Thanksgiving Reminder: “One Size Does Not Fit All” with Autism

The holiday season is a time of friends, family, parties, food, and gifts. It is also a time of tight schedules, inter-personal drama, and occasional overspending. Yes, we all know that holiday cheer comes with its typical share of stressors, but adults with autism spectrum disorders may face a completely different set of challenges than you might expect. Specific sensory needs, unexpected social demands, and changes in routine may be overwhelming to an autistic individual during this time. As friends and families of adults with autism, we can do our part to ease these stresses and help them better cope with all of the holiday parties and family gatherings. Madison House asked advisory board member and self-advocate, Jeffrey Deutsch, Ph.D., to comment on what the public should know about autism and the holiday season. Together, we’ve come up with a list of suggestions that we hope you and your friends find helpful.

1. If you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person

These sensory issues can also be directly relevant in the holiday setting. For example, a person on the spectrum might be reluctant to wear certain clothing garments or eat certain foods that are considered important for the season. In being mindful of these sensitivities, gift buying for someone with autism can be a little more challenging. When purchasing a gift for a someone on the spectrum, consider asking the individual directly what he would like, if he has any special interests, etc. If you are still unsure as to what to buy, Visa gift cards can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. This is a great option if you’d like the recipient to be able to purchase his or her own gift with flexibility similar to cash.

2. The Right to “Alone Time”

Many people on the autism spectrum are introverted. It is important to remember, especially during the holidays, that things can get overwhelming, and we all value the opportunity to duck out, go off to another room, or take a moment outside and be alone. Those who are socially oriented should take note that not everyone shares their desire for company, and even those who do may not feel like chatting at a given moment. Even with the best intentions, insisting on trying to talk to someone who has asked to be left alone or reprimanding them for being “unfriendly” may be perceived as a form of harassment. A good rule of thumb: People define “personal space” differently. Try not to apply your own definition to the person standing next to you.

3. Practice Tolerance

Be tolerant of certain behaviors even if you don’t ultimately accept them as appropriate. This means that it is okay to insist on certain standards of decorum, such as politeness. However, an individual deviating from socially acceptable norms does not necessarily indicate rudeness. It is okay to correct inappropriate behaviors, but try not to get upset at the person because his intentions might be well-meaning. Pulling the person aside privately and teaching acceptable behavior is one good way to approach this scenario.

4. Plan in Advance

People with autism have a tendency to be at their best when they know of plans in advance and when those plans are adhered to within reason. Changing plans midstream places undue challenges in a variety of different areas. Make a conscious effort to explain to our autistic loved ones how a future event will ensue as it could alleviate a stressful situation later. Dr. Deutsch provided a hypothetical scenario to explain how one with autism might experience a change in plans:

“If you first say, ‘We’ll go to Grandma’s on Thanksgiving 5-8pm’, and then, the day before Thanksgiving, say, ‘Actually, instead of going to Grandma’s house, we’ll all go to Outback Steakhouse from 7 till close,’ we may get cranky. We might have visualized our Thanksgiving in advance: first, doing whatever we do at home until it’s time to leave, then being at Grandma’s house in a familiar atmosphere (including only being around people we’ve at least met before), and then going home to watch a movie before going to bed. Now, we have to change that visualization to doing chores for a couple of hours at home, going out to what may be an unfamiliar restaurant packed with definitely unfamiliar people — who may or may not take our stimming or other habits in stride — and afterwards having to go straight to bed due to the late hour. That change may not give us time to mentally prepare.”

5. Dietary Restrictions

Many people with autism are on special diets in which they cannot consume certain ingredients such as gluten or casein. Just as you would provide options for your vegetarian friends, there is a need to make provisions for these guests. If you know that someone with autism will be attending your holiday event, ask if the individual has dietary restrictions. This way, you can prepare suitable meal options for that person and everyone can be included in the festivities.

by: Shannon Doty and Dr. Jeffrey Deutsch

Madison House Autism Foundation

The Either Or Trap

I have three questions for you…

1. How many times a day, a week do you find yourself with a big old stressful decision?

2. How many of those decisions are simple and completely straight forward?

3. How many times does it feel like you’re saddled with two crappy choices?

beliefs, aspie

The human brain is fascinating and capable of many feats! It’s also prone to getting stuck. When making decisions, one of those sticking points is the Either Or Trap. You know what I mean, EITHER you do this OR that. Here’s why this is oh so common: your brain gets fixated on your habits of perception – the way you see life, people, situations, and then shuts down to any other options. It’s as if there really are only these two options. This is problematic because you literally can’t see other possibilities so you most likely aren’t going to seek out more solutions and people with opposing perceptions. You then make EITHER this decision OR that decision. 

This can feel oddly good at times, like any habit can, yet you also know the sweet freedom that comes from breaking a bad habit.

How can you avoid the Either Or Trap?

  • Acknowledge the tendency for the TRAP
  • Ask what if these didn’t work…what else…
  • Seek out people who think differently than you 
  • Set a timer – mind dump as many possibilities as you can saying AND
  • Ask what you really want to see –  as in wouldn’t it be GREAT IF…

You can absolutely expand your perception. This expansion cultivates more options that are actually connected to your purpose. You then have the freedom to experiment.

Let’s look at an example to see it in action

Your child doesn’t like trying new things – change can be tricky for them because it’s such an unknown. Unknown has been code for it’s scary and must be avoided. Yet, you know it would be helpful for them to expand their repertoire. And necessary.

They don’t wanna so they yell, argue, heavily complain, and shut down.

You EITHER:

Start to think it’s not worth all this extreme hassle and pressure so you let it go…

With that, may come it’s all on them – go do what they want to do – fine, whatever.

OR:

You think they have to learn sometime so come hell or high water now is the time!

With that, may come it’s all on them – sink or swim, baby.

It often comes down to extremes.

The Either Or Trap is all about two extremes.

What if there were other options? I assure you there are…

It’s just that in the heat of the moment with your pattern of survival it’s hard to see – literally your brain has defaulted where you can’t see beyond the two extremes.

Let’s look at expanding perception

  • Define what’s blocking the new experience attempt – what is IT (anxiety, disinterest)
  • Address the specifics – get to the root of fear with AND what else – not the symptom
  • Develop parameters – what will the attempt look like, how long, and debrief plan

Let’s look at potential options

  • Bust out your calendar together – what are the daily, weekly tasks and activities?
  • How much calendar time builds the skills and attitude you actually want?
  • What do you actually want for them? for you? for siblings? for whole family?
  • Brainstorm topics and situations they know nothing or very little about.
  • Choose a topic or situation to experience for a set period of time experiment.

Clarity of focus about what you actually desire breeds connection with what you actually want to do. All the doing and trying without connection keeps a cycle of doing and trying. This breeds fatigue, frustration, and eventually forget-it-ness.

Supporting women with Autism Spectrum Disorder

ABC Life / By Jodie van de Wetering

It’s not often you see someone with autism spectrum disorder in mainstream media. And when we do, these characters tend to be male, nerdy and single. Think Rain Man, Sheldon Cooper and various mean-spirited memes. Now, though, it really feels like things are changing. Women with autism are more present in writing about the condition, research, advocacy and public speaking.

A young woman standing in a field holding a large sunflower to depict supporting women with autism spectrum disorder.
Chloe is one of the young adults featured on Love On The Spectrum. Like many women, she wasn’t diagnosed with ASD until the end of primary school.(Supplied: Love On The Spectrum)

And in a great sign that society’s concept of autism is evolving, we’re meeting different genders and sexualities. In the show, the adorable first-date couple, Chloe and Lotus, mention they were diagnosed at 11 and 12 respectively. That’s late, considering specialists like to get stuck into early intervention before a child turns six, but they’re still babies compared to women whose conditions aren’t being picked up until their 30s, 40s and beyond.

For a long time, research into autism and what we knew about how it presented was largely based on men and boys, meaning girls miss out on diagnosis and therefore miss out on support they need until they’re too old to access it.

Since autism as a concept is still relatively recent, in many ways we just don’t have the framework in place to support an adult autistic population. Yet.

Finding the light after years of stumbling in the dark

A woman with curly hair sitting holding a mug and smiling

Like many women on the spectrum, writer and autism advocate Maura Campbell didn’t discover she was autistic until her son’s diagnosis, when she was 44.

“It was like taking off a corset I didn’t know I had been wearing. I could finally breathe,” she says.

Maura reflects on the how autistic women get missed in her contribution to the anthology Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism.

Preventing Meltdowns

Although we have addressed the topic of meltdowns previously, it is a topic that needs to be revisited often, given the intense nature of the meltdown. “People with autism, new research suggests, may have an unusually large and overactive amygdala. This may be one reason why people with autism are easily overstimulated and have a hard time understanding and managing emotions.” – University of Washington

meltdown

This is one of many neurological findings that helps to explain how meltdowns are very different from tantrums. They originate from a neurological place of sensory differences: an over-abundance of neuronal pathways. The brain, whether through too much sensory input, cascading thoughts, chemical overload or some cumulative effect of all of these, gets overwhelmed!

I know individuals with autism can help understand the horror of the meltdown better than any observer. So I would like to refer to Carly Fleischmann for her unique perspective. The following is an excerpt from her website:

Free 4 You: Driving With Autism webinar kicks off Thursday

by Lynette Vega, SBG San Antonio Monday, November 18th 2019

WOAI News 4- San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO — An initiative in Texas is creating safer interactions between law enforcement and those on the autism spectrum. It’s called the Texas Driving With Autism Initiative and a free webinar will be held for the public to learn more about it.

To register for the free webinar, CLICK HERE.

Interests can serve as calming mechanisms for the brain with Aspergers

The fact that special interests can serve as calming mechanisms is largely true for neuro-typical persons as well. Think of your favorite interests outside of your job and your family.

What do you enjoy doing when left to your own devices? Some common interests include the following:

  • Reading
  • Gardening
  • Sports
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Photography
  • Exercising
  • Shopping
  • Traveling
  • Collecting Items

Whatever your interest[s] might be, you probably find them enjoyable, fulfilling, and even relaxing.  The interesting thing about interests is that one person’s most favorite activity/thing might be another person’s least favorite thing to do.

Shopping might be a relaxing and enjoyable activity for someone as they comb through racks and racks until they find that crazy deal of all deals! That very same experience might cause stress and even heart palpitations for another as they search for the nearest exit. As with most strategies, interests are highly individualized.

For persons with Aspergers, interests may take many forms and be especially intense.

WEBINAR: Driving with Autism Texas Initiative

Sign Up Here For November 21st Webinar sharing all components of this trail-blazing initiative. Oh…it’s free!

Register Online Now for the Texas Driving with Autism Webinar! The Driving with Autism initiative is a first-of-its-kind program out of Texas that is improving interactions between law enforcement and drivers diagnosed with a communication challenge. Now we want to share the entire initiative with other states, law enforcement agencies and organizations who desire to duplicate the successful program. The One-Hour webinar will be hosted by Ron Lucey, the Executive Director of the Texas Governors Committee on People with Disabilities. Join Jennifer Allen, Executive Director of Aspergers101 and the force behind the initiative, Jeremiah Kuntz, Director of Vehicle Titles & Registration of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and Skylor Hearn, Lieutenant Colonel of the Department of Public Safety as they cover the development and details of the program. Templates, videos and downloadables will be provided. There is no cost. A Q&A will follow the presentation.

What You Will Learn

1) “Communication Impediment” on State Driver’s License and ID: Offering this restriction code on Texas Driver License and State ID’s cover many diagnosis including Autism and the Deaf community. We will discuss all the diagnosis, the internal process and how to effectively market this message statewide via TV, radio and within every DPS Driver License Office. Templates included
2) Texas Law Enforcement Training: We will go over training materials and how Texas is reaching all it’s law enforcement agencies regarding understanding those with a communication challenge during a traffic stop. Also discussed will be overview of a medical study (poster) published on the effectiveness of the training on mental disorders with Texas State Troopers and what the findings mean to law enforcement agencies.
3) New Option for Disclosure in State Law Enforcement Telecommunication System: With the recent passage of the Samuel Allen Law, Texas drivers now have the option to place “Communication Impediment” in the Texas Law Enforcement Communication System (TLETS), which will alert officers prior to approaching the vehicle during a traffic stop. What does this mean for both officers and drivers and how did we pass legislation.
Bonus: Texas Driving with Autism Camp – Aspergers101 teamed up with Texas DPS Training Facility in Florence Texas to develop and offer it’s citizens a “Driving with Autism” Camp. This unique day long camp offers a one-to-one participant to trooper ratio, allowing participants hands-on experience with a law enforcement pull-over situation with no cost to the family or participant. We will share it components with you!
 

When: Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 10a – 11a (CST)

Presenters:

Jeremiah Kuntz
Director of Vehicle Titles & Registration @Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV)
Jennifer Allen Founder & CEO Aspergers101 & “Driving with Autism’ initiative

Skylor Hearn Lt. Colonel @Texas Department of Public Safety

Overview of the Texas Driving with Autism Initiative:

KXAN -TV Sept 2019: Texas Driving with Autism Initiative





For College Students with Aspergers: The Importance of Follow-Up With Your Professors

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.

Follow Up Professors in College

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.

Teaching Happiness: Supporting Children into Adulthood

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.