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.

A Life In Paint: How One Adult With Asperger’s Found His Place in the World Through Art

An Aspergers101 Exclusive with Artist Carl Parker

I happened upon the brilliance of Carl Parker by accident. He had engaged in a discussion on the Aspergers101 Facebook Page and his positive nature was very apparent among the sea of negative comments. Found out quickly that Carl is the real deal! His positive outlook and adult Asperger diagnosis proved to be a powerful combination when creating his artwork. Each piece tells a story that he narrates via blogs. He describes each creation with a beauty that allows it’s viewers a rare glimpse into his world. I know this was no accidental encounter. So proud to share with our readers the brilliance & artistry of Carl.

About the Artist: Carl Parker is a dynamic, Canadian artist whose work focuses on the life experience. His style is abstract expressionist. He creates thought-provoking and emotionally engaging works and explores the beauty and subtlety of both rural and urban life, having experienced both himself.  His art can be found in private and corporate collections throughout the world, including Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Europe. To date, he has shown his work in various cities including Toronto, Calgary, Florence, Italy and Paris.  His piece, Rustic Place, can currently be viewed at the Ontario Legislative Assembly’s In Camera Dining Room. 

Aspergers101: Clearly you are an artist with great talent. What inspires you?

Carl Parker: I began drawing at around age 8. I remember using a Spider-Man comic and being on my bedroom floor on my stomach. I was fascinated by how wonderful the character was drawn, so I attempted it myself. I was hooked. I’ve always been inspired by the human form. Over time, I would let my own style to develop with my painting of figures. I’m inspired by showing the emotions and complexities of us humans in my own, individual painting style.

Carl Parker shown with his work “Rustic Place” which is currently on display in the Ontario Legislature’s In Camera Dining Room.

Aspergers101: Upon learning you were diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, did this affect your art in any way? Do you think it plays a part?

Carl Parker: I feel the Asperger’s plays a part in my unusual style. It pushed me to always be different in everything I do. This always felt like a sense of healthy pride for me, and never a weakness. To me, the Asperger’s is absolutely was not a negative. It gave me ambition to be a good artist. My late-in-life diagnosis was good for me, I wanted to know, and have since become a very level and successful person in this beautiful world of ours. Nobody paints like me. That makes me smile.

The person on the spectrum CAN experience triumphs of massive proportions. They CAN contribute important things to the world.

Carl Parker

Aspergers101: How would you describe the meaning in your paintings…are they connected?

Carl Parker: When someone sees and/or feels something in my art, I have done my job. I’ve contributed something and when the viewer connects with the piece, I feel joy and excitement because I’ve translated a piece of life, effectively in a powerful way. When a person has Asperger’s, they can often feel the need to isolate themselves from people and society in general, but with my art, I can connect with people. This is huge in such a healthy and progressive way. For me, my art is actually therapy. They say people with Asperger’s have a hard time showing their emotions and seem cold. In my paintings, people find emotion. It’s a magnificent thing when emotion is found, both for me and the viewer. I’ve noticed my art has the power to transcend all worries, hang-ups, negativity, and the pointless aspects of the trivial sort of mind. All pettiness begins to fall away. How brilliant this is.

Parenting the Anxious Child

It is said that 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. We all experience anxiety to some level. Anxiety in children is common when separated from their parents or from familiar surroundings. However there is a type of anxiety that is more severe and may be misdiagnosed. Anxiety left unchecked or treatment may become paralyzing to everyday life.

Below we’ve gathered several lists for you. What does anxiety look like? How can it manifest, when is it critical to consult a doctor and what methods are available to self calm. Here we go….

Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). These feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger and can last a long time. You may avoid places or situations to prevent these feelings. Symptoms may start during childhood or the teen years and continue into adulthood.

Depression, Aspergers, Help, Resources

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), specific phobias and separation anxiety disorder. You can have more than one anxiety disorder. Sometimes anxiety results from a medical condition that needs treatment.

According to research from the Mayo Clinic, several types of anxiety disorders exist:

  • Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
  • Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations). These panic attacks may lead to worrying about them happening again or avoiding situations in which they’ve occurred.
  • Selective mutism is a consistent failure of children to speak in certain situations, such as school, even when they can speak in other situations, such as at home with close family members. This can interfere with school, work and social functioning.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
  • Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
  • Other specified anxiety disorder and unspecified anxiety disorder are terms for anxiety or phobias that don’t meet the exact criteria for any other anxiety disorders but are significant enough to be distressing and disruptive.

Parents should be alerted to the signs so they can intervene early to prevent lifelong complications. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers you different types of anxiety in children.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

• constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers

• refusing to go to school

• frequent stomachaches and other physical complaints

• extreme worries about sleeping away from home

• being overly clingy

• panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents

• trouble sleeping or nightmares

Asperger’s, “The Twilight Zone,” and The Perception of Beauty

Remember Ellie Mae on “The Beverly Hillbillies?” She was portrayed by Donna Douglas, in her day considered one of the most beautiful women on television. But she also once played a character who wasn’t so beautiful.

In an episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled, “Eye of the Beholder,” Douglas portrayed a woman who was so ugly, she underwent an operation to make her less so. The suspense was built up by the fact that we never saw her face until the bandages around them were removed. When they were removed, they revealed her to be the strikingly beautiful woman she was, but the doctor recoiled in horror and said, “No change, no change at all.”

At that point, we saw the faces of the doctors and nurses around her, which were all distorted and misshapen in grotesque fashion. In the end, she’s sent to live in a colony with similarly “ugly” people, and accompanied by a handsome male escort.

She asks him, “Why are some of us born so ugly?”

Obviously, her character was not inherently ugly, but she was simply born in the wrong world. That’s a dilemma similar to that which the Aspie faces.

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.

Running a Spartan Race with Asperger’s

(Repost)

Thirty-six year old Justin Coleman is a runner. It just so happens he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2013. He is a long-time contributing member of the San Antonio Area Adults with Asperger’s Meetup group.

Recently, Justin competed in the Spartan Dallas Ultra. This race had over 60 obstacles and was over 31 miles long.  There were thousands of participants from all over the world. Justin feels that he made history for autistic people by finishing and receiving a buckle trophy.

Justin runs in several races a year, both obstacle type races and regular ultra marathons. Costumes are often a part of the specialty races. His Facebook friends are treated to frequent pictures of Justin and his running buddies. He has a grueling workout schedule to maintain his conditioning, plus he works for Amazon and will be re-entering a college program at Northeast Lakeview in San Antonio this spring.

In 2016 Justin even started traveling out of state to races. Congratulations, Justin, for all your achievements.

Here are Justin’s own words about his running and obstacle course passion:

My name is Justin and I became the first man with Asperger’s to not only run an ultramarathon but it was actually a race called a Spartan ultra (used to be called the ‘ultra beast’).

To put the whole idea in elementary terms, for a regular ‘beast’ race you have a minimum of 13 miles with at least 30 obstacles that an individual has to overcome, whether it’s climbing over a wall, crawling under a barbwire with the ground being either grass or a mix of mud with water, or even pulling up a sandbag using a pulley system.

Now imagine having to do 2 laps of this race. This was my very first time doing an ultra race of any form. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a ‘walk in the park’, as with this race there is a time limit that you HAVE to complete the race by.

Study: When Kids Show Signs Of Autism, Pediatricians Often Fall Short

by Michelle Diament/Disability Scoop 

Pediatricians are conducting routine checks for autism, but new research suggests they frequently fail to act when screenings show cause for concern.

A study looking at medical records for children who visited 290 doctors between 2014 and 2016 shows that the vast majority were screened for autism at ages 18 and 24 months as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Tom Lacy, right, examines a 2-year-old. A new study suggests that most children who fail autism screenings don’t get referred to specialists. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

However, in cases where children were flagged by the screening test, just 31 percent of providers made a referral to an autism specialist, according to findings published this month in the journal Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers reviewed 23,514 screenings conducted with what’s known as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or M-CHAT. Of them, 530 children failed their check at 18 months, 24 months or both.

The researchers then tracked the children for two to four years to find out what types of referrals were made or completed and how the kids fared.

Even when children were referred to an autism specialist, only about half of families followed through, the study found. Ultimately, 18 percent of kids who failed the M-CHAT screening were diagnosed with autism and 59 percent were found to have another neurodevelopmental disorder.

Though autism can be reliably identified at age 2, fewer than half of children with the developmental disorder are diagnosed by age 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Spotting autism early is considered important because research has shown that intervention is most successful when started young.

“There needs to be action by pediatricians following that failed screening,” said Robin Kochel, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychology at Baylor College of Medicine who worked on the study. “Whether that action is immediately evaluating for autism themselves, or making those appropriate referrals if they are not sure a child meets the criteria for autism.”

Note: The original article was published in Disability Scoop on September 24, 2019

Reading Emotions: Anxiousness

Anxiousness is one of those emotional states we see in the face; but perhaps most of all we see it in the movements of the body.

(Note: there is purposely no audio with the above video)

When we become anxious we lose some control over our actions. Carrie’s hands are raised, partially coverng her face, as her fingers scratch nervously. Her gaze is unfocused and shifts direction from side to side and then upwards.

Feeling anxious or distressed is shown in the mouth – and here Carrie’s mouth is stretched and then becomes slack and turned down. She’s at a loss as to how to answer a difficult question, as she gives way to negative thoughts.

When someone is in the grips of anxiety they temporarily go into an emotional ‘bubble,’ losing awareness of the person they are having a discussion with.

Signs to note

  • partially covering her face with her hands
  • unfocused gaze
  • shifting direction of gaze from left to right, then up
  • scratching her hand
  • mouth stretched, then drooping down

By John Habershon

More Productivity with Less Struggle for Parents of Kids on the Spectrum

With your summer all wrapped up, I hope you’re off to a strong fall. Speaking of fall – I couldn’t resist – are you or your family struggling? Struggling is part of being human – you’re not alone. Do you crave strategies to move past your challenges? 
Of course you do so let’s start with a quick definition.

What’s your #1 struggle right now?

Is it…
*Never getting it all done?
*Pesky thoughts nagging at you – are you doing enough?
*Living in fight or flight stress?
*Repeat offenders – facing the same problems over and over again?
*Wishing there was another way – but not being able to see it?

What if there’s a solution right there in the struggle? It’s completely possible and just waiting for you. I say, whatever your struggle, let’s discover the way out.

You may be thinking, that’s great for other people, but not me and my family. Raising kids is no joke. It’s hard work. It involves all the things. Raising a kid on the spectrum is all the things on steroids! I’ve come to know this full on truth from every “steroid living” parent and youth.

Since they were little, you’ve been inundated with every conceivable intervention, strategy, advice, philosophy, educational approach and on it goes. They’ve been your lifeline and your achilles heel. Since we know society is on information overload it only makes sense that you, “steroid parent,”have been taxed beyond measure. I’m not pedaling snake oil or quick fixes. I don’t pretend to know what your days really look like and feel like day – after – day.

What I’m offering is a slight shift. A click on your mental and heart dial. If you’re open to a shift in your perspective, it can hold the potential for a whole new way. It’s ironic this shifting perspective deal. You know how challenging it is for your beloved child on the spectrum to shift perspective. You know the huge strain that creates. You even know how to shift around their lack of shifting.

In some ways this ability has saved your sanity. In other ways it’s been unknowingly perpetuating your frustration. You’ve learned to anticipate the needs, reactions, and overall experience within seconds. With this, you’ve got to be exhausted. It’s draining to have to figure it all out – all the time. That creates pressure. And nobody has their full set of resources (their best thinking) available while living in constant pressure.