Self-Determination in College Success with Aspergers

Several break-out sessions of the annual Autism Society conference in Indianapolis, Indiana were focused on the support of students with ASD in higher education. Dena Gassner (Adelphi University), Dr. Lorna Timmerman (Ball State University), and Jackie Clark and Rebecca Hansen (Marshall University) carried out a panel discussion on the topic, titled “Is College for Me.” Panel members discussed challenges related to success for students with ASD in higher education, and best-practice support strategies that can help overcome challenges.

Beautiful female graduate

Dr. Timmerman discussed at length the importance of self-determination in achieving success in college.

According to the presenter, self-determination “ranks as the #1 trait essential to college success for students making the transition to college.” The challenges, as Dr. Timmerman points out, is that “many students with ASD are weak in self-determination skills.”

In an article about self-determination from 1998, scholars describe self-determination as “a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one’s strengths and limitations together with a belief in oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination.”

According to Dr. Timmerman, four components of self-determination exist:

  1. behavioral autonomy
  2. self-regulation
  3. self-realization
  4. psychological empowerment

Dr. Timmerman suggests that to develop the self-determination skills necessary for college, high school students should:

  • Learn to become more independent, especially in regard to making their own decisions.
  • Understand how to regulate their behavior in difficult situations, deal with stressors, and plan ahead by setting and attaining goals.
  • Know their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and preferences; understand how autism affects their learning and day-to-day living.
  • Have confidence in their abilities to be successful and meet goals.

by Marc Ellison

Building a Community for College Success with Aspergers: One Student’s Experience

An Asperger Student's Personal Experience

Each summer the West Virginia Autism Training Center, located at Marshall University, conducts a college experience for rising high school seniors interested in learning about the college lifestyle. Students take a typical class, live in dorms, participate in skills groups, and attend study halls.

And in between all that, they try to have some fun.

Significant to the experience is the building of “community” – in both the physical and social sense of the word – in which students can feel safe and connected to others. The college support program strives to create an experience where students can recognize and realize their potential. A large part of realizing one’s potential for higher education is feeling grounded and confident on campus.

What follows is a description of that high school summer experience written by a student who participated several years ago (he is now a successful upperclassman at a university). Lots of professionals talk about the importance of practical experience when teaching students with ASD; enjoy this first-person account from Charlie, as he describes how a summer experience transformed his views on attending college.

Practice Advertising Yourself for a Job Interview with ASD: The Commercial

A one-minute commercial can set the tone for any networking opportunity, cold calling, or interview. It is important to have something that sets you apart because, as I discussed in a previous blog, a majority of the job market is hidden. Although it can be daunting to develop a commercial, a polished one-minute speech can give you the opportunity to tell someone about your skills, and what type of opportunity you are looking for. This is an important step to take before beginning cold calling, sending out resumes, and interviewing, because it allows the individual time to assess their skills and pick out what is important to highlight. So how do you go about completing an elevator speech? I will outline a few simple steps that we have found effective that will help you work on yours.

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(Information from: Purchase College Career Development Center)

STEP 1:

  1. Think about at least 2-3 things you have accomplished
  2. Select two of your skills that relate to your career goal
  3. List 3 personal qualities you possess

STEP 2:

  1. Write down some details about your accomplishments, skills, and personal qualities
  2. Write out a story/script that wraps up STEP 1 and first part of STEP 2

STEP 3:

  1. Practice reading the script
  2. Get it down to 60 seconds or less
  3. Try out your commercial on family and friends – Ask for suggestions
  4. The more you practice the more confidant you will feel!

The one-minute commercial will shift over time as you gain more experience and change jobs. You may have more than one commercial or speech as your job hunt continues. This is a powerful tool that individuals with Asperger’s/HFA can use to set the tone for their interview, and present the reasons they should be hired!

by Maggie Cromeens

Aspergers Individuals Can Become Great Leaders, Part 1: How to Begin

6 Practices to Build Leadership Skills

Like almost anyone else, breaking into the subject or field of leadership presents itself as a significant challenge. With many responsibilities to consider and to fulfill, an exemplary leader must have confident power in communication, creativity, competence, ethics, organization, and decisions, just to name a few. Unfortunately, most youth and adults with Aspergers Syndrome often have difficulty in any one of these things. Typically, they desire to be able to learn from others, rather than lead by example themselves for the same reasons that most people fail to become leaders. Often times, they fear failure, rejection, or unfamiliar tasks and responsibilities, or all of these things.

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However, the myth that leaders are born, rather than made, is untrue and many prominent leaders throughout history dispelled it time and time again.

Primarily because most of them faced significant (sometimes extreme) odds to get to their current positions and to form the amazing personal images that they have. Many Aspergers youth and adults can take it upon themselves to work hard to achieve such standout images for themselves.

Initially, entering the leadership arena sounds difficult. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

1. Establish a conceptual foundation in your own mind:

To understand the keywords of quality leadership; understand how you can embrace them; realize the mistakes you make and learn from them as you progress.

2. Study communication tactics and picture yourself using them:

How do you look (appearance to others) and sound when you communicate? The best communicators prepare and deliver their messages well. If a message provides aid, insight in a necessary, moral, and honest manner, it will serve its purpose. Also, use your own feelings to acknowledge if a message has complete clarity and usefulness or if it requires modification. The next step helps with this process.

3. Develop power and structure statements:

Are People with Aspergers as “Logical” as They Think?

Balancing the left and right brain: the role of emotion and mood

One of the hallmarks of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is that individuals often have strong points of view, and they have trouble seeing other points of view as equally valid. Most see themselves as extremely logical and therefore right in their conclusions; for them, the points of view of others can seem illogical. This is often perceived by neurotypicals as being oppositional, stubborn or lacking empathy.

Brain hemispheres sketch

What’s interesting is that often when people think they’re being logical, research shows that their emotions can be driving their cognition. Emotions are frequently substantial influences in people’s thinking without their knowing it. In his eloquent writing for LinkedIn, Kristopher Jones makes clear what is my experience as well:

People with AS can have very strong feelings.

Peter Salovey and Marc Beckett of the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University www.ei.yale.edu have done compelling research on the topic of feelings influencing thinking. In one study by Brackett and his colleagues on the influence of teacher emotion on grading practices, they took a large sample of middle school teachers. Using techniques demonstrated to be effective to induce a positive or negative frame of mind, they had half the teachers influenced to be positive and half to be negative. All were given the identical essay to grade. The scores given by the two groups differed by 1 to 2 grades, yet all of them were certain that mood had nothing to do with their scoring.

Why is this significant for people with AS?

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy model of cognition suggests that we all have a logical mind and an emotional mind.

It’s where these two overlap (are integrated) that genuinely “wise” thinking can get done. Otherwise, we’re unaware (like the teachers) of the extent to which emotion that hasn’t been acknowledged is dictating what seems to be logical thinking. Most AS/NLD individuals I know operate out of one kind of mind or the other, but fail to meaningfully integrate the two.

I worked with a young man who was very reactive to what he perceived as criticism. A person who criticized him at a temporary job became someone he never wanted to see again; in fact, the entire setting became somewhere to be avoided.

He felt this was logical – you don’t go where you are treated badly.

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.

Seeking Help For Depression with Aspergers: The Specifics

If you have: lost interest in your usual activities; trouble sleeping, wake up early or sleep all the time; a change in appetite (more or less); withdrawn from people with a down mood (for Aspies it might be sad, irritable or a sense of hopelessness – whatever negative mood or thoughts you recognize), you have what we call major depression.

Depression, Aspergers, Help, Resources

For this, you probably need professional help. Things are not hopeless but being depressed is like looking through dark glasses. While people with Asperger’s are prone to depression because of challenging life experiences, clinical depression is not part of Asperger’s Syndrome and usually responds to treatment. For those struggling with lower level depression, you might still consider therapy to look at ways to make life changes and feel better.

Professional Help

For finding professional help and other resources, Autismsource.org is a gold mine of resources including lists of local therapists in your area.

Online directories:

Psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), and other specialties all can provide therapy. Individuals should be licensed providers in their states. You can find this information by looking at their websites.

Only psychiatrists, other MDs (medical doctors), and APRNs can provide medication. Medication has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression. Often a combination of medication and therapy are most useful. The form of therapy most recommended is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) has been shown to be effective for depression although there isn’t research on it with people on the spectrum. Most therapists specializing in working with those with ASD know how to modify traditional CBT to best work with those on the spectrum.

It can be very challenging, certainly in parts of the US, to find therapists who take insurance.

The prevailing cost of therapy varies widely across the country. Some therapists (usually psychologists) offer sliding scale fees or have some lower fee slots, so it’s worth calling and asking. Clinics generally take insurance but you want to be sure that the therapist is familiar with ASD. The first thing you should do is call the number for patient or customer service on your insurance card and ask for a list of providers (psychologists/psychiatrists/social workers) in your area. This way you can know all the providers near you who are in network with your insurance plan before you call around clinics. In network providers have more affordable rates than out of network providers. It is important to inform yourself about your insurance plan and coverage before you begin the search.

Also, check providers with Medicaid if you have it. Any MD or APRN will know about treating depression with medication. Some therapists who accept Medicaid might be experienced with ASD even if they’re not on a directory for ASD.

Self Care Strategies

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.

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.