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.
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.
While growing up as the sibling of someone with autism may progress without a hitch, many harbor feelings of loneliness and resentment. As someone who falls somewhere in-between the above examples, I offer you my son, Charlie Allen. Not until the writing of this blog has Charlie, our youngest, granted me my long desire to write about him. He is the sibling, the brother to Samuel Allen that few, outside our family’s personal circle, know much about.
Charlie was born in 1997, the younger brother to our firstborn Sam. We had no knowledge of Sam’s Autism at this time so the years for early development were probably typical. Contrast to Sam’s quiet world, Charlie had a robust laugh and twinkle in his eye that set the stage to delight anyone in his presence.
I would rather be closer to my brother with autism than close to fake friends who isolate because of autism. Early on, I knew that wasn’t kind nor the way I wanted to be.
Everything changed when Sam began school.
It took four years to diagnose Sam’s autism. Meanwhile Charlie felt the residuals of the strain our family was going through. The dynamics changed and we, as a family, had a multitude of adjustments to make. Not easy on a child so very young. It was a blessing and relief when my husband and I decided I would leave my career to stay home, and since Sam had already started school, it gave alone time for just me and Charlie. We were given the privilege of time, those years were bonding and now I believe instrumental in Charlie’s foundation….and boy did he need one!
By the time Charlie began Kinder, his brother had already made his mark at the public school system where they would ultimately graduate from. Charlie’s quiet yet humorous nature began to emerge. My parents, both now deceased, were his biggest fans/supporters and gave both our sons their time and support that were monumental to both their development. But the Middle school years and beyond became difficult for Charlie. He had developed his own challenges such as fine and gross motor skills (penmanship, tying shoes) that made sports or P.E. painful. His sensory issues where far greater than that of his brothers. Smells, touch and even sight were greatly affected and had to be diagnosed and adjustments that his peers simply didn’t have to think about. The most challenging for Charlie was peer relations. Charlie had a choice, he could choose to play with the 5 or 6 other children in our neighborhood or his brother. This was forced upon him as the others told him so. Calling his brother retarded and refusing to include (actually running from them) Sam in any activity tested Charlie’s resolve early on. Charlie chose Sam. For that, he paid the price but learned to walk alone. We watched as Charlie began to befriend those with disabilities or outcasts as if a shield to protect the person. This is the quiet yet powerful strength of Charlie.
I think Charlie found music as his escape. For him, this has been his release…first of anger (hard rock days) and then various genres that lighten paralleling his life. His Dad plays guitar as did his Do-Dad (grand-father) and he delighted in playing with both! This gave Charlie an audience. Too shy to play in large groups, Charlie has thrilled at smaller gatherings. He can master any rock song on his electric or delight country fans with a spot-on Johnny Cash! He can’t read music but can replicate any song after hearing it. For fun he occasionally plays the banjo and even Jerry Lee on piano. He is gifted!
My husband is a great father. This has been instrumental in both our sons development. Herb has a quiet strength and his skill as a carpenter offered Charlie an alternative to occupy weekends. Together, Herb, Sam and Charlie built a house together on a plot of land in the country. They learned teamwork and the value of hard work in a different way than typical high school sports. It worked. Together they enjoyed starry nights, bonfires and raising the walls of what their hands had built. Finding something you can do together (not everyone is a carpenter) is instrumental. Occupy their time when no one else will.
Becoming His Own Man
Today, Charlie is 22 years old. He has overcome the shadows and quietly stepped into manhood. He works for H-E-B and looks forward to growing with a company that serves. He is kind, Godly and delights in his brother’s company. He notices those who are outcasts and aids them quietly. He stands firm and doesn’t tolerate bullies, rightfully so. To end (and I’m a proud Mom so I could go on and on) this blog I would like to share an unexpected outcome that brings unexpected joy. Less than a year ago, one of those neighborhood childhood bullies approached Charlie and asked for about an hour of his time. Charlie accepted and they met. He asked Charlie for forgiveness for what he and his family had perpetrated on ours. Especially on Charlie as he took the unpopular path of defending his brother. It made an impression. Quite an impression. Charlie forgave and today they meet on occasion and have become friends. This is why I wanted so badly to tell the story of our Charlie. He allowed me permission (for the first time) so I jumped on it!
Charlie has helped me in so many ways. He has stood up for me many times during the middle school years when bullies were rampant. In addition, he has taught me to project that same kindness for the underdog. He is an excellent brother and I couldn’t ask for a better sibling.
Below is a Q & A with Charlie and after that, we offer you expert advice, several resources and checklists for your journey as the”sibling”.
Q & A with Charlie
How does feel to have a brother with Autism? It doesn’t feel any different than having a neurotypical brother. I don’t know any other way. I see Sam as my brother period.
What have been the challenges as you went through school age years together? Isolation from peers mainly. I was known as “the brother of the ‘weird/different one”. One example: in our neighborhood when other kids were outside playing, they would say I couldn’t play with them because my brother was retarded. That hurt. While it hurt, it made me become closer to my brother. I would rather be closer to my brother with autism than close to fake friends who isolate because of autism. Early on, I knew that wasn’t kind nor the way I wanted to be.
How did you handle the isolation? I turned to music. Specifically guitar. First it was electric. I let my emotions out on the electric guitar. Early on, I had anger due to my brothers bullies so I played hard rock music. Think Ozzy Osborne’s guitarist Randy Rhoads. Later, I found a love of acoustic guitar and became inspired by the music of Johnny Cash. The music truly helped me cope with the isolation from my peers, now I just enjoy playing.
Statistically, 75% of persons diagnosed with High Functioning Autism / Asperger Syndrome are either under or unemployed. This is a travesty for them, their families, society and businesses. These staggering numbers cannot be ignored! There are various reasons for unemployment mainly the challenges that come with autism such as sensory sensitivities and workplace social expectations.
However, alongside challenges, there are many positive traits such as:
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.
Aspergers101 is proud to offer our readers suggested ways to overcome employment challenges, specifically the interview process. Dr. Temple Grandin is known worldwide for her successes with invention but in order to get to that plateau, she had to self test ways to get her foot in the employment door. As a person diagnosed with Autism, Temple share those personal techniques and interview skills below.
Don’t go into an interview cold turkey…prepare a well thought out presentation!
Neatly show your work, presentations, articles, etc.
When people think of student activities for Aspergers students, especially those in college, some may feel tempted to believe that such activities are not suitable for them. Students with Aspergers could feel hindered by a number of issues, whether it be social anxiety, time management, lack of awareness, or longer study sessions due to slower information processing, to name a few.
The ASD student and/or those around them too often assume that such issues would prevent them from getting anything out of an activity. Consequently, this commonly held false assumption only makes it so that the Asperger’s student likely does not develop the inclination to do much beyond their comfort zones.
I suggest 10 steps that can help the ASD college student get beyond this:
Take inventory of organizations in which you could get involved.
Ask a residence hall worker or go to the activities office and get a list of potential organizations and begin research
Go to events, such as student activities nights, whose purpose is to expose students or the public to organizations or look on website if there is one
Explore the organizations online and then engage with them (ideal for introverts).
Usually, word of mouth and stories from current friends/acquaintances establishes links and piques interests of those with ASD, despite any general reluctance for involvement, as well as (stereotypically) restricted interests
Do your homework: Understand the organization’s missions, visions, values, member testimonials, events, contact information.
Identify primary contacts
First priority to contact is a person in charge, or a group facilitator
Understand the steps to joining the organization
Introduce yourself or get an introduction from somebody if necessary.
Both scenarios encompass a self-introduction and this is critical because it allows others to acknowledge and accept the true personality of the Asperger’s student
Join Aspergers101 on Facebook for Livestream Series
There are many services available to help children with AS develop their skills and become more successful. Social skill groups, pragmatic speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and special education services may all play a role in meeting the needs of your child. Guest speaker, Dr. Louise O’Donnell from UT Health Science Center, shares valuable insights into the autistic brain and offer solutions at every stage of a persons life when challenged with social integration. Host(s) Jennifer and Samuel Allen (Aspergers101) discuss effective strategies to teach social skills and address behavior are as varied and diverse as the unique individuals who make up the AS population and lead a panel of experts into the topic at programs end. (pre-recorded/runtime 1:31:00)
There are no fee(s) to join us…see you on Aspergers101 Facebook tonight at 7p! (CST)
With all the spooky costumes, scary decorations, eerie noises, and sugary candy, Halloween can be a pretty overwhelming day and night for a child with autism.
The challenges that may arise for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may seem obvious on the surface but if this is your first Halloween, there are some precautions you may take to keep the fear to a minimum and actually have some fun!
Halloween can be a great source of fun for kids, but there’s also no need to push it. Have your child join in, but only if she wants to. If any of the celebrations are not something you both enjoy, don’t feel obligated to participate.
Remember, the diagnosis of Autism does not mean your child cannot participate in Halloween, just take some extra time monitoring the stimuli.
Below are some pointers to make your Halloween a less stressful time for everyone.
Let your child practice wearing their costume at home. This gives you time to make any last minute modifications and time for your child to get used to it. If your child refuses to wear any costume, consider letting them trick or treat in pajamas or regular clothing.
Know your child’s limits and do only what he or she can handle. For example, if your child is not comfortable trick-or-treating, you can start by going to three houses. Assess how your child is doing and build up to more houses the following year.
Create a visual schedule. This might include a map of where you will go.
Practice trick or treating in a familiar environment. Visit friends and family, if possible, even neighbors.
Partner with family and friends that your child likes. A sibling keeps them with the younger crowd but is familiar.
Use role play to practice receiving and giving treats.
If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate your home gradually, especially with sensory issues. Be cognizant of over stimuli (bright flashing lights) and smells (candles).
If you are giving out candy at your home, give your child the option to give a piece of candy. During the day, practice greeting people and giving out candy.
If your child is afraid of going out at night, plan indoor or daytime Halloween activities.
Remember, Halloween looks different for every child on the spectrum and you know your child best. Use your intuition and if you only make it to three houses, that’s okay!
Finally, be aware that Halloween celebrations may be LOUD and painful for those with sensory issues. Either bring headsets to buffer the sounds or remove your child from the heart of the noise. Preparation and planning can help you stay stress-free and keep Halloween a time of much fun instead of true horror!
Everyone loves a parade! Especially when it’s the annual abilitySTRONG Parade, San Antonio’s inaugural Disability Pride Celebration. It is a public expression of the belief that disability is a natural and beautiful part of human diversity in which people living with disabilities can take pride. We have all your information of where to park, parade route and a list of all the activities slated to participate in beautiful downtown San Antonio!
The Parade Theme Awareness….We’re Stronger Together, resonates strongly with this year’s Grand Marshal Samuel Allen. “Upon hearing of my Autism diagnosis, I learned that my voice mattered above all the medical noise of what I will never be able to accomplish. That voice would mold me into all I could be or it would stifle me into less than.”
2nd Annual abilitySTRONG Parade Saturday, October 26th, 2019 9:00 am – 10:00 am Downtown, San Antonio
Parade Route: Avenue E & East Houston St. in front of First Presbyterian Church and Express News Bldg. South on Avenue E, West on Houston St. North on Flores St., West on Travis St., South on San Saba, East on Commerce St., South Pecos-La Trinidad and into the UTSA Cattleman Square parking lot.
Event Parking: Accessible shuttle services will be available between all of the lots below and Market Square from 7am – 2:30pm.UTSA D1 & D2 Lots Employee A and B, and unmarked surface spaces. *UTSA Geo Development Lot (On San Saba between Dolorosa & W. Nueva) *Washington Square Lot (Santa Rosa & Nueva/Dolorosa) *Washington Place Lot (Next to La Quinta on Dolorosa & South Santa Rosa) *City Parking Lot(PAID PARKINGParking is available in the City Parking lot at Dolorosa between Santa Rosa and Laredo)
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.
Aspergers101 FB Livestreaming Series: 7P TONIGHT!
Tonight at 7pm, we continue to offer you our year-end giving of information with the Aspergers101 Facebook Live-streaming Series. Tonight’s topic is one you might want to share with someone suspecting they, or their child, might have a form of Autism or Asperger Syndrome. It is as important to know one way or the other. Our guest speaker is Dr. Berenice de la Cruz, will she offers an overview and insight into the signs of autism. Additionally we will offer downloadables….there is no charge for admission! Just go to the Aspergers101 Facebook Page at 7pm (CST) tonight.
Why: Do you suspect someone you love has autism or Asperger Syndrome? This pre-recorded program explores the signs, the medical explanation, and the hardwired facts. Topics discussed will be the importance of diagnosis, grief, and moving forward with awareness. Hosted by Jennifer Allen & son Samuel Allen, Co-founders of Aspergers101. Special guest: Dr. Berenice de la Cruz, Ph.D., BCBA-D (runtime 1:31:18) Panel discussion follows.
Aspergers101 blogger, Alix Generous, is an amazing young woman who happens to be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. In June of 2015, Alix was asked to speak at TEDWomen. Below is a recorded copy of Alix discussing “How I Learned to Communicate my Inner Life with Aspergers”. She offers her wit, personal stories, and vision for tools to help more people communicate their big ideas.