After an extensive career broadcast marketing, Jennifer and her husband searched for answers when their oldest son hit the kinder years with great difficultly. After finally learning that their oldest son had Aspergers Syndrome, she left her career in television and became a full time mother to both of her sons. Jennifer elicited the participation of her sons and together they produced several independent programs including a children’s animated series titled Ameriquest Kids (now distributed by Landmark Media) as well as her documentary and book titled, Coping to Excelling: Solutions for school-age children diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome.
The need for more information encouraged Jennifer to elicit a team of autism experts to provide weekly, original content to a website free to anyone seeking to live their best under the diagnosis of High-Functioning Autism/Aspergers Syndrome… appropriately titled: Aspergers101.com.
San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series
During the summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the second workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on social development.
First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss important strategies for parents, professionals, and peers to utilize when socializing with those with Aspergers. Next, Louise O’Donnell, Ph.D. Neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor at UT Health Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics talks about the neurological aspects of social development for those with Aspergers and Autism.
The following are excerpts from Jennifer and Sam Allen’s powerpoint presentation on social development.
Remember when communicating with someone diagnosed with ASD:
They know what they want and don’t want.
They know what they want to get across.
They know what they feel.
What they may find challenging is finding a way to let us know what those thoughts and feelings are.
Strategies for Improving Social Integration
1. Opportunities to interact with neuro-typical children
The first strategy is to ensure the child has opportunities to observe and interact with mainstreamed children at their school. This is to ensure that their peers not only demonstrate appropriate social/emotional behavior but also are sufficiently skilled socially to know how to modify their social behavior in order to accommodate and support the child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Some children with Asperger’s Syndrome attend schools for emotionally disturbed children; such circumstances may not provide an appropriate peer group.
It’s understood that bullying will happen to those who have Aspergers Syndrome, especially during the challenging middle school years. Where can you turn? One school counselor discusses your options in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.
Many students with Asperger’s struggle to navigate the waters of school life only to come home and face more academic work.
It is probably safe to say that most students, with and without Asperger’s, would rather not deal with homework in the evenings. However, the difference is that the student with Asperger’s has worked harder all day long to deal with not only academic stress, but also the added challenges of social interaction and sensory overload, creating a cumulative effect with different possible results.
It is difficult for neuro-typical persons to truly understand this internal struggle that persons with Asperger’s deal with on a daily basis. I found myself in a situation recently and thought it might be a glimpse into what going through a stressful day as a person with Asperger’s might feel like:
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 needs for college students diagnosed with more traditional disabilities are well documented.
There is a lack of information, however, in regard to effectively supporting the college instruction of students with Asperger’s Disorder, and how to support their navigation of a campus society.
Ellison, Clark, Cunningham, and Hansen (2013) explored the phenomenon 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 categorized common themes identified by panel members. Their research was published in the peer-reviewed Southern Regional Council on Educational Administration Yearbook 2013.
Our bodies take in information from the world around us through our sensory systems. As this information comes in, our brain filters and processes it for use. This process, called “sensory processing”, all happens automatically and simultaneously without us realizing that it.When all of these systems work correctly, we are able to perform our daily activities smoothly and without a problem. When these systems don’t work as well as they should a person may be disorganized, clumsy, have attention difficulties, and become over responsive or under responsive. Individuals with this issue might just have trouble functioning day to day as well as they should.
This is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
Sensory Processing Disorder can be seen in typically developing children and adults at an estimated rate of 15%. But individuals with autism and Aspergers are far more likely to be affected. It is estimated that 80% of children with ASD have sensory processing difficulties.
Some signs of SPD include:
Oversensitive to touch, sound, smell, lights and other visual input
A Revolutionary Resolve between Drivers with Autism and Law Enforcement
Introducing…. “SB 976: The Samuel Allen Law” being carried by Texas Senator Bryan Hughes (R) for Aspergers101. While it is still just a bill it is weeks away from going to the Texas Legislative floor for vote in front of the House, Senate and then Governor for hopeful passage.
If passed, this bill would allow a person with a Communication Impediment (subcategory: Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Deafness, Hearing Impairment, PTSD, Parkinson’s Disease, Mild Intellectual Disability and more) the option for disclosure when registering their vehicle through the Texas DMV. This would place the diagnosis privately in the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS) alerting the officer PRIOR to approaching the vehicle in a pull-over scenario. This will not only save lives, it will keep the diagnosis hidden from public scrutiny as stated in SB 976 section e:
(e) Information supplied to the department relating to an
applicant's health condition is for the confidential use of the
department and the Department of Public Safety and may not be
disclosed to any person.
History of the Driving with Autism Initiative:
Jennifer Allen, founder of Aspergers101 and the Driving with Autism initiative said that the passage of this bill would be the remaining piece of the puzzle for the initiative she began almost 5 years ago. “Driving with Autism” began when her son Sam wanted to obtain his driving permit. Upon realizing that “Communication Impediment with a Peace Officer” was a restriction code option on the Texas driver license, she and Sam approached the DPS DL office counter with all documents only to be met with confusion on the validity of the code. Assuring the DPS employee that she had found this option on-line it took a call to DPS Headquarters in Austin to confirm. Jennifer knew that if DPS was unaware, the public is unaware and a valuable tool was being overlooked by all.
It was from this point that Jennifer and Samuel approached the Texas DPS with a plan. Their non-profit, Aspergers101, would absorb all costs and promote the unknown code not just to those diagnosed with Autism, but to all diagnosis falling into the established “Communication Impediment’ category.
What constitutes a Communication Challenge? Most common diagnoses include: Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Mild intellectual disability, Deafness, Speech & languages disorders, Expressive Language Disorder, Down Syndrome, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Deafness, Brain Injury or Parkinson’s Disease.
Aspergers101 asks the experts about driving safely with Autism. In this blog we focus especially on preparing to drive with motor skill challenges.
Dr. Berenice de la Cruz, Training and Research Director at the Autism Community Network, offers a great overview into the differences of the Autistic brain and how those differences affect the skills it takes to drive.
Dr. Berenice de la Cruz/Training and Research Director/Autism Community Network
There are three structural differences in the Autistic brain. These differences will most likely affect:
communication (social) skills
Both fine and gross motor skills are typical challenges for many diagnosed with High Functioning Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.
So when it comes to learning to drive, or at least considering if driving may be an option, it is imperative to overcome the challenges that can impede safe driving.
Dr. Temple Grandin asserts that if she did not have the ability to drive she would never have been able to visit all of the feed/stock yards to do her prep work for her cattle handling designs. When learning to drive motor skills can be a challenge, especially with multi-tasking, but not impossible to overcome.
Research indicates that incorporating specific motivations such as offering choices increases the rate of performance on academic tasks and decreases disruptive behaviors. Choice can take on many forms as related to academic tasks.
As one example, students can be given several topics to choose from to complete an assignment. Students may also be given a list of several activities, of which they are to complete two. By giving them a choice, students are more likely to begin the assignment and even more likely to complete it.
Making a connection to general education strategies, differentiated instruction promotes the use of choice in a variety of ways. At a center or station, students can choose from a list of 5 to 6 activities.
How to Implement Choice in the Classroom
A math station list of choices might include a variety of activities that would be engaging and motivating:
When suspecting Autism or Asperger Syndrome, a parent experiences a range of emotions. Often the shock of the diagnosis quickly gives way to a thiristing curiosity of your child’s unique brain function. Your communication depends upon that knowledge. Aspergers101 Training for Parents just published a brochure specifically for that time when a basic understanding of Asperger Syndrome is essential not only for the understanding of the caregiver, but for relatives, neighbors and educators as well. We are pleased to offer you the tri-fold brochure as a downloadable (at the end of this blog) or to request multiples for your school or organization as a gift from Aspergers101 and H-E-B!
Key Characteristics of High Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome are:
Difficulty with Communication
Love of Routine
Poor Concentration/Easily Distracted
Difficulty with Social Relationships
What is Asperger Syndrome?
Asperger Syndrome is a neurological condition resulting in a group of social and behavioral symptoms. It is part of a category of conditions called Autism Spectrum Disorders, though the revised DSM-V leaves Asperger Syndrome out of it’s manuel and places the symptoms under Autism Spectrum Disorder(s) or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified,” or PDD-NOS.
The name, Asperger Syndrome is still used among the community as there has not otherwise been a name to specifically fit the diagnosis. Children with Asperger Syndrome usually have normal to above normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism. It can lead to difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness.
What are the Challenges?
It is oftentimes stated that it isn’t the Autism or Asperger Syndrome that poses the greatest challenge. It is the comorbidities that often accompany ASD that is the biggest hurdle and must be treated. A person diagnosed with Aspergers might inherit one, two or possibly more of these challenges as they age. Below lists many (but not all) of common comorbidities.
• Gastrointestinal disorders
• Sensory problems
• Seizures and epilepsy
• Intellectual disability
• Fragile X syndrome
• Bipolar disorder
• Obsessive compulsive disorder
• Tourette syndrome
• General anxiety
• Tuberous sclerosis
• Clinical depression
• Visual problems
Treatment of comorbid medical conditions may result in a substantial improvement of quality of life both of the child and their parents. It is imperative to first diagnose the comorbidity then get a customized treatment plan. Talk with a health professional like your child’s GP, nurse or pediatrician.
Know that your child diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome/ASD is wired differently. The brain is anatomically different in the frontal lobe making the challenges medically based. In other words, this is not a behavioral problem. Once you let that fact sink in you may begin implementing a plan to navigate through everyday hurdles.
-Jennifer Allen/Founder Aspergers101
Suggested Action Plan
Think ahead – Discuss what is coming up, remember that a ‘no surprises’ action plan is best for your Asperger child. Let them trust that you will prepare them for potential loud environments, visitors, school field trips or meals that may not fit their challenged palette. Mental preparedness often defuses potential melt-downs.
Remove obstacles – It might take awhile to discover the culprit(s), but if your child is struggling at school, chances are sensory issues come into play. Polyester in clothing, loud students, cafeteria odors, fire alarm, free time may all be culprits. Work with your child and the school to remove or ease the barriers. It will make a big difference.
Discover if medication helps –This is trial by error. Antidepressants & anti anxiety meds may greatly help patients with Asperger’s deal with the depression and anxiety that commonly accompanies the disorder. Physicians and psychiatrists may also prescribe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) stimulant medications to help patients with their impulsivity or disorganization (though sometimes the side effects are not worth the result), or antipsychotic medications for patients who act out or who are irritable and aggressive.
How is Asperger Syndrome Diagnosed?
Diagnosis is typically between the ages of four and eleven. A comprehensive assessment involves a multidisciplinary team that observes across multiple settings, and includes neurological and genetic assessment as well as tests for cognition, psychomotor function, verbal and nonverbal strengths and weaknesses, style of learning, and skills for independent living.
Alongside deficiencies, what are some positive traits?
*Ability to focus intensely for long periods *Enhanced learning ability *Deep knowledge of an obscure or difficult subject resulting in success scholastically and professionally when channeled. *Honest & hard workers who make for excellent employees when painstaking & methodical analysis are required.
Free Downloadable Brochure
Please feel free to download the Aspergers101 Training for Parents Tri-Fold brochure here. If you are a school or a Autism-related non-profit, you may request these full color brochures for hand-out(s). This generous opportunity has been provided by the H-E-B Helping Here Community Involvement Department! Request form is just below the brochure.
Brochures are provided in groups of 50, 100, 150, 200 or 250 to schools or non-profit organizations who would like to provide parents with basic information on High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Please fill out the requested information below and we will be in touch soon!
Two other excellent resources for basic training on Asperger Syndrome are:
San Antonio Public Library Informational Summer Series
The summer of 2017 Aspergers101 hosted a free informational series on Aspergers at the San Antonio Public Library. We have recorded each of these valuable sessions in video and powerpoint format so that you can have access to them at any time. Below, watch the first workshop from our Informational Summer Series on Aspergers focusing on diagnosis in childhood. First, Jennifer and Sam Allen discuss the initial steps of recognizing signs of Autism in a child and seeking a diagnosis. Next, Berenice de la Cruz, Ph.D., BCBA-D and COO of Autism Community Network, gives details on the diagnosis process and the medical terminology behind Autism and Aspergers.
The following checklist for Autism and Asperger behavioral signs comes from Jennifer and Sam’s powerpoint. This checklist is not meant to be used as a professional or standalone diagnosis, but rather as a helpful guide that can support you in your journey of diagnosis for your child.
Informal Childhood Developmental Checklist
The child prefers to play alone
The child is rarely invited by others to play in the neighborhood or to participate in activities outside of school
The child’s social interactions and responses are immature, not keeping with his/her age or his/her cognitive abilities in other areas
The child has difficulty interacting in group settings
The child does not play with other children as expected: he/she may not appear interested in their games, or may not know how to join in
The child appears to be vulnerable to teasing, bullying and being taken advantage of by others