Counteracting Anxiety, Depression, and Social Withdrawal in College

Success for Autism in Higher Education

Researchers investigated possible predictors of first year success for college students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

college success

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:

https://imfar.confex.com/imfar/2010/webprogram/Paper7332.html

by Dr. Marc Ellison

Behind the Wheel with Autism: A Personal Perspective

Having lived in several different cities, I can attest that it most certainly is not a regional thing: you’ll run into idiot drivers no matter where you live. It isn’t profound at all; many casual conversations begin with a gripe about traffic on the way to someplace or another, or end up there eventually. Driving is a serious source of stress for many, even under the best circumstances. And for people diagnosed with Autism, they are already functioning under decidedly less than the best of circumstances, and the idea of getting behind the wheel can cause anxiety.

I found that I did not have a great deal of difficulty behind the wheel. Having a nice, large, rarely-traveled stretch of land to practice on, and taking as many opportunities to practice, is the first thing I recommend for those who are diagnosed and want to drive. It certainly helped me. After enough practice, it became second-nature.

Contrary to the assumption that driving is the natural enemy of the Autistic because it demands multi-tasking, it really isn’t so difficult as all that. It has a nice and structured set of regulations, and your task is simple: start at one location, and control the vehicle in order to safely reach the next.

Anyone who has ever played a game, whether analog or digital, can tell you that while rules and setup are intimidating at first, once you see how it’s done and try it for yourself, it isn’t as hard as all that.

To the Autistic person who wants to learn to drive but feels rather intimidated, just think of it as a video game.

Hard Skills with Aspergers: Teachable Abilities and Skill Sets in the Workplace

I have often been asked: What is the hardest part of your job? The majority of the time the answer is discovering what skills my clients have to offer to an employer. As an employment specialist I recognize that prospective employers are talking about hard skills.

Employees with special skills wanted - job interview candidates

So, what are hard skills?

Hard skills are teachable abilities or skill sets that can be quantified.

For example: being able to type so many words per minutes, lifting a certain amount of weight, speaking more than one language, and being able to program computers. Hard skills work in conjunction with the soft skills we briefly addressed in previous posts, and will continue to address through this series.

Throughout my experience, something I have become aware of is: For individuals applying for jobs without a lot of past experience, these hard skills are learned through study, training and practice.

Hard skills can be taught and built upon.

So, where do you go when you have minimal experience, but want to work on your hard skills?

Seeking Help For Depression with Aspergers: The Specifics

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.

Depression, Aspergers, Help, Resources

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.

Professional Help

For finding professional help and other resources, Autismsource.org is a gold mine of resources including lists of local therapists in your area.

Online directories:

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

Managing the Crushing Blow of Disappointment & Lies

Aspergers101 for the Parent

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.

-Jennifer Allen

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:

  1. We may not be able to sit in the same pew/area we usually do
  2. There may be louder sounds with more children in the service
  3. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Is Mindfulness Logical for Asperger’s and Depression?

Mediation and Self-Talk

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.

Mindfulness, Meditation, Self-Talk

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.

Understanding Special Interests and Aspergers

How to find the balance and productively use them at home and in class

Q:Dear Lisa,

“I have a son diagnosed with moderate to high-Functioning Autism who is currently enrolled in public Middle School. Though he is going through a natural teenage rebellion, I feel his autism is playing a huge role in the challenges he (and we, his parents) is currently facing. He struggles to communicate and he has poor receptive language, so even though he is very verbal- a lot of times he misunderstands. And then he misinterprets and he gets very angry.

He has been on meds since he was 5 to maintain mood. In the last few months he has become increasingly consumed with the computer, staying up late, wanting to sleep late, and only coming out for food. I know how to do all the schedules and what not, but he doesn’t care or want to comply. He is 6 ft tall and 250 pounds. He has an excellent teacher that provides structure in his Total Language Communication class.

Our son Trevor is addicted to technology. When we (his parents) as well as his teacher at school try and limit on-line play time he has become angry to the point to hitting the teacher and his father.

He ran away from home but the police brought him back that same day. I hate the computer! But he plays Minecraft online and has friends that he talks to. It is like his only source of socialization. So we are at a point where we may need professional support to help him get motivated to do something. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. please help!”

-Rebecca

A: Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your very specific question that I’m sure many will relate to very closely. This is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked from both parents and educators.

In an Interactive Autism Network (IAN) questionnaire of 250 adults with ASD, 84 percent reported having a special interest or topic. A majority of those said they enjoy activities or develop relationships based on their topic, or have a job or field of study related to it. Some, however, said their interest sometimes gets in the way of success at work, school and in relationships (45 percent), or has gotten them into trouble (23 percent). Common interests include animals, computers, music, science and science fiction.

Famously, Temple Grandin Ph.D., who has Autism, turned her special interest in animals into a notable career as an animal scientist and designer of livestock handling facilities.

Deciding if a Job is Right For You: The Work Assessment

If you were given the chance to work at a job you were interested in for a few hours to assess your skills and abilities, and to decide if you are comfortable and really enjoy it before starting the application process would you do it?

depositphotos_17857515_s-2015

This is called a work assessment, and it is imperative to future success. Vocational rehabilitation offices offer these kinds of important services for individuals with Asperger’s. A work assessment also work in tandem with the inventory assessments.

Work assessments are very beneficial. They allow an individual to work in a simulated or actual work environment for a few hours to decide if it fits the negotiable and non-negotiable parts of their inventory assessment. It allows an opportunity to observe the individual’s interaction with others, hard and soft skills, physical capabilities.

23 Truths I learned From Social Skills Training

When I was diagnosed with Aspergers, my parents enrolled me in 48 hours a week of social skills and coping mechanism training. That was 10 years ago. These are 23 friendly suggestions I still find to be true and carry with me today.

Alix Generous

Alix Generous

My 23 Truths

  1. Never follow advice that you intend to carry out by hurting another living being.
  2. Find what you love and pursue it even if it means working twice as hard in other areas of your life in order to do so. It can be one thing or it can be many. Obsessions and interests can lead to successful careers. Additionally, if you’re interested in a task you’ll do better at it.
  3. Following blind happiness is a better decision than choosing certain unhappiness, as long as you apply appropriate practical skills and common sense (which can be learned in a Google search). No matter where you are and what situation you may be in, this isn’t your parent’s, boss, or teacher’s life, it’s your own. With the accumulation of knowledge and self discovery you can make choices that will shape the life you want. If you want to be a scientist, do what you need to in order to make that happen. That path is not exactly linear, you might have to do things differently than others, but that doesn’t make it bad or wrong to pursue. I had an incredible amount of difficulty socially when I started college in Charleston, SC. It was the weirdest feeling because I had wonderful friends there as well as great education and academic support. It never made sense why I was unhappy there but the moment I moved up to Boston 2 years ago, the unhappiness slipped away. Against the advice of my family, I drove to Boston, found an apartment, and an internship in one weekend, and met the love of my life. This move was all based on the feeling that Boston was the place I needed to be. I fit in well because I could talk to people about quantum physics and current issues, and have people eagerly teach me more than I could possibly understand, rather than think I’m weird.
  4. If one way doesn’t work, don’t linger on the frustration of a broken road. Find a better way.
  5. Study with people who are smarter than you and sit next to the nicest person in class.
  6. A great idea implemented in an effective way will always trump prestige and superficial qualities that seem out of reach for those on the spectrum. Your mind is an asset, and if you use it properly without shame or pride, you can change the world.
  7. The best way to figure out whether someone is manipulating you or helping you is to ask yourself: Do they want something from me? People can only manipulate you if you have something they want. Special educators sometimes neglect the needs of high-functioning autism in order to retain disability funds.
  8. Finding who you are is a continuous journey, not a specific event that happens. It frustrates me how adolescence is deemed a time of searching for identity, because it implies that becoming an adult means you know every aspect of who you are. That’s a bunch of Bologna. I’ve met people of all ages who vary in behavioral patterns and world views. Accept, understand, and utilize your strengths as they are at this moment, and use a growth mindset to improve yourself.
  9. The easiest way to interact with someone who thinks and feel differently then you do is to ask them questions.
  10. In a debate, argument, or conflict, always validate the opposing persons view before stating your own view.
  11. When in doubt, Google. When googling, question the reliability and truth of everything. Look at the people who make claims, and ask yourself if they have a sufficient amount of knowledge to make such a claim. The more proactive you are in your education, the less you have to rely on others for answers. You can find all laws, licenses, addresses, and criminal records within a simple click. This is something you should do in regards to everyone involved in providing accommodations for you such as counselors, doctors, and tutors.
  12. Social media is not a substitute for in person interaction. Social skills like table manners or looking someone in the eye when you shake their hand are invaluable.
  13. Don’t take advice from hypocrites. For example, don’t take relationship and marriage advice from someone whose had 3 marriages end in divorce.
  14. Vaccines do not cause autism. This study was published by a scientist who was jaded by his funding sources, and falsified his data in order to get published. The journal that published his research revoked the paper, and denounced its validity after learning the truth of his research methods.
  15. Firm and non-flexible opinions stunt intellectual growth and stifle your own truth. Research all sides of one issue before deciding for yourself.
  16. Make choices that bring you closer to your goals, not based simply on what you feel. Mastering this habit will help you overcome lethargy, anhedonia, and other symptoms of depression and social anxiety associated with Aspergers.
  17. People are just people. No matter what it may seem, the most seemingly superficial or flawless of individuals have imperfections and insecurities. The success of a person is determined by how they deal with their imperfections and insecurities, not the existence of them. Everyone has their weaknesses, some people are just better at hiding it than others.
  18. The energy you put in will be returned to you. Say positive things to yourself and surround yourself with positive people even if you don’t feel it, because it will make your surroundings positive and supportive to who you are. You might have to boot out some psycho family members or close friends if they are creating more negative emotions than positive, but trust me it’s worth it. Be brave, set those boundaries so you and others can be inspired to improve.
  19. The easiest way to affect an individual’s first impression of you is with make up, hair, clothes,and body posture. Changing facial expression, tone, and word choice take a lot more work. Hair and makeup never came naturally to me and I didn’t start learning how to use them until I went to college. Pinterest has lots of simple tutorials. Because of sensory issues, I only wear makeup for special events.
  20. People are not divided into two categories of “weird” and “normal”. Everyone exists on a spectrum.
  21. Go out of your way to figure out what aspects of yourself you can improve on, and which ones you can’t. Love every part of yourself either way.
  22. There is never any need to be mean. Being nice does not equate to being a pushover and you can always present constructive criticism in a respectful manner.
  23. Keep firm boundaries in the work place. Your personal and private life are better left separate. If you don’t believe me, try bringing up your aunt’s kidney stone as a casual conversation and tell me how it goes.

I send all my love and support to all of you reading this post.
-Alix