Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

STEM_summer_flyer

For more information about the Summer STEM
Career Exploration program, please visit the link:
http://carrt.usf.edu/docs/STEM_summer_flyer.pdf

To register for this summer camp, please download the registration form at:
http://carrt.usf.edu/docs/STEM_summer_registration.pdf

Please email the filled form to: alqasemi@usf.edu and scarey3@usf.edu

For any questions or inquiries, please contact Dr. Redwan Alqasemi at 813-974-2115.

I’ve been taking a Public Speaking class lately at Hillsborough Community College. Recently, I had to do an informative speech, and I chose to speak about autism. My speech, like every other, was broken up into 3 parts: what autism is and is not, autism prevalence and its rise in recent years, and what various organizations are doing to help individuals and families on the spectrum. I would like to share a rough transcript of my speech for you all today.

“Hello, my name is Gage Sosso and I will be talking to you today about autism spectrum disorder, or autism. I myself have been dealing with this condition my entire life, only being diagnosed at the age of 15. Since August of 2015, I have been working at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF, doing blog writing for them which requires me to do further research on autism. First, I would like to discuss what exactly ASD is, and what it is not.

Autism is, at its base, a neurological developmental disorder which affects social, non-verbal communicative and sometimes linguistic/verbal skills. Autism manifests differently for everyone, as it is a spectrum. There are two common terms in autism diagnosis: high-functioning and low-functioning. High-functioning people struggle in social situations, suffer from anxiety, and have trouble with non-verbal clues, amongst others. Low-functioning has all that, plus an inability, or at least extreme difficulty, to communicate at all.

Autism has an interesting reputation. Let me explain to you what it is not. As confirmed by mentalhelp.net, it is not mental retardation, as some would believe it to be. In fact, there is no correlation between autism and lack of intelligence. Many people on the spectrum actually have above average IQs. The other common portrayal, especially popular in Hollywood films like Rain Man, is the ‘autistic savant.’ While savant syndrome does stem from neurodevelopmental disorders, only 10% of savants are on the autism spectrum, as confirmed by the Wisconsin Medical Society in a study.

Our understanding of, and how we diagnose autism has changed drastically over the years. According to the Autism Science Foundation, as recently as the late 1980s, the diagnosis for autism was 1 in 10,000. Since then, it’s rose to 1 in 2,500, then 1 in 1,000, and so on. This rise has been astonishing to many psychologists and sociologists. It should also be noted that the rate of autism is higher in males than females.

A number that stuck for a while was 1 in 68, but the current number is 1 in 45. So why the meteoric rise? Is it an epidemic? Possibly, but there are other theories. One that I personally subscribe to comes from scientificamerican.com, which posts that autism rates have not increased; rather, the diagnosis has changed along with greater understanding in the field of neurosciences. What was once thought of as mental retardation, schizophrenia, or just outright insanity, is now understood to be ASD.

There is much being done in the area of autism awareness. Some organizations, such as the well-known Autism Speaks, focus primarily on research and figuring out what autism is on a fundamental level, where it comes from, why it happens, and potential ‘cures.’ They (and other, similar groups), have even delved into research on the vaccines cause autism theory, which is an entirely different can of worms that I won’t get into here. Essentially, they want to understand autism on a scientific level.

Then there are groups like CARD who take a more active approach in the lives of individuals and families with autism. They focus on community outreach, highlighting positive contributions people on the spectrum have made, as well as striving for inclusion and accessibility for those with disabilities. CARD, for example, has Autism Friendly Business, where a company can contact them and receive free training on how to better assist with customers or clients with autism. Essentially, these groups seek to improve the day-to-day lives of people with autism.

Autism is often symbolized by a puzzle piece. This came about in the 1960s for a very simple reason: the condition was considered puzzling by psychologists at the time. Maybe, just maybe, if we strive for inclusion and understanding, one day we’ll discover the missing piece to this mysterious puzzle.”

> G. Sosso

 

Hollywood has an odd history when it comes to portraying autism spectrum disorder in its movies. Autism is a wide spectrum, with many different behavioral traits exhibited, but Hollywood seemingly only ever portrays the “autistic savant.” With movies such as Rain Man, Adam, Mercury Rising, etc. people whose only exposure to autism comes through movies may be inclined to believe that everyone with autism is a genius with an IQ of 120+. This is obviously not the case, but the phenomena known as the autistic savant is certainly a real thing. In fact, there may be a link between ASD and having genius-level intellect or creativity.

Some of history’s greatest composers, scientists and innovators have been suspected of being on the autism spectrum. Although impossible to verify, according to several sources, Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emily Dickinson all showed strong signs of having autism during their lives. These men and women changed the world, in part due to devoting their lives to their pursuits. All were incredibly talented individuals.

One of the hallmarks of geniuses who leave their impact on the world is an utter devotion to what they do. This often requires shutting off other people completely in order to focus all your effort on your passion. As this article says, “Whether it is Edison inventing the electric light bulb, or Beethoven writing a symphony, the capacity to transcend prodigious challenges requires a keen ability to screen out distractions, whether social, or practical.” The same article goes in depth about the new film, Magnus, about the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, who denies being on the autism spectrum, but his claims are treated with skepticism. Carlsen absorbs himself in chess so much he shuns his family in the process.

While not every individual on the autism spectrum is of the savant variety, there is definitely evidence that points to a correlation between ASD and being classified as “genius.” Savant or not, people on the spectrum continue to make impacts on the world today, with several talented people like Temple Grandin being great role models in the community, and shining beacons to the rest of the world that we can do great things.

 

  • G. Sosso

Autism Friendly Tampa

 

Tampa’s Mayor, Bob Buckhorn, delivering his State of the City address where he unveils the city’s new initiative, Autism Friendly Tampa, and the new partnership with CARD-USF.

Autism & Creativity

There are many thoughts and ideas people have regarding the autism community. Some of which are true, while many are not. But one of the well-documented positive stereotypes is that people on the spectrum possess more creativity than the general population. I can say from personal experience that almost everyone I’ve ever met with ASD has excelled at either art, design, writing, or other creative outlets. It may be anecdotal, but I definitely feel there is a correlation, not just in how they express themselves, but also in how they think. Furthermore, according to several recent studies done on the subject, there may in fact be actual evidence to support this claim.

A study from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders took place in 2015, which came to the conclusion that there’s a strong connection between autism and creativity. In the study, 312 people were provided with a questionnaire, 75 of whom had a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. The study goes into a lot of detail, but the main point it got across was that people with autism generate more creative, outside-the-box ideas. “People with autistic traits may approach creativity problems in a different way… They might not run through things in the same way as someone without these traits would to get the typical ideas, but go directly to less common ones,” said Martin Doherty, one of the co-authors of the study. The main example provided in the study was when the subjects were asked to identify all the different uses they could think of for a paperclip. The neurotypical participants came up with more standard answers, such as a hook or pin, the ASD participants gave answers such as a potential paper airplane weight, a wire to support cut flowers or a token for a game.

Artistic ability, something which goes hand in hand with creativity, also may have a strong link with autism. As mentioned before, just about every person I’ve ever met on the spectrum had a vivid, active imagination with a penchant for art, writing, etc., myself included. Autism allows us to think about and see the world in a different way than most. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. This provides advantages and disadvantages, but I definitely think it allows the creative juices to flow in abundance. This article from the Guardian delves into the stories of several adults on the spectrum who have excelled in creative fields due in large part to their autism.

I believe many with autism skew a bit further towards being “right brained.” The right side of your brain handles creativity, while the left brain deals in logic. I believe myself to be somewhere in the middle, drawing on both in equal measure. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with either, so long as you’re true to yourself.

  • G. Sosso

#LiftingTheLabel

At CARD, our campaign for the 2017 Autism Awareness Month is #LiftingTheLabel. We want to show that there is so much more to these great people than their diagnosis. “Label: n. A classifying phrase or name applied to a person, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive.” Others see an adult or child diagnosed with ASD, and their minds typically go to one of two places; either the classic “anti-social, genius savant” as portrayed in films and TV shows such as Rain Man, Mercury Rising or The Big Bang Theory, or something far less flattering. When terms like “autist” have become insults in certain corners of the internet, now more than ever we need to strive towards removing the individual from the label.

CARD and The Learning Academy have documented many noteworthy cases throughout the years, highlighting the great contributions to society made by people on the autism spectrum. TLA has a page on their website, where several former students, myself included, have written about the success they’ve encountered since attending the class, and it serves as another testament to the fact that we can be just as successful as everyone else if we put our minds to it. Some of us may have to put in a little more effort than usual, but that only makes the eventual payoff all the more sweet.

Many with autism do have certain issues with social interaction, few will deny that. However, that does not mean that we don’t want to, or are incapable of doing so. I have several great friends who mean so much to me, and they never even mention the fact that I have autism because it’s irrelevant to our friendship. For those of us who struggle with being social, we’re not doing so because we want to be alone; quite the opposite in fact. Because it’s difficult for us to reach out, we yearn for companionship perhaps more than most. If you see someone with ASD in the cafeteria, or at the workplace, who’s sitting all alone, try approaching them, and you’ll discover that they can be some of the best, most loyal friends you can have.

#LiftingTheLabel is about reaching inclusiveness in a world that wants to put a label on any and everything. Lumping entire groups of people into a single category, a single stereotype, only ever leads to ignorance and segregation. Our poster for #LiftingTheLabel proudly states, “I am a daughter, sister, athlete, student and friend,” all of which are so much more important than the autism diagnosis. This year for Autism Awareness Month, let’s make sure to start seeing everyone, autism or not, as an individual, rather than a label.

  • G. Sosso

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“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Albert Camus

Admittedly, having a sibling on the autism spectrum can be stressful at times, especially if the two of you are close in age. Growing up, it’s unlikely you’ll receive the same attention from your parents that they do. That is, of course, nobody’s fault, but for a young mind it can be hard to comprehend why your brother or sister is getting more attention than you. There’s also the unavoidable issue that if you’re not used to the behavior, dealing with someone (especially a child) with autism can be difficult. Many are prone to outbursts or tantrums, can’t fully understand social cues, don’t take an interest in a wide variety of activities, etc. But there’s so much more to it than that. There are few things more beautiful than the bond between siblings, and just because yours may have ASD doesn’t mean you can’t form that special relationship. Here are some of the unique advantages to having a sibling with autism; hopefully after reading this, you will gain a greater appreciation for your sibling.

First of all, you will gain a unique perspective of the world vicariously through your sibling. Kids on the autism spectrum almost always have a different outlook on life, and see the world in a unique, individual way, totally outside the norm. As the sibling without autism, you will learn very early on that the world is in no way black and white. There is no absolute binary on how things can be done, but rather, just like autism, there is a whole spectrum of possibilities. With good parental guidance, you will come to learn that individuality is something to be cherished and valued, not shunned. From your experiences dealing with an autistic sibling, you will go into adult life with an open mind and the ability to see the world from multiple viewpoints. Not only does this shape an individual with compassion, empathy, and acceptance of differences, but it also inspires innovation and creativity.

This brings me to my next point: creativity. One of the few universal traits of ASD is a difficulty in communication skills. But siblings, as I mentioned before, have a special and unique bond that allows them to understand each other on an entirely different level, autism or not. Considering the uniqueness with which those on the spectrum see the world, often being very creative, that rubs off on the other sibling. Simply having that connection exist and gaining firsthand exposure to such an exceptional worldview opens the mind to new creative potential. Desires to express oneself through music, visual design, writing or the arts can manifest in grow for both siblings, creating a symbiotic relationship.

The last point I want to talk about is how it can make you a far more accepting, compassionate person. Like I pointed out, having a sibling with autism can be a difficult thing, and their behaviors erratic at best. However, I believe this also presents an opportunity to grow into a better sibling and thus a better person overall. Growing up, you naturally come to know your siblings better than anyone else, and how to deal with all their little nuances. Dealing with the worst behaviors autism has to offer all throughout your formative years molds a person into someone who can empathize with just about anyone, and I believe you become all the better for it.

I would like to recommend this blog from Autism Speaks, from the perspective of a young lady whose brother has autism. It’s a great insight into everything I’ve been talking about, and I enjoyed reading it immensely.

  • G. Sosso

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