Search the series of blogs below to learn about the topic of Social Development.
Perhaps one of the highest hurdles for a person with AS or HFA is social skills. This is a direct result from difficulty reading social situations and cues; understanding one’s own feeling states; and challenges with picking up social learning. You may seek the aid of the many services available to help those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome to learn social functioning, including:
social skill groups
speech and language therapy
special education services
These skills may be learned but know the brain is hard-wired differently than that of a neurotypical. That is why consistent training and practice is very important.
This is the third installment of my piece speaking about the health of a caregiver and it has been an interesting journey these past weeks. We as caregivers get in such and stay in such serious modes, that sometimes it takes something drastic to pop us out of our self imposed prisons of heaviness and sometimes fear. It was almost two years ago to the date that in San Antonio and much of Texas it full on snowed! Now for some of us who were raised around snow, (my parents were bi coastal people), this could have seemed mundane but it was not anything of the sort. I was so happy and joyful that it was snowing, I surprised myself and as I looked around me, everyone and I mean everyone was smiling and laughing and making snowballs and snowmen. Then it hit me, it hit me why I had to wait till this very moment to write this very thing. Life and it’s tragedies are real but in those moments of lifting and or explaining, or seeing people’s faces in reaction to perhaps a behavior your person was exhibiting, in those moments the divine breaks in. Now maybe it’s not snow in the south or something as drastic as that but I believe wholeheartedly that we are given sweet miracle moments that release us from the prison and remind us that we are free to live and enjoy and to find joy in the big and little things in life. I can tell you, I love each and every one of you who are struggling to be, when you don’t even know if you can put one foot in front of the other. I send you thoughts and knowledge that you can find the divine and joy in your task of caregiving, you just have to seek them, to go after them because joy can seem fleeting like the melting snow but the take away is this. When we can choose to see the beauty in a smile, or in a victorious moment where we somehow connect to and with our people, then that is where we see the miracles happen of this season and all year round . We may feel exhausted and cranky sometimes as caregivers but let us remember the beauty we are giving we get back in unexpected ways. Seek those moments and I know you will not be disappointed.
Topic cards are similar to scripts in that they can help students engage in a variety of topics, beyond their own interests. They are different in that they include just a few words that describe a topic that launch a student or group students in a particular direction.
A teacher had created a special lunch group to help a student at the middle school level engage in appropriate teen conversations. She had one main interest and it would dominate every conversation. Her interest was in princesses and everything having to do with them. For most young teen girls, princesses were not much of an interesting topic for them.
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.
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.
The elementary years were full of field trips, lunch visits, and homeroom activities. When it came time for picking groups for the field trips, my son was not one who other mothers wanted for their sons. At this early age, most mothers were positioning their children to be the best, only with the best, and we didn’t fit their criteria.
So for many of those early years Sam and I sat alone as other mothers invited the more social children to sit with them. Support did not come in familiar places: relatives, neighbors, team sports, youth groups or, field trip Moms. In fact, it was those who were actually abusive to Sam that set the stage for above and beyond parental protection. So different from my youth or perceived visions of parenthood. After the shock and heart wrenching pain for my son, the realization sat in that I too, was isolated.
How Our Family Responded to Isolation
Our family had hit a harsh reality, so we decided to fight back in a way that did no harm to anyone, but bolstered our son’s confidence. We chose our son over the crowd. We eliminated the negative and stuck to the positives. My Mom and Dad (both have since passed) were so very supportive and loving and choose to take a big role in both our sons lives. We clung to that love and our sons were nurtured and flourished. You don’t need or should expect everyone in your family(s) to be supportive, just enjoy who does and build upon that. Together the four of us found a loving church home, become interested in all things our sons were interested in, enjoyed those who did make a conscience effort to be a positive part of our sons lives, traveled on weekends (verses attending typical soccer games), and marched to a new rhythm I had never heard before! At first it was scary, going a route we’ve never taken before. However, after removing the negatives, the anxious worry quickly subsided and Sam (and the rest of us) blossomed!
Hello to star-gazing, train following, computer lessons, pokemon’ tournaments….well you have your list too!
Being apart from the crowd became the norm and our sons both flourished.
I write this not to feel sad or ‘wallow’ in self-pity. Nor have I listed the struggles (you can refer to other posts covering that) of the journey. I write about the choice because it is that simple. Because this probably happens to many parents of a child on the spectrum. I want to encourage you to persevere and hold onto the unique qualities that are the very being of your Asperger child and to let go of any expectations you may have of others taking part. Bottom line: Forge your own path for your child and take along the handful of people who do want to be a part.
It does get easier the older they get, and the reward will be a son or daughter who knows that their uniqueness is a gift. Recently Sam was asked what it “felt” like to have Autism. His matter of fact reply was priceless: “Don’t think of Autism as a weight, think of it as a pair of wings”.
Being apart from the crowd is a great thing indeed.
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.
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.
I can filter my blunt comments, and assess my honesty before I say anything. Additionally, I can access hundreds of people within minutes who share my obscure interests, like Russian history or Phantom of the Opera. I think some of the first groups I joined were “addicted to piano,” and “when I was your age Pluto was a planet.” I had lived in 3 states and 2 countries at that point, and I could keep in touch with all of my friends from around the world.
Nowadays it seems like everyone I know is on Facebook and as a result, I have to keep my freak flag on a leash. Both of my grandmas are now on Facebook, and one of them said to me: “You better watch what you post because it might come back to bite you.”
What does that even mean? Do you even know how to use Facebook grandma? Turns out she did and also learned how to use an iPad way before I’d even seen one. To give you an idea of some of the posts my grandma was referring to, here is an example:
Dear girl who cheated off my exam today,
You’re a jerk.
Unfortunately for you, So am I. I put all the wrong answers in for you to copy and waited until you left to put the right ones in. It’s called studying.
Your passive aggressive classmate, Alix
I think social media’s impact on how we incorporate technology in our daily lives can condition us to display Asperger-type symptoms, the kind that my social skills training and family taught me not to do. Growing up my mom taught me to never use my cell phone at the table. To this day I never pull out my cell phone at a nice restaurant, even when asked to. Now when my friends and I go out, one is Instagramming their cocktail, the other answering a text from her husband, etc.
I don’t meet very many people my age who impress me with their ability to hold down a sincere conversation. I went to a youth group activity that was a meet and greet for young adults. I knew absolutely no one. I turned to this guy next to me and asked casually “What’s your name?”. He responded with one word “Martin,” and didn’t even look me in the eye, but instead was looking down at his phone where he had Facebook open.
I was talking to a CEO who runs a prominent company, he told me that when he hires graduates he looks for people who can look him in the eye, shake his hand, and carry on a conversation on top of meeting a few of the skills that would contribute to his company (e.g. using a computer program, or proficiency in Spanish, etc). He looks for people who have complex analytical skills or specialize in mastering one area. He could care less about the transcripts or grade point average of our degree.
There is hope for us with autism and there is a reason we should constantly strive to improve our social skills on top of pursuing our interests, because there are people who appreciate us for who we are and what we have. But in order to bridge that gap, we must have those social skills, even if Facebook and other social media is degrading the quality of interactions we have with people in person.
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.
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?
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.
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
Ask what you really want to see – as in wouldn’t it be
can absolutely expand your perception. This expansion cultivates more options
that are actually connected to your purpose. You then have the freedom to
look at an example to see it in action…
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
They don’t wanna so they yell, argue, heavily complain, and shut down.
to think it’s not worth all this extreme hassle and pressure so you let it go…
that, may come it’s all on them – go do what they want to do – fine, whatever.
think they have to learn sometime so come hell or high water now is the
that, may come it’s all on them – sink or swim, baby.
often comes down to extremes.
Either Or Trap is all about two extremes.
if there were other options? I assure you there are…
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
look at expanding perception…
what’s blocking the new experience attempt – what is IT (anxiety,
the specifics – get to the root of fear with AND what else – not
parameters – what will the attempt look like, how long, and debrief plan
Let’s look at potential options…
out your calendar together – what are the daily, weekly tasks and activities?
much calendar time builds the skills and attitude you actually want?
do you actually want for them? for you? for siblings? for whole
topics and situations they know nothing or very little about.
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.
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.
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)
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.