Autism in the workforce: I am Autistic, I am not broken

By: Rick Jacobs

 It is palpable, that moment when you tell someone or a group of professionals you are on the Autism Spectrum. As if you just vomited on their shoes, they get a look of shock and concern. Their speech patterns change. Their facial expressions alter. You are no longer the same person that was hired or that started the conversation.

Often, you hear things like “I never would have guessed,” “You don’t look Autistic,” or they simply start talking to you like you suddenly became a five-year old with a limited vocabulary and a hearing problem.

I am Autistic, I am not damaged, I am not less intelligent. I am just a little different than you are. I see things differently, experience things differently, and struggle with social conventions. 

I understand the complex, hyper-detailed volumes of information that I am surrounded by. I don’t understand corporate culture or how to conform to workplace norms. I understand strategy, nuance of facts, projections, and planning. I don’t understand the look on your face or if you are joking with me or not. I am flat in affect when listening and processing, which may look like I am checked out or not paying attention.

I am super sensitive to my surroundings and have intense feelings, but I don’t let them rule me. I seek facts, I want to know that what I know is true and correct, not that I am right. I have intense intuition and gut feelings, I just don’t act on it until I have examined the facts, seen the possible options and outcomes, and have a plan for mitigating potential issues. I love stupid loud crazy music concerts, but a loud social gathering or cubicle space stresses me out, so no, I don’t want to go to the bar to hang out after work.

The problem with being an older Autism Spectrum person in a corporate world is that you are either weird or a problem employee because you don’t socialize like everyone else or you are a special case that everyone must tiptoe around and tread lightly. I am also often seen as not promotable, because of the belief that I might not understand how to connect with people. Actually, I connect very well and quickly, except I am also very aware of BS and will call it out. Don’t lie to me. I know.

TONIGHT! Aspergers101 Facebook Live-Streaming Series

Watch Dr. Temple Grandin at her Best! Livestreaming tonight 7pm (CST) on the Aspergers101 Facebook Page

Autism and My Path Through Life: Presented by Dr. Temple Grandin

7p (CST) Monday October 14th Dr. Temple Grandin has graciously given her permission to offer access to her talk at the Aspergers101 recent event in San Antonio, “Unlocking the Potential: An Evening with Dr. Temple Grandin”. You’ll have a front row seat to her speech: “Autism and My Path Through Life” recorded April 19th 2018 at the San Antonio Pearl Stable. We’ve heard Dr. Grandin speak on numerous occasions and believe us, she was on fire! The runtime 48:54 and we feel certain you will want to take notes…its our gift to you! You can access this free event on the Aspergers101 Facebook Page. The link is below.-Jennifer Allen/Founder Aspergers101

Resources for Depression and ASD: Now that we know, what do we do?

Depression is more frequent in those with AS than the general population, and the struggles of those with AS often contribute to the development of depression. The obvious question is, what resources are available and what do we do? First, we should not accept depression as just a normal part of AS, especially if it’s interfering with everyday life. Secondly, we need to recognize the symptoms to help as early as possible. And lastly, we need to research the supports that are available – how you can help yourself or others right now – and what resources still need much improvement so that you can call upon action in your community.

Being aware of the symptoms of depression is critical:

  • sleep difficulties, either sleeping more or less (insomnia, early morning waking);
  • changes in appetite (either more or less hunger);
  • weight gain or loss;
  • a failure to enjoy normal sources of pleasure;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • sadness, guilt or hopelessness;
  • crying or unusual irritability.

Someone who is clinically depressed sees the world in the above ways each day. It’s important for the individual or those around to seek professional help.

Medication can help many with depression, as can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Although CBT is a slower process with AS individuals and needs to be adapted to their thought process. Some studies suggest neurobiofeedback can be helpful with depression and there are a few early studies of its use with ASD patients. For those who prefer to avoid medication, this is certainly worth exploring. It is best to come to your medical sessions with the knowledge of various treatments so that you can be prepared to discuss what is best for you.

It’s important to think about addressing the factors that can result in depression.

What Are School Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Asperger’s?

Some students with disabilities require accommodations or modifications to their educational program in order to participate in the general curriculum and be successful in school. Each child with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is different and has their own unique needs. Parents will meet with school personnel in an ARD/IEP meeting to determine what accommodations and modifications should be implemented to best assist their child. It is imperative that parents and educators understand the difference between the two.

Portrait of schoolboy looking at camera at workplace with anothe

For many students with Asperger’s Syndrome, accommodations will be needed to access the curriculum and remain in the least restrictive environment. Accommodations (the HOW) can be made for any student. Students do not need to have a 504 plan or an IEP.

Accommodations do not alter what the student is expected to learn but rather make learning accessible to the student.

They allow the student to demonstrate what they know without being impeded by their disability. Students are required to complete the same assignment or test as other students, but with a change in the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response and/or presentation. They do not alter in any way what the assignment or test measures.

(http://www.texasprojectfirst.org/ModificationAccommodation.html)

Accommodations can be referred to as good teaching practices. Here are some common accommodations made for students with Asperger’s, high functioning autism, and other related disabilities.

A Life In Paint: How One Adult With Asperger’s Found His Place in the World Through Art

An Aspergers101 Exclusive with Artist Carl Parker

I happened upon the brilliance of Carl Parker by accident. He had engaged in a discussion on the Aspergers101 Facebook Page and his positive nature was very apparent among the sea of negative comments. Found out quickly that Carl is the real deal! His positive outlook and adult Asperger diagnosis proved to be a powerful combination when creating his artwork. Each piece tells a story that he narrates via blogs. He describes each creation with a beauty that allows it’s viewers a rare glimpse into his world. I know this was no accidental encounter. So proud to share with our readers the brilliance & artistry of Carl.

About the Artist: Carl Parker is a dynamic, Canadian artist whose work focuses on the life experience. His style is abstract expressionist. He creates thought-provoking and emotionally engaging works and explores the beauty and subtlety of both rural and urban life, having experienced both himself.  His art can be found in private and corporate collections throughout the world, including Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Europe. To date, he has shown his work in various cities including Toronto, Calgary, Florence, Italy and Paris.  His piece, Rustic Place, can currently be viewed at the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s In Camera Dining Room. 

Aspergers101: Clearly you are an artist with great talent. What inspires you?

Carl Parker: I began drawing at around age 8. I remember using a Spider-Man comic and being on my bedroom floor on my stomach. I was fascinated by how wonderful the character was drawn, so I attempted it myself. I was hooked. I’ve always been inspired by the human form. Over time, I would let my own style to develop with my painting of figures. I’m inspired by showing the emotions and complexities of us humans in my own, individual painting style.

Carl Parker shown with his work “Rustic Place” which is currently on display in the Ontario Legislature’s In Camera Dining Room.

Aspergers101: Upon learning you were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, did this affect your art in any way? Do you think it plays a part?

Carl Parker: I feel the Asperger’s plays a part in my unusual style. It pushed me to always be different in everything I do. This always felt like a sense of healthy pride for me, and never a weakness. To me, the Asperger’s is absolutely was not a negative. It gave me ambition to be a good artist. My late-in-life diagnosis was good for me, I wanted to know, and have since become a very level and successful person in this beautiful world of ours. Nobody paints like me. That makes me smile.

The person on the spectrum CAN experience triumphs of massive proportions. They CAN contribute important things to the world.

Carl Parker

Aspergers101: How would you describe the meaning in your paintings…are they connected?

Carl Parker: When someone sees and/or feels something in my art, I have done my job. I’ve contributed something and when the viewer connects with the piece, I feel joy and excitement because I’ve translated a piece of life, effectively in a powerful way. When a person has Asperger’s, they can often feel the need to isolate themselves from people and society in general, but with my art, I can connect with people. This is huge in such a healthy and progressive way. For me, my art is actually therapy. They say people with Asperger’s have a hard time showing their emotions and seem cold. In my paintings, people find emotion. It’s a magnificent thing when emotion is found, both for me and the viewer. I’ve noticed my art has the power to transcend all worries, hang-ups, negativity, and the pointless aspects of the trivial sort of mind. All pettiness begins to fall away. How brilliant this is.

Parenting the Anxious Child

It is said that 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. We all experience anxiety to some level. Anxiety in children is common when separated from their parents or from familiar surroundings. However there is a type of anxiety that is more severe and may be misdiagnosed. Anxiety left unchecked or treatment may become paralyzing to everyday life.

Below we’ve gathered several lists for you. What does anxiety look like? How can it manifest, when is it critical to consult a doctor and what methods are available to self calm. Here we go….

Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.

Depression, Aspergers, Help, Resources

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.

According to research from the Mayo Clinic, several types of anxiety disorders exist:

  • Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work and social functioning.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don’t meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

Parents should be alerted to the signs so they can intervene early to prevent lifelong complications. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers you different types of anxiety in children.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

• constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers

• refusing to go to school

• frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints

• extreme worries about sleeping away from home

• being overly clingy

• panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents

• trouble sleeping or nightmares

What is an Asperger Profile?

The Asperger/Autism Network has adopted the term Asperger profile to describe a range of neurological differences characteristic of over one percent of people in the United States and world wide. You may already be familiar with the term Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum diagnosis given to people with a specific constellation of challenges. We have chosen to retire the pathologizing word “syndrome,” because it fails to acknowledge that:

  • Many people with Asperger profiles also have striking abilities, talents, and positive traits.
  • Traits are not fixed or static; with education and support, people’s brains, behaviors, and skills can change over time.
  • Judgments about people’s abilities are subjective; what seems like a challenge in one environment may be an asset in another context.

Dr. Stephen M. Shore (a former AANE Board President) says, “When you meet one person with Asperger’s — you’ve met one person with Asperger’s.” Although people with Asperger profiles may share a common cluster of traits, each person is unique, and his or her life course is highly variable. Each person’s traits vary in number and intensity, and their expression may vary at different developmental stages or in different environments. Like multi-colored yarns woven together into tapestries, the unlimited possibilities for trait combinations produce a wide variety of unique outcomes.  

How to Use Visual Supports for Social Skills Training

Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.

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Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.

There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.

Strategies that are directed by an adult include reinforcement of shaped social skills. This is a technique where the child is reinforced when they demonstrate closer and closer approximations of a desired behavior. Peer mediated strategies incorporate the use of proximity, prompts with reinforcement, and teaching peer initiation. The literature also supports using social scripts to capitalize on visual learning methods (Krantz and McClannahan 1993).

In my experience, I’ve observed how visual supports can be very beneficial in producing non-transient messages for the student to follow and use during social situations. When paired with direct instruction using ABA techniques like shaping and reinforcement, social skills training can be accomplished.

When you set out to develop visual supports, first perform an internet search to get some ideas.

Asperger’s, “The Twilight Zone,” and The Perception of Beauty

Remember Ellie Mae on “The Beverly Hillbillies?” She was portrayed by Donna Douglas, in her day considered one of the most beautiful women on television. But she also once played a character who wasn’t so beautiful.

In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled, “Eye of the Beholder,” Douglas portrayed a woman who was so ugly, she underwent an operation to make her less so. The suspense was built up by the fact that we never saw her face until the bandages around them were removed. When they were removed, they revealed her to be the strikingly beautiful woman she was, but the doctor recoiled in horror and said, “No change, no change at all.”

At that point, we saw the faces of the doctors and nurses around her, which were all distorted and misshapen in grotesque fashion. In the end, she’s sent to live in a colony with similarly “ugly” people, and accompanied by a handsome male escort.

She asks him, “Why are some of us born so ugly?”

Obviously, her character was not inherently ugly, but she was simply born in the wrong world. That’s a dilemma similar to that which the Aspie faces.

Greta Thunberg Says Asperger’s Is Her Superpower

by: MOLLY LONGMAN

While dozens of world leaders made their voices heard at the UN Climate Action summit in New York City Monday, it was a 16-year-old’s rallying cry that had people — including the president — talking.

Photo: Alex Wong: Getty Images

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is known internationally for continuously and courageously working to combat climate change. She was the face of the Global Climate Strikes, inspiring millions of people — more specifically, young people — to rally in more than 150 countries, as CBS News reports. And, she says her Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis is her “superpower.”She told  “CBS This Morning” that Asperger’s, which is a condition on the autism spectrum that affects social interaction and nonverbal communication, has helped her deliver her message to the masses. “What I want people to do now is to become aware of the crisis that is here,” she said.

She’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes in, even if she’s talking to VIPs of parliaments and governments. “I just know what is right and I want to do what is right,” she told CBS. “I want to make sure I have done anything, everything in my power to stop this crisis from happening… I have Asperger’s, I’m on the autism spectrum, so I don’t really care about social codes that way.”

Before her name became internationally recognized, she hadn’t shared about being on the autism spectrum, in part, because she knew “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative,” she tweeted. Asperger’s was officially categorized as a diagnosis on the autism spectrum 2013, according to the Autism Society.