Using Topic Cards to Develop Social Skills in ASD Youth

Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction. 

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.

24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

A woman with her hand on her head, grimacing. Text reads: 24 surprising physical symptoms of anxiety

24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

We may think we know what anxiety looks like (shaking hands, shallow breaths) and what it sounds like (“I can’t do this. What if I can’t do it. What if?…What if?…), but what does anxiety feel like? Often, we focus so much on the racing thoughts and emotions that come with anxiety, we forget to recognize how physical anxiety can be. In fact, you can feel physical effects of anxiety without even realizing it’s anxiety that’s causing it.

To learn some of the ways anxiety not only affects your mind — but your body — we asked people in our mental health community to describe what physical symptoms of anxiety they deal with, and what they feel like.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I get into high anxiety, sometimes out of nowhere, I get GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms. Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain. It’s tough because there is nothing I can do but just try to wait it out.” — Michele P.

2. “Does anyone else find themselves antsy after a big panic attack where you can barely sit still and then for the next couple days, you’re completely mentally/physically exhausted? I feel like everything is just too much and I can’t move.” — Kristen G.

4. “In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, and no jacket or blanket helps. I just have to ride it out until it goes away.” — Monica M.

Facebook and Social Skills

Growing up there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for people to see me for exactly who I am, and like me for it. I drive myself mad looking for this, because identity is unstable. People change as they get older through a combination of experience, genetic predispositions, and neuroplasticity. Aspergers is one fickle diagnoses, mainly because it is susceptible to all kinds of misinterpretation.
And then this miraculous invention called Facebook came out.

Alix Generous

I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was still a relatively small community. One thing I loved about Facebook is that the social norms were different from in-person interaction, and often times made things easier on me. I can connect with people and not be criticized for my lack of eye contact or vocal tone.

Full Disclosure and Accommodations in the Workplace with Aspergers

Q: Should I tell my potential employer that I have Aspergers?

Oftentimes individuals that I am working with choose not to disclose their disability/ies because they feel that it will affect how others perceive them at work. While this is a legitimate concern, it is one that can be minimized with practice and self-confidence.

employment, workplace, aspergers, disclosure

I tell individuals who are thinking about disclosing their disability to really focus on their capabilities or strengths, that which they can offer an employer that stands out above what they feel they lack. It is usually in the best interest to have some solutions in your mind for the accommodations that you will need while working.

Being Sensitive Towards the Siblings of ASD Children

When a family member is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, life changes. Life for the child who is diagnosed, for the parents, for the family friends and acquaintances, and life changes greatly for the siblings.

When our son, Sam, was finally diagnosed at age 9, his younger brother (by 2 years), Charlie, suddenly became the “older” brother. Whether circumstance made this 7 year old become the defender or whether his character was already programmed that way, Charlie took on Sam’s challenges with brute strength! Parenting both boys became a balancing act of  sorts, as Sam needed much attention to both discover his issues and then look to get help for them, and Charlie needed the nurturing that any young guy should have at that age.

Pets and Asperger Syndrome

By: Samuel Allen & Jennifer Allen

Allen Acres August 2014 024If you have a child with Aspergers who interacts well with animals, there’s no need to be surprised. People with Aspergers tend to bond more with animals than they do with people. In fact, many neurotypicals would see Aspies as animal whisperers due to how well they bond with animals.

One time, we visited someone who is a gypsy and she owned some cats and dogs. Seeing as how I like animals, I began petting them and they liked it. When she saw that her animals had immediately taken a liking to me, she was surprised and said it was as if I had a gift where I can bond with animals.

That scenario was a perfect example of how Aspies and animals are like bread and butter. I have a Yorkshire Terrier who I love to be around. I encourage any parent with an Aspie child to get them a pet that they would love to bond with. Whether it’s the classic dog or the trustworthy horse, having pets can prove to be very enjoyable for both the parents and the child.

By: Sam Allen


As a parent to a son with Autism, companionship was what I had desired for Sam especially during those challenging school age years. With no prospect of birthday party invitations or after school gatherings, I worried (turns out far more than I needed to) for Sam’s emotional needs. To this day, Max (pictured above with Sam) offers just the right amount of support.

Not just for those on the Spectrum

Animals will seemingly listen and not judge you based on your social skills or designer apparel labels. You can vent your troubles, remain in total silence for hours or hug them and their tail is still wagging the next day! I can recall, as a little girl, moving to a new town where families had been established as friends for generations. Coming in as a middle school student had its social challenges even for a neurotypical! Compounding the isolation, I developed a near fatal form of pneumonia where I was functioning with only one lung for weeks. It was at this point that I met a stray German Shepherd mutt that changed everything…my newfound confidant, Nellie Jean.

That dog walked me to the bus stop every morning and was there waiting for me upon my return. Our walks in the nearby woods, rides on the tractor and adventures that mirrored much the book Because of Winn-Dixie  afforded a lonely, gangly girl unconditional friendship. Companionship is a fundamental need in all of us. However when diagnosed with Autism, Asperger Syndrome or a social disorder, companionship might be difficult to come by…especially in  the early years.

Consider a pet to fill in those gaps, whether for your school-age child or for yourself as an adult. Adjust your choice of pet to fit your means whether financially (hamster to horse) or geographically (apartment to suburbs) just so there is a pet to care for…and to care right back.

by: Jennifer Allen

Peter Thiel: Asperger’s can be a big advantage in Silicon Valley

Peter Thiel — the PayPal founder, Facebook investor, and bestselling author — hates groupthink.

He avoids hiring MBAs, since he says they tend to be “high extrovert/low conviction people,” a combination of traits that “leads towards extremely herd-like thinking and behavior.”  Similarly, he says that “people end up behaving more lemming-like” in places like San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood, where tons of tech companies are crammed into a .635 square mile area. All that socialization leads to conformity, he argues, preventing people from coming up with original, innovative ideas.

To Thiel, originality is the name of the entrepreneurial game, since it’s the quickest route to gaining a monopoly, as he says Google did with search. From that logic, he argues that a psychological condition usually thought of as a disorder — Asperger’s syndrome — provides a startup advantage.

Preventing Meltdowns

When dealing with meltdowns, the most important things to consider are the triggers that lead to a meltdown. It might appear that the behavior just erupts out of nowhere, but there is almost always a trigger. It might be a series of things that have a cumulative effect, making it difficult to ascertain just one culprit.

However, good data collection that looks closely at the antecedents will provide some clues. Data on the antecedents, or triggers, should include the time of day, persons involved, specific activities and location.  Any other relevant information such as changes in medication, illness or other physiological conditions should be included. 

The Pathways to Diagnosis

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments

For individuals on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis from a medical professional is necessary in order to qualify for medical services. One main difference in the assessment is in how the child is evaluated and whether the evaluation is done by an individual or a team.

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments at ACN

At ACN, we conduct interdisciplinary autism assessments where a number of specialists participate in the evaluation and all of them are present at the same time from start to end.

The team consists of a developmental pediatrician or psychologist, a behavior analyst, a speech-language pathologist, and an occupational therapist. We believe that a comprehensive evaluation gives parents a clearer sense of the skills and deficits in their child and a clearer direction for seeking therapies.

The following is an illustration of the pathway to a diagnosis at ACN:

The Power of Conversation

Before I started this blog I was in a place where I felt alone and had nobody to relate to. Since then I have met so many amazing people and families. I have had the opportunity to talk with and meet many people who were in the same place I once was when this journey began. I love sharing my story and feel honored to have many share theirs with me along the way. Often times I get phone calls from friends or professionals who think that I should meet a certain family. It touches my heart in so many ways, and I am so lucky to have that opportunity.

However, not everyone is in this situation, I know I never used to be. Important interactions with others are not always planned out. Unless we put our phones down, pick our heads up, and share our stories we will never know all the amazing moments and conversations that could have been.

I don’t put a sign on anyone’s neck, nor do I shout form the rooftops what is going on in my house. Okay so maybe with the exception of this blog. Lol! The point is that you never know what someone’s situation of life experience has been, so be sure to walk through life with your eyes wide open.

The other week we were at a kids’ play place and I noticed a dad intensely following around his child. I recognized his behavior in myself, that dad on high guard with his child used to be me. At one point our children were both in the same area so I put down my phone and walked near them, mostly just to make sure that both kids were going to be okay together. While I do get to relax and stay seated more in public spaces now, I know my children, and felt the shift was necessary.