Is Higher Education Ready to Support Students with Asperger’s? Part 3

Independent Living

In 2013 I surveyed disability service professionals at 578 degree-granting, four-year public institutions of higher education. The survey was designed to determine the current readiness of higher education to support the academic, social and communication, and independent living needs of college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.

230 colleges participated in the survey. The survey was designed around the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder , a checklist of efforts determined by experts as integral to effective college supports for this student population.

The 2013 study demonstrated college students with Asperger’s Disorder required specialized supports, and that disability services available traditionally on campus to this population were generally ineffective. It explored, in part, whether or not colleges had specialized supports for this student population outside of traditional disability services.

This article is the third in a three-part series that reports the outcomes of that research. Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

What Causes of Depression for Those with Asperger’s Syndrome?

Aspergers and Depression: Part 2

Why are there higher rates of depression in those with AS? There may be some genetic predisposition to depression for some, but this doesn’t explain most cases of depression. One reason for depression is isolation and loneliness. Despite the misconception that people with AS prefer being alone, research shows that many with AS want friends.

Children and teens with AS are often lonely and feel their friendships aren’t “quality.” They’re looking for company, safety and acceptance to give them a sense of confidence. Those who have friends may have a lower tendency towards depression. However, many with AS who experience social anxiety or lack social skills in joining, starting, and maintaining friendships don’t have the tools to have the friends they want.

Another reason for depression is the experience of being bullied.

Studies have suggested that a majority of those with AS experience bullying. This isn’t surprising given the drive towards conformity and the emphasis on social status among middle school children in particular, but also among high school students and even older individuals.

There isn’t a cultural norm of tolerance of neurodiversity, or even of most kinds of diversity.

Respecting Neurological Differences and Decreasing Stress for the ASD Student in Class

Writing the Day's Schedule Can Help

studentPerhaps most relevant to a student in the classroom: when you are stressed you are less likely to embrace difficult tasks. On your most stressful day, you will probably put the complex tax form in the “to do” box and leave it for a better day.

For our students, neurological stress can be the major underlying factor contributing to difficulties in communication, socialization, and academic performance.

Because of this, it is our essential job as parents and educators to respect the neurological differences and decrease that stress in creative and varied ways.

From breathing techniques to visual strategies and beyond, we will strive to decrease neurological stress so that our students and children can present their best self each and every day.

A schedule is a core strategy that creates an anchor for students who struggle to make sense of their day and their environment.

This is true of any classroom for any type of student. It has been well documented that learners benefit from having a daily agenda. Except, the difference is that while all students benefit from a daily agenda or schedule, students with Asperger’s Syndrome and other special needs have a greater need for this simple, yet fundamental strategy.

For a younger student, this might be a simple posting of the daily activities on the board. For an older student that transitions from classroom to classroom, the daily schedule might be best in a notebook. However, each class period or subject should post the specific activities for that day.

For example, a high school teacher can help to decrease the many stressors of high school life by posting something as simple as:

Aspergers is Not the Same as ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)!

People with Asperger’s usually collect labels like ADHD, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder before they’re diagnosed with AS. The label that annoys me is Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Is there a difference between people whose Asperger’s-related behavior is misunderstood and ODD? I find that ODD is sometimes simply a description of behavior without a cause.

Insurers ask for diagnoses based on ICD 10, the “handbook” of diagnoses. One of the official ICD 10 descriptions of AS is that it’s a “neuropsychiatric disorder whose major manifestations is an inability to interact socially; other features include poor verbal and motor skills, single mindedness, and social withdrawal.”

ICD 10 describes ODD as a behavior disorder and a psychopathological disorder. It’s described as a “recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures.”  The criteria include “frequent occurrence of at least four of the following behaviors: losing temper, arguing with adults, actively defying or refusing to comply with requests or rules of adults, deliberately annoying others, blaming others for own mistakes, and being easily annoyed, angry or resentful.”

ICD 10 is right in my experience in describing those with Asperger’s Syndrome as “single minded.” This is a real strength when doing tasks, following rules and being honest. However, single mindedness can also include inflexibility or even severe rigidity in sticking to a point of view.

When an inflexible demand is made of an inflexible person, you have rigidity meeting rigidity. That’s not going to work. For people with AS, what’s being perceived as oppositional, hostile or rule breaking is actually more about having a fixed way of viewing the world.

Especially when rules or demands seem illogical or unfair, those with AS can dig in and stand their ground. Many with AS and NLD also have concrete or literal thinking, which adds to the mix of misunderstanding and “rule breaking.”

Mentorship and Role Models are Crucial for Those with ASD

With my decades of direct support with individuals who have Autism I have noticed a few commonalities with social skills modeling and maintaining positive healthy friendships. Mentorship and role models are incredibly important for adults with ASD. There are many ways that you can make sure that this invaluable resource is available to your adult children, and it is never too early to start.

As we all know society is ever-changing. What we, as educators and parents have feared for our adult children years ago is pretty much the same now but with even more dangers. We live in constant fear of bullying online and making positive friendships both at work and volunteering in the community. Even the city bus is a fear of uneasiness. “What if’s” are in our minds constantly.

The goals I have tried to teach families are to have a buddy system and to gradually fade out.

I work and have always worked with Youths in Transition. As a support team we search out an appropriate buddy for each individual long term and then begin to fade out. Most times we have to pay individuals to be a friend or advocate for our children. It’s just a fact of life. Your adult child is like anyone else. For a friendship to develop we need consistency, time, and a sense of safety.

Are You an Aspie and Depressed? That’s Not Unusual

Asperger’s Syndrome and Depression: Part 1

As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US  is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.

Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.

Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.

It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.

It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.

It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:

Using the High IQ of ASD to Foster Emotional Intelligence

Using a Break Down to Avoid Breakdowns

As many people in the Asperger’s Community understand, aspies often have trouble dealing with emotions. The emotional intelligence of a child’s mind is not much different from an aspie’s mind. Unfortunately, without useful tools, this emotional thinking carries into adulthood and can lead to poor decision making.

Emotional Intelligence

If an adult aspie has a low EQ (Emotional Quotient), then impulse control, critical thinking, voice control, behavior self-modification, and problem solving fail to appropriately play their roles. In school, this means a bad reputation for the aspie with ramifications that make it worse for everybody. A low EQ could affect the relationship of the aspie student with the school faculty and also result in peer bullying. In the workplace, this usually means a write-up or an immediate layoff. At home, it means family tension.

Indeed, negative emotions and behaviors are contagious. They always create toxic environments and habits in the aspie’s life.

Ideally, everybody would like to get on top of this important issue in order to establish a solid foundation of peace. What sort of step-by-step process is necessary to do this? The answers vary depending on the aspie’s age, personal dilemmas, comorbidities, learning schema and environments, mentalities, and general life satisfaction.

In adulthood, the amount of contributing factors significantly increases. The main reason for this is that many professional life aspects are added to personal life aspects.

The good news is that even with a low EQ, aspies have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Aspies can use their IQ to discipline their own minds and to break down each complex and difficult situation.

A 9 step process for the aspie to break down difficult emotions and avoid all definitions of a breakdown

Customer Service with Aspergers: Greeting Customers with a Smile

Smile and Succeed

One of the most important job skills every employee, including those on the autism spectrum, must learn is how to greet a customer properly. If employees learn this valuable skill, they will be way ahead of the pack. Their employer will notice and customers will become life-long evangelists.

Smile

Many employees (and business owners!) fail miserably at this simple task, turning customers off forever and losing them to the competition, or to the online marketplace, often without even realizing it.

In my previous life I owned a specialty retail store. I developed an extensive and innovative six-week customer service and sales training program for new employees, where they were introduced to proven techniques and had to pass a test before joining the sales team. The program worked. I watched as confidence – and customer satisfaction and sales – soared. The tenets taught in this first training program provided the basis of my award-winning book Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service.

Starting with that all important smile and friendly greeting at the front door, we took our store from a start-up to a beloved award-winning specialty retail business.

Equal Accessibility in Public Spaces and Public Services: Universal Design and Aspergers

The idea of universal accessibility in public spaces is often thought of with wheelchairs and stairs. However, there are many different abilities that are often not visible and could create hardship for those who do not necessarily “fit the mold” of the environment they are in. Universal accessibility should be broadened to consider those with different abilities that are often not visible, especially in public service environments such as hospitals or schools.

It is not enough to tolerate difference – this is to merely allow it to exist. We must also welcome difference.

I remember the day someone first said to us that our son might be Autistic – have Asperger’s Syndrome. Daniel was in the 5th grade and my husband, Mike, was attending his annual Special Education ARD (Annual Review and Dismissal) meeting. I was in the car driving to my graduate school class when my husband called – confused and unsure of what the SPED staff was talking about.

Daniel received private speech therapy. Then, when he entered school he received speech therapy and for a time occupational therapy. We knew that he had social and communication challenges but up to that point we just thought of it as Daniel’s quirky personality. On some levels it was a relief to give it a name but it also brought so much fear and uncertainty.

Looking back, I think it was in some ways a blessing to give a name to his unique qualities relatively late in his development.

We were able to treat the challenges that came up as specific issues that needed to be addressed. When he had trouble relating to or communicating with children or teachers I would problem solve each incident with no expectation that he could not respond in a more “neurotypical” way.

The diagnosis did provide us some benefits. It allowed us some extra protections and accommodations that allowed Daniel to grow, explore, and participate in school in ways that would have been difficult otherwise. The diagnosis served as a protective shield when teachers and the school culture were not accommodating.

Daniel desperately wanted to participate in the Audio-Visual program at his high school.