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.

Beautiful female graduate

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.

Communicating Strengths and Needs in College

Writing a requested accommodations letter to your professors

Whether or not a student should formally disclose an autism spectrum disorder to disability support staff at a college or university is a personal decision one should make after thoughtful consideration. It is my opinion, however, that students have the potential for a better college experience when they provide faculty with information that improves the ability of the instructor to communicate with the student and accommodate his or her academic and social needs.

Using Choice to Increase Academic Success

We at Marshall University have found that providing professors with information and examples about preferred instruction styles can help facilitate a successful classroom experience. Your school might have disability services in place that offer facilitation between professors and students to help fit their accommodations. Oftentimes these services take the form of a letter written to the instructor that explains the student’s necessary accommodations for the class, which the professor must adhere to.

Look to see if your campus offers such services, and set up an appointment with a disability services representative to discuss your options. If your school does not offer services such as these, you can create this letter yourself.

Here is one example of how a letter to your professors could look.

Succeeding in Life on the Spectrum the “I’mpossible Dream”

Autistically Speaking with Alex Hale

Autism is real and like many others with the diagnosis, my son, Alex Hale, is succeeding in life on the Spectrum. His two songs “Into the Light” and “Walk a Mile” share his thoughts and emotions on the journey of an Autistic Individual, and assert that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It has been a long journey since his official diagnosis at the age of 6 years old.

There were signs of awkward behaviors, however his pediatrician initially suggested that we didn’t look for “trouble”. Once diagnosed we were in a state of awe rather than shock. We had assumed he would be diagnosed with ADHD or something of that nature. Immediately Alex’s dad and I started asking questions, reading up on Autism/Aspergers and looking for answers and methods to keep Alex mainstream.

Alex is high – functioning and as he says in his advocacy speaking engagements, you may not guess by looking at him, or meeting him initially, but spend a little bit of time with him and you will see that his social skills are a little different.

Suspect Aspergers?

So did we, and this checklist helped

Our son has Aspergers Syndrome. However, getting the diagnosis didn’t come easy and the path to that diagnosis was rocky to say the least. That was over 10 years ago and still the following checklist we received from our school district is the best heads-up to having Aspergers Syndrome that I’ve seen to date. It cuts to the chase.

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The following is only meant as a ‘checklist’. Remember, this is not an official document, and is only meant to act as a flag for a strong suspicion of Aspergers Syndrome, a doctor or trained therapist would need to make the official diagnosis.

However if you are looking for a guideline of sorts, it doesn’t get much better or black and white than the form below. It was spot on for us describing our son Sam. We’ve also put it in a downloadable format at the bottom. May it lead you towards illumination!                  -Jennifer Allen/Aspergers101

How to Help ASD Students Express Their Feelings and De-Escalate a Meltdown

Feelings Chart

If a student can express their inner feelings, then adults could help them prevent further escalation. This can be done by engaging the student in conversation about the problem, or beginning a calming activity. Often however, the student has difficulty expressing those feelings until it is too late. A feelings chart may be an effective visual support to help students express how they are feeling with or without using any words.

Feelings Chart in Class

In order for the feelings chart to be an effective strategy, students must understand the meaning of different feelings represented at each level. What does it mean to feel great versus having a problem?  Connecting meaning for each feeling may require direct instruction. Lessons to build this understanding can be done in a variety of ways, including the use of props or pictures of self or others.

A Day with the great Eustacia Cutler!

Note: This was one of our most popular posts and we thought it worthwhile to share again… 

Occasionally in life, if you are lucky, you brush alongside greatness. Not celebrity, but greatness. A person truly inspired to invent, revolutionize, and create with the added momentum to actually implement their gift toward worldwide betterment.

I was blessed to have been afforded many hours with such greatness.

Eustacia Cutler was born into a privilege that most only have viewed actress Grace Kelly portray on film. Her book, A Thorn in My Pocket, depicts her life in a nostalgia that few today can even begin to imagine. Her Cotillion, the Dedham Polo Club, times at the Vineyard, life at Cambridge, Harvard, and stories of shared company of notables such as Winston Churchill, George Gershwin and Robert Frost. Talk more with Eustacia, and you will learn of her father’s invention revolutionizing flight. However, all of this is not the sum of the greatness of Ms Cutler. You’ve heard the statement not everything that glitters is gold? You see, Eustacia was married and had 4 children, one of whom had Autism.

Eustacia-Cutler

In the 50s the pressure to institutionalize such a child came from doctors and family members. But when the pressure came from her husband, she went completely against the grain for the sake of her child, Temple.

Yes, as most of you know Eustacia Cutler is the mother of Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin who went on to revolutionize the cattle industry as well as turn the world’s perception of Autism on its ear. Most of this information you probably already know, but the part you do not know is the day I was afforded time alongside Eustacia Cutler.

The 23rd Annual Texas Autism Conference was held in Corpus Christi this past week, and Sam and I had been asked to speak at one of the break-out sessions. The keynote speaker was Eustacia Cutler, who at the age of 88 offered such valuable and insightful information to the thirsty crowd of educators, parents and professionals, they were brought to their feet more than once. Her clarity, concern and connection with all in the room (primarily the mothers) intrigued my autistic son, Sam who was one of 4 to jump at the chance when the offer came to come up to the podium alongside her for a personal Q & A. When Sam (one of very few males in attendance) approached her and announced his name, and that he had Aspergers Syndrome the applause resonated with acceptance. Sam poised the question if Ms. Cutler was familiar with Moore’s Law which states that technology will grow at an exponential rate and if so, how does she perceive it will affect people with aspergers? Without missing a beat and looking my son straight in the eye she stated we, as humans, have a challenge ahead of us. Technology is essential, but perhaps Sam could be a forerunner bearing the seemingly impossible task of keeping the human factor within the technology field.

Her mind ever-sharp and in the moment allowed for many ‘ahh’ moments to walk away with. Here are just a few:

Born into Aspergers

Alix Generous

I want to address the difference between “in spite of” and “because of”. One of the greatest equalizers that spans across all barriers of humanity is that we individually cannot choose when we are born and when we die. I was born a sensitive and socially honest soul into a superficial and insincere social environment.

Alix Generous Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 11.10.58 PM
If I was born in a world where people constantly strive for self-improvement, valued relationships rather than objects, and looked for acceptance over status, I think I would have been just fine. The kind who prefers the former bullied me to think I’m crazy but I don’t think I am. So if I take this perspective, I did succeed in spite of these kinds of environments.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to help people.

An Assessment of Personal Readiness for College with ASD

In a previous blog I wrote about the topic of readiness within higher education to support college students with Asperger’s Disorder. The series touched on the ability of colleges to provide effective academic, social, and independent living supports. The “Benchmarks of Effective Supports for College Students with Asperger’s Disorder,” a tool to assess readiness of a specific institution, was provided.

But how can individual ASD students know that they are ready for college?

Understanding Crisis Behavior in People with Aspergers

Some individuals with Aspergers or HFA may engage in crisis behavior that interferes with their learning, puts themselves or others at risk, prevents them from participating in various activities, or impedes the development of relationships. Crisis behavior can range in severity from low productivity to meltdowns that involve aggression, self-injury, or property destruction.

Stressed teen girl screaming, shouting

Many individuals unfamiliar with Aspergers may believe these types of behaviors are intentional and malicious. However, it has become well known that problem behaviors often serve a function for the individual engaging in the behaviors. Additionally, deficits in the areas characterized by Aspergers may impact behavior.

Star opens up about son’s Aspergers Syndrome

We are re-posting a portion of a Disability Scoop interview with  ‘Covert Affairs’ Star Christopher Gorham whose son has Aspergers Syndrome. This Hollywood actor has been in such TV programs as  Ugly Betty, Popular, Odyssey 5, Jake 2.0, Medical Investigation, Out of Practice, Harper’s Island and Covert Affairs. Gorham is currently working on his next project “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis,” where he provides the voice of the Flash.

Disability Scoop: Personally speaking, your son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome not too long ago. What was that like?

Christopher Gorham: We got a diagnosis fairly late. He was 9-years-old, which is kind of the blessing and the curse of that diagnosis. Because he’s very high functioning we didn’t really know that something was off until later. It’s upsetting to hear that something is wrong with your child. At the same time, it’s a relief to know what’s wrong with your child because if you know what’s wrong then you can start to take steps to help them.

Disability Scoop: When did you first notice that something might not be right?

 (Photo: Courtesy of Robert Ascroft/USA Network)

(Photo: Courtesy of Robert Ascroft/USA Network)

Christopher Gorham: Second grade was when we really knew we needed to start investigating and finding help. What we were doing didn’t seem to be working and things were getting worse and he was just getting further and further away from his peers. (He was) not understanding the subtleties of socializing, not getting sarcasm, not understanding the difference between someone who’s really being nice to you and someone who’s actually making fun of you, not understanding that all attention isn’t positive. It’s really hard for a parent when your son comes home and tells you that his best friends are the two or three kids who are actually the meanest to him.

Disability Scoop: How has this new diagnosis changed your family’s day-to-day life?

Christopher Gorham: You get the diagnosis and then instead of just taking the kids to Taekwondo after school, now suddenly you’ve got occupational therapy and you’ve got speech therapy and you’ve got the psychologist and you’ve got the behavioral specialist. Your week is filled with therapies to help support him and it becomes so hard to find the balance.

Disability Scoop: How do you manage it all while shooting the show?