Charlene is a 15-year-old girl with autism. She has great difficulty managing anxiety which results in melt downs that are quite extreme. Charlene used one half of the measure (1-5). The first level was green and indicated when Charlene was relaxed and working well. The top level indicated a meltdown. At each level Charlene was taught an appropriate, alternative strategy to help her get back to the green level. As the day goes her teacher will point to a level and Charlene will try the strategy. This has helped Charlene reduce the number of meltdowns and start to develop some self-management skills.”

"The day after a meltdown, we used the thermometer & faces to show the progression of a student’s emotions during the meltdown the day before. This was great for 'therapeutic rapport.'

"I used the thermometer with a student to show extremes of his emotions & had him describe instances when he felt this way. Then I made small individual copies of the thermometer with the faces on it for the student to keep. He is able to use this thermometer of his expressions to talk about where he is on the scale.

"With two students, we played a game. A student drew a 'situation card' and then described how it would make him feel by putting the expression face on the thermometer. The students took turns drawing cards.
Connie Spearman, RES

The Day
“Chuck is a young man with Asperger’s who also has some severe depression problems and difficulty communicating with adults. One day Chuck came to school in fairly good shape. By first period he was angry and upset. He remained angry and upset for the rest of the morning and was unable to communicate his anger. We used the day line with him placing an angry face from first period on through the rest of the day. We had Chuck draw a line from each angry face to where the anger started. At that point Chuck was able to indicate that he had a problem in the first period when the teacher gave him a task that he could not do. This became an opportunity for Chuck to realize that one problem was ruining his whole day. This is a very important lesson for students on the spectrum. He was also able, with help, to work on a solution to resolve his problem with his teacher.”

“Jimmy is a 2nd grader with autism. He has high anxiety and frequent meltdowns which are usually connected to his communication difficulties. Jimmy did know the difference between a happy face and a sad face so he was reminded every ten minutes or so to place his ‘face’ on the day line at the appropriate time. It quickly became evident that whenever Jimmy was doing well the staff would try to keep him at an activity longer than he could handle. Scheduled breaks were instituted and staff was trained that appropriate behavior for a child with Jimmy’s needs may be stressful also.”

"With one student, we use the day chart to show how his day is going or how the day before went. We use this to discuss choices he made & how he feels after the choices."
Connie Spearman, RES

My Circles
“Chuck is an 18-year-old young man with Asperger’s and serious depression. He is very unhappy at school and is unable to communicate his issues. We used My Circles to try to help Chuck describe his relationship to his school. He placed himself at the center. He then placed one teacher’s name in the first circle. He placed all the rest of his teachers in the outermost circles and the principal outside of the circles. With a little digging and the visual of the circles chuck was able to tell us that the teacher in the first circle was trusted, talked to him like an adult, and attempted to find out his needs. The other teachers were perceived as not caring, untrustworthy and impatient. As for the Principal - he was a ‘liar.’ He was dishonest with Chuck. With this information we were able to help Chuck repair some of his relationships with his teachers.”

“Luann is a girl of 14 with Down’s syndrome. She is very sociable and learned at an early age that hugging was a good thing. Unfortunately she did not learn to discriminate and this has become a potentially serious problem for her. Using the circle we placed individuals that she could hug in the first circle.(Mom, Dad, Sister) In the next circle out Laura placed classmates and teachers who she could ‘high five.’ Then came people she could talk to but not touch etc. Laura reviews this every day and now stops and thinks each time she encounters someone.”

The Week
“Ned is a 7th grader with Asperger’s. He is very rule oriented and will frequently become so upset over rule infractions or get so overloaded that it is impossible for him to work. Ned is also very intelligent so he was quickly able to place emotion faces on the days of the week. Working with Ned we were able to help him find those periods in the day when stress was very high. He was then given the option of leaving the classroom for a brief period after signaling the teacher that he was going. He could only leave for five minutes at a time so that he wouldn’t miss much time. This simple effort combined with teachers willing to understand his needs dramatically improved his comfort and performance in class.”

The Year
“Rob is a 17-year-old young man with fairly severe ASD. He is generally unable to participate in class or even to remain in class for any period of time. He will engage in repetitive behaviors and has serious meltdowns. Rob, as many students with ASD, is rule oriented and takes rules literally. As a child he learned that you wear heavy clothes in winter and light clothes in summer. Unfortunately he also learned that there are ‘official’ dates for summer, fall, winter etc. It doesn’t matter if there are cold spots or unseasonably hot days. He will wear summer clothes no matter how cold it is and a heavy jacket even if there is a very warm day during that winter period. We had Rob fill in the seasons on The Year page which he was able to do. Then we helped Rob place thermometers with appropriate temps on the seasons. The thermometers were then connected to clothing to match the temp. Next we began to move the thermometers around so that the occasional cold day appeared before winter and vice versa. It took Rob two days of practice to begin to understand that the thermometer was a better rule to follow than the ‘official’ season dates.”

The Wheel
“Rob a seventeen year old student with ASD has become very aware of his challenge and very upset about it. He often says that he hates autism and that he hates what it does to him. We sat with Rob and had him draw autism on the circle where he thought it would fit. He wrote Autism in letters large enough to fill the circle stating ‘That’s me.’ We gently started to point out strengths that Rob had and had him write those as ‘pie slices’ on the circle. He gradually began to see that while the ASD did have a defining part of him he also had many characteristics that existed despite the ASD. This allowed Rob to develop a better perspective of himself and to keep his challenge in balance knowing that it did not make him up.”


Components of the CAT-kit:

(With the exception of the manual, all elements are laminated so they can be written on again and again with any dry-erase marker.)

The Manual will walk you through the CAT-kit elements using easy-to-read, nontechnical language. The first part of the manual is a theoretical introduction to Cognitive Affective Training, while the second part is a practical introduction to each of the elements and how to effectively use them. The 50-page manual can be read in about 30 minutes, so you can begin using the kit immediately.

The CAT-organizer is a visual tool that helps to structure a meaningful conversation with a student about behavior. It breaks the conversation down into several parts in order to facilitate a high level of understanding for both student and adult. Conversations are usually prompted by an event that lends itself to a learning opportunity, where the student can describe their interpretation of what happened. The other elements in the CAT-kit are designed to support the different parts of the conversation.

Nine Basic Feelings are presented in the CAT-kit: joy, sorrow, fear, love, anger, pride, shame, surprise, and safety. There are 10 more specific feelings under each basic feeling category, making 90 emotions available for students to choose from. There is a word piece and a face piece for each of the 90 emotions and they are all affixed with Velcro. They can be attached to The Measure tool to establish emotion intensity and The Day tool to establish time references. There are also blank pieces where students can write in other feelings or draw unique faces.

The Measure is similar to a thermometer and it is divided into intervals from 0 to 10. Circles of Velcro are affixed at each interval so that you can apply faces, feelings words and other visual symbols interactively. In this manner, the user can mark the intensity of feelings, thoughts, experiences and interests.

The Body is a simplified body figure used to facilitate conversations about the connections between thoughts/feelings and body/behavior. The student can identify where certain emotions affect them physically (e.g., perhaps a stomachache during anxiety, a headache during stress, etc.) and how they express those emotions with their body. This knowledge can then lead to better control and/or prevention of those reactions through self-awareness.

My Circles works as a visual model on which the student's relationships, friendships, and interests can be illustrated. The most elementary way of using My Circles is by writing the names of people who the student interacts with inside the five levels of centrality: Circle 1 – me; Circle 2 – family, Circle 3 – friends; Circle 4 – professionals; Circle 5 – Strangers. This is a great tool for teaching appropriate social skills! You can teach Theory of Mind skills by placing someone else in Circle 1 and defining what their social circles may be. It can also be used to rank interests, events, and other concepts in an infinite possibility of contexts.

Timetables help develop and support the concept of time. Using The Day, The Week and The Year tools, students can place events in order and associate different emotions to those events. This can help the child understand how a person can be very happy and feel comfortable in one situation and then a second later become angry or sad. As part of the child's description of what happened, the intensity of the feeling can be measured on the Measure and the duration of the feeling can be measured on the Day. These can also be used to present daily, weekly, or yearly schedules to students ahead of time in order to avoid stress in times of change.

Behavior Palettes are charts that contain written descriptions of different behaviors, starting with the thoughts and feelings behind behaviors, and working up to the effects the behaviors may have on other people. Four different types of behavior are presented within four colors: Red (outright aggressive), Yellow (passive aggressive), Grey (submissive) and Green (assertive). These tools promote understanding and help develop the student’s ability to self-regulate.

The Wheel is a visual personality organizer that promotes self-awareness. By using words, drawings, colours, or other symbols that work well for the student, you can help create a customized reflection of the student's personality. Using The Wheel as a sort of pie chart, each trait or characteristic is drawn in as a different “piece” and named according to the child's self-perception, externalizing internal traits. Different parts may have different sizes to symbolize that traits may be stronger or weaker according to how the student acts in different circumstances.

CAT-Book Labels are intended for the various do-it-yourself books that can be used in conjunction with the CAT-kit. A CAT-book may be a workbook, a notebook, a homemade book, or a binder with dividers and folders. There are two labels for each suggested book: a Feelings book, a Diary, a Success book and a book of Special Interests. These books are optional but are a great way to extend the effectiveness of the CAT-kit and allow the student to record ideas in unique ways.

About the Authors:

A clinical psychologist from Brisbane, Australia, Dr. Tony Attwood has over thirty years of experience with individuals with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). He has worked with several thousand individuals, from infants to octogenarians, from profoundly disabled persons to university professors. Dr. Attwood works in private practice in Brisbane, but is also adjunct professor at Griffith University, Queensland. He presents workshops and training courses for parents, professionals, and individuals with autism all over the world. In addition, he is a prolific author of scientific papers and books. His books and videos on Asperger’s Syndrome and high-functioning autism are recognized as the best offerings in the field. Over 300,000 of his book Asperger’s Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Professionals have been sold, and it has been translated into twenty languages.

A clinical psychologist and the Director of the Asperger’s Resource Centre in Denmark, Dr. Kirsten Callesen has been in the autism field for over ten years. She is actively engaged in educating others about autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and the use of the CAT-kit, which has already made a tremendous impact in Scandinavia by helping parents and professionals structure conversations that focus on emotional issues. She consults to a number of schools and institutions, providing various counseling services as well. For the past four years, Kirsten has been conducting a program for parents in the City of Copenhagen called the Pioneer Groups, a six-month inclusive program where parents can learn about autism and how to care for their newly-diagnosed child through meetings, workshops, and individual family counseling. Currently she focuses on enhancing the communication skills and self-understanding of children and youth with autism.

Dr. Annette Møller Nielsen is a clinical psychologist who currently runs her own private practice, AutismeMidt, She also works closely with the Centre for Autism in Copenhagen, where she is responsible for planning courses, parent counseling, and the psychological assessment of children, adolescents, and adults. Since 1980, she has had a teaching position with the Municipality of Copenhagen’s Educational Programme for children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Annette’s teaching program focuses on how cognitive methods and the CAT-kit can be used to help children and young people with socio-cognitive difficulties.

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