It’s that time of year once again, every kid’s favorite: back to school! We hope everyone’s successfully readjusted to their school schedule and aren’t still stuck in summer mode. It can be a stressful time for parents as well, not knowing how their kids are going to be treated by the other students, their teacher, and the administration. Will they make friends? Will they have to sit alone in the cafeteria? Is getting them to do homework going to be a daily stress? My parents can attest to all those feelings, and I know personally just how scary the whole experience can be; the first day of school was my worst nightmare when I was younger. But it really doesn’t need to be. School can be a wonderful and fulfilling part of your life, a time you’ll look back on with nostalgia when the realities of adult life hit you.
I’d like to outline some general advice I have for the back to school period that can be beneficial for both the student and parents. This is assuming you’ll be in a general education classroom which, as I’ve previously discussed, is becoming more common for kids on the spectrum. First is to keep a constant line of communication between student, parent, and teacher. As someone who’s going into the teaching profession, I can’t understate the importance of this. Teachers have to balance the needs of an entire classroom, and it can be difficult to properly identify one student’s troubles if they don’t know what’s going on in that student’s mind. Not only is a good relationship with the teacher positive academically, but I’ve seen firsthand teachers who are willing to help integrate their special needs students with the rest of the class. New friendships are formed that never would have been otherwise.
Another important thing, and it’s one that in hindsight I’m glad my family forced on me, is to get involved. Boy/Girl Scouts, sports, clubs, any extracurricular activities. When I was much younger I did these things (reluctantly at first), and ended up making many of my friends through them. It also allowed my mom to form relationships with the other parents so they could set up play dates for all of us. Even for older students, it’s never a bad idea to stay active, learn some valuable life skills, and have fun instead of wasting away doing nothing like many high schoolers are prone to do. I know that for many with ASD, putting yourself out there in social situations can be a daunting task, but facing your fears and anxieties is the only way to overcome them. Building a rapport with your teacher and getting involved with the school are what I consider to be the most important methods of feeling comfortable in school from the very beginning of the year.
With the uncertainty of Hurricane Dorian’s impact on Florida, now is a good time to prepare. CARD-USF has Hurricane Safety brochures in English and Spanish as well as a Hurricane Social Narrative. Also, be sure to register with the Special Needs Registry in your county at FLGetAPlan.com
Hurricane Safety (English):https://www.dropbox.com/…/CARD_2018HurricaneGuide_FINAL_dig…
In May, CARD provided an autism awareness training to many of the Guest Services staff and Airport Traffic and Police at Tampa International Airport as part of their effort to meet the needs of people with ASD. We were thrilled to learn about their TPA 360 Traveler Education Program.
Airline travel is often a break from the typical routine and can spark anxiety and stress in most families; especially those with individuals affected by autism. The friendly and supportive TPA 360 staff understand this and offer a “pre-travel” experience that invites families and individuals to visit the airport, take a tour of the areas they will be using during their actual flight, and practice going through the whole process from check-in, to security screening, to actually getting onto the aircraft! This is like a “living social story” that provides a real experience and sets the expectations of all the travelers in a family.
If you travel or plan to take a flight out of Tampa, we encourage you to contact Tampa International Airport Guest Services (813) 870-8759 Monday – Friday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. to book a TPA 360 tour. For more information and a view of their webpage.
For more information on tips and resources for air travel and autism CARD-USF has created the Airports, Airplanes & Autism booklet. Access it here.
Receiving the diagnosis of ASD can be many things; scary, surprising, an explanation, a relief, etc. I’ve always viewed it as the first step in the path of overcoming the obstacles you’re inevitably going to face due to the condition. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (which is no longer a thing by the way) back when I was 14. That’s pretty late in life, especially when compared to many of my fellow students in the Learning Academy back when I attended in 2014-15. For many of us, the signs have already shown themselves by early childhood, but what happens when they go unnoticed or even ignored for decades? It used to be that adults were essentially never diagnosed with autism, and it was seriously stigmatized. While things have improved at this point, I still feel like autism is viewed as something only young kids experience; that it just goes away once you reach 21. In this piece, I want to discuss the process of diagnosing an adult with ASD is like, and how it feels to receive a diagnosis so late in life.
As I mentioned, autism awareness seems heavily geared towards children. Thankfully, with so many breakthroughs in the psychological fields lately, making early diagnoses is more efficient than ever. However, sometimes people can slip through the cracks, and that’s where the problems begin. Katherine Stavropoulos, a mental health clinician, lays out some of the issues with adult cases. One major reason why clinicians are hesitant to test adults is because of this clause in the DSM-5 regarding ASD: “Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).” Say someone in their 30s wants to receive a diagnosis, it’s no simple task to get a complete rundown of their childhood, especially if they have no close relatives. In addition, many of the testing methods for ASD are geared towards kids and teens, but as of just a few years ago, a new test called the Adult Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire (RBQ-2) was developed, which has seen use as a convenient tool in this regard. Perhaps consider checking it out if you find yourself in a similar situation to what I’m describing.
So what’s it like being diagnosed in your 20s or even beyond? I’ve always been grateful to have received my diagnosis when I did, since I’ve had 10 years to form healthy and effective coping strategies. Imagine being like Samantha Ranaghan, who was 34 when she got diagnosed. Actually, maybe it’s not too hard to imagine, as (despite the age gap) I found everything she talked about in her blog to be incredibly relatable to how I felt. From finally feeling “normal,” to life making sense, people saying “you don’t act like you have autism,” it seemed to be a positive thing in her life. This is just one case of course, but there’s very little out there of adults talking about their diagnosis. While everyone deserves a proper evaluation, I can’t help but feel adult ASD diagnoses will only become rarer in the future as we get better and better at detecting it from a young age.