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.
As most teens and adults with Asperger syndrome know, people with Asperger syndrome can be significantly depressed. The rates of diagnoses of depression vary among studies, from 18% to 22%. The most commonly quoted rate of a depression in the general population of the US is 6.7%. Most of the research shows both genders have these high rates of depression.
Studies focused on males and females and not those who are transgender. There are more people who identify as transgender in the AS population than in the general population and transgender people have a higher rate of depression. One would guess that someone who is both AS and transgender might have a high tendency towards depression.
Interestingly, non-autistic full siblings and half-siblings of individuals with ASD (not just Asperger syndrome) also had higher rates of depression than the general population, although at half the rate of those with ASD. Studies of suicide attempts are also very troubling. In studies of suicide, the rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts are prevalent, especially in adolescence and young adulthood.
It’s critical to identify depression, since it can be treated.
It’s obviously important to understand why rates of depression and suicidal thoughts are so high. One factor, given the findings in siblings, is that there is an increased genetic vulnerability to depression, although large studies haven’t supported a common genetic overlap. We have to look to other factors to account for these high rates of depression.
It’s important to diagnose clinical depression for anyone for a simple reason – depression is treatable with a variety of modalities:
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.
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
One of the most important job skills every employee, including those on the autism spectrum, must learn is how to greet a customer properly. If employees learn this valuable skill, they will be way ahead of the pack. Their employer will notice and customers will become life-long evangelists.
Many employees (and business owners!) fail miserably at this simple task, turning customers off forever and losing them to the competition, or to the online marketplace, often without even realizing it.
In my previous life I owned a specialty retail store. I developed an extensive and innovative six-week customer service and sales training program for new employees, where they were introduced to proven techniques and had to pass a test before joining the sales team. The program worked. I watched as confidence – and customer satisfaction and sales – soared. The tenets taught in this first training program provided the basis of my award-winning book Smile: Sell More with Amazing Customer Service.
Starting with that all important smile and friendly greeting at the front door, we took our store from a start-up to a beloved award-winning specialty retail business.
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.
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!
Actors use scripts to help them memorize dialogue as part of their performance. Once they have memorized the script, then they can recite the words from memory adding meaning through inflection, tone and pauses. One of the common strengths of students with an autism spectrum disorder is that of rote memorization.
Therefore, a script may be an excellent tool to build conversational skills. Scripts are written sentences or paragraphs that individuals can memorize and use as supports in social situations. From greetings to asking for help to engaging in a conversation, a script can be a simple and discrete visual support.
When possible, student interests may be incorporated to heighten motivation to use this strategy. If a student likes Harry Potter books, a script can incorporate pictures that represent events from that book that relate to the content of the script.
Scripts can also support students that tend to shift the conversation back to their own special interest.
One of the most difficult roles of Aspergers Syndrome is that of a student. It is challenging for them to make friends and to learn solely on the basis of what teachers provide. Unfortunately, Aspergers students often fall behind, get in trouble, or become bullying victims. For any of these reasons, getting through the typical school day proves to be a real hassle.
However, Aspergers students can do much in their power to make the most of school days, even with a multitude of challenges.
1.Those who demonstrate their natural capabilities for honesty, intelligence, and personal strength tend to receive support, praise, and encouragement from peers and school staff alike.
For example, the Aspergers student who struggles with essay writing ensures greater success when he gets aid from his English teacher, as opposed to when he remains silent. Moreover, the teacher becomes more likely to notice his specific strengths and weaknesses in the subject. Therefore, the teacher obtains more information to help him in the future.
Another example is the Aspergers student who lies on the verge of academic failure; she scores low in multiple classes.
Announcing a new resource on Aspergers101! Today we launch Aspergers 101 Frequently Asked Questions section. We polled the 101 top requested questions on Asperger Syndrome and put them in one place for those seeking information on High Functioning Autism or Asperger Syndrome! These questions range from the origins of Asperger Syndrome, the early signs all the way through adulthood. Some questions merited a one word response while others provide you with a detailed bullet-point answer. We would like to thank our underwriting sponsor: The Starfish Social Club for supporting and providing you this on-going free resource! To access Aspergers101 FAQ page either click on the ad below or it will be permanently available at the top menu bar on our website under the “Asperger Syndrome” tab.
Click on above to go to 101 FAQ Page
Aspergers101 welcomes Stephanie Pepi, founder and director of Starfish Social Club as an underwriting sponsor to our newest resource: Aspergers101 FAQ page! Stephanie’s experience and passion led her to open a program solely dedicated toward helping children – adults challenged (if not crippled) with a lack of social skills. We look forward to her future contributions in the area of social development but thought you would like to get to know her, given advice to parents during a socially awkward outing and the rapidly growing non-profit to watch, Starfish Social Club.
Aspergers101: Tell us about Starfish Social Club.
Starfish Social Club provides small group, direct social skills instruction to students with social learning challenges, ages 4 through adult. Students learn new skills, practice in a safe environment, and engage with similar peers in leisure activities on a weekly basis. The only requirements for enrollment are the ability to converse with peers and a desire to learn and practice new skills. Community outings (without mom and dad!) are available most weekends as well. Our goals are to increase social awareness and provide opportunities for students to form relationships with others.
Aspergers101: What areas and ages do you serve?
We serve students age 4 and up, including adults. There are no disability requirements; anyone with a social learning challenge is welcome. The majority of our students are on the autism spectrum. Most of our students have ADHD. Other common diagnoses are learning disabilities, anxiety, and mood disorders. We are located in the north central area of San Antonio and groups meet at our location.
Aspergers101: Your resume is quite impressive, from special education administrator to the track coach for a special olympics team! What led/inspired you to launch Starfish Social Club?
Students with social learning challenges are incredibly misunderstood. Students with social challenges but no ‘behavior’ issues are very often overlooked for services. These students go through school confused and often become socially neglected. Students with ‘behavior’ issues are really students with social learning challenges that aren’t being addressed effectively. These students go through school frustrated and often socially rejected. ‘Social skills’ can be a very vague, abstract concept and sometimes educators and parents are put in the position of teaching ‘social skills’ without really even understanding the complexity of it all. Social skills are much more than making and keeping friends, they are also about getting and keeping a JOB! There are lots of opportunities for someone with a high school diploma, but how many for someone who doesn’t know how to disagree appropriately? Has poor hygiene? Doesn’t filter their thoughts? Doesn’t acknowledge the presence of others? There is a saying that offense wins games, but defense wins championships. I believe academic skills win school life, but social skills win real life. My goal is to empower kids with the social skills they need to be successful outside of and after school.
Aspergers101: You work with school systems, what do you see as the most challenging social struggles for students with special needs?
Most students with Asperger Syndrome realize around 2nd/3rd grade that they are struggling socially. A lot of kids who struggle start to feel different and alone. While there are lots of kids with social challenges in the world, they aren’t always able to find each other. Most friendships are formed based on similar interests/goals/personalities.
Being a person on the Autism Spectrum and dealing with abuse from many places, I understand that being rejected is tough. Having Autism, I never felt that I fit in with the ‘normal’ children. I had to sit away from everyone in class and was seen as being weird or stupid. My family members did not seem to understand what I was going through because they didn’t have Autism.
I have been rejected many times and in many ways. I was rejected for jobs through email saying, “Dear Maverick, we regret to inform you that your application will not move forward, we encourage you to reapply.” For a long time I never got past the interview process and if I did, no feedback was given on the interview. Sometimes I had to log into my portal and find out my application was rejected three days ago and was never notified by anyone.
In the past there were employers where I would walk in with my resume and I was dressed sharp but I was automatically turned down. The reason why I was turned down was because of my facial expression, not being able to look someone in the eye, or I appeared to be stupid, slow, scared. All of these negative perceptions were because they did not understand me or what I was going through. Employers are not supposed to discriminate against you because of your disability but I had potential employers that did so with me, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
When I applied to graduate school, I applied to about three schools, and was denied by all three of them. In a previous blog I told you how many times I was denied admission from universities and the same for scholarships. Life is a competition and everyone is competing with each other trying to reach one goal whether it’s a job opportunity, scholarship, school, promotion or others. We are living in a society where ideally everyone can win a prize and we all should be winners. It’s good for children to believe that they are winners so that they can then have the confidence in themselves that they can do anything they put their mind to.
But when children become adults, they are in a reality where there exists only a few winners. In order to be the winner, you have to work hard and compete the best way you can against everyone else.
Sometimes it’s unfair, biased, and wrong but unfortunately this is how life is. It’s important that we give a child the fish early on in their life, so when they get old enough we teach them how to fish so they are able to do things for themselves.