Parenting Aspergers: A Father’s Unlikely Success

by: Jennifer Allen

I was inspired to share the story of the ongoing relationship (both struggles and triumphs) of my husband Herb and our son Sam after creating the below series of photos.

Parenting someone diagnosed with High functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome begins as a challenge to the adult who had expectations about who their children would be.

Those expectations may be for their son/daughter to be just like them, or to become the person they never were. But these preconceived notions must be disposed of for the child’s success. This is the case with many families facing the newfound diagnosis of Autism or Asperger Syndrome. The high divorce rate among parents with a diagnosed child is testament to the fact that it can be a great struggle that places strain on all areas of life.

When Sam’s Autism diagnosis was revealed to Herb and I some 14 years ago it was raw, new, and life changing to say the least. Our first-born Samuel was struggling in elementary school and until that point we didn’t know why. The Autism/Asperger fact sheet described each misunderstood challenge Sam was displaying and this allowed us insight into creating better communication with our son.

Herb Allen (l) enjoys his sons (Sam) humor.

Herb is a man’s man.

His rugged good looks and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality would not seem a sensitive fit toward parenting a son such as Sam. Sam is unique. But not even Sam knew how he fit in to the world around him, much less how to blossom under a father like Herb.

Once the shock of the word “Autism” wore off, it was time to learn how our son saw the world. I immersed myself into this new and foreign reality. We hung close to those on the same path and chose Sam over society and its demands of conforming to social expectations. In other words, we chose Sam.

Choosing to venture into unknown obsessions (i.e. trains, science, planetary systems, Pokémon, and weather to name a few) gave Herb and his son a common bond. This certainly isn’t a popular decision. You realize this when neighbors, family members, and society in general are taking their kids to soccer games, parties, sporting events, and social clubs without even looking your way.

A Visual Social Story to Use for Safe Halloween Tips

Halloween can be both a fun and nerve-wracking time for parents. Especially for children with ASD, there are many unknowns and events that could trigger a meltdown or even put your child in danger. But halloween can easily be safe and exciting experience if you plan in advance to prepare your child and help guide them. One great technique to use for ASD children and visual learners is a visual social story. Take a look at the visual social story below and print it out or show it to your child to plan and prepare for a fun and safe halloween!

For more resources and suggestions on planning for Halloween see the links below:

  • This is a great video of tips about planning in advance for Halloween, with his #1 tip being to not forget those ear muffs or ear defenders at home! The Aspie World Video
  • For an easy to reference list of suggestions, including practice role playing for receiving and giving treats, go here: Seattle Children’s Autism Blog
  • Attitude Magazine has a list of tips including more about sensory issues that might arise, relating to those with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder as well: Attitude Magazine Halloween Tips
  • Are you concerned about candy consumption and possible allergies? This blog addresses how you might be able to navigate that issue: Spirit of Autism

Have a fun and safe Halloween!

by Lisa Rogers

Using Narratives in School to Address Sensory Differences

Although sensory differences are very real and must be recognized as such, narratives can help to deal with these differences. For instance, there was a high school student that was having significant difficulty with the hallway transition from class to class. Not only was there the loud bell that signals the transition, but then it was followed by a crowded hallway and noisy teenagers talking in groups.

narrative

 

One way to address this might be to allow an early release from class to avoid much of this hallway chaos. Another option is to provide a narrative that helps deal with this difficult transition.

The following is an example of such a narrative:

Passing Period at High School

My name is ___________. I am a student at _________ High School.

In High School, there are different periods. A bell rings at the end of each period.

When the bell rings, the students walk in the hall to go to their next class.

Sometimes, the students make a lot of noise as they walk down the hallway. This might hurt my ears.

That is O.K. The passing period lasts only for a few minutes. Soon, the halls will be quiet again.

I remember that I can just wear my headphones & listen to music during the passing period.

Then, I will get to walk to my next class where it is nice and quiet.

I can do this!

Staff noticed that the student would repeat the story to himself while walking down the hall. A narrative can validate feelings, provide a solution and even offer comfort during a stressful time.

The following is another example of a narrative addressing sensory issues. This time, the narrative was written for a student that wanted to hug her classmates frequently and deeply to get that deep pressure feeling.

Resources for Parents About Bullying and Autism in School

Bullying and Autism is an issue that comes up often for parents of children on the spectrum throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) remain highly vulnerable to bullying behavior. Parents, teachers, other students, and the community must be sensitive to the particular needs of these students and vigilant in bullying prevention and intervention.

This week’s blog will point families in the direction of multiple resources available.

This first resource is quite extensive and provides a comprehensive view of bullying:

“Eyes on Bullying . . . What Can You Do? A toolkit to prevent bullying in children’s lives” 

www.eyesonbullying.org

The following are excerpts from this useful manual:

Bullying Basics

We now know that:

  • Bullying is NOT pre-wired, harmless, or inevitable
  • Bullying IS learned, harmful, and controllable
  • Bullying SPREADS if supported or left unchecked
  • Bullying INVOLVES everyone—bullies, victims, and bystanders
  • Bullying CAN BE effectively stopped or entirely prevented

Beginning in the preschool years, adults can teach children important bullying prevention skills and guide children as they practice using these skills. Social skills that form an important foundation for bullying prevention include:

  • Showing empathy toward others
  • Interacting assertively
  • Solving social problems

Bystanders also have the power to play a key role in preventing or stopping bullying.

Some bystanders… directly intervene, by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.

Other bystanders… get help, by rallying support from peers to stand up against bullying or by reporting the bullying to adults. Look Around…Who Is Involved?

Bystanders’ actions make a critical difference. Children and adults should think ahead about what they will do when they witness or hear about bullying.

There is also an Information Sheet on Bully Prevention at the following website:

Alone Time for Teens with Aspergers is Crucial: Allow Them Their Space

Breathing room or ‘alone time’ is good for anyone, but for someone on the spectrum it is crucial. When Sam was very young I found myself, as his mother, wanting to arrange play dates with other children who were not exactly knocking on our door for playtime. My reasoning was he must be lonely, so I did everything in my power to elicit playmates. Offering the best snacks, coolest toys, or excursions to area attractions, but it didn’t take long before no one came around.

Depositphotos_9398452_s-2015

My son was alone.

What I’ve come to realize is that this is alright with Sam.

He really prefers time alone verses a party. Really. It was me who was projecting my ideas of companionship on him, a neuro-typical brain trying to outguess his autistic brain.

Fast forward 10 or so years and his contentment with an occasional relationship is greatly satisfying for him, and he does have a few. His time alone, however, is a structured necessity for him that keeps him grounded and on-task for the really important things such as work or school.

So as parents we should relax just a bit. Although socialization, to a degree, is important, allow your Aspergers child to be their own person.

Time to read, explore, invent, create or yes, online gaming to a degree can all be good for someone with Aspergers Syndrome. Sam even found companionship via social media sites.

If I could look back at my earlier self I would say “Relax just a bit. He is not as uncomfortable not being invited to parties classmates give, it is only me who is uncomfortable with this”.

Look a bit closer at your Asperger child to understand just how far to push socialization at an early age. You might be going to great means only to satisfy yourself, when in reality a simple outing like a trip to a museum with you might more than suffice.

by Jennifer Allen

Mentorship and Role Models are Crucial for Those with ASD

With my decades of direct support with individuals who have Autism I have noticed a few commonalities with social skills modeling and maintaining positive healthy friendships. Mentorship and role models are incredibly important for adults with ASD. There are many ways that you can make sure that this invaluable resource is available to your adult children, and it is never too early to start.

As we all know society is ever-changing. What we, as educators and parents have feared for our adult children years ago is pretty much the same now but with even more dangers. We live in constant fear of bullying online and making positive friendships both at work and volunteering in the community. Even the city bus is a fear of uneasiness. “What if’s” are in our minds constantly.

The goals I have tried to teach families are to have a buddy system and to gradually fade out.

I work and have always worked with Youths in Transition. As a support team we search out an appropriate buddy for each individual long term and then begin to fade out. Most times we have to pay individuals to be a friend or advocate for our children. It’s just a fact of life. Your adult child is like anyone else. For a friendship to develop we need consistency, time, and a sense of safety.

Using the High IQ of ASD to Foster Emotional Intelligence

Using a Break Down to Avoid Breakdowns

As many people in the Asperger’s Community understand, aspies often have trouble dealing with emotions. The emotional intelligence of a child’s mind is not much different from an aspie’s mind. Unfortunately, without useful tools, this emotional thinking carries into adulthood and can lead to poor decision making.

Emotional Intelligence

If an adult aspie has a low EQ (Emotional Quotient), then impulse control, critical thinking, voice control, behavior self-modification, and problem solving fail to appropriately play their roles. In school, this means a bad reputation for the aspie with ramifications that make it worse for everybody. A low EQ could affect the relationship of the aspie student with the school faculty and also result in peer bullying. In the workplace, this usually means a write-up or an immediate layoff. At home, it means family tension.

Indeed, negative emotions and behaviors are contagious. They always create toxic environments and habits in the aspie’s life.

Ideally, everybody would like to get on top of this important issue in order to establish a solid foundation of peace. What sort of step-by-step process is necessary to do this? The answers vary depending on the aspie’s age, personal dilemmas, comorbidities, learning schema and environments, mentalities, and general life satisfaction.

In adulthood, the amount of contributing factors significantly increases. The main reason for this is that many professional life aspects are added to personal life aspects.

The good news is that even with a low EQ, aspies have a high IQ (Intelligence Quotient). Aspies can use their IQ to discipline their own minds and to break down each complex and difficult situation.

A 9 step process for the aspie to break down difficult emotions and avoid all definitions of a breakdown

Equal Accessibility in Public Spaces and Public Services: Universal Design and Aspergers

The idea of universal accessibility in public spaces is often thought of with wheelchairs and stairs. However, there are many different abilities that are often not visible and could create hardship for those who do not necessarily “fit the mold” of the environment they are in. Universal accessibility should be broadened to consider those with different abilities that are often not visible, especially in public service environments such as hospitals or schools.

It is not enough to tolerate difference – this is to merely allow it to exist. We must also welcome difference.

I remember the day someone first said to us that our son might be Autistic – have Asperger’s Syndrome. Daniel was in the 5th grade and my husband, Mike, was attending his annual Special Education ARD (Annual Review and Dismissal) meeting. I was in the car driving to my graduate school class when my husband called – confused and unsure of what the SPED staff was talking about.

Daniel received private speech therapy. Then, when he entered school he received speech therapy and for a time occupational therapy. We knew that he had social and communication challenges but up to that point we just thought of it as Daniel’s quirky personality. On some levels it was a relief to give it a name but it also brought so much fear and uncertainty.

Looking back, I think it was in some ways a blessing to give a name to his unique qualities relatively late in his development.

We were able to treat the challenges that came up as specific issues that needed to be addressed. When he had trouble relating to or communicating with children or teachers I would problem solve each incident with no expectation that he could not respond in a more “neurotypical” way.

The diagnosis did provide us some benefits. It allowed us some extra protections and accommodations that allowed Daniel to grow, explore, and participate in school in ways that would have been difficult otherwise. The diagnosis served as a protective shield when teachers and the school culture were not accommodating.

Daniel desperately wanted to participate in the Audio-Visual program at his high school.

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!