The best advice one can receive about effective support for college students diagnosed with ASD comes from, of course, students themselves. Kristopher Kirk graduated from Marshall University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering (with an emphasis in Civil Engineering) in early December, 2014. At a university-sponsored Parent Weekend event, Kristopher – who has received supports from MU’s college support program during his four years at the school – provided these insights about his college experience.
Mindfulness, meditation and self-talk are important ways of helping yourself when you’re depressed, stressed out, anxious or emotional. They’ve been shown to help handle feelings and are actually often used as components of the most helpful forms of therapy, cognitive therapy.
Why is it important to talk about these three techniques, especially for those with Asperger’s?
Two typical traits for those with Asperger’s are black and white thinking and a tendency to ruminate, to stew thinking about something. With black and white thinking, we see things in extremes, all bad or all good. When we’re depressed, that tends to be all bad.
All bad isn’t realistic; life is always a mix. Things don’t always go wrong. People aren’t always hostile or rejecting. Ruminating means dwelling on something, usually negative when we’re depressed. As we dwell on our thoughts, they tend to become more dramatic, more overwhelming, more conclusive of our negativity. It’s like a downward spiral.
Both black and white thinking and rumination focus on the past, revisiting what has happened, or in the future, anticipating what might happen. We’re rarely in the present. Most often, at this exact moment, nothing too stressful is happening.
The point of mindfulness as an outlook, a way of being, is that it focuses on the present moment – our awareness of what’s happening right now.
Mindfulness exercises include activities that force us to focus on the here and now. Focus can be on attending to our breath, what we hear, bodily sensations, or what we’re doing, like the feelings of washing dishes, the soap on our hands, the feeling of the water, the texture of the plate and glass. This pulls us out of the past and future into the present, which tends to be calmer.
Meditation is a practice for both the body and mind.
When we’re emotionally aroused or stressed, our entire autonomic nervous system is activated. Blood pressure goes up, breathing changes, stress hormones race through our bodies, and every system is affected.
We can be stressed in this way both by what goes on in the moment and by what goes on in our minds – thinking about something can trigger the same physical stress response as being in that moment. Emotionally we’re at a high level of arousal, regardless of what’s happening in the moment. Meditation turns off the stress response, and teaches our bodies what Herbert Benson of Harvard calls the “relaxation response.” Meditation has actually been scientifically proven to structurally change the brain to be more stress-resilient.
Aspergers101 blogger, Alix Generous, is an amazing young woman who happens to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In June of 2015, Alix was asked to speak at TEDWomen. Below is a recorded copy of Alix discussing “How I Learned to Communicate my Inner Life with Aspergers”. She offers her wit, personal stories, and vision for tools to help more people communicate their big ideas.
Read some of Alix’s blogs on Aspergers101:
Once you have written your “one-minute commercial” and are confident telling others about yourself, it is time to start building your network. What is a network? A network is any friend, family member, mentor, teacher, or professional that can help you in your quest for employment. Building a network takes time, but can be extremely beneficial.
Most people get jobs, because of someone they know. New employers usually feel more confident when they hire a person recommended by someone they know. Hiring a new employee is expensive so they want to go with someone, who others can personally attest to their skills.
So, who should be in your network? What is the best way to go about creating a network?
I would start with any friends from school, work, or different organizations that you believe would keep an eye out for jobs for you. Then think about family members that could help, think about former employers, teachers and supervisors…this is a great place to start. Sometimes your direct contact may not know anybody, but someone in their network may know of a good referral, or opportunity.
In the classes I teach I use Dr. Jed Baker’s “Preparing for Life” series. He offers different types of scripts that have proven beneficial for my clients. These can be used in conjunction with the one minute commercial to start building your personal network! Two examples of scripts are below.
Scripts for Networking:
Script for calling a friend, relative, current or former employer, teacher or supervisor:
- Hi this is, ________________. I am looking for a job as a _________________and I was hoping you could help. Is this an okay time to talk?
- Do you know anyone who may need someone who can______________________?
- Do you know anyone else who might know of any job opening?
- Would you be willing to be a reference for me? Would you be comfortable telling others my skills in____________ and some of my personality traits such as________________?
- If so can I get your contact information for an employer?
- Thank you for your time.
Script for calling someone who has been referred to you by others.
- Hello this is__________________. I am a friend (or relative or acquaintance) of____________________. I’m looking for a job as a______________________ and he or she said that you might be able to help. Is this an okay time to talk?
- Do you know anyone who might need someone who can_______________________?
- Do you know anyone else you might know of any job openings?
- Thank you very much for your time.
by Maggie Cromeens
Many factors play into a person’s mental health. Communication styles can even be tied into mental health. Having roommates that you must learn to communicate with on a regular basis can be a helpful treatment for depression and isolation. Having roommates can also offer the opportunity for learning valuable social skills that living alone would not. Learning how to live with someone else is an important step in development. Both independence and community involvement go hand in hand for successful living skills, especially for those with ASD.
I began working with a young man I will call Buddy to work on social skills and making connections with others. Buddy recently moved out into the community for the first time and was provided a roommate with a similar profile.
Buddy has lived most of his life in a rural area and was able to remain in his room for long periods of time playing video games. He often had thoughts that would provoke a tense look on his face and he would start punching in the air. Buddy is an extremely kind and gentle young man, however this characteristic causes others to get concerned.
The first step that took place was a dinner with the new roommate so that they could get acquainted with each other.
During this time the two were asked to turn off their phones and openly talk to each other. Buddy is very quiet and his new roommate is very social and does not do well with confrontation. The two were asked open ended questions. Buddy would answer the questions, but his answers were short. His roommate had long animated answers. Despite these communication differences they seemed to get along well. After dinner they were asked to exchange phone numbers since they were going to live together and would be relying on each other.
Buddy will not mention that he gets depressed or anxious but his body language will show it.
If you have: lost interest in your usual activities; trouble sleeping, wake up early or sleep all the time; a change in appetite (more or less); withdrawn from people with a down mood (for Aspies it might be sad, irritable or a sense of hopelessness – whatever negative mood or thoughts you recognize), you have what we call major depression.
For this, you probably need professional help. Things are not hopeless but being depressed is like looking through dark glasses. While people with Asperger’s are prone to depression because of challenging life experiences, clinical depression is not part of Asperger’s Syndrome and usually responds to treatment. For those struggling with lower level depression, you might still consider therapy to look at ways to make life changes and feel better.
For finding professional help and other resources, Autismsource.org is a gold mine of resources including lists of local therapists in your area.
- Psychology Today: Has a list of all professions, not just psychologists https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/aspergers-syndrome
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists has a child and adolescent psychiatrist finder.
- The American Psychiatric Association has a general psychiatrist finder.
- American Psychological Association Practice Organization has a psychologist finder
- The Canadian Psychiatric Association Canadian Psychiatric Association
Psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), and other specialties all can provide therapy. Individuals should be licensed providers in their states. You can find this information by looking at their websites.
Only psychiatrists, other MDs (medical doctors), and APRNs can provide medication. Medication has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression. Often a combination of medication and therapy are most useful. The form of therapy most recommended is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown to be effective for depression although there isn’t research on it with people on the spectrum. Most therapists specializing in working with those with ASD know how to modify traditional CBT to best work with those on the spectrum.
It can be very challenging, certainly in parts of the US, to find therapists who take insurance.
The prevailing cost of therapy varies widely across the country. Some therapists (usually psychologists) offer sliding scale fees or have some lower fee slots, so it’s worth calling and asking. Clinics generally take insurance but you want to be sure that the therapist is familiar with ASD. The first thing you should do is call the number for patient or customer service on your insurance card and ask for a list of providers (psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers) in your area. This way you can know all the providers near you who are in network with your insurance plan before you call around clinics. In network providers have more affordable rates than out of network providers. It is important to inform yourself about your insurance plan and coverage before you begin the search.
Also, check providers with Medicaid if you have it. Any MD or APRN will know about treating depression with medication. Some therapists who accept Medicaid might be experienced with ASD even if they’re not on a directory for ASD.
Self Care Strategies
Everybody in the Asperger’s Community already acknowledges that aspies have that one thing that keeps them happy and comfortable: their intense interest. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, a sibling, or a friend, coming to understand the aspie’s intense interests is crucial for creating a relationship and helping them grow.
The aspie’s intense interest comes with many challenges and rewards, just as the jobs of parenting and teaching do. This article explores the real benefits and best parameters of understanding and working with the restricted interests for people with Aspergers. Following the 5-step process below can provide a window into the Asperger’s world and show how an intense interest influences the various aspects of personal development.
1.First, identify the interests and the aspie’s behaviors, feelings, and habits that surround it in order to profile the aspie.
- Then, express interest in the aspie’s interest and ask them what they like most about it.
- If the aspie turns you away, tell them that they can share whatever details they want in their own time. Let the aspie come to you to tell you all about it, and don’t feel hurt if they turn you away initially. The aspie’s request for you to leave is very common with introverted aspies.
- If the aspie wants you to get involved, you can then perform a strategic inquiry in relation to the intense interests.
- As you learn about the aspie’s interests, begin to take them out of their comfort zones and push against what triggers undesirable behaviors.
- Dig deep into both good and bad behaviors in order to strategize how to prevent and remedy them as the aspie grows as a person.
- Then, learn to set different kinds of boundaries, but be careful with discipline. Demonstrate the utmost sensitivity to each situation to avoid further negative emotions and behaviors.
- One way of thinking about this is to draw developmental circles; more specifically, the innermost circle is the aspie’s current comfort zone with their interest and everything else that surrounds it. The next-largest circle represents a larger comfort zone into which the aspie gradually transitions. The parent/guardian/caregiver defines each subsequent circle using keywords that describe increasingly better and better trends in the various aspects of the aspie’s personal progress.
- This circle model serves as a reference point that measures the aspie’s progress based on their interest(s) and any other governing factors in personal development. Therefore, the interest serves as a common bond between the circles.
2.After profiling the aspie’s interests, bond with the aspie while advantageously using their specific interests.
I was inspired to share the story of the ongoing relationship (both struggles and triumphs) of my husband Herb and our son Sam after creating the below series of photos.
Parenting someone diagnosed with High functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome begins as a challenge to the adult who had expectations about who their children would be.
Those expectations may be for their son/daughter to be just like them, or to become the person they never were. But these preconceived notions must be disposed of for the child’s success. This is the case with many families facing the newfound diagnosis of Autism or Asperger Syndrome. The high divorce rate among parents with a diagnosed child is testament to the fact that it can be a great struggle that places strain on all areas of life.
When Sam’s Autism diagnosis was revealed to Herb and I some 14 years ago it was raw, new, and life changing to say the least. Our first-born Samuel was struggling in elementary school and until that point we didn’t know why. The Autism/Asperger fact sheet described each misunderstood challenge Sam was displaying and this allowed us insight into creating better communication with our son.
Herb is a man’s man.
His rugged good looks and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality would not seem a sensitive fit toward parenting a son such as Sam. Sam is unique. But not even Sam knew how he fit in to the world around him, much less how to blossom under a father like Herb.
Once the shock of the word “Autism” wore off, it was time to learn how our son saw the world. I immersed myself into this new and foreign reality. We hung close to those on the same path and chose Sam over society and its demands of conforming to social expectations. In other words, we chose Sam.
Choosing to venture into unknown obsessions (i.e. trains, science, planetary systems, Pokémon, and weather to name a few) gave Herb and his son a common bond. This certainly isn’t a popular decision. You realize this when neighbors, family members, and society in general are taking their kids to soccer games, parties, sporting events, and social clubs without even looking your way.
Halloween can be both a fun and nerve-wracking time for parents. Especially for children with ASD, there are many unknowns and events that could trigger a meltdown or even put your child in danger. But halloween can easily be safe and exciting experience if you plan in advance to prepare your child and help guide them. One great technique to use for ASD children and visual learners is a visual social story. Take a look at the visual social story below and print it out or show it to your child to plan and prepare for a fun and safe halloween!
For more resources and suggestions on planning for Halloween see the links below:
- This is a great video of tips about planning in advance for Halloween, with his #1 tip being to not forget those ear muffs or ear defenders at home! The Aspie World Video
- For an easy to reference list of suggestions, including practice role playing for receiving and giving treats, go here: Seattle Children’s Autism Blog
- Attitude Magazine has a list of tips including more about sensory issues that might arise, relating to those with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well: Attitude Magazine Halloween Tips
- Are you concerned about candy consumption and possible allergies? This blog addresses how you might be able to navigate that issue: Spirit of Autism
Have a fun and safe Halloween!
by Lisa Rogers