An Interview with the Author of Overcoming the Odds: A New Book About the Journey with Aspergers as a Young Black Man

1) Tell us an overview about your new book titled, “Overcoming the Odds: My Journey to Finding Personal Strength and Triumph”

My book is a memoir based on my challenges and obstacles that I had in my life such as autism, abuse, mental illness and much more. Its primarily a sad true story about a man with autism that no one had high hopes for: the doctor said that he would never amount to anything and would be institutionalized.

Book

It took me a long time throughout my journey to find that personal strength and triumph because no one taught me anything about how to live life or survive as a black man in this world along with having a disability.

All of the odds were stacked against the author: he had autism, he was a fatherless black child, with a single parent mother in a dangerous community with low performing schools. He was bullied, had no friends, no one believed in him, experienced bad teachers, had disabilities along with autism. It seemed as if the author was unloved or born into the wrong family. His family or community had no knowledge or did not believe in autism or any mental or neurological illness. He felt hurt, betrayed, used and abused, to name a few.

The author wore many masks in the story to hide from the abuse and being an outcast but it did not work. He tried to block out or ignore the ignorance but that did not work. He tried to mimic a relative that was so perfect at what they did in order to fit in with family but that did not work. He pretended to be happy, that did not work. He tried to lie or cover over the abuse he went through to make the abusers look good but that did not work. He even tried the unthinkable. And that did not work. After all else had failed, he tried a different route which was the most positive route where I learn to discover my own personal strength and triumph.

2) What inspired you to write this book?

After everything I went through, and after giving a speech to 200 people about my journey on having autism, it hit me.

I was inspired when one of my professors told me, “Maverick we need more minority voices in the autism community.”

Dr. Temple Grandin: Practice Prior to Drivers Ed

AS101 Driving with Autism

Though driving with an Autism diagnosis is not for everyone, many do decide to obtain their driver license and go on to live independent lives. Aspergers101 teamed with Dr. Temple Grandin to provide helpful information when considering if driving is for you, or your teen.

Long before driver education, Temple suggests first mastering your skills by practicing on a bicycle (coordination, motor skills). Then tackle driving in a safe remote area such as the country or large parking lot. You’ll begin mastering such challenging tasks, such as multi-tasking, prior to any driving on congested roadways.

One suggestion she has is that before you take a driver education course, you need to find a safe place and practice, and after that, practice even more! Getting the ‘knack’ of driving includes working on your coordination, motor skills, and multi-tasking which all come into play when learning to drive, even more so for those on the autism spectrum.

Anxiety can often be reduced (for the driver with Autism) by lots of driving practice in a safe remote location.  

– Dr. Temple Grandin

Once you’ve mastered working the brake, blinker, gas and other essential tasks while driving, you’ll then be ready to be thrown into a group/driver education training.

For College Students with Aspergers: The Importance of Follow-Up With Your Professors

One of the most challenging aspects of supporting college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder is the need for follow-up with professors, college staff, and others. Follow-up is important to ensure deadlines are met and that assignments are turned in according to each syllabus. The fast pace of college, combined with the severe anxiety and executive dysfunction common to the spectrum, create the perfect conditions for students with ASD to forget deadlines or avoid high pressure academic or social situations on campus.

Follow Up Professors in College

I’ve known dozens of students with ASD who promised: “I will work on my speech for Communications class this evening after dinner.” And they mean it sincerely when they say it. Stress and commitments mount as the day moves forward, however, and by dinner time students who made the promise may feel overwhelmed and overstimulated and avoid the assignment. Some may become focused so intensely on another subject or topic that they forget about working on their speech.

It’s easy to presume that students who miss deadlines or forget to turn in assignments are simply immature, disinterested, or unfocused.

Many educators say “If he would just try harder he’d be just fine.” Some students who fit this profile are labeled “not college material,” as a result, and find their on-campus reputations compromised. Part of the frustration that education and support personnel experience in this scenario comes from their lack of understanding about the autism spectrum. They recognize the sincerity of the student when he said: “I’ll work on my speech after dinner.” They believe the student really meant his promise, and expect that he will follow through.

Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may engage in crisis behavior that interferes with their learning, puts themselves or others at risk, prevents them from participating in various activities, or impedes the development of relationships. Crisis behavior can range in severity from low productivity to meltdowns that involve aggression, self-injury, or property destruction. Many individuals unfamiliar with Aspergers may believe these types of behaviors are intentional and malicious. However, it has become well known that problem behaviors often serve a function for the individual engaging in the behaviors. Additionally, deficits in the areas characterized by Aspergers may impact behavior.

Stressed teen girl screaming, shouting

Characteristics associated with Aspergers and how it may lead to crisis behavior:

Cognition

Asperger’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder that impacts the way that individuals think, feel, and react. Individuals with Aspergers are believed to react “emotionally” rather than “logically” during stressful situations and are unable to maintain self-control.

Generalization

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have difficulty applying information and skills across settings, individuals, materials, and situations. Even though socially appropriate alternative strategies have been learned, the individual may be unable to “recall” the strategies while stressed.

The Three Different Learning Types: How Your Learning Type can Affect Employment

During inventory and work assessments, one thing that we as employment specialists learn, and sometimes the individual with Asperger’s/HFA learns as well, is what learning type they are. During the initial stages of assessing our individuals’ best possible work environment, we also discover their learning types: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. I will now break down these types of learners and how they can affect employment.

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Visual learners

Visual learners prefer using images, pictures, colors, and maps to organize information and communicate with others. They can easily visualize objects, plans and outcomes in their mind’s eye.

Auditory Learners

Auditory Learners learn through listening. An auditory learner depends on hearing and speaking as a main way of learning.  Auditory learners must be able to hear what is being said in order to understand, and may have difficulty with instructions that are drawn. However, if the writing is in a logical order it can be easier to understand. They also use their listening and repeating skills to sort through the information that is sent to them

Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners

Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners are more likely to use their body and sense of touch to learn about the world around them. It’s more likely they like sports, exercise and other physical activities such as gardening, or woodworking. They also like to think out issues, ideas and problems while they exercise. They would rather go for a run or walk if something is bothering them, than sit at home.

A lot of the young adults I work with are visual learners. When I talk to an employer I can set up supports within management, and the coworkers that would enable the client to be trained using visual supports. If they were only receiving auditory or kinesthetic supports, they would struggle and could ultimately not be successful.

However, this can be avoided by knowing your learning type. The same goes for my auditory and kinesthetic learners: if they are only receiving visual supports and not what they need, they could also be at risk of being unsuccessful. Learning types are important to know.

by Maggie Cromeens

A Feelings Chart and Calming Activities for Children with ASD

In a previous blog we discussed the need to support students in identifying and expressing their feelings through the use of a feelings chart. The feelings chart may be on a scale of “one to three” or “one to five” with level one indicating that the student is most calm. If possible, you can increase the effectiveness of this strategy by decorating the different levels with pictures/clip art that reflect a student’s interest. I have created feelings charts with different expressive pictures of Mario Bros, dinosaurs and even The Dukes of Hazzard characters!

Happy group of kids

Once the student understands what each level means, then it is most critical to identify calming activities for each level. Each of us responds differently to different experiences and this should be highly personalized in order to actually help the student calm down when needed.

As an example:

I find shopping to be very enjoyable and calming. However, my best friend finds the very same experience to be frustrating and adds to her stress level. Most people respond positively to either gross motor [large muscle] activities or simple, repetitive tasks as a calming mechanism. The key is to find what specific activities within these two broad categories might work for an individual.

Some examples of gross motor [large muscle] activities include, but are not limited to:

College with Asperger’s: 7 Benchmarks for Effective Support on Campus

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has risen significantly since first described in the 1940s. The Center for Disease Control estimates currently 1 in 68 children in the United States lives with an ASD diagnosis, and that 46% of those diagnosed have average to above average intelligence. A large body of literature describes the significant, life-long difficulties faced by many individuals diagnosed with ASD. The support needed for college students diagnosed with more traditional disabilities are well documented. However, information is lacking in regard to effectively supporting the college instruction of students with Asperger’s Disorder and how to support their navigation of a campus society.

College Students with Asperger’s: Academic and Campus Accommodations Necessary

Researchers explored the topic of providing effective supports to college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder. Investigators convened a panel of experts to provide input on the topic, and then used a Delphi surveying method to categorize common themes identified by panel members.

The survey resulted in the creation of the Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. This tool is available as a PDF file for use in your own college assessment:

Attachment: Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with ASD

Research conclusions included:

1. Social Challenges, Independent Living Skills, and Cognitive Organizational Skills were mentioned as a need more often by expert panelist than was Academic Challenges. This suggests panelists agree that students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder are, generally, intellectually capable of performing in the classroom but struggle with the social and organizational aspects of the college lifestyle;

How to Deal with Sensory Processing Difficulties in School

Many children with sensory processing disorder or related issues can have difficulties in the school setting. Problems can arise anywhere: in the classroom, cafeteria, gymnasium, hallway, playground, and even the bus. Some of these issues can be as subtle as not eating lunch, or as difficult as destroying a classroom.

Knowing what causes these problems and how to prevent them is important for both the school and the child. This is where parents can be the best advocate for their child with Aspergers or HFA and sensory issues.

Preparing a child for school is important, but it is equally important to prepare the school for the child.

Sharing their sensory concerns with the teachers, para-professionals, principals, and others is imperative to limiting sensory difficulties in the classroom.

A typical plan should include setting up a sensory-friendly classroom with a place for the student to “get away” if necessary, providing sensory activities throughout the day to help prevent problems that may arise, catering to sensory diets, and preparing the student for changes or surprises that may come up.

A school occupational therapist can help make all of this easier, if they get involved. The occupational therapist can help teachers discover problem areas and learning differences, while providing suggestions to improve success.  Some ideas they may implement include setting up lunch bunches to relieve lunchtime stresses, providing sensory activities to use throughout the day that support the student’s ongoing needs, or modifying instruction for classroom success.

Together, the parents, teachers, and occupational therapists can develop a program that is individualized for the student with sensory issues and make this year both successful and rewarding.

For more information on sensory friendly classrooms and teacher resources, go to Future Horizons Inc. There are multiple books and other resources to help the teacher prepare for these students.

by Dr. Gayla A. Aguilar, OTR, OTD

Finding an Inclusive Work Environment as an Employee with a Disability

As an employment specialist it is my duty to assist individuals with finding an inclusive environment, where mutual respect and understanding will enable them to be successful. Locating such an environment is the first step we take on the road to employment. However, this environment often times does not just exist on its own. I have to help employers and potential employees to develop, create and maintain it.

People at Work

Inventory Assessment

One of my most successful strategies in developing a work environment with mutual respect and understanding among my clients, their coworkers, and supervisors is to have each person create an “inventory assessment”. This inventory assessment includes each person’s interests, past work experience, and hard skills, which are discussed in more detail here.

After reviewing this assessment, I identify potential places of employment and encourage the individuals to visit with either a family member or a member of our staff. This visit gives everyone the opportunity to observe the culture of the specific setting, and the nature of tasks they will be required to perform on any given day at any given time.

Making an Appointment with the Manager