New Law Protects Texas Drivers diagnosed with Autism, Deaf or Hard of Hearing

EXPLAINED: The New Process and Form(s) for Registering your Vehicle as a Person with a Communication Challenge in Texas

Effective September 1st 2019: The Samuel Allen Law (Senate Bill 976) enacted by the 86th Legislature, adds Transportation Code Section 502.061, allowing an applicant to voluntarily indicate at the time of initial registration or registration renewal that they have a health condition or disability that may impede effective communication with law enforcement.

Samuel Allen/Spokesperson Driving with Autism Initiative

Present the completed certification below to your local county tax assessor-collector’s office when applying for initial registration or renewing registration. Presentation of the completed certification will authorize the addition of a communication impediment notation to your motor vehicle record. This notation will inform law enforcement you have a health condition or disability that may impede effective communication with a peace officer.

Background

The Samuel Allen Law will allow a person challenged with communication, (Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Deafness, Hard of Hearing, PTSD, Parkinson’s disease, Mild Intellectual Disability and more) the option for disclosure when registering their vehicle through the Texas DMV. Communication Impediment will be privately placed in the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS) thus alerting the officer of the challenge PRIOR to approaching the vehicle in a pull-over scenario. This unprecedented law will not only save lives by alerting law enforcement for better communication, but will also keep the diagnosis hidden from public scrutiny as opposed to bumper stickers or license plate designations. Note: Texas DPS already offers “Communication Impediment with a Peace Officer” as an optional restriction code on State Driver License or ID. 

Form VTR-216 (below) must be completed by a licensed physician if the applicant has a physical health condition or a licensed physician, licensed psychologist, or a non-physician mental health professional if the applicant has a mental health condition. Form VTR-216 is available online at www.TxDMV.gov or you may click on the form below to download here.

Click on Form to Download

If you choose the option to disclose a communication impediment to be placed privately in the Texas TLETS, you will need to submit Form VTR-216 at time of vehicle registration renewal with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The Samuel Allen Law takes effect September 1st, 2019 in the state of Texas.

What constitutes a Communication Challenge (Impediment)? 

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

For more information on the Texas Driving with Autism initiative and the Samuel Allen Law click here.

For questions regarding the process of vehicle registration with the Texas Department of Vehicles, you may contact:

Caroline Love/Director of the Government and Strategic Communications Division for Texas DMV
Caroline.Love@txdmv.gov (512) 465-1484

Samuel Allen Honored at Texas State Capitol

Effective Sept. 1st 2019, The Samuel Allen Law will allow individuals with conditions that may affect their communication abilities, the option to disclose that information when registering a vehicle with Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

AUSTIN, TX (August 15th 2019) Samuel Allen speaks to the media from the Texas State Capitol/Governor’s Press Room

AUSTIN, Texas — Aspergers101’s Samuel Allen was honored at the Texas State Capitol yesterday for his work pushing for an act that helps individuals with conditions that may affect their communication abilities better interact with law enforcement.

What this Means to Texas Drivers

Senate Bill 976 (SB 976), also known as the “Samuel Allen Law,” allows a person with a condition or disability that may cause them communication issues – such as Autism, Asperger’s, Deafness or Hearing Impairment, PTSD, Parkinson’s and more – the option to disclose that information when registering their vehicle through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

If an individual with one of these conditions has elected to make that known on their vehicle registration and then they are pulled over, the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System will alert the officer prior to approaching the vehicle that the person may have trouble communicating.

The act also removes the need for a bumper sticker or license plate marking so the driver’s condition is kept private. The Samuel Allen Law, which goes into effect September 1st, will be the first of its kind in the nation.

Jennifer Allen, Founder/CEO of Aspergers101 and championing the “Driving with Autism” initiative, said that the passage of SB 976: The Samuel Allen Law is the remaining piece of the puzzle for the program she began almost 5 years ago with Texas DPS. Supported by the Texas Governors Committee on People with Disabilities, Allen’s “Driving with Autism” initiative has three (interacting) working components to better communication between Law enforcement and Texas citizens with autism or other communication challenges:

  1. Driver License – Option for Texas Drivers to place “Communication Impediment” as a DPS restriction code directly on the Driver License or State ID with state-wide marketing campaign including placing informative posters and brochures in all Texas DPS offices.
  2. Law Enforcement Training – Texas Law enforcement training modules placed directly in TCOLE (the online training for all Texas law enforcement) to better understand drivers diagnosed with autism and/or other “Communication impediments”
  3. TLETS- Option for Texas Drivers to acknowledge a “Communication impediment” upon DMV vehicle registration thus alerting officers privately through Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (TLETS).

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.

For more information on the process of registering your vehicle with Texas DMV, please contact:

Caroline Love/Division Director/TxDMV Government and Strategic Communications 512.465.4019 Caroline.Love@TxDMV.gov

Click here for more information on The Samuel Allen Law and the “Driving with Autism” Texas initiative:

More on Driving with Autism Initiative

Template to Support College Writing Assignments for Students with Aspergers

Many college students with Asperger’s need assistance with writing assignments. Whether it is for a writing intensive course or for an essay in a basic undergraduate class, the following often occurs:

Student doing the notes

  1. Students write too little. Students often presume professors will infer from their most basic of communications what the student intends and, as a result, leave out details.
    • These details, of course, are what professors want to read.
  1. Students write too much. Students are sometimes uncertain what professors want to read and end up throwing everything – including the kitchen sink – into the document. This especially happens when students are writing about a topic that has personal interest to them.
  1. Students with Asperger’s Disorder sometimes cannot predict what professors want to read in a writing assignment. This creates difficulties with emotional regulation, during which students may avoid the assignment or have an emotional meltdown.

Students can more easily complete writing assignments when provided clear instructions about the structure of an assignment and relevant examples. A template is often helpful. The following is such a template, used to help a student assigned with writing a paper for a History class.

Please note: The examples provided were not related to the assignment. They were merely examples.

How Big Is My Problem?

In everyday life, there are thousands of things happening. Some of these are big deals while some are little deals. Many people on the spectrum have a difficult time trying to differentiate “big deals” and “little deals.”; in other words, what TO make a big deal out of and what NOT TO. This whole “choosing your battles” is something that I still have a hard time comprehending.

A few months ago, I was in my third period chemistry class. My teacher was handing back a quiz that the whole class previously took. When I got my quiz back, I saw that I was marked off three points. I was confused because I checked my work multiple times and still got the same answer. Then, when my teacher recited all of the answers out loud, I proved my suspicions. I saw that my answers were correct but points were still deducted from them. Later that class period I went up to my teacher and respectfully asked him why I got points marked off. He looked at my answers and said, “Because they are wrong!”. I wrote down these three answers: “49.00, 52.00, 53.00.” He said that the correct answers were “49, 52, and 53.” I did not understand why he was marking me down points since my answers and his answers were equal. Before I go any further, the numbers were numbers of atoms, and atoms cannot be divided according to Dalton’s Atomic Theory. He told me that because I added the decimal and two zeros, I indirectly inferred that atoms could technically be divided. I was extremely upset but didn’t show it. I sat back down at my desk.

The next day, I had a meeting with my school case manager. I told her about what happened. With math and science being her strong suit, she understood my teacher’s decision. However, she also completely understood mine as well. I was so upset that I wanted to submit a district grade dispute! I would have usually gone through the department chair, but since my teacher is the department chair, that was not an option! I was so ready to file that paperwork and get my three points back! But then my case manager asked me “Is this a big deal or a little deal?”. After talking for a while, we decided that this was a little deal because it was only worth three points and, even if I got them back, I would still have to be in class for many months to come with a teacher that would dislike me because of the dispute.

These types of situations have come up in my life ever since I was a toddler and my parents and special education team have helped me come up with some things to do in order to determine if a scenario is a big deal or little deal, along with how to act on it.

I created an infographic that you may be able to use in order to demonstrate what problems are big and which problems are little. Check it out below!

On a more personal level, I force myself to reflect. This is usually hard for me to do since all I want to do is act immediately, but fortunately, I (through mistakes of acting too quickly) have learned how to stop myself. I ask myself if this particular problem is a big problem worth getting worked up over, or if it’s a smaller deal that I should just let pass over. I sometimes even get advice from my parents or special education team if my emotions are running too high at the moment and I am not able to think clearly and reflect. If I am really angry about something that I know is a smaller problem, I sometimes think about bigger problems that my peers are facing and realize how lucky I am to only be having this little problem.

If you are on the Autism spectrum: reflect, reflect, reflect! It really does pay off to slow down and calm down! I rarely make good decisions when my emotions are too high. I am learning to take the time to calm down and think things through before I decide how I should act.

If you are a parent: help your child come up with his/her own chart to help decide if something is a big or little deal.

If you are an educator: take the time to talk with your student if you notice that he or she is about to turn something little into something big when it doesn’t have to be. Help him/her to calm down and then talk through the issue. Don’t blow them off because you don’t see it as a big deal. Your student hasn’t come to that same conclusion yet!

College Students with Aspergers Speak Out: Take Our Advice

Important advice from students who have 'been there and done that'

Colleague and friend Andrew Nelson, a coordinator in the West Virginia Autism Training Center’s Family Focus Positive Behavior Support program, supports individuals with ASD in their transition to college as part of his day-to-day duties. In his work, Andrew began to notice similar questions and issues were being raised by various students.

Many of the questions were about basic procedures of higher education, such as how one applies to and gets into a university. Other questions – like “Do I have to do my own laundry?” – were about campus living.

To help answer these questions, Andrew went straight to the experts: college students on the spectrum!

In his video interview with three Marshall University students, Andrew explores in brief the topics of: college admission, financial aid, effective support strategies, independent living, and the importance of building on-campus relationships. 

All in under 6 minutes!

Important advice from students who have “been there and done that” include:

  • Prepare for college by taking seriously your highs school studies. Work to get “the best grades you can,” and prepare for college entrance exams. Those exams are necessary for four-year colleges and universities.
  • Understand that admission to higher education is a process, and that process involves application, meeting admissions standards, submitting transcripts, financial aid, and other paperwork. Become familiar with the process at the school you want to attend.
  • Students often have to adapt to the differences that exist between high school and college, especially differences related to educational autonomy and self-direction.
  • Simple technology, such as smart phone alarms, visual schedules, and calendars, can help keep students organized.
  • If you have a questions, most professors will be accessible and willing to help you.
  • Develop social networks, find a way to enjoy hobbies, and enjoy the experience of college rather than focus your energies solely on academics. A balanced life is key.

by Dr. Marc Ellison

Meet Maverick: Changing the Trajectory of Mental Health

His name is as his mission: “Maverick”. He walked into my life with something to say, he wanted to write a series of blogs on Aspergers101 with so much pain to overcome that readers immediately related to the pain and his message of hope. He has overcome and watching him give to others, as does the Sea of Galilee sources life giving waters to many, Maverick draws on the pain of his past to make a difference for the good! From his book, “Overcoming the Odds: My Journey to finding Personal Strength and Triumph”, to his drive to dispel the stigma of mental illness and minorities to all, you’ll be incredibly inspired (as are we) by learning more about Maverick through our Q & A segment below.

But first, among his life accomplishments, Maverick was recently selected to serve on the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities as shown in a recent story from KSAT News in San Antonio.

Q & A with Maverick Crawford III

Aspergers101:  How did the opportunity to be on the board with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities come about?

Maverick: I was told about this role form a very special friend of mines when I was a part of the Texas Partners in Policymaking class. She told me that I would be a good fit for the board, so I gave it a try and applied. I had self-doubt due to the hallucinations and voice I hear in my head due to the abuse I suffered, and they were saying “you will never get on the board, your too stupid and quite.” But I tried my best to ignore those old tapes coming from the abuser, but it was hard to do. I often doubt myself ad do not have a whole lot of confidence, self-esteem because of the trauma I suffered, which made it hard for me to apply for this position. Anyway, I filed out this intimidating application that asks for information that I did not know. They wanted to know about my social media account information, but I’m fortunate enough that I do not post anything negative or something that may hinder my chances of getting on this board. After I completed the application than three months later, I had the interview over the phone. It was an hour-long interview that again they asked me questions that I did not know the answer to them. After the intimidating interview over the phone, a month passed, and I received a call that changes the trajectory of my life. The same person who interviewed me also told me this, “Maverick, I wanted to inform you that Governor Greg Abbott approved your application and you have officially been appointed to the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.” I had mixed emotions again from the old tapes from my abuser telling me how stupid and useless I was. The other emotions were relief and joy that the Governor of Texas appointed a reticent black male who has suffered so much and has autism. I was elated with joy that I was appointed because I never taught a person like myself would ever be appointed to such a high caliber board. I received a letter in the mail along with a certificate that states my name and the board I have been appointed to with the Governor of Texas signature on it. Then a month later, the University of Texas at San Antonio where I graduated from in 2018 and was awarded as the Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student in the College of Public Policy. UTSA posted the appointment to the board on their website and also on UTSA today. Also, in the same month, I a reporter with KSAT 12 news saw the article on UTSA today and wanted to do a television interview highlighting my accomplishments. The interview was a success, and I’m honored to have been appointed by the Governor of Texas but also having my story shared on KSAT 12 news.

When it comes to autism, we tend to assume those who are diagnosed are white. In actual fact, the rate of autism is similar for all racial groups – one in 110 according to current estimates.

Maverick Crawford III

Aspergers101: What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure on the board?

On disparities in Autism diagnoses

Maverick: When it comes to autism, we tend to assume those who are diagnosed are white. In actual fact, the rate of autism is similar for all racial groups – one in 110 according to current estimates. According to several studies, African American children are diagnosed at a later age and require more prolonged and more intensive treatment as a result of this. In the white community, more children are insured, have access to treatment, which is affordable and of high quality. They also have a community that more readily embraces and understands mental illness.

In the black community, it is the complete opposite. Autism is either misdiagnosed or under-diagnosed. Another aspect of the black community is that we have a hard time accepting or understanding a mental health diagnosis, such as autism. African American families may write off mental illness as being demon-possessed or bad behavior.

I do understand that there is a lack of trust in medical professionals in the black community. However, we must take the advice of professional experts and do research to help us understand the issues with our children. In this way, we can help raise our children with disabilities much better. The reason why most autism behaviors go unreported in the black community is that we do not understand or we are not educated, or even believe in mental illness, when we do not believe in mental or neurological illness, then the children have to suffer and grow up in a family which does not fully understand their needs and parents who are unwilling to accept or learn how to deal with those issues.

Educators, doctors, and other practitioners who are experts on autism need to appreciate the gravity of misdiagnosing, under-diagnosing, or non-treatment of an autistic child. According to various research studies, black children suffer from a greater degree of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD ) due to environmental factors. The environment for most black children involves poverty, crime, lack of resources, and so forth. When it comes to autism, the people who are better off financially can get access to the best services rather than the ones who are living in poverty. The less well-off children do not have access to adequate treatment.

From Diagnosis to Independence: Four Workshops on Aspergers from the Experts

In the summer of  2017 Aspergers101 launched a Summer Series on Autism in conjunction with the San Antonio Public Library System. WOAI-TV live-streamed all four conferences where area experts on Autism participated in a panel discussion at the conclusion of every power-packed workshop.

Kicked off by Ron Lucey with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and announced by Ramiro Salazar, Director of SA Public Library System at the Press Conference, it was a huge endeavor that allowed free access to information on Autism.

This is community and teamwork at its finest!

We want to share all four sessions with you.

The four workshops are as follows:

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Social Development
  3. Choices in Education and
  4. 26Independent Living

Press Conference Announcing Aspergers101 Summer Series with the San Antonio Public Library  Asperger Syndrome: From Diagnosis to Independence.
May 3rd 2017 10:30a San Antonio Public Library Downtown

SUMMER SERIES VIDEO LIBRARY

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

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.

Using Art to Facilitate Skill Building in College Students with Aspergers

Eszter Kiss is a Provisionally Licensed Counselor employed by the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University. Kiss presented “Adding Color to Cognitive Behavior Therapy,” at the WV Counseling Association.

The presentation centered on the use of art as a tool to facilitate communication of thoughts and behavior for individuals with ASD.

Specifically, Kiss uses this technique to support college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder.

Resilience

The autism community has long recognized that many living with ASD can better communicate their inner experience through writing or art. For several reasons, an oral expression of their cognitions or emotions can be extremely difficult for those on the spectrum.

College students diagnosed with ASD often need a process through which to express and receive abstract information. Kiss’ presentation highlighted one such process.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a theoretical mental health counseling process through which this tool was used. CBT should not be attempted by those without advanced training in counseling psychology, or by those without expertise in this specific approach. However, the use of art as a tool to communicate abstract thought and improve life skills can be used by parents and support staff outside a CBT process.

For example, consider the picture at the beginning of this post drawn by a student on the spectrum after Ms. Kiss asked him to provide a visual representation of “resilience.”

The picture of the knight successfully blocking the arrows being shot at him allows a support professional to discuss the following types of issues: