Excellent basic overview of High Functioning Autism and Aspergers Syndrome!
The Coping to Excelling documentary sheds illuminating light on the topic of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in school-aged children. Narrated by a Mother of a son with Asperger’s, this engaging program allows the viewer to ‘see through the eyes’ of those on the high end of the autism spectrum while getting advice from experts such as Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Tony Attwood, Jennifer McIlwee Myers, Billy Edwards and many more!
“I would strongly recommend the Coping to Excelling DVD not only for parents, especially those of a newly diagnosed child, but also for teachers and professionals!”
– Dr. Tony Attwood
The DVD, Coping to Excelling, is divided into 5 chapters each lasting just over 10 minutes. The chapters may be viewed independently or the entire Documentary (lasting 68 minutes) may be viewed in it’s entirety.
Understanding High-Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome – a broad overview
The Family Unit – The importance thereof
Choices in Education – Pro’s and con’s of all methods
Bullying – re-enactments and solutions
Social Development – suggestions and tools from the experts
Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction.
A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.
Even before the official diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, we knew our son Sam walked apart from the crowd. His early intense interest in a subject matter, and not in his peers, was the perfect mix for oddity starting the early sociable elementary years.
While we, as Sam’s parents, grew to walk alongside (and later celebrate) the unique perspective Sam had on the world, it was me who was shocked to be set apart from the crowd.
The elementary years were full of field trips, lunch visits, and homeroom activities. When it came time for picking groups for the field trips, my son was not one who other mothers wanted for their sons. At this early age, most mothers were positioning their children to be the best, only with the best, and we didn’t fit their criteria.
So for many of those early years Sam and I sat alone as other mothers invited the more social children to sit with them. Support did not come in familiar places: relatives, neighbors, team sports, youth groups or, field trip Moms. In fact, it was those who were actually abusive to Sam that set the stage for above and beyond parental protection. So different from my youth or perceived visions of parenthood. After the shock and heart wrenching pain for my son, the realization sat in that I too, was isolated.
How Our Family Responded to Isolation
Our family had hit a harsh reality, so we decided to fight back in a way that did no harm to anyone, but bolstered our son’s confidence. We chose our son over the crowd. We eliminated the negative and stuck to the positives. My Mom and Dad (both have since passed) were so very supportive and loving and choose to take a big role in both our sons lives. We clung to that love and our sons were nurtured and flourished. You don’t need or should expect everyone in your family(s) to be supportive, just enjoy who does and build upon that. Together the four of us found a loving church home, become interested in all things our sons were interested in, enjoyed those who did make a conscience effort to be a positive part of our sons lives, traveled on weekends (verses attending typical soccer games), and marched to a new rhythm I had never heard before! At first it was scary, going a route we’ve never taken before. However, after removing the negatives, the anxious worry quickly subsided and Sam (and the rest of us) blossomed!
Hello to star-gazing, train following, computer lessons, pokemon’ tournaments….well you have your list too!
Being apart from the crowd became the norm and our sons both flourished.
I write this not to feel sad or ‘wallow’ in self-pity. Nor have I listed the struggles (you can refer to other posts covering that) of the journey. I write about the choice because it is that simple. Because this probably happens to many parents of a child on the spectrum. I want to encourage you to persevere and hold onto the unique qualities that are the very being of your Asperger child and to let go of any expectations you may have of others taking part. Bottom line: Forge your own path for your child and take along the handful of people who do want to be a part.
It does get easier the older they get, and the reward will be a son or daughter who knows that their uniqueness is a gift. Recently Sam was asked what it “felt” like to have Autism. His matter of fact reply was priceless: “Don’t think of Autism as a weight, think of it as a pair of wings”.
Being apart from the crowd is a great thing indeed.
Growing up there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for people to see me for exactly who I am, and like me for it. I drive myself mad looking for this, because identity is unstable. People change as they get older through a combination of experience, genetic predispositions, and neuroplasticity. Aspergers is one fickle diagnoses, mainly because it is susceptible to all kinds of misinterpretation.
And then this miraculous invention called Facebook came out.
I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was still a relatively small community. One thing I loved about Facebook is that the social norms were different from in-person interaction, and often times made things easier on me. I can connect with people and not be criticized for my lack of eye contact or vocal tone.
I can filter my blunt comments, and assess my honesty before I say anything. Additionally, I can access hundreds of people within minutes who share my obscure interests, like Russian history or Phantom of the Opera. I think some of the first groups I joined were “addicted to piano,” and “when I was your age Pluto was a planet.” I had lived in 3 states and 2 countries at that point, and I could keep in touch with all of my friends from around the world.
Nowadays it seems like everyone I know is on Facebook and as a result, I have to keep my freak flag on a leash. Both of my grandmas are now on Facebook, and one of them said to me: “You better watch what you post because it might come back to bite you.”
What does that even mean? Do you even know how to use Facebook grandma? Turns out she did and also learned how to use an iPad way before I’d even seen one. To give you an idea of some of the posts my grandma was referring to, here is an example:
Dear girl who cheated off my exam today,
You’re a jerk.
Unfortunately for you, So am I. I put all the wrong answers in for you to copy and waited until you left to put the right ones in. It’s called studying.
Your passive aggressive classmate, Alix
I think social media’s impact on how we incorporate technology in our daily lives can condition us to display Asperger-type symptoms, the kind that my social skills training and family taught me not to do. Growing up my mom taught me to never use my cell phone at the table. To this day I never pull out my cell phone at a nice restaurant, even when asked to. Now when my friends and I go out, one is Instagramming their cocktail, the other answering a text from her husband, etc.
I don’t meet very many people my age who impress me with their ability to hold down a sincere conversation. I went to a youth group activity that was a meet and greet for young adults. I knew absolutely no one. I turned to this guy next to me and asked casually “What’s your name?”. He responded with one word “Martin,” and didn’t even look me in the eye, but instead was looking down at his phone where he had Facebook open.
I was talking to a CEO who runs a prominent company, he told me that when he hires graduates he looks for people who can look him in the eye, shake his hand, and carry on a conversation on top of meeting a few of the skills that would contribute to his company (e.g. using a computer program, or proficiency in Spanish, etc). He looks for people who have complex analytical skills or specialize in mastering one area. He could care less about the transcripts or grade point average of our degree.
There is hope for us with autism and there is a reason we should constantly strive to improve our social skills on top of pursuing our interests, because there are people who appreciate us for who we are and what we have. But in order to bridge that gap, we must have those social skills, even if Facebook and other social media is degrading the quality of interactions we have with people in person.
The holiday season is a time of friends, family, parties, food, and gifts. It is also a time of tight schedules, inter-personal drama, and occasional overspending. Yes, we all know that holiday cheer comes with its typical share of stressors, but adults with autism spectrum disorders may face a completely different set of challenges than you might expect. Specific sensory needs, unexpected social demands, and changes in routine may be overwhelming to an autistic individual during this time. As friends and families of adults with autism, we can do our part to ease these stresses and help them better cope with all of the holiday parties and family gatherings. Madison House asked advisory board member and self-advocate, Jeffrey Deutsch, Ph.D., to comment on what the public should know about autism and the holiday season. Together, we’ve come up with a list of suggestions that we hope you and your friends find helpful.
1. If you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person
These sensory issues can also be directly relevant in the holiday setting. For example, a person on the spectrum might be reluctant to wear certain clothing garments or eat certain foods that are considered important for the season. In being mindful of these sensitivities, gift buying for someone with autism can be a little more challenging. When purchasing a gift for a someone on the spectrum, consider asking the individual directly what he would like, if he has any special interests, etc. If you are still unsure as to what to buy, Visa gift cards can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. This is a great option if you’d like the recipient to be able to purchase his or her own gift with flexibility similar to cash.
2. The Right to “Alone Time”
Many people on the autism spectrum are introverted. It is important to remember, especially during the holidays, that things can get overwhelming, and we all value the opportunity to duck out, go off to another room, or take a moment outside and be alone. Those who are socially oriented should take note that not everyone shares their desire for company, and even those who do may not feel like chatting at a given moment. Even with the best intentions, insisting on trying to talk to someone who has asked to be left alone or reprimanding them for being “unfriendly” may be perceived as a form of harassment. A good rule of thumb: People define “personal space” differently. Try not to apply your own definition to the person standing next to you.
3. Practice Tolerance
Be tolerant of certain behaviors even if you don’t ultimately accept them as appropriate. This means that it is okay to insist on certain standards of decorum, such as politeness. However, an individual deviating from socially acceptable norms does not necessarily indicate rudeness. It is okay to correct inappropriate behaviors, but try not to get upset at the person because his intentions might be well-meaning. Pulling the person aside privately and teaching acceptable behavior is one good way to approach this scenario.
4. Plan in Advance
People with autism have a tendency to be at their best when they know of plans in advance and when those plans are adhered to within reason. Changing plans midstream places undue challenges in a variety of different areas. Make a conscious effort to explain to our autistic loved ones how a future event will ensue as it could alleviate a stressful situation later. Dr. Deutsch provided a hypothetical scenario to explain how one with autism might experience a change in plans:
“If you first say, ‘We’ll go to Grandma’s on Thanksgiving 5-8pm’, and then, the day before Thanksgiving, say, ‘Actually, instead of going to Grandma’s house, we’ll all go to Outback Steakhouse from 7 till close,’ we may get cranky. We might have visualized our Thanksgiving in advance: first, doing whatever we do at home until it’s time to leave, then being at Grandma’s house in a familiar atmosphere (including only being around people we’ve at least met before), and then going home to watch a movie before going to bed. Now, we have to change that visualization to doing chores for a couple of hours at home, going out to what may be an unfamiliar restaurant packed with definitely unfamiliar people — who may or may not take our stimming or other habits in stride — and afterwards having to go straight to bed due to the late hour. That change may not give us time to mentally prepare.”
5. Dietary Restrictions
Many people with autism are on special diets in which they cannot consume certain ingredients such as gluten or casein. Just as you would provide options for your vegetarian friends, there is a need to make provisions for these guests. If you know that someone with autism will be attending your holiday event, ask if the individual has dietary restrictions. This way, you can prepare suitable meal options for that person and everyone can be included in the festivities.
1. How many times a day, a week do you find yourself with a big old stressful decision?
2. How many of those decisions are simple and completely straight forward?
3. How many times does it feel like you’re saddled with two crappy choices?
The human brain is fascinating and capable of many feats! It’s also prone to getting stuck. When making decisions, one of those sticking points is the Either Or Trap. You know what I mean, EITHER you do this OR that. Here’s why this is oh so common: your brain gets fixated on your habits of perception – the way you see life, people, situations, and then shuts down to any other options. It’s as if there really are only these two options. This is problematic because you literally can’t see other possibilities so you most likely aren’t going to seek out more solutions and people with opposing perceptions. You then make EITHER this decision OR that decision.
This can feel oddly good at times, like any habit can, yet you
also know the sweet freedom that comes from breaking a bad habit.
can you avoid the Either Or Trap?
Acknowledge the tendency for the TRAP
Ask what if these didn’t work…what else…
Seek out people who think differently than you
Set a timer – mind dump as many possibilities as you can
Ask what you really want to see – as in wouldn’t it be
can absolutely expand your perception. This expansion cultivates more options
that are actually connected to your purpose. You then have the freedom to
look at an example to see it in action…
child doesn’t like trying new things – change can be tricky for them because it’s
such an unknown. Unknown has been code for it’s scary and must be avoided. Yet,
you know it would be helpful for them to expand their repertoire. And
They don’t wanna so they yell, argue, heavily complain, and shut down.
to think it’s not worth all this extreme hassle and pressure so you let it go…
that, may come it’s all on them – go do what they want to do – fine, whatever.
think they have to learn sometime so come hell or high water now is the
that, may come it’s all on them – sink or swim, baby.
often comes down to extremes.
Either Or Trap is all about two extremes.
if there were other options? I assure you there are…
just that in the heat of the moment with your pattern of survival it’s hard to
see – literally your brain has defaulted where you can’t see beyond the two
look at expanding perception…
what’s blocking the new experience attempt – what is IT (anxiety,
the specifics – get to the root of fear with AND what else – not
parameters – what will the attempt look like, how long, and debrief plan
Let’s look at potential options…
out your calendar together – what are the daily, weekly tasks and activities?
much calendar time builds the skills and attitude you actually want?
do you actually want for them? for you? for siblings? for whole
topics and situations they know nothing or very little about.
a topic or situation to experience for a set period of time – experiment.
Clarity of focus about what you actually
desire breeds connection with what you actually want to do.
All the doing and trying without connection keeps a cycle of doing and trying.
This breeds fatigue, frustration, and eventually forget-it-ness.
Perhaps most relevant to a student in the classroom: when you are stressed you are less likely to embrace difficult tasks. On your most stressful day, you will probably put the complex tax form in the “to do” box and leave it for a better day.
For our students, neurological stress can be the major underlying factor contributing to difficulties in communication, socialization, and academic performance.
Because of this, it is our essential job as parents and educators to respect the neurological differences and decrease that stress in creative and varied ways.
From breathing techniques to visual strategies and beyond, we will strive to decrease neurological stress so that our students and children can present their best self each and every day.
A schedule is a core strategy that creates an anchor for students who struggle to make sense of their day and their environment.
This is true of any classroom for any type of student. It has been well documented that learners benefit from having a daily agenda. Except, the difference is that while all students benefit from a daily agenda or schedule, students with Asperger’s Syndrome and other special needs have a greater need for this simple, yet fundamental strategy.
For a younger student, this might be a simple posting of the daily activities on the board. For an older student that transitions from classroom to classroom, the daily schedule might be best in a notebook. However, each class period or subject should post the specific activities for that day.
For example, a high school teacher can help to decrease the many stressors of high school life by posting something as simple as:
Although we have addressed the topic of meltdowns previously, it is a topic that needs to be revisited often, given the intense nature of the meltdown. “People with autism, new research suggests, may have an unusually large and overactive amygdala. This may be one reason why people with autism are easily overstimulated and have a hard time understanding and managing emotions.” – University of Washington
This is one of many neurological findings that helps to explain how meltdowns are very different from tantrums. They originate from a neurological place of sensory differences: an over-abundance of neuronal pathways. The brain, whether through too much sensory input, cascading thoughts, chemical overload or some cumulative effect of all of these, gets overwhelmed!
I know individuals with autism can help understand the horror of the meltdown better than any observer. So I would like to refer to Carly Fleischmann for her unique perspective. The following is an excerpt from her website:
The fact that special interests can serve as calming mechanisms is largely true for neuro-typical persons as well. Think of your favorite interests outside of your job and your family.
What do you enjoy doing when left to your own devices? Some common interests include the following:
Whatever your interest[s] might be, you probably find them enjoyable, fulfilling, and even relaxing. The interesting thing about interests is that one person’s most favorite activity/thing might be another person’s least favorite thing to do.
Shopping might be a relaxing and enjoyable activity for someone as they comb through racks and racks until they find that crazy deal of all deals! That very same experience might cause stress and even heart palpitations for another as they search for the nearest exit. As with most strategies, interests are highly individualized.
For persons with Aspergers, interests may take many forms and be especially intense.
Sign Up Here For November 21st Webinar sharing all components of this trail-blazing initiative. Oh…it’s free!
Register Online Now for the Texas Driving with Autism Webinar! The Driving with Autism initiative is a first-of-its-kind program out of Texas that is improving interactions between law enforcement and drivers diagnosed with a communication challenge. Now we want to share the entire initiative with other states, law enforcement agencies and organizations who desire to duplicate the successful program. The One-Hour webinar will be hosted by Ron Lucey, the Executive Director of the Texas Governors Committee on People with Disabilities. Join Jennifer Allen, Executive Director of Aspergers101 and the force behind the initiative, Jeremiah Kuntz, Director of Vehicle Titles & Registration of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and Skylor Hearn, Lieutenant Colonel of the Department of Public Safety as they cover the development and details of the program. Templates, videos and downloadables will be provided. There is no cost. A Q&A will follow the presentation.
1) “Communication Impediment” on State Driver’s License and ID: Offering this restriction code on Texas Driver License and State ID’s cover many diagnosis including Autism and the Deaf community. We will discuss all the diagnosis, the internal process and how to effectively market this message statewide via TV, radio and within every DPS Driver License Office. Templates included 2) Texas Law Enforcement Training: We will go over training materials and how Texas is reaching all it’s law enforcement agencies regarding understanding those with a communication challenge during a traffic stop. Also discussed will be overview of a medical study (poster) published on the effectiveness of the training on mental disorders with Texas State Troopers and what the findings mean to law enforcement agencies. 3) New Option for Disclosure in State Law Enforcement Telecommunication System: With the recent passage of the Samuel Allen Law, Texas drivers now have the option to place “Communication Impediment” in the Texas Law Enforcement Communication System (TLETS), which will alert officers prior to approaching the vehicle during a traffic stop. What does this mean for both officers and drivers and how did we pass legislation. Bonus: Texas Driving with Autism Camp – Aspergers101 teamed up with Texas DPS Training Facility in Florence Texas to develop and offer it’s citizens a “Driving with Autism” Camp. This unique day long camp offers a one-to-one participant to trooper ratio, allowing participants hands-on experience with a law enforcement pull-over situation with no cost to the family or participant. We will share it components with you!
When: Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10a – 11a (CST)