Raising A Superhero with ASD

Superhero: a fictional hero having extraordinary or superhuman powers; an exceptionally skillful or successful person – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When the time came for me to have children, there were a lot of options and situations that I knew I needed to be prepared for. Though I have to admit, majority of my thoughts were about choosing nursery bedding and baby names. Would I use cloth diapers or regular? What stroller and diaper bag should I get?  While many things came to mind, it had never occurred to me that I needed to prepare myself to raise a real life superhero.

When I see my son, I don’t just see a child with Autism that needs help to be part of the world. I see a superhero who can teach me and others far more about the world than I could ever teach him.

I see the most amazing, dedicated, triumphant child who has a unique skill set unlike any other: a boy with the truest, honest, kindest heart that I’ve ever seen, with great passion for life and extraordinary interests. He is a person with a special connection to extraordinary individuals and a trusting heart that doesn’t judge. I see so many magnificent qualities in him, but the reality is that it is not all cake and rainbows.

Boy plays super hero at sunset.

The hardest part about raising a superhero is watching the battles that they encounter daily.

Watching them not only battle the outside forces in their environment, but the battle within their own body. There is no way to truly document how that feels as a mother because it is indescribable. However, watching your child discover the world in a way that most people could never imagine is the indescribable counterbalance to it all.

Everyone has their own philosophy on how to raise a child on the spectrum and I respect that. For me, the question often isn’t about how to raise a child with autism. It is how can I help foster his inner superhero? How can I help him build upon the wonderful foundation that he already has, and how can I help further develop the person that he is?

It is hard as an autism parent; mostly because there is a fine line between trying to help facilitate the kind of growth that will better prepare him for this world and how and when to let him soar and just be him. I think many parents of children on the spectrum struggle trying to find exactly where that line is in a life full of therapists and interventions.

Supports for Sensory Processing Disorder and Issues with Touch

As with the senses of sight and hearing, sometimes one or more of the senses are either over- or under-reactive to stimulation. This is also true for the sense of touch. For some persons with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, certain textures feel uncomfortable or even painful. For these individuals, the idea of a hug or even accidentally brushing up against something may be highly stressful. In order to prevent this negative tactile experience, much energy and focus is spent avoiding situations that increase the likelihood of such events.

Painted hands for a border

Imagine lining up where there are others in front of you and behind you. The chances of being accidentally touched by either person may cause the simple act of lining up to be highly stressful and anxiety provoking. For individuals that do not like the feel of certain textures or things, parents and teachers may consider the following types of supports:

11 Things Not to Say to an ASD Parent

It wasn’t until the day that one of my children was diagnosed with both Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder that I realized quite how upsetting the topic was to many people. I still do not know why labels that are used for medical purposes, that open doors for children in need, can be such an issue for so many. After all, the word “Autism” to me is just a word. My child is still my child, and the world we live in may be unique at times, but it is also extraordinary.

I’m not sure if people just don’t know what to say, or if they are simply uninformed and inexperienced. As a parent of two children who face specific challenges, I can assure you that there are a list of things that I have had said to me that are anything but helpful.

Here are just a few suggestions for sensitivity towards parents with ASD children:

1. Don’t worry, he is just a being a boy or she is just being a girl, because boys are like this and girls are like that.

Yes boys and girls are different often times, but there are many signs and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder that if missed or ignored could be hurtful to your child if they do not get certain resources to help them overcome the adversity in their lives early on and build upon the many amazing qualities they already have.

2. At least they look pretty normal. If you just looked at them you would never know.

First: “normal” is a joke. Second: I never said that my kids were not “normal.” Third: what they look like at first glance does not directly correlate with the obstacles they face in their lives or that we face in our household. Fourth: I would love my child no matter what they looked like.

3. Doctors and therapists are just taking advantage of you and don’t always know what they are talking about.  They are just getting you all worked up over nothing.

I am just going to insert some ????? here because this statement is insulting to many people on many levels. There is no comment even worth the time to respond to a comment that is clearly more about a person’s denial and own feelings than the life and best interests of a child.

4. There are plenty of kids who don’t talk. All kids develop at their own pace.

Using Mini-Maps to Plan for Challenging Behavior in the Community

Mini-maps can be highly effective in dealing with work avoidance behaviors at school and at home. Let’s now take this same strategy and apply it in community settings. Remember, a mini-map takes an event or task and breaks it down into smaller, more doable steps.shopping mini-mapsFor a family that has difficulty with seemingly simple shopping trips, a mini-map might be a good tool for the Aspergers family member. Mini-maps help to stay focused on the task at hand while preventing intense preoccupation with specific aspects.

An Example of How to Use Mini-Maps When Shopping

A family would struggle when going to a store where there was a video section. The son would immediately take off for this area of the store as soon as they got there. He would stay there for long periods of time in spite of many verbal reminders on the way in the car.

This behavior would turn a short trip to the store into a long and almost painful event for everyone. Over time, this family might avoid these trips all together.

A mini-map for this situation might include a list of different departments in the store that they plan to visit. By adding either time limits or number of items to purchase at each part of the mini-map, their child might be able to flow through the strategy more successfully.

The following is an example of what this mini-map might consist of:

Aspergers101 helps families cope with autism

San Antonio Express-News

(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.

Three Useful Resources to Boost Exercise for Individuals with Aspergers

Asperger's, Technology, and Exercise

Technology and exercise? I know what you are thinking, how can I use a fitness product like a smart watch or fitness bracelet to get my child to exercise? Do I need to or am I financially able to purchase a fitness product like that? What if they don’t like it or use it and I’ve already spent the money buying it. Is there setup of the product or is it ready for use?

running and technology

Technology can be overwhelming but can also be very useful. The amount of fitness products out there is tremendous, but they each serve a purpose and a specific fit for someone. Today’s discussion will be on technology use during exercise but it will take a different perspective than you think.

Video Game Systems

Video game systems can be a contributing factor to our kids becoming less active. It is difficult for kids to move away from technology altogether so why not make it work for us? Video game systems have games available for purchase that are fitness/exercise oriented in which the person becomes the game controller.

For example, the Wii game system has: Just Dance 2016, EA Sports Active 2, and EA Sports Active NFL Training Camp. Similar game systems like the Xbox have the following games: Xbox Fitness, Nike Kinect Training, or Playfit. Lastly, the PlayStation has games like: Move Fitness, Zumba Fitness, and Sports Champions. These games use the person’s movement as a way to control the game. So, by dancing and moving you can get your kiddos to burn some calories while having fun.

Cell Phones

Understanding Special Interests and Aspergers

How to find the balance and productively use them at home and in class

Q:Dear Lisa,

“I have a son diagnosed with moderate to high-Functioning Autism who is currently enrolled in public Middle School. Though he is going through a natural teenage rebellion, I feel his autism is playing a huge role in the challenges he (and we, his parents) is currently facing. He struggles to communicate and he has poor receptive language, so even though he is very verbal- a lot of times he misunderstands. And then he misinterprets and he gets very angry.

He has been on meds since he was 5 to maintain mood. In the last few months he has become increasingly consumed with the computer, staying up late, wanting to sleep late, and only coming out for food. I know how to do all the schedules and what not, but he doesn’t care or want to comply. He is 6 ft tall and 250 pounds. He has an excellent teacher that provides structure in his Total Language Communication class.

Our son Trevor is addicted to technology. When we (his parents) as well as his teacher at school try and limit on-line play time he has become angry to the point to hitting the teacher and his father.

He ran away from home but the police brought him back that same day. I hate the computer! But he plays Minecraft online and has friends that he talks to. It is like his only source of socialization. So we are at a point where we may need professional support to help him get motivated to do something. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. please help!”

-Rebecca

A: Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for your very specific question that I’m sure many will relate to very closely. This is one of the most frequent questions that I am asked from both parents and educators.

In an Interactive Autism Network (IAN) questionnaire of 250 adults with ASD, 84 percent reported having a special interest or topic. A majority of those said they enjoy activities or develop relationships based on their topic, or have a job or field of study related to it. Some, however, said their interest sometimes gets in the way of success at work, school and in relationships (45 percent), or has gotten them into trouble (23 percent). Common interests include animals, computers, music, science and science fiction.

Famously, Temple Grandin Ph.D., who has Autism, turned her special interest in animals into a notable career as an animal scientist and designer of livestock handling facilities.

Living with a Roommate to Counteract Isolation and Depression

Learning Independence and Community

Many factors play into a person’s mental health. Communication styles can even be tied into mental health. Having roommates that you must learn to communicate with on a regular basis can be a helpful treatment for depression and isolation. Having roommates can also offer the opportunity for learning valuable social skills that living alone would not. Learning how to live with someone else is an important step in development. Both independence and community involvement go hand in hand for successful living skills, especially for those with ASD.

Roommate, Aspergers, Depression, Adulthood

I began working with a young man I will call Buddy to work on social skills and making connections with others. Buddy recently moved out into the community for the first time and was provided a roommate with a similar profile.

Buddy has lived most of his life in a rural area and was able to remain in his room for long periods of time playing video games. He often had thoughts that would provoke a tense look on his face and he would start punching in the air. Buddy is an extremely kind and gentle young man, however this characteristic causes others to get concerned.

The first step that took place was a dinner with the new roommate so that they could get acquainted with each other.

During this time the two were asked to turn off their phones and openly talk to each other. Buddy is very quiet and his new roommate is very social and does not do well with confrontation. The two were asked open ended questions. Buddy would answer the questions, but his answers were short. His roommate had long animated answers. Despite these communication differences they seemed to get along well. After dinner they were asked to exchange phone numbers since they were going to live together and would be relying on each other.

Buddy will not mention that he gets depressed or anxious but his body language will show it.

Using Intense Interests to Grow the Aspie Mind, Body, and Spirit

Everybody in the Asperger’s Community already acknowledges that aspies have that one thing that keeps them happy and comfortable: their intense interest. Whether you are a teacher, a parent, a sibling, or a friend, coming to understand the aspie’s intense interests is crucial for creating a relationship and helping them grow.

Aspergers, growth, intense interests

The aspie’s intense interest comes with many challenges and rewards, just as the jobs of parenting and teaching do. This article explores the real benefits and best parameters of understanding and working with the restricted interests for people with Aspergers. Following the 5-step process below can provide a window into the Asperger’s world and show how an intense interest influences the various aspects of personal development.

1.First, identify the interests and the aspie’s behaviors, feelings, and habits that surround it in order to profile the aspie.

  • Then, express interest in the aspie’s interest and ask them what they like most about it.
    1. If the aspie turns you away, tell them that they can share whatever details they want in their own time. Let the aspie come to you to tell you all about it, and don’t feel hurt if they turn you away initially. The aspie’s request for you to leave is very common with introverted aspies.
    2. If the aspie wants you to get involved, you can then perform a strategic inquiry in relation to the intense interests.
  • As you learn about the aspie’s interests, begin to take them out of their comfort zones and push against what triggers undesirable behaviors.
    1. Dig deep into both good and bad behaviors in order to strategize how to prevent and remedy them as the aspie grows as a person.
    2. Then, learn to set different kinds of boundaries, but be careful with discipline. Demonstrate the utmost sensitivity to each situation to avoid further negative emotions and behaviors.
  • One way of thinking about this is to draw developmental circles; more specifically, the innermost circle is the aspie’s current comfort zone with their interest and everything else that surrounds it. The next-largest circle represents a larger comfort zone into which the aspie gradually transitions. The parent/guardian/caregiver defines each subsequent circle using keywords that describe increasingly better and better trends in the various aspects of the aspie’s personal progress.
  • This circle model serves as a reference point that measures the aspie’s progress based on their interest(s) and any other governing factors in personal development. Therefore, the interest serves as a common bond between the circles. 

2.After profiling the aspie’s interests, bond with the aspie while advantageously using their specific interests.