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.
Researchers investigated possible predictors of first year success for college students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
Eleven freshmen students enrolled at two universities. Each student received specialized supports for ASD at their respective colleges and participated in periodic assessments of social, emotional, and academic functioning. Investigators examined factors related to academic achievement, levels of anxiety and depression, life satisfaction, college adjustment, and social functioning.
Initial results of this ongoing investigation demonstrated:
Adjustment to college was negatively correlated with internalizing symptoms (such as anxiety and depression, and social withdrawal). Students with higher levels of internalizing made poorer adjustments to college
Students with higher levels of internalizing symptoms also rated themselves lower in terms of life satisfaction
Students with higher levels of anxiety and depression at the beginning of college had lower mid-term GPAs
Students who reported better adjustments to college had higher GPAs
Anxiety and depression are highly correlated with a number of negative outcomes in the study (such as lower grades, life satisfaction, and social adjustment). Because of this, investigators identified early “screening for and targeting symptoms of anxiety and depression through therapeutic interventions” as critical to supporting college students with ASD.
Students who struggle to adjust in college may experience internalizing symptoms and academic difficulty. So investigators concluded that college students with ASD may also benefit from specialized supports at the beginning of their transition into college.
Lead investigators presented this information as a poster session at the 2010 International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). This was held during the International Society for Autism Research conference in Philadelphia, PA. Information from the session may be found at this link:
As neurotypicals, disappointments come early in life. We learn quickly that all we desire is not all that is intended for us. We learn, through a trail of unrealized dreams, to be content with our lot or find another pathway toward our goal(s).
Having a child on the autism spectrum redefines the above lesson. Managing your ASD child’s crushing blow of disappointment comes with a different manual altogether. When it comes to disappointment through deceivers and manipulators…those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are susceptible to exploitation. ASD is, at its core, a disorder of social functioning and cognition. Just saying old phrases like, “That’s life” or “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “That’s how the ball bounces” makes no sense to them and sets them off into further confusion and strife. Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected. Knowing how to help them is first to understand that your autistic child is wired differently and being lied to will take more than standard sayings to overcome. In other words, like everything else in parenting a child on the autism spectrum, it may take a well thought out talk but you can relieve your child’s mind….and yours by a few steps.
Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected.
Manage their Expectations
In looking back on raising a son on the autism spectrum, this was and still is an everyday activity. Managing their expectations takes time, communication and preparation. My part as a parent has waned a bit as our son ages, as I am beginning to see how he attempts to prepare himself for daily potential challenges. This preparation begins with a comforting knowledge of facts. Let me give an simplified example but one that you can plug most any upcoming event into. Remember, this is just about managing the small unknown(s). We will get into the larger scenarios later.
Here is the situation: Church is going to be extra crowded on Sunday because it’s Easter Sunday. We then think of the challenging ramifications that overcrowding may bring and discuss solutions.
The Challenges Discussed:
We may not be able to sit in the same pew/area we usually do
There may be louder sounds with more children in the service
It may take us longer to go eat lunch as crowds are larger during Easter Sunday at restaurants
So we go over the potential challenges and discuss the following choices to avoid disappointment, expectations or meltdowns:
The Solutions Discussed:
Let’s leave extra early to get our usual seating -or- would we take the opportunity to sit elsewhere and see what that is like?
With the onset of more crying babies, would you want to use noise-cancelling headsets? Go to foyer if it gets too loud? Other suggestions?
Since it may take longer to get to a restaurant can you set in your mind it might take 30 minutes longer than usual to eat lunch? Would you rather forego crowded Easter Sunday restaurant crowds and eat at home?
The challenge/solution exercise helps to prepare your child for what disappointments might be just ahead. The less amount of surprises the better for a factual mind. This activity prepared our son throughout his young life and now we are starting to see him work through this for himself as an adult. This practice certainly helps prepare for the unexpected but what happens when they are promised something and it’s never delivered. Or a blatant lie is told to them and they keep trusting the source will do as they say but you realize they never will? In other words, how to you explain to the pure believer that the world is corrupt and sometimes people are going to lie to you. Most deal with this topic when their children are very young, but to the parent of a child with Autism it’s ongoing. You know they take everything literally and hidden meaning or ulterior motives is a concept most difficult to grasp. For the autistic brain it’s confusing, painful and sometimes paralyzing.
Our son has Asperger Syndrome. To get the diagnosis didn’t come easy and the path to that diagnosis was rocky to say the least. That was over 12 years ago and still, the following checklist we received from our school district is the best heads-up to having Aspergers Syndrome that I’ve seen to date. It cuts to the chase. Though only meant as a ‘checklist’ remember this is not an official document and only mean’t to flag a strong suspicion of Aspergers Syndrome. A doctor or trained therapist would need to make that call, however; if you are looking for a guideline of sorts….it doesn’t get much better or black and white than the form below. It was spot on for us describing our son Sam. We’ve also put it in a downloadable format at the bottom. May it lead you towards illumination! -Jennifer Allen/Aspergers101
____ ____ 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.
___ ___ The child has difficulty understanding the effect his/her behavior has on others.
___ ____ The child has a significant amount of difficulty taking the perspective of another person, even when it is explained to them.
____ ____ The student has overwhelmingly limited interests in things such as video games, superheroes, cartoon characters.
For many with Autism a fear of driving stems from anxiety that can result from being pulled over by an officer of the law. In some cases, fear of just that very scenario is the reason many never pursue obtaining their driver’s license.
Good communication skills and actions are key to making an already stressful situation go without incident for anyone, but with the diagnosis of autism, Aspergers, or speech impediments misinterpretation is almost a certainty. Dr. Louise O’Donnell, who specializes in Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology at UT Health Science Center in San Antonio Texas, offers suggestions to make a ‘pull-over’ go without incident.
A Guide to Understanding High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome
Training employers to better understand those with Autism Spectrum Disorders is always a favorite workshop to me. It’s like helping someone find a hidden treasure they otherwise would have missed or overlooked without navigating via a map. This could be said of parenting workshops however, without the parental bond, it’s simply explaining to a neurotypical “Brain Wiring 101”. You can witness the employers gain of understanding ASD by the end of the workshop! The blog below is a basic reference for any employer, co-worker or interested party, to gain a better understanding for working with (and advancing) those employees diagnosed with Autism or Asperger Syndrome. At the end of the blog, we’ve included a link to download a tri-fold brochure with all this information on it, a thank you to H-E-B Community for making the brochure possible!
A Glimpse at 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. People 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.
Key Characteristics of High Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome are:
• Difficulty with Social Relationships
• Difficulty with Communication
• Special Interests
• Love of Routine
• Poor Concentration/Easily Distracted
A full day of work may be difficult. Areas of challenge may include social cues, sensory and thinking and processing or more. Know that gifts and challenges are unique to the individual with ASD so don’t be afraid to discuss a customized plan if they require one.
Common Workplace Challenges
1) Social Interaction
2) Sensory Issues
3) Thinking and Processing
Let’s look closer at each listed workplace challenge, both the challenges and suggested accommodations.
1) SOCIAL INTERACTION
*Does not know how to engage with coworkers (small talk)
• Unsettled over workplace rules such as breaks, being late,basic expectations
• Difficulty initiating or maintaining eye contact
• Co-workers and managers display frustration and/or bullying to the employee with autism
The complexities of High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome may present themselves in behaviors that may be either excessive for specific situations or lacking.
Strategies developed to target such behaviors are often included in packages known as behavior intervention plans (BIP), behavior support plans (BSP), behavior management plans (BMP), positive behavior support plans (PBSP), and several others.
The primary purpose of a behavior plan is to outline and describe strategies that prevent problem behaviors, teach new behaviors that replace problematic behaviors and attempt to remove consequences that maintain or strengthen undesirable behaviors. The plans are usually developed for use in school settings, home and community settings, and sometimes employment settings.
The primary components of a plan are:
1. Identifying Information
The basics behind the behavior intervention plan, including the individual’s information, the stakeholders, time introduced and the settings in which the plan is to be implemented.
2. Description of Behaviors
This operational definition should be a specific description of the behaviors targeted for reduction or increase. They should be both observable and measurable.
Over the years one question is always asked at the end of every autism workshop Sam and I have been privileged to present. To paraphrase, it goes like this:
“Sam this question is for you. We just found out our teenage son has (this part she whispers) Autism. I am unsure whether to tell him, his siblings or anyone else for that matter. What are your thoughts…should we tell?”
Since the question is directed at Sam…all eyes are on him waiting his response. For this reference, the woman asking the question is a composite of all the mothers who’ve asked this of Sam more times than I can count. She stands with tears in her eyes and is truly grappling with the recent diagnosis of Autism yet has hope after hearing Sam talk about growing up on the spectrum. She relates, she hurts and she hopes. So answering this common question takes thought. Samuels response is why I am writing this post. It comes straight from the heart of a young man who understands what autism ‘feels’ like. He is able to offer an insight, perhaps, into her own sons inner workings, workings that the parent has yet to grasp.
So when Sam, on his own, offered up his opinion it seemed appropriate to share with you now as it always seems to sooth the inquiring Moms fears.
“Why would you not tell your son of his diagnosis? Believe me, he knows he is wired differently. He already knows he is not like his peers and probably feels like an outcast. It might even be a relief to know he has autism as there will finally be an explanation for most everything he is experiencing such as frustration, social loss and even physical pain. At the very least, he (and you) can begin to face the challenges through treatment(s). The diagnosis of autism isn’t a death sentence. It’s a road map of the brain. Understand the brain and map out a direction. Don’t think of Autism as a weight…think of it as a pair of wings in which to fly. ”
Inevitably, the Mom appears relieved and hugs Sam as if to thank him for permission to let the word, Autism, come into their lives. I know because we started from the same place.
Lao Tzu said it best,”A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” If this holds true, Maverick Crawford III has certainly walked many miles as a person diagnosed with Autism. Aspergers101 is proud to have Maverick as a regular blogger as his insights into overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles proves to be a favorite among those seeking inspiration. Today, we feature Maverick in a one-on-one interview as he discusses his recent award from the University of Texas at San Antonio, the COPP (College of Public Policy) Most Outstanding Student for the 2017-2018 academic year and the hardships he overcame to achieve success.
Maverick Crawford III
What did it mean to you to win the most outstanding student award?
A few days before the ceremony, I received several emails from a staff working for the Associate Dean of COPP. The emails were in regards to have a meeting with Dr. Romero in the in her office and then by Starbucks, but then I was in for a surprise the next day. I come to meet Dr. Romero at Starbucks, but she has not arrived, and two minutes later she came out of an auditorium. She asked for me to talk to some high school seniors and I accepted, and that’s was when she announced that I won the Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award. For the longest time even on the day I received the beautiful glass award with my name and the name of the award, it seemed like a dream to me. I would have never thought I would win. I was in disbelief and shock, but I was extremely humbled to receive the award.
Tell us a little bit about your role while you interned at the U.S. Pretrial Services.
I deal with offenders on a different level shadowing officers. I got to sit in on an interview with a person who was recently arrested. I did two interviews and asked them questions about their background. These questions helped to determine if the offenders can be released on bond. I had to complete a report at the end of the interview. One of the defendants that I interviewed had autism, and I was able to explain to the Pretrial Officer about a possible sanction to place on the defendant to ensure the safety of the community, and they will appear back in court, and it worked. I told them to have detailed step instructions with kept the defendant on a strict routine because people with autism react significantly with strict adherence to a schedule. This helped me learn more about the administration of the court system and how the material I learn the classroom applies and operated.
Preparing for the Future
How did your double major in criminal justice and public administration prepare you for your future?
It prepared me for a career in public service. Those majors helped me be a better advocate for underprivileged communities. It’s vital that their voices are heard too. Dr. Patricia Jaramillo was a significant influence in adding public administration to my degree plan. She told me I could still graduate on time with a double major from COPP. Dr. Jaramillo and other professors in the College of Public Policy are dedicated to preparing the students for a career in public services by educating them through their experiences and expertise in their respective fields. When I took the public administration courses, I was able to see how the government plays out. When I took criminal justice courses at UTSA, I learned about alternative ways that not hold the offender accountable, but gets the underlying issues of their behavior like Restorative Justice, Specialty Courts, and Juvenile Justice.
Tell us a little bit about your diagnosis with an intellectual disability and autism. What was it like for you growing up?
The community I was from is set up for autistic people, people like me, to fail; without the ability to succeed in any form or fashion. Another big issue in the minority community is that mental health is not addressed and no one believes in it. Since mental health was somewhat a myth to the community, it was a struggle I endure in my life. I was diagnosed with a severe speech impediment, severe mental retardation, severe expressive and receptive language disorder, severe sensory integration dysfunction, auditory processing disorder, dysgraphia (a disorder that causes inability to write coherently), issues with motor processing, anxiety, seizure disorder, and depression. My speech impediment was so severe, I remained silent most of the time to not to embarrass myself.
Social Skills and College for Students with Aspergers Syndrome
Guest(s): Dr. Marc Ellison/Executive Director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center
This edition of Top of the Spectrum New discusses social skills and college for those with Aspergers. Dr. Marc Ellison, who has successfully created a wing for those with Autism at the Marshall University West Virginia Autism Training Center, offers insights for college preparation. Since 2002, Marshall University has successfully supported (and graduated) over 100 students with Aspergers Syndrome.
So, how is Autism diagnosed? Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes have been discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.
At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.
As parents know their children better than anyone else, they are usually the first to suspect their child is following a different developmental trajectory.
Autism has its roots in very early development—many parents would report that they saw differences shortly after birth—however, signs of Autism are usually apparent between the first and second birthdays.