Animal Shelter Volunteer Work for Kids and Teens with Autism: Master Social and Job Skills

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way for tweens, teens and young adults on the autism spectrum to practice and improve social and job skills. They also learn responsibility and a respect for animals. As visitors come into animal shelters to look at animals available for adoption, it’s the perfect place for teens to improve face-to-face communication. The experience they gain volunteering at an animal shelter molds them into more effective volunteers and prepares them for the workforce.

Animal Shelter

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a fantastic opportunity, especially for teens with Aspergers. It has been widely discussed that children, teens, and adults with Aspergers form strong bonds with pets, and can greatly benefit from animal companionship.

Their time spent volunteering will produce better outcomes (adoptions) if they have good communication skills. Here are some top social skills from my book to ensure teens maximize the chance of an animal getting adopted, and master important social and job skills:

1. Smile and Say Hello:

When you see another person, whether a co-volunteer, staff member or visitor, smile and say “Hello”. Your smile will set the tone for positive future interactions and brighten the person’s day. It may even lead to an animal getting adopted or a financial donation. It all starts with a smile!

I used to volunteer at an animal shelter walking dogs. Often I would be in the back of the shelter bringing a dog in or taking one out. There would be people in the back of the animal shelter looking for animals to possibly adopt. I would smile and say “Hello”. I’d ask if they had questions about any of the dogs I walked. Often they would. After telling them about the animals, I’d suggest they spend time with any animal they were interested in. About 70% of the time they’d end up adopting an animal just because I engaged them and was able to provide helpful information. You can do the same thing!

2. Turn Off the Electronics:

When you are volunteering, keep your phone at home, or turned off, on silent or vibrate mode, and out of sight. This is part of being a professional volunteer and lays the foundation for good work habits.

3. Say Please and Thank You:

Autism in the workforce: I am Autistic, I am not broken

By: Rick Jacobs

 It is palpable, that moment when you tell someone or a group of professionals you are on the Autism Spectrum. As if you just vomited on their shoes, they get a look of shock and concern. Their speech patterns change. Their facial expressions alter. You are no longer the same person that was hired or that started the conversation.

Often, you hear things like “I never would have guessed,” “You don’t look Autistic,” or they simply start talking to you like you suddenly became a five-year old with a limited vocabulary and a hearing problem.

I am Autistic, I am not damaged, I am not less intelligent. I am just a little different than you are. I see things differently, experience things differently, and struggle with social conventions. 

I understand the complex, hyper-detailed volumes of information that I am surrounded by. I don’t understand corporate culture or how to conform to workplace norms. I understand strategy, nuance of facts, projections, and planning. I don’t understand the look on your face or if you are joking with me or not. I am flat in affect when listening and processing, which may look like I am checked out or not paying attention.

I am super sensitive to my surroundings and have intense feelings, but I don’t let them rule me. I seek facts, I want to know that what I know is true and correct, not that I am right. I have intense intuition and gut feelings, I just don’t act on it until I have examined the facts, seen the possible options and outcomes, and have a plan for mitigating potential issues. I love stupid loud crazy music concerts, but a loud social gathering or cubicle space stresses me out, so no, I don’t want to go to the bar to hang out after work.

The problem with being an older Autism Spectrum person in a corporate world is that you are either weird or a problem employee because you don’t socialize like everyone else or you are a special case that everyone must tiptoe around and tread lightly. I am also often seen as not promotable, because of the belief that I might not understand how to connect with people. Actually, I connect very well and quickly, except I am also very aware of BS and will call it out. Don’t lie to me. I know.

Greta Thunberg Says Asperger’s Is Her Superpower

by: MOLLY LONGMAN

While dozens of world leaders made their voices heard at the UN Climate Action summit in New York City Monday, it was a 16-year-old’s rallying cry that had people — including the president — talking.

Photo: Alex Wong: Getty Images

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg is known internationally for continuously and courageously working to combat climate change. She was the face of the Global Climate Strikes, inspiring millions of people — more specifically, young people — to rally in more than 150 countries, as CBS News reports. And, she says her Asperger’s syndrome diagnosis is her “superpower.”She told  “CBS This Morning” that Asperger’s, which is a condition on the autism spectrum that affects social interaction and nonverbal communication, has helped her deliver her message to the masses. “What I want people to do now is to become aware of the crisis that is here,” she said.

She’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes in, even if she’s talking to VIPs of parliaments and governments. “I just know what is right and I want to do what is right,” she told CBS. “I want to make sure I have done anything, everything in my power to stop this crisis from happening… I have Asperger’s, I’m on the autism spectrum, so I don’t really care about social codes that way.”

Before her name became internationally recognized, she hadn’t shared about being on the autism spectrum, in part, because she knew “many ignorant people still see it as an ‘illness’, or something negative,” she tweeted. Asperger’s was officially categorized as a diagnosis on the autism spectrum 2013, according to the Autism Society.

Asperger’s, Depression and College Students

Depression is most common in adolescents and young adults with Asperger’s, and particularly in those with stronger intellectual and verbal skills. That means college students with Asperger’s are at a very high risk for depression. This is particularly true for freshmen, who are transitioning to the college experience. Although I’ve seen this in later years as well when students are dealing with more challenging classes, social issues, and upcoming graduation as triggers.

Let me tell you about one college student’s experience with depression:

Franklin went off to a good college based on his excellent academics in high school. However, he’d been provided with executive function scaffolding all through high school. His parents and a teacher had helped him organize his time and initiate his work. The school counselor and his parents had feedback from teachers if he was falling behind on assignments.

In college, he was on his own.

He was supposed to check in with the disability office, but he resisted being seen as needing help. Franklin had challenging classes and had taken on a very full load of five classes; he had always set his standards and expectations of himself very high. Franklin began falling behind in writing papers for his English literature class because writing was difficult and he wrote slowly. His effort was going into writing, so he fell behind on the reading. He tended to procrastinate as the pile of work grew. Franklin was embarrassed at being behind, so he stopped going to English. He also was stressed by feeling at a loss in terms of the 24/7 social demands.

As you might expect, all of this stress was a trigger for depression. In Franklin’s mind, one was either a success or a failure, and he was a complete failure.

Autism: Effective Treatment Options

By: The Autism Science Foundation

Scientists agree that the earlier in life a child receives early intervention services the better the child’s prognosis. All children with autism can benefit from early intervention, and some may gain enough skills to be able to attend mainstream school. Research tells us that early intervention in an appropriate educational setting for at least two years prior to the start of school can result in significant improvements for many young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As soon as autism is diagnosed, early intervention instruction should begin. Effective programs focus on developing communication, social, and cognitive skills.

sensory

Early diagnosis of ASD, coupled with swift and effective intervention, is paramount to achieving the best possible prognosis for the child. Even at ages as young as six months, diagnosis of ASD is possible. Regular screenings by pediatric psychiatrists are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even if your child is not diagnosed with an ASD before the age of 3, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your child may be eligible for services provided by your state. In addition, many insurance companies will provide additional assistance for the coverage of proven therapies. More information on autism and insurance can be found here.

The most effective treatments available today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and pharmacological therapy. Treatment works to minimize the impact of the core features and associated deficits of ASD and to maximize functional independence and quality of life. In 2012, the Missouri Guidelines Initiative summarized the findings from 6 reviews on behavioral and pharmacological interventions in autism. The consensus paper includes current evidence of what interventions have been studied and shown effective, why or why not, and can be found here.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) works to systematically change behavior based on principles of learning derived from behavioral psychology. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors. In addition, ABA teaches new skills and applies those skills to new situations

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) is a type of ABA for very young children with an ASD, usually younger than five, often younger than three.

Understanding Comorbidities

Top of the Spectrum News

As many as 85% of children with autism also have some form of comorbid psychiatric diagnosis. ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed comorbidities, with anxiety and depression being particularly important to watch for in older children, as they become more self-aware. Understanding and treating psychiatric comorbidities are often far more challenging than the Aspergers/Autism itself as discussed in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.

The diagnosis of comorbidities can be challenging because many people with ASD have difficulty recognizing and communicating their symptoms. It takes time to uncover the cause of a meltdown or aggravation but to aid you in your search, we listed the most common comorbidities below:

  • Epilepsy/seizures
  • Sleep disorders/disturbance
  • ADHD
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Feeding/eating challenges
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder

Top of the Spectrum News is a product of Aspergers101.

Ultimate Guide: Understanding High-Functioning Autism & Aspergers Syndrome

 The following is an excerpt taken from the documentary: Coping to Excelling: Solutions for School-age Children Diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers SyndromeMedical reports reveal a profound discovery in the brain of those with High-Functioning Autism. Studies with MRI imaging document an actual physical difference in some areas of the autistic brain verses that of a neuro-typical brain.

Neurological pathways fire differently in Asperger patients than that of a typical brain function. It has become clear that individuals who are diagnosed as High-Functioning Autistic or Aspergers receive their gifts and struggles from a physical medical basis not behavioral, as you may have been pressured to believe. Once we understand exactly how the challenges occur, we can begin to lead our loved ones with Aspergers on the path from coping to excelling.

We interviewed experts in the field of Autism to offer you a quick read on understanding High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome.

Upcoming Event: Jennifer Allen to Speak at ACU Summit 2019

“The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today”

Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. The Great Commission instructs us to go and preach the gospel to all nations, to all people … and as for those with disabilities, we must put aside our fear of “different” by first understanding the uniquely wired brain and then providing accommodation(s). Jennifer Allen will share her family’s personal journey of having a child diagnosed with autism and how the less traveled path to Jesus, though oftentimes rocky, offers beautiful vistas that neurotypicals seldom witness. This session is for the church to better understand the challenges that face these families along with suggested accommodations and especially for the parent torn about church and their children.

THE FACTS:

When: Tuesday, September 17th

Time: 9:30a – 10:15a

Where: ACU Summit on the Campus of Abilene Christian University 

               ACU Biblical Studies Building 1201850 Teague Boulevard

               Abilene, TX 79601 – Room 120

Cost: Free

Go to ACU Website for full information on ACU Summit 2019  or view the full ACU Summit 2019 Program here. Note: Jennifer Allen’s presentation: The Less Traveled Path to Christ: Families, Autism and the Church Today is listed on page 23.

Is a Diagnostic Label of Asperger’s a Stigma in College?

Students making the transition from high school to college often question the need to make public – either verbally or by providing a formal evaluation to disability service professionals in higher education – their diagnosis of Asperger’s Disorder.

Student sitting reading a book and taking notes in lecture hall

The concern is one to consider; common sense suggests to us that public disclosure of an autism spectrum disorder may cause stigmatization.

But does it really?

It may be, certainly. Responses to the disclosure of an autism spectrum disorder likely vary from peer to peer, and institution to institution.

There is evidence, however, that diagnostic labels may create less stigma for adults with Asperger’s Disorder than do the social behaviors commonly associated with the syndrome.

Butler and Gillis (2011) report the findings of their research on this topic in a paper titled “The Impact of Labels and Behaviors on the Stigmatization of Adults with Asperger’s Disorder.”

The researchers surveyed 195 undergraduate psychology students at Auburn University by presenting them with vignettes that portray a wide spectrum of social behavior. Vignettes were paired either with the label “Asperger’s Disorder,” or with no label at all. Participants then completed a modified Social Distance Scale. This was a self-report questionnaire to express the level of stigma they attached to the individual described in each vignette.

Findings “support the hypothesis that it is the atypical behaviors associated with AD that influence stigmatizing attitudes towards individuals with AD, not the label of the disorder”.

In this study the label “Asperger’s Disorder” did not affect stigmatization to a significant level.

This research is clearly limited, and the researchers suggest several potential reasons for the outcome. The study suggests, however, that in order to address potential stigmatization it may be best to spend time and effort teaching appropriate social and independent living skills, rather than prioritizing disclosure as the highest concern.

This won’t be true for all. But it is a point to consider.

by Dr. Marc Ellison

Butler, R. C., & Gillis, J. M. (2011). The Impact of Labels and Behaviors on the Stigmatization of Adults with Asperger’s Disorder. Journal Of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 41(6), 741-749. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1093-9