Thirty-six year old Justin Coleman is a runner. It just so happens he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2013. He is a long-time contributing member of the San Antonio Area Adults with Asperger’s Meetup group.
Recently, Justin competed in the Spartan Dallas Ultra. This race had over 60 obstacles and was over 31 miles long. There were thousands of participants from all over the world. Justin feels that he made history for autistic people by finishing and receiving a buckle trophy.
Justin runs in several races a year, both obstacle type races and regular ultra marathons. Costumes are often a part of the specialty races. His Facebook friends are treated to frequent pictures of Justin and his running buddies. He has a grueling workout schedule to maintain his conditioning, plus he works for Amazon and will be re-entering a college program at Northeast Lakeview in San Antonio this spring.
In 2016 Justin even started traveling out of state to races. Congratulations, Justin, for all your achievements.
Here are Justin’s own words about his running and obstacle course passion:
Several break-out sessions of the annual Autism Society conference in Indianapolis, Indiana were focused on the support of students with ASD in higher education. Dena Gassner (Adelphi University), Dr. Lorna Timmerman (Ball State University), and Jackie Clark and Rebecca Hansen (Marshall University) carried out a panel discussion on the topic, titled “Is College for Me.” Panel members discussed challenges related to success for students with ASD in higher education, and best-practice support strategies that can help overcome challenges.
Dr. Timmerman discussed at length the importance of self-determination in achieving success in college.
According to the presenter, self-determination “ranks as the #1 trait essential to college success for students making the transition to college.” The challenges, as Dr. Timmerman points out, is that “many students with ASD are weak in self-determination skills.”
In an article about self-determination from 1998, scholars describe self-determination as “a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one’s strengths and limitations together with a belief in oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination.”
According to Dr. Timmerman, four components of self-determination exist:
Dr. Timmerman suggests that to develop the self-determination skills necessary for college, high school students should:
Learn to become more independent, especially in regard to making their own decisions.
Understand how to regulate their behavior in difficult situations, deal with stressors, and plan ahead by setting and attaining goals.
Know their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preferences; understand how autism affects their learning and day-to-day living.
Have confidence in their abilities to be successful and meet goals.
Individuals diagnosed with Aspergers or another autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be presented with many challenges throughout their lives—especially during the transitional periods. As the individuals age and learn to use different skills in various environments, families, educators, medical professionals and the individuals themselves begin to anticipate the transition to adolescence and, eventually, to adulthood. Given the differences in abilities and behaviors that many individuals with Aspergers or HFA experience, it can often be overwhelming to plan for tomorrow much less several years later.
Among the many skills that an individual must learn to successfully transition to adolescence and adulthood, daily living skills are often neglected.
Examples of daily living skills are bathing, grooming, preparing meals, managing finances, using public transportation, etc. These daily skills are necessary for independent functioning in the home and within the community.
A recent study discovered that individuals with ASD improved in daily living skills during adolescence and the early twenties. These skills plateaued around late twenties and began to decline in the early thirties—this shows the importance of honing these skills earlier in life instead of waiting until later.
Some positive findings were that inclusive schooling had a positive influence on adult outcomes. The study also found, “that vocational independence predicts improvements in autism symptoms and significant improvements in behavioral problems.” Daily living skills could also be increased by engaging in some type of work activity.
It is encouraging that daily living skills can continue to be gained at later points in development as other skills plateau. The authors suggest that more research is needed to develop behavioral and pharmacological interventions for older individuals on the autism spectrum.
While individuals with Aspergers or HFA may have challenges with the daily living skills necessary for transitional periods, it is important for their independence and quality of life to begin this journey at an early age to ensure success.
by Lupe Castañeda, M.S., BCBA
Have you thought about or experienced the transitional periods in your or your child’s life?
How did you cope with these experiences?
Smith L.E, Maenner, M.J. & Seltzer, M. (2012). Developmental Trajectories in Adolescents and Adults with Autism: The Case of Daily Living Skills. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 51(6): 622–631.
A one-minute commercial can set the tone for any networking opportunity, cold calling, or interview. It is important to have something that sets you apart because, as I discussed in a previous blog, a majority of the job market is hidden. Although it can be daunting to develop a commercial, a polished one-minute speech can give you the opportunity to tell someone about your skills, and what type of opportunity you are looking for. This is an important step to take before beginning cold calling, sending out resumes, and interviewing, because it allows the individual time to assess their skills and pick out what is important to highlight. So how do you go about completing an elevator speech? I will outline a few simple steps that we have found effective that will help you work on yours.
(Information from: Purchase College Career Development Center)
Think about at least 2-3 things you have accomplished
Select two of your skills that relate to your career goal
List 3 personal qualities you possess
Write down some details about your accomplishments, skills, and personal qualities
Write out a story/script that wraps up STEP 1 and first part of STEP 2
Practice reading the script
Get it down to 60 seconds or less
Try out your commercial on family and friends – Ask for suggestions
The more you practice the more confidant you will feel!
The one-minute commercial will shift over time as you gain more experience and change jobs. You may have more than one commercial or speech as your job hunt continues. This is a powerful tool that individuals with Asperger’s/HFA can use to set the tone for their interview, and present the reasons they should be hired!
Like almost anyone else, breaking into the subject or field of leadership presents itself as a significant challenge. With many responsibilities to consider and to fulfill, an exemplary leader must have confident power in communication, creativity, competence, ethics, organization, and decisions, just to name a few. Unfortunately, most youth and adults with Aspergers Syndrome often have difficulty in any one of these things. Typically, they desire to be able to learn from others, rather than lead by example themselves for the same reasons that most people fail to become leaders. Often times, they fear failure, rejection, or unfamiliar tasks and responsibilities, or all of these things.
However, the myth that leaders are born, rather than made, is untrue and many prominent leaders throughout history dispelled it time and time again.
Primarily because most of them faced significant (sometimes extreme) odds to get to their current positions and to form the amazing personal images that they have. Many Aspergers youth and adults can take it upon themselves to work hard to achieve such standout images for themselves.
Initially, entering the leadership arena sounds difficult. Here are a few suggestions to get started:
1. Establish a conceptual foundation in your own mind:
To understand the keywords of quality leadership; understand how you can embrace them; realize the mistakes you make and learn from them as you progress.
2. Study communication tactics and picture yourself using them:
How do you look (appearance to others) and sound when you communicate? The best communicators prepare and deliver their messages well. If a message provides aid, insight in a necessary, moral, and honest manner, it will serve its purpose. Also, use your own feelings to acknowledge if a message has complete clarity and usefulness or if it requires modification. The next step helps with this process.
Balancing the left and right brain: the role of emotion and mood
One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that individuals often have strong points of view, and they have trouble seeing other points of view as equally valid. Most see themselves as extremely logical and therefore right in their conclusions; for them, the points of view of others can seem illogical. This is often perceived by neurotypicals as being oppositional, stubborn or lacking empathy.
What’s interesting is that often when people think they’re being logical, research shows that their emotions can be driving their cognition. Emotions are frequently substantial influences in people’s thinking without their knowing it. In his eloquent writing for LinkedIn, Kristopher Jones makes clear what is my experience as well:
People with AS can have very strong feelings.
Peter Salovey and Marc Beckett of the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University www.ei.yale.edu have done compelling research on the topic of feelings influencing thinking. In one study by Brackett and his colleagues on the influence of teacher emotion on grading practices, they took a large sample of middle school teachers. Using techniques demonstrated to be effective to induce a positive or negative frame of mind, they had half the teachers influenced to be positive and half to be negative. All were given the identical essay to grade. The scores given by the two groups differed by 1 to 2 grades, yet all of them were certain that mood had nothing to do with their scoring.
Why is this significant for people with AS?
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy model of cognition suggests that we all have a logical mind and an emotional mind.
It’s where these two overlap (are integrated) that genuinely “wise” thinking can get done. Otherwise, we’re unaware (like the teachers) of the extent to which emotion that hasn’t been acknowledged is dictating what seems to be logical thinking. Most AS/NLD individuals I know operate out of one kind of mind or the other, but fail to meaningfully integrate the two.
I worked with a young man who was very reactive to what he perceived as criticism. A person who criticized him at a temporary job became someone he never wanted to see again; in fact, the entire setting became somewhere to be avoided.
He felt this was logical – you don’t go where you are treated badly.
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.
(The following article by Staff Writer, Rene A. Guzman, originally ran in the San Antonio Express-News on November 19th 2018)
It’s been more than a dozen years since Jennifer Allen first learned that her oldest son, Sam, had Asperger Syndrome, now diagnosed as high-functioning autism. And still she remembers how fast her sadness turned to relief.
At last she knew why Sam, who was 10 at the time, always isolated himself from the other kids in class. Why he could never finish a sentence without losing his train of thought. Why despite being bright his grades suffered.
“I knew that I’d be able to understand my son a lot better,” Allen said. “It was a breakthrough.”
SA Gives story on Aspergers101, a San Antonio-based website resource for people with high-functioning austism and asperger syndrome. Jennifer Allen (left) founded the site, inspired by her son Samuel (right), who has been diagnosed with high-functioning autism. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News)
It was also the beginning of a mission to help other families identify and understand Asperger’s, with Sam as both guide and inspiration for how to succeed with such a complex and often bewildering neurological condition.
“Eventually we got the hang of how to deal with my autism,” said Sam Allen, now 23 and about to graduate from college with a degree in engineering. “But we decided we wanted to give these other parents the opportunity to get the information that they need in order for their child to cope with their autism. We didn’t want them to be in the same position we were, when we were in the complete dark about autism.”
That’s why mother and son founded Aspergers101, a San Antonio nonprofit dedicated to educating and empowering all lives touched by Asperger’s and high-functioning autism.