One of the most challenging aspects of supporting college students diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder is the need for follow-up with professors, college staff, and others. Follow-up is important to ensure deadlines are met and that assignments are turned in according to each syllabus. The fast pace of college, combined with the severe anxiety and executive dysfunction common to the spectrum, create the perfect conditions for students with ASD to forget deadlines or avoid high pressure academic or social situations on campus.
I’ve known dozens of students with ASD who promised: “I will work on my speech for Communications class this evening after dinner.” And they mean it sincerely when they say it. Stress and commitments mount as the day moves forward, however, and by dinner time students who made the promise may feel overwhelmed and overstimulated and avoid the assignment. Some may become focused so intensely on another subject or topic that they forget about working on their speech.
It’s easy to presume that students who miss deadlines or forget to turn in assignments are simply immature, disinterested, or unfocused.
Many educators say “If he would just try harder he’d be just fine.” Some students who fit this profile are labeled “not college material,” as a result, and find their on-campus reputations compromised. Part of the frustration that education and support personnel experience in this scenario comes from their lack of understanding about the autism spectrum. They recognize the sincerity of the student when he said: “I’ll work on my speech after dinner.” They believe the student really meant his promise, and expect that he will follow through.
This week was huge in our household. After moving Daniel into an apartment last month, we moved Nathan off to college for his Sophomore year last weekend. We are officially empty nesters. Our oldest, Thomas, gets married in October, which only solidifies the notion that we have adult “children”. The house is quiet.
We are wondering what to do with ourselves after 25 years of managing the lives of 3 busy children. I think it is only natural to look to the future and to be reflective.
Our family conversations have changed lately. Individually and as a family we are all talking more about future goals and what it means to live a happy life. Not that any of us were unhappy previously but we seem to be at a natural point where that is a topic of discussion.
While in graduate school I read Happiness and Education by Nel Noddings. This book and her ideas have been much on my mind lately. The basic premise of the book is part of what we need to learn, as children, to be happy and healthy, are the components of a fulfilled, happy, life.
While growing up as the sibling of someone with autism may progress without a hitch, many harbor feelings of loneliness and resentment. As someone who falls somewhere in-between the above examples, I offer you my son, Charlie Allen. Not until the writing of this blog has Charlie, our youngest, granted me my long desire to write about him. He is the sibling, the brother to Samuel Allen that few, outside our family’s personal circle, know much about.
Charlie was born in 1997, the younger brother to our firstborn Sam. We had no knowledge of Sam’s Autism at this time so the years for early development were probably typical. Contrast to Sam’s quiet world, Charlie had a robust laugh and twinkle in his eye that set the stage to delight anyone in his presence.
I would rather be closer to my brother with autism than close to fake friends who isolate because of autism. Early on, I knew that wasn’t kind nor the way I wanted to be.
Everything changed when Sam began school.
It took four years to diagnose Sam’s autism. Meanwhile Charlie felt the residuals of the strain our family was going through. The dynamics changed and we, as a family, had a multitude of adjustments to make. Not easy on a child so very young. It was a blessing and relief when my husband and I decided I would leave my career to stay home, and since Sam had already started school, it gave alone time for just me and Charlie. We were given the privilege of time, those years were bonding and now I believe instrumental in Charlie’s foundation….and boy did he need one!
By the time Charlie began Kinder, his brother had already made his mark at the public school system where they would ultimately graduate from. Charlie’s quiet yet humorous nature began to emerge. My parents, both now deceased, were his biggest fans/supporters and gave both our sons their time and support that were monumental to both their development. But the Middle school years and beyond became difficult for Charlie. He had developed his own challenges such as fine and gross motor skills (penmanship, tying shoes) that made sports or P.E. painful. His sensory issues where far greater than that of his brothers. Smells, touch and even sight were greatly affected and had to be diagnosed and adjustments that his peers simply didn’t have to think about. The most challenging for Charlie was peer relations. Charlie had a choice, he could choose to play with the 5 or 6 other children in our neighborhood or his brother. This was forced upon him as the others told him so. Calling his brother retarded and refusing to include (actually running from them) Sam in any activity tested Charlie’s resolve early on. Charlie chose Sam. For that, he paid the price but learned to walk alone. We watched as Charlie began to befriend those with disabilities or outcasts as if a shield to protect the person. This is the quiet yet powerful strength of Charlie.
I think Charlie found music as his escape. For him, this has been his release…first of anger (hard rock days) and then various genres that lighten paralleling his life. His Dad plays guitar as did his Do-Dad (grand-father) and he delighted in playing with both! This gave Charlie an audience. Too shy to play in large groups, Charlie has thrilled at smaller gatherings. He can master any rock song on his electric or delight country fans with a spot-on Johnny Cash! He can’t read music but can replicate any song after hearing it. For fun he occasionally plays the banjo and even Jerry Lee on piano. He is gifted!
My husband is a great father. This has been instrumental in both our sons development. Herb has a quiet strength and his skill as a carpenter offered Charlie an alternative to occupy weekends. Together, Herb, Sam and Charlie built a house together on a plot of land in the country. They learned teamwork and the value of hard work in a different way than typical high school sports. It worked. Together they enjoyed starry nights, bonfires and raising the walls of what their hands had built. Finding something you can do together (not everyone is a carpenter) is instrumental. Occupy their time when no one else will.
Becoming His Own Man
Today, Charlie is 22 years old. He has overcome the shadows and quietly stepped into manhood. He works for H-E-B and looks forward to growing with a company that serves. He is kind, Godly and delights in his brother’s company. He notices those who are outcasts and aids them quietly. He stands firm and doesn’t tolerate bullies, rightfully so. To end (and I’m a proud Mom so I could go on and on) this blog I would like to share an unexpected outcome that brings unexpected joy. Less than a year ago, one of those neighborhood childhood bullies approached Charlie and asked for about an hour of his time. Charlie accepted and they met. He asked Charlie for forgiveness for what he and his family had perpetrated on ours. Especially on Charlie as he took the unpopular path of defending his brother. It made an impression. Quite an impression. Charlie forgave and today they meet on occasion and have become friends. This is why I wanted so badly to tell the story of our Charlie. He allowed me permission (for the first time) so I jumped on it!
Charlie has helped me in so many ways. He has stood up for me many times during the middle school years when bullies were rampant. In addition, he has taught me to project that same kindness for the underdog. He is an excellent brother and I couldn’t ask for a better sibling.
Below is a Q & A with Charlie and after that, we offer you expert advice, several resources and checklists for your journey as the”sibling”.
Q & A with Charlie
How does feel to have a brother with Autism? It doesn’t feel any different than having a neurotypical brother. I don’t know any other way. I see Sam as my brother period.
What have been the challenges as you went through school age years together? Isolation from peers mainly. I was known as “the brother of the ‘weird/different one”. One example: in our neighborhood when other kids were outside playing, they would say I couldn’t play with them because my brother was retarded. That hurt. While it hurt, it made me become closer to my brother. I would rather be closer to my brother with autism than close to fake friends who isolate because of autism. Early on, I knew that wasn’t kind nor the way I wanted to be.
How did you handle the isolation? I turned to music. Specifically guitar. First it was electric. I let my emotions out on the electric guitar. Early on, I had anger due to my brothers bullies so I played hard rock music. Think Ozzy Osborne’s guitarist Randy Rhoads. Later, I found a love of acoustic guitar and became inspired by the music of Johnny Cash. The music truly helped me cope with the isolation from my peers, now I just enjoy playing.
Statistically, 75% of persons diagnosed with High Functioning Autism / Asperger Syndrome are either under or unemployed. This is a travesty for them, their families, society and businesses. These staggering numbers cannot be ignored! There are various reasons for unemployment mainly the challenges that come with autism such as sensory sensitivities and workplace social expectations.
However, alongside challenges, there are many positive traits such as:
Ability to focus intensely for long periods
Enhanced learning ability
Deep knowledge of an obscure or difficult subject resulting in success scholastically and professionally when channeled.
Honest & hard workers who make for excellent employees when painstaking & methodical analysis are required.
Aspergers101 is proud to offer our readers suggested ways to overcome employment challenges, specifically the interview process. Dr. Temple Grandin is known worldwide for her successes with invention but in order to get to that plateau, she had to self test ways to get her foot in the employment door. As a person diagnosed with Autism, Temple share those personal techniques and interview skills below.
Don’t go into an interview cold turkey…prepare a well thought out presentation!
Neatly show your work, presentations, articles, etc.
When people think of student activities for Aspergers students, especially those in college, some may feel tempted to believe that such activities are not suitable for them. Students with Aspergers could feel hindered by a number of issues, whether it be social anxiety, time management, lack of awareness, or longer study sessions due to slower information processing, to name a few.
The ASD student and/or those around them too often assume that such issues would prevent them from getting anything out of an activity. Consequently, this commonly held false assumption only makes it so that the Asperger’s student likely does not develop the inclination to do much beyond their comfort zones.
I suggest 10 steps that can help the ASD college student get beyond this:
Take inventory of organizations in which you could get involved.
Ask a residence hall worker or go to the activities office and get a list of potential organizations and begin research
Go to events, such as student activities nights, whose purpose is to expose students or the public to organizations or look on website if there is one
Explore the organizations online and then engage with them (ideal for introverts).
Usually, word of mouth and stories from current friends/acquaintances establishes links and piques interests of those with ASD, despite any general reluctance for involvement, as well as (stereotypically) restricted interests
Do your homework: Understand the organization’s missions, visions, values, member testimonials, events, contact information.
Identify primary contacts
First priority to contact is a person in charge, or a group facilitator
Understand the steps to joining the organization
Introduce yourself or get an introduction from somebody if necessary.
Both scenarios encompass a self-introduction and this is critical because it allows others to acknowledge and accept the true personality of the Asperger’s student
Join Aspergers101 on Facebook for Livestream Series
There are many services available to help children with AS develop their skills and become more successful. Social skill groups, pragmatic speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and special education services may all play a role in meeting the needs of your child. Guest speaker, Dr. Louise O’Donnell from UT Health Science Center, shares valuable insights into the autistic brain and offer solutions at every stage of a persons life when challenged with social integration. Host(s) Jennifer and Samuel Allen (Aspergers101) discuss effective strategies to teach social skills and address behavior are as varied and diverse as the unique individuals who make up the AS population and lead a panel of experts into the topic at programs end. (pre-recorded/runtime 1:31:00)
There are no fee(s) to join us…see you on Aspergers101 Facebook tonight at 7p! (CST)
When Michael Whary was diagnosed with Autism as a child, doctors told his parents he wouldn’t be able to drive a car or even ride a bike.
Photo: YouTube/Michael Whary
“Well, they’re wrong,” now 16-year-old Michael declares — while two-wheeling, behind the wheel of a Hummer, and speed cruising around on an ATV— in an inspiring video he created as his community service project to become an Eagle Scout. The 13-minute film, titled “Autism Awareness,” has scored nearly 2,500 views on YouTube since it was posted in December. It’s also been featured in local news coverage in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio. What makes the high school sophomore’s film stand out, though, is that he addresses parents in the piece in an effort to “send them a message of hope,” he told WKYC.
An Autism diagnosis is “not your fault!” a slide introducing his footage proclaims to parents. “You are not alone!” Whary’s goal with the short film is to encourage parents to seek out early education opportunities for their children on the spectrum. Mom Judi Whary tells Yahoo Parenting her son, “knows how initially, diagnosis can be so devastating to the whole family. But the faster you get over the devastation and get to the education, the better.”
It worked for the teen, who takes viewers on a spirited walk through his old preschool, the Children’s Development Center in Amherst, Ohio, where he says he still goes to meet with his “social club.” As the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar” blasts, teachers wave pom-poms, and kids hold up signs including “Autism is my Super Power.”
With all the spooky costumes, scary decorations, eerie noises, and sugary candy, Halloween can be a pretty overwhelming day and night for a child with autism.
The challenges that may arise for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may seem obvious on the surface but if this is your first Halloween, there are some precautions you may take to keep the fear to a minimum and actually have some fun!
Halloween can be a great source of fun for kids, but there’s also no need to push it. Have your child join in, but only if she wants to. If any of the celebrations are not something you both enjoy, don’t feel obligated to participate.
Remember, the diagnosis of Autism does not mean your child cannot participate in Halloween, just take some extra time monitoring the stimuli.
Below are some pointers to make your Halloween a less stressful time for everyone.
Let your child practice wearing their costume at home. This gives you time to make any last minute modifications and time for your child to get used to it. If your child refuses to wear any costume, consider letting them trick or treat in pajamas or regular clothing.
Know your child’s limits and do only what he or she can handle. For example, if your child is not comfortable trick-or-treating, you can start by going to three houses. Assess how your child is doing and build up to more houses the following year.
Create a visual schedule. This might include a map of where you will go.
Practice trick or treating in a familiar environment. Visit friends and family, if possible, even neighbors.
Partner with family and friends that your child likes. A sibling keeps them with the younger crowd but is familiar.
Use role play to practice receiving and giving treats.
If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate your home gradually, especially with sensory issues. Be cognizant of over stimuli (bright flashing lights) and smells (candles).
If you are giving out candy at your home, give your child the option to give a piece of candy. During the day, practice greeting people and giving out candy.
If your child is afraid of going out at night, plan indoor or daytime Halloween activities.
Remember, Halloween looks different for every child on the spectrum and you know your child best. Use your intuition and if you only make it to three houses, that’s okay!
Finally, be aware that Halloween celebrations may be LOUD and painful for those with sensory issues. Either bring headsets to buffer the sounds or remove your child from the heart of the noise. Preparation and planning can help you stay stress-free and keep Halloween a time of much fun instead of true horror!
When it comes to setting the stage for learning, individuals on the Autism Spectrum need to continue their learning experiences even after school. This requires responsibility from therapists, caregivers, and parents. Each must work together to help create a learning environment in the home that continues to provide opportunity to expand the vital skills a child is working on. This includes setting up a home environment, understanding your child’s classroom setup or making suggestions at their after school program.
Here are five goals to focus on when evaluating a school-related learning environment in the home for children with Aspergers or HFA.
1. Increase Engagement:
It’s ok for kids to take a break after school and have some down time, but preventing total shutout is important. Whether it is a play activity or helping with homework, making this part of the routine will assist with expectations that the child will need to interact for an expected amount of time.
2. Increase Communication:
Asking the question “how was your day?” rarely gets the response desired. To get them to chat, incorporate out of the ordinary or silly situations to spark spontaneous requests or comments. (e.g. carrying an umbrella when it isn’t raining or dressing up the dog before your child gets home). Sometimes a child may need a prompt to take note about the change in environment, but that is ok! It increases the opportunity to communicate either way
3. Promote Independence:
Use visual charts to show the steps expected to follow directions without reminders. This is especially useful for morning and bedtime routines. It may take some time to teach the sequence to complete the task. However, using the visual will allow the child to find the solution on their own rather than get in trouble for not completing the task.
This is an older post. One I wrote many years ago when my son, Samuel was very young. The alienation I felt then, has been replaced with an empathetic wisdom from life lived. Seems important not to forget those initial (relate-able) feelings as many of you are just beginning your journey with Autism. Know you are not alone and that the hope you have for your child, above all the noise, is what will be your child’s ultimate ‘therapy’ for living the best life possible!
Neurotypical Mom, as a Special Needs Mom your world is foreign to me. Rotating seasons of soccer, cool moms club, overnight parties, and college sororities comprise a universe outside my own. Church youth camps and activities that have the word “team” in them are daily reminders that I have a special needs child. Your child is included, mine is not. And I must find a way to turn these negatives into positives for the sake of my child’s future.
You see compassion instead of judgment; inclusion is actually put into practice instead of just being a buzz-word; and being a warrior for your child might be the strongest asset you women posses!
Raised competitive from a small town with sports and cheerleading in a world that didn’t include Autism makes it even more difficult to confess these surprising emotions. I’m not a whiner but what I want to do is shout “It’s not fair!” The only ones that hear or seem to want to understand this alien and painful feeling are what I’ve grown to refer to as special needs moms.