A Quote Worth Contemplating…

This blog was last posted in 2014. As the new school year begins, this young mans viewpoint of peer exclusion helped him (and his parents) to go in another direction altogether. We hope it inspires you too. – Aspergers101

When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam (then 15 years of age) during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”. 

“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.”                                                                             -Sam Allen July 2011

These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.

Chances are anyone with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome are not just challenged with the autism but with the comorbidities that typically go along with the diagnosis of ASD. Comorbidities such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, bi-polar or anxiety (to name a few) all challenge and can hinder daily life. We fight daily to overcome these obstacles while oftentimes losing sight of the strengths that do come with the Asperger or HFA diagnosis.

Strengths and ‘gifts’ may include that intense interest in one subject. That hyper-focus may drive family members batty but that is the very ‘good stuff’ Sam is talking about. Issac Newton, Einstein, Steve Jobs and John Nash are all said to have had Aspergers Syndrome. Their ability to focus intensely on one subject allowed them to do great things! Though Sam was never invited to his peer’s birthday parties or gatherings, his absorption in the topic of that time brought him to build a low-powered FM radio station from his bedroom as well as a high-powered gaming computer from scratch. This is a gift so go with it. If their interest happens to be the constellation, seek the stars with your Aspie by laying a blanket on the ground in the backyard at 2am. If it’s trains, go to train museums and allow them to ask the volunteers questions till their hearts content. You get the idea.

This quote now hangs by our front door so as we leave our house everyday…we are all reminded of our worth, no matter our flaws or challenges. Point being…the quote above came from a beautiful mind that is literally wired differently and who knows God doesn’t make mistakes no matter what bullying peers have said. Sam truly believes to his core not to “sweat the small stuff” but to focus on the good. I think that’s a good lesson for neuro-typicals as well!    

by: Jennifer Allen

The Path Less Traveled: Families, Autism, and the Church Today

Autism, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and developmental delays often keep kids (and parents) away from church. A new study has found children with autism are almost twice as likely to never attend church or other religious services. Families of children with other disabilities are missing from the pews as well. These are the parents who grew up in the church. Whose parents were preachers, elders, Sunday school teachers, and ladies Bible class members. These parents are aching for their children to know the same love of a church family as they did.

This certainly describes my family. Our oldest son has autism. For families like mine, it doesn’t take a study to know about the barriers preventing children with disabilities (and their families) from participating in worship. What are these barriers, and how can the church accommodate?

First, an understanding of God’s design is a great place for any church body to start. Differences can be frightening. Learning that my son’s brain is physically wired differently than that of a neurotypical truly fascinated me with God’s design!

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exod. 4:11)

In Luke 14:15-24 there is a story of how the church should welcome everyone. This story shows Jesus hosting a celebratory meal where the disabled are invited guests, just as those without disabilities are. The good news of salvation is that we ALL belong.

Here are a few suggestions for creating a sanctuary for these families at church, plus some suggestions for the family seeking sanctuary.

Creating Sanctuary: Suggestions for the Church

Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. (Luke 14:21)

Church is a large social gathering that is, in itself, difficult for anyone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The service can be a radically unwelcoming, even dangerous, place for persons with ASD in ways nobody intends. Like school or grocery shopping, church is another potentially overwhelming situation autistic kids must endure on a regular basis.

From Diagnosis to Independence: Four Workshops on Aspergers from the Experts

In the summer of  2017 Aspergers101 launched a Summer Series on Autism in conjunction with the San Antonio Public Library System. WOAI-TV live-streamed all four conferences where area experts on Autism participated in a panel discussion at the conclusion of every power-packed workshop.

Kicked off by Ron Lucey with the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities and announced by Ramiro Salazar, Director of SA Public Library System at the Press Conference, it was a huge endeavor that allowed free access to information on Autism.

This is community and teamwork at its finest!

We want to share all four sessions with you.

The four workshops are as follows:

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Social Development
  3. Choices in Education and
  4. 26Independent Living

Press Conference Announcing Aspergers101 Summer Series with the San Antonio Public Library  Asperger Syndrome: From Diagnosis to Independence.
May 3rd 2017 10:30a San Antonio Public Library Downtown

SUMMER SERIES VIDEO LIBRARY

Alone Time for Teens with Aspergers is Crucial: Allow Them Their Space

Breathing room or ‘alone time’ is good for anyone, but for someone on the spectrum it is crucial. When Sam was very young I found myself, as his mother, wanting to arrange play dates with other children who were not exactly knocking on our door for playtime. My reasoning was he must be lonely, so I did everything in my power to elicit playmates. Offering the best snacks, coolest toys, or excursions to area attractions, but it didn’t take long before no one came around.

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My son was alone.

What I’ve come to realize is that this is alright with Sam.

He really prefers time alone verses a party. Really. It was me who was projecting my ideas of companionship on him, a neuro-typical brain trying to outguess his autistic brain.

Fast forward 10 or so years and his contentment with an occasional relationship is greatly satisfying for him, and he does have a few. His time alone, however, is a structured necessity for him that keeps him grounded and on-task for the really important things such as work or school.

So as parents we should relax just a bit. Although socialization, to a degree, is important, allow your Aspergers child to be their own person.

Time to read, explore, invent, create or yes, online gaming to a degree can all be good for someone with Aspergers Syndrome. Sam even found companionship via social media sites.

If I could look back at my earlier self I would say “Relax just a bit. He is not as uncomfortable not being invited to parties classmates give, it is only me who is uncomfortable with this”.

Look a bit closer at your Asperger child to understand just how far to push socialization at an early age. You might be going to great means only to satisfy yourself, when in reality a simple outing like a trip to a museum with you might more than suffice.

by Jennifer Allen

Managing the Crushing Blow of Disappointment & Lies

Aspergers101 for the Parent

As neurotypicals, disappointments come early in life. We learn quickly that all we desire is not all that is intended for us. We learn, through a trail of unrealized dreams, to be content with our lot or find another pathway toward our goal(s).

Having a child on the autism spectrum redefines the above lesson. Managing your ASD child’s crushing blow of disappointment comes with a different manual altogether. When it comes to disappointment through deceivers and manipulators…those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are susceptible to exploitation. ASD is, at its core, a disorder of social functioning and cognition. Just saying old phrases like, “That’s life” or “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “That’s how the ball bounces” makes no sense to them and sets them off into further confusion and strife. Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected. Knowing how to help them is first to understand that your autistic child is wired differently and being lied to will take more than standard sayings to overcome. In other words, like everything else in parenting a child on the autism spectrum, it may take a well thought out talk but you can relieve your child’s mind….and yours by a few steps.

Their brain is wired differently so their expectations and heightened sense of right and wrong may bring on pain when the expected turns unexpected.

-Jennifer Allen

Manage their Expectations

In looking back on raising a son on the autism spectrum, this was and still is an everyday activity. Managing their expectations takes time, communication and preparation. My part as a parent has waned a bit as our son ages, as I am beginning to see how he attempts to prepare himself for daily potential challenges. This preparation begins with a comforting knowledge of facts. Let me give an simplified example but one that you can plug most any upcoming event into. Remember, this is just about managing the small unknown(s). We will get into the larger scenarios later.

Here is the situation: Church is going to be extra crowded on Sunday because it’s Easter Sunday. We then think of the challenging ramifications that overcrowding may bring and discuss solutions.

The Challenges Discussed:

  1. We may not be able to sit in the same pew/area we usually do
  2. There may be louder sounds with more children in the service
  3. It may take us longer to go eat lunch as crowds are larger during Easter Sunday at restaurants

So we go over the potential challenges and discuss the following choices to avoid disappointment, expectations or meltdowns:

The Solutions Discussed:

  1. Let’s leave extra early to get our usual seating -or- would we take the opportunity to sit elsewhere and see what that is like?
  2. With the onset of more crying babies, would you want to use noise-cancelling headsets? Go to foyer if it gets too loud? Other suggestions?
  3. Since it may take longer to get to a restaurant can you set in your mind it might take 30 minutes longer than usual to eat lunch? Would you rather forego crowded Easter Sunday restaurant crowds and eat at home?

The challenge/solution exercise helps to prepare your child for what disappointments might be just ahead. The less amount of surprises the better for a factual mind. This activity prepared our son throughout his young life and now we are starting to see him work through this for himself as an adult. This practice certainly helps prepare for the unexpected but what happens when they are promised something and it’s never delivered. Or a blatant lie is told to them and they keep trusting the source will do as they say but you realize they never will? In other words, how to you explain to the pure believer that the world is corrupt and sometimes people are going to lie to you. Most deal with this topic when their children are very young, but to the parent of a child with Autism it’s ongoing. You know they take everything literally and hidden meaning or ulterior motives is a concept most difficult to grasp. For the autistic brain it’s confusing, painful and sometimes paralyzing.

AS101 Training for Employers

A Guide to Understanding High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome

Training employers to better understand those with Autism Spectrum Disorders is always a favorite workshop to me. It’s like helping someone find a hidden treasure they otherwise would have missed or overlooked without navigating via a map. This could be said of parenting workshops however, without the parental bond, it’s simply explaining to a neurotypical “Brain Wiring 101”. You can witness the employers gain of understanding ASD by the end of the workshop! The blog below is a basic reference for any employer, co-worker or interested party, to gain a better understanding for working with (and advancing) those employees diagnosed with Autism or Asperger Syndrome. At the end of the blog, we’ve included a link to download a tri-fold brochure with all this information on it, a thank you to H-E-B Community for making the brochure possible!

Aspergers101 Training for Employers

A Glimpse at Asperger Syndrome

Asperger Syndrome is a neurological condition resulting in a group of social and behavioral symptoms. It is part of a category of conditions called Autism Spectrum Disorders, though the revised DSM-V leaves Asperger Syndrome out of it’s manuel and places the symptoms under Autism Spectrum Disorder(s) or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified,” or PDD-NOS. The name, Asperger Syndrome is still used among the community as there has not otherwise been a name to specifically fit the diagnosis. People with Asperger Syndrome usually have normal to above normal intelligence and do not have the language problems typical of autism. It can lead to difficulty interacting socially, repeat behaviors, and clumsiness.

Key Characteristics of High Functioning Autism/Asperger Syndrome are:

• Difficulty with Social Relationships

• Difficulty with Communication

• Special Interests

• Love of Routine

• Poor Concentration/Easily Distracted

A full day of work may be difficult. Areas of challenge may include social cues, sensory and thinking and processing or more. Know that gifts and challenges are unique to the individual with ASD so don’t be afraid to discuss a customized plan if they require one.

Common Workplace Challenges

  • 1) Social Interaction
  • 2) Sensory Issues
  • 3) Thinking and Processing

Let’s look closer at each listed workplace challenge, both the challenges and suggested accommodations.

1) SOCIAL INTERACTION

Challenges:

*Does not know how to engage with coworkers (small talk)

• Unsettled over workplace rules such as breaks, being late,basic expectations

• Difficulty initiating or maintaining eye contact

• Co-workers and managers display frustration and/or bullying to the employee with autism

Suspect Aspergers?

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

Getting an ASD Diagnosis in Elementary School: A Crucial Window of Time

Going through the Kinder through third grade for my Aspergers son was by far our (and his) most difficult time. A perfect storm comes together for the parent, the teacher and especially the undiagnosed child on the higher end of the autism spectrum when beginning the school age years.

Kindergarten teacher reading to children in library

Often thrust into a social situation where no one has a clue that autism even exists can easily mask itself as bad behavior. This crucial window of time has been my inspiration to create Aspergers101 so that you can have more information at your fingertips than we did! The signs could come earlier if your child is in day-care or daily with other children. Although our son (who was our first) did show early signs…it didn’t become ‘in our face’ until he started public school.

Remember, your child cannot tell you that the ringing of the class bell hurts their ears like an icepick to the brain as it starts off the day (as it does every class period). Nor that the polyester in their clothes hurts their skin. At this age they just ‘act out’ when they’ve had enough.

The teacher sees this as a potentially problematic child, and the parent becomes frustrated by not knowing why all this is happening now that they are at school. This is when the perfect storm can happen. You’ve got teacher, parent and student colliding, often treating ‘bad behavior’ verses the real cause which is autism.

Empowerment: Building Success for Employees Diagnosed with Autism

Are you an employer looking to better your practice of hiring persons diagnosed with autism? Or perhaps you are looking for employment yourself but have had difficulty getting past the interview process. We wanted to offer you a powerful resource from a recent webinar titled: Empowerment: Building Success for Employees Diagnosed with Autism. Presenters offer expert advice on common workplace challenges such as sensory, social, and thinking and processing then provide suggested accommodations to maximize performance. Simply hiring those with autism isn’t a win for either party, but looking beyond personality alone and hiring the talent of the person with autism is where companies like H-E-B have discovered the win-win scenario.


(Recorded April 29, 2019) Webinar hosted by Randi Turner/Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Total Runtime: 1:13:00

Presenters:

Jennifer Hines with Texas Workforce Commission/Vocational Rehabilitation revels how local workforce boards, public universities, and private employers have discovered how to successfully balance the needs of the business’ bottom line with the employment goals of people with Autism.

Jennifer Allen with Aspergers101 offers insight into an employer’s basic understanding of Autism and Asperger Syndrome while discussing the most common workplace challenges experienced by people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and offer specific suggestions for accommodations.

Finally, the Director of Recruiting at H-E-B, Jenn Byron Ross, shares best employer practices and how they are attracting talented people on the Autism spectrum for jobs across the organization—from bagger to software developer.

Aspergers101 would like to offer you the following downloadables for continued information on employing those with Autism or those seeking employment by Dr Temple Grandin.


Download

Aspergers101 Training Brochure for Employers


Download

The :30 WOW! Dr. Grandin’s Interview Tips for those with Asperger Syndrome (pdf)


If you would like a copy of training materials contact the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities at 512-463-5739 or email gcpd@gov.texas.gov

Aspergers and Driver’s Ed: The Options Available to You

Driving with Autism in Texas

This blog was originally published when Jennifer had initially discovered the discrepancies in the Texas State DPS system when it came to the “Communication Impediment” as an option for those with Autism. Since then, Jennifer and Aspergers101 have worked tirelessly to change current laws and promote this beneficial option for drivers with Autism in Texas. To learn more about what Jennifer Allen and Aspergers101 have done for drivers with Autism in the state of Texas, go here:

Driving with Autism Initiative

Having a son with Aspergers Syndrome is always a learning curve. I haven’t had a living template from which to go by. Every small milestone in Sam’s young life has seemed so much larger hurdling than it was in mine or my husband’s life. So as we approached the driver’s education opportunity in high school, we rolled up our sleeves and got busy in research. Though gifted with a high intellect, oftentimes those with Aspergers Syndrome or High functioning Autism are 2 to 3 years behind on an emotional level. Emotions often play into driving (ie…people with road rage) so I took that into account when Sam approached the typical 16 year old age of driving.

While we wanted him to go with his class, we held back a bit and it didn’t seem to bother Sam.

We waited a year for Drivers Ed and I went to the district, before he began, and spoke to the Director of Student Driving about Aspergers Syndrome.

They were aware of it but I made sure the driving instructor assigned to Sam knew about how sarcasm, loud noises from fellow student drivers or impromptu journeys would not fare well. Though a bit older than the other student drivers, Sam did well and completed the course.

The next big step was the actual test at the DPS. Here is where I want to share valuable information!

Through persistence on our part, we were able to have “Communication Impediment” put on the restrictions section (where they list use for glasses and such) of Sam’s Drivers license. This offers some security for when/if Sam is pulled over by a policeman and the officer is threatening to him. The officer will see on Sam’s license that he has Autism, and difficulty communicating as we know could be misconstrued for bad attitude.

Please check into this for yourself or for your child’s sake! You might have to put on your investigative hat (our local DPS office had never heard of this). But, when they checked with the state level (we’re in Texas) it was confirmed you could put Autism in the computer with “Communication Impediment” on the backside of the license under restrictions.

Sam is 19 now and just got his first vehicle.

He drives to the nearest community college and to work by himself. He is a good driver but by holding him back a bit (let the emotion catch up) and mapping out a driving route with least potential issues, this hurdle wasn’t so high after all.

by Jennifer Allen