Apart From the Crowd: Isolation in the Early Years of Diagnosis

Even before the official diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, we knew our son Sam walked apart from the crowd. His early intense interest in a subject matter, and not in his peers, was the perfect mix for oddity starting the early sociable elementary years.

Aspergers Apart from the crowd

While we, as Sam’s parents, grew to walk alongside (and later celebrate) the unique perspective Sam had on the world, it was me who was shocked to be set apart from the crowd.

Facebook and Social Skills

Growing up there was nothing I wanted more in this world than for people to see me for exactly who I am, and like me for it. I drive myself mad looking for this, because identity is unstable. People change as they get older through a combination of experience, genetic predispositions, and neuroplasticity. Aspergers is one fickle diagnoses, mainly because it is susceptible to all kinds of misinterpretation.
And then this miraculous invention called Facebook came out.

Alix Generous

I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was still a relatively small community. One thing I loved about Facebook is that the social norms were different from in-person interaction, and often times made things easier on me. I can connect with people and not be criticized for my lack of eye contact or vocal tone.

What is ABA Therapy?

Applied Behavioral Analysis

So, what exactly is ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis?

Close-up view of pencils and African girl writing

ABA is an intervention therapy that specifically addresses behavior. ABA is one of the proven best practice therapies for children on the autism spectrum, including Aspergers. Thousands of research articles have documented the effectiveness of ABA in individuals with autism across behaviors, settings, and specialists. The behaviors that ABA seeks to address could relate to academics, communication, challenging behaviors, and other daily living skills.

How Is Autism Diagnosed? (Part One)

So, how is Autism diagnosed?

Psychological therapy

Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes have been discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.

At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.

Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism: Auditory

Sensory Differences: Hearing

First, let’s have sensory processing disorder explained by someone with a personal experience with it. Watch this video of Amythest Schaber, a person living with an autism spectrum disorder.

Differences in auditory processing are one of the more commonly reported sensory processing impairments. In one chart review of developmental patterns in 200 cases with autism 100% of the participants demonstrated difficulties with auditory responding.

Autism Intervention: Parent Mediated Approaches

There is a new trend in Autism intervention called: Parent Mediated Approaches. Carrie Alvarado (Occupational Therapist with the Autism Community Network) explains how this practice may benefit siblings, parent-child connections, and possibly decrease levels of parental stress or depression.

We divided this up into 3 Vlogs:

1) What are Parent Mediated Approaches?

2) Reasoning Behind the Surge of Parent Mediated Approaches 

3) The Research Supporting Parent Mediated Approaches and its benefits

The Autism Community Network is located in San Antonio, Texas with an emphasis on collaboration with autism service providers, early diagnosis, and providing services to underserved young children and their families.

This Medical Vlog series is graciously underwritten by: 

 

Texas DPS Autism Training and Education/New Driving Camp for Autistic Drivers

Notes from Representative Ron Simmons

“Aspergers101 is proud to announce its “Driving with Autism” program in conjunction with the Texas DPS, and endorsed by the Texas Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities and Dr. Temple Grandin”.   – Jennifer Allen/Founder Aspergers101
04/28/2016                                                                      by: Rep. Simmons, Ron

2740

Texas State Rep. Mr. Ron Simmons

AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), along with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and advocacy group Aspergers101, announced initiatives designed to assist Texans with communication impairments. DPS also announced it will coordinate with Aspergers101 to provide training and education to DPS officers about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and potential communications challenges associated with ASD and other disorders. In addition, the department announced it is working with Aspergers101 to develop a camp that will help increase driver confidence and practical skills among communication-challenged individuals.

“I appreciate DPS’ proactive approach to address this matter before problems arise,” State Representative Ron Simmons (Carrollton) said upon hearing about the department’s actions. “As the father of an autistic son living independently, I understand the importance of transportation independence for individuals on the autism spectrum as well as their loved ones.”

IMG_8242

Pictured (l to r) Mr. Joe Peters, Major Jason Hester, Jennifer Allen, Samuel Allen and Mr. Ron Lucey

DPS has offered a special designation on state issued drivers licenses and ID cards to facilitate better communication between officers and communication-challenged individuals. Such individuals may (but are not required to) request a “communication impediment” designation be placed on their driver license/ID card. Printed on the back of a driver license/ID card, the voluntary designation informs officers of a communication challenge in order to help facilitate better communication during any encounter with the individual. This designation, already in use to assist hearing-impaired individuals with officer communications, has been expanded to include individuals diagnosed with certain medical conditions – such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, or stuttering impairment.

“At DPS, our mission is to serve and protect the people of Texas,” DPS Assistant Director for the Driver License Division Joe Peters said. “This optional notice on the driver license and ID card puts important information in the hands of our law enforcement officers, which will help them better serve and protect individuals with a communication impediment.”

Should I tell my newly diagnosed child they have Aspergers Syndrome?

I get asked this question a lot at speaking engagements. Being an adult with Aspergers Syndrome, I feel that there will come a point when a parent will decide on whether they should tell their child if they have Aspergers or not. Some parents may want to hesitate on telling their child that they have Aspergers because they feel it might have negative repercussions on their child’s feelings.

Aspergers SyndromeOther parents will want to tell their child because they feel that Aspergers shouldn’t be kept a secret, and their child has the right to know about their gift.

In my opinion, I feel a parent should tell their child that they have Aspergers. My parents told me that I have Aspergers, and I wasn’t bothered one bit!

In fact, I encourage every parent who reads this to tell their child about Aspergers Syndrome, and what it is. More than likely they already know they’re ‘different,’ and knowing their diagnosis will mean they can better understand themselves.

My experience throughout the school-age years is that Aspergers is a big benefit, since I find socialization to be a hindrance to my school work – which should be the primary goal during that time. I would tell parents to think of Aspergers as a positive thing, and a gift that the whole family should cherish the remainder of their lives.

By Samuel Allen

How to Use Visual Supports for Social Skills Training

Many school students carrying the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome exhibit challenges in the area of social interactions and social skills. These social difficulties are worrisome for parents and family members who look for supports to address these challenges. Struggles in the school setting often center on their child’s inability to “fit in” with other students or an inability to grasp social expectations from their teachers and peers. Additionally, their child’s feelings of high anxiety and stress can make the learning environment challenging for them and the people around.

Depositphotos_44865227_s-2015

Over time, I’ve listened to concerns from parents and teachers regarding a student’s lack of understanding when it comes to social situations in the classroom environment. This often leads to isolation and the need for behavior support.

There is information in the literature that suggests both adult and peer mediated techniques to teach and build social skills in children with autism.  Strategies that are directed by an adult include reinforcement of shaped social skills where the child is reinforced when he or she demonstrates closer and closer approximations of a desired behavior. Peer mediated strategies incorporate the use of proximity, prompts with reinforcement and teaching peer initiation. The literature also supports using social scripts to capitalize on visual learning methods (Krantz and McClannahan 1993).

In my experience, I’ve observed how visual supports can be very beneficial in producing non-transient messages for the student to follow and use during social situations.  When paired with direct instruction using applied behavioral analysis techniques like shaping and reinforcement, social skills training can be accomplished.

The Pathways to Diagnosis

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments

For individuals on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis from a medical professional is necessary in order to qualify for medical services. One main difference in the assessment is in how the child is evaluated and whether the evaluation is done by an individual or a team.

Interdisciplinary Autism Assessments at ACN

At ACN, we conduct interdisciplinary autism assessments where a number of specialists participate in the evaluation and all of them are present at the same time from start to end.

The team consists of a developmental pediatrician or psychologist, a behavior analyst, a speech-language pathologist, and an occupational therapist. We believe that a comprehensive evaluation gives parents a clearer sense of the skills and deficits in their child and a clearer direction for seeking therapies.

The following is an illustration of the pathway to a diagnosis at ACN: