Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Film Review

Life, Animated is a documentary film revolving around a 23-year-old man named Owen Suskind who has severe autism and how he’s currently managing life as a young adult. A good portion of the film shows us what Owen’s past was like and how he saw the world around him through his love for classic animated Disney films. In an interview, Owen explains he was able to teach himself how to read by memorizing every bit of dialogue spoken by the fictional characters from his favorite movies. He also adds that his favorite characters are very often side characters or sidekicks, like Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book (1967), Pumba the warthog, Timonthe meerkat, and Ed the hyena from The Lion King (1994), Lumiere the candelabra from Beauty And The Beast (1991), Sebastian the crab from The Little Mermaid (1989), and especially Iago the scarlet macaw from Aladdin (1992). According to Owen, he finds sidekick characters the most empathetic ones because they’re not the heroes or main characters of the story. Owen feels like he isn’t the main character of his own life, or in other words, doesn’t feel like his life is truly his own. Other than telling us what his life was like during his early years, the film also shows what is currently going on with Owen after he moved out of his parents’ house.

As an autistic individual myself, seeing this film was like watching a VHS tape of my own early life, or looking at myself in the mirror. My disability maybe isn’t at the extent as Owen’s, but my struggles were pretty similar to his. Like Owen, there was a time in my life that I felt like my best years were behind me as I grew older and progressed in school. I was going through so much hardship in public school that I wasn’t interested in the things I love and lost nearly all enjoyment in my hobbies. Back then, I felt like my life wasn’t truly my own and didn’t have a say in anything, similar to Owen. I always hated that part of my life and I still do. This hour and a half film summed up what one day of a certain portion of my life was like and it gave me a very uncomforting sense of nostalgia. It didn’t just make me feel sad, but to be honest a little angry too. It was difficult to relive the emotions it brought up. Because of this I did not ‘enjoy’ watching this film and I don’t mean any disrespect to the creators; it is out of the emotions it invoked.

Despite my negative feelings surrounding this film, I believe it and other similar documentaries covering autism should exist to spread awareness for this handicap. There is definitely a need for stories like Owen’s and mine to be heard. This isn’t a movie I’d particularly like to recommend to most people, but I think the story of the Suskinds would most certainly make a great study guide for other families who have an autistic child and how to properly support them.

  • Brian Anderson

Last week, I did a review with Elizabeth (Liz) Burke, who works for the Center of Autism and Related Disabilities on the Autism Friendly Business Initiative Team. The Autism Friendly Initiative started in 2008 and it helps people who are diagnosed with autism and different kinds of abilities by building a welcoming community and partnering with businesses to make a difference to those who are on the spectrum. So after reviewing the website for CARD and while interviewing Liz, I asked her questions to hear about her thoughts about autism and what this month means to her. She said that she sees it as a neurological difference and contributes to the richness of diversity. We both agreed that rather than it being a disorder, I see it as a unique gift in my opinion. I also asked her what Autism Awareness Month means to her and she said that “it means continuing to educate the public on the needs and the strengths of people with autism so that people can create a community that is truly beneficial for everyone”. Liz shared that during this month of April for Autism Acceptance Month, many businesses registered as autism-friendly such as ZooTampa, The Florida Aquarium, and MOSI are having sensory friendly events. These events are posted on their Facebook page. A sensory friendly event is when the business typically opens early before regular hours so they are less busy and may alter the environment to accommodate common sensory needs for guests. Typically, it is more quiet and calm during these times. Attendees should feel welcome and safe when they visit their autism friendly partners. Liz is hoping to work with more businesses on hiring adults on the autism spectrum.

During my discussion with Liz, I felt everything she said during the interview was true and understandable. We both would like to see people understand that autism is just a difference and not viewed as a disorder and to see more adults who are on the spectrum work in businesses and industries. That way, it can show that even though we have struggles and challenges from time to time, we are still capable of doing daily tasks in our lives in order to live a full life.  It can also show that even people who are different are still able to do lots of opportunities and can work for others and on their own. 

To learn more about the Autism Friendly Business Initiative visit here:http://card-usf.fmhi.usf.edu/docs/2015-05%20puzzle%20trifoldDRAFT6.pdf and http://card-usf.fmhi.usf.edu/community/business.html

Sydney Lanier

Learning Academy Student and CARD Blog Intern

Review: As We See It

*Show Spoilers!*  

We have been seeing more movie and TV characters on the autism spectrum in recent years. A new show called, “As We See It” on Amazon prime has come out in the last couple of months. It is about three autistic people who are in their twenties and live together in an apartment with a counselor coping with new challenges they face in the world. When I first saw the trailer and all eight episodes of the first season, I thought it was amazing and sweet. What I liked about the story line is the characters are facing real world challenges and struggles in order to live their own lives in the world independently. The names of the three autistic characters are Jack, Harrison, and Violet. Jack’s story line follows his experiences with work and discovering his dad has cancer. Harrison tries to face his fear of going outside on his own with all of the loud noises, strangers, and dogs surrounding him throughout the episodes. Violet is eager to be more independent of her brother, Van, who is overly protective of her and to find a meaningful romantic relationship.

To be honest, there was nothing in the story line that I didn’t like. It was unfortunate to see a few parts where other people saw the three characters as if they were weird, but they are not. They’re just different. These moments demonstrated how sometimes people on the spectrum face challenges because others are ignorant to anyone who is born different. Van, the brother of Violet, is always being too overprotective of his sister and trying to send her to an academy far away that lasts for more than one year. I understand that the brother wants what’s best for his sister and is desperately trying to keep her safe, but there were some sibling rivalry scenes that just made my blood boil. Due to my soft heart, I mostly felt bad for Violet, but I also understand why her brother is always strict with her. It’s because he loves her. I also didn’t like when the characters were sometimes forced to do something they didn’t want to do or were uncomfortable with but I understood that they had to do it so it could help them live better. For example, one character named Harrison struggles with going outside on his own since he has a hard time coping with noises, strangers, and dogs. His counselor is able to work with him on going outside and he slowly starts to do so more and more. It’s great because he’s able to make friends this way and have more life experiences. This was a good example of having to do something he didn’t want to initially, but it ended up working out in the end. Another example is that Jack has difficulties with his behavior when he knows he’s right, which ultimately leads to an argument with his boss and causing him to get terminated. Jack is mostly unaware he is being rude to others and doesn’t realize the impact it makes. The show did a good job of unfolding all of these events in a very real way.

Since I have autism, there were some scenes that I could relate to such as dealing with change, making new friends, and learning to be independent. There were actually two episodes that I related the most to. One was when one of the characters named Harrison is afraid to go outside on his own without anybody by his side, but soon conquered that fear with help from his friend AJ and his counselor, Mandy. Whenever I’m home alone and my parents want me to go outside to get some activity I get nervous about that because I get worried that I might get kidnapped by a stranger or attacked by a large dog. However, my parents helped me by telling me that I was old enough to get out of the house and that whenever there’s an emergency, I can always bring my phone with me just in case. So, I conquered my fear and started to walk around the neighborhood without having to worry about possible dangers happening to me, but I am still cautious about them. There is a way to teach safety while encouraging new experiences. The other episode I relate to was when Harrison had to deal with changes that were happening in his family, even though it caused him anxiety. Whenever my routine is changed and out of place, it gives me frustration because it’s not what I actually planned. I have learned to accept those changes so I can follow the rules of the environment I am in. Some ways to help with changes in routine I learned in the show are giving something a chance, like trying it out so I can experience something new and to make the routine a little bit easier for me.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I recommend this show for anybody who is also on the spectrum and is struggling with challenges they are facing in life. However, I do recommend that it should be shown to people who are older since this show has adult content, for example, swearing. It also can be useful for parents of soon to be adults to watch so they can understand some parts of what might help their son or daughter move into adulthood. I hope to see more shows come out like this one!

  • Sydney

INTRODUCTION

Before I met Haley Moss, I’d already done some research and knew that she was a writer, artist, advocate, and the first openly autistic female lawyer in Florida. However, it wasn’t until I witnessed her two presentations that I got a full appreciation for how accomplished and gifted this woman is. Haley visited our Learning Academy class where she spoke to students in the transition program. Following her conversation with the class, Haley presented to CARD constituents as well as USF students and faculty.

LIFE

Haley Moss was born in Boca Raton, Florida.

As a child, one of Haley’s favorite hobbies back then was to solve jigsaw puzzles. At school, Haley struggled with making friends and kept to herself a lot. She didn’t like going to lunch with the other students because she didn’t know where to sit and how to interact.

Though she was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Haley revealed in her presentation that it wasn’t until she was nine years old that she was informed about her autism. Her parents sat her down and told her that she had magical powers, just like Harry Potter. As an avid Harry Potter fan, she hoped that meant an owl would be delivering an acceptance letter from Hogwarts and she’ll learn how to become a witch in two years when she became eleven. To her great disappointment (and most of us when we turned 11), the letter did not come.

At the age of eighteen, while Haley attended the University of Florida, she tried being part of a support group, but didn’t feel comfortable there and discontinued it after joining only one session. The reason why Haley didn’t seek out support while in college is because she would feel uncomfortable or as if she failed if she asked for additional support.

In 2018, Haley graduated from law school. On January 11th, 2019, Haley was admitted as a licensed attorney, making her the first openly autistic person to become an attorney in the state of Florida. Before this accomplishment, Haley Moss was already known for her efforts and talents by the University of Miami, the CEC, Project Lifesaver, and the Dan Marino Foundation. Now because of her achievement, she’s now recognized by the American Bar Association, South Florida Business & Wealth, Diversability D-30 Impact List, LiFT Florida, and the nonprofit organization Ms. JD just to name a few. Currently, Haley is working to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t facing any sort of discrimination at their workplace through consulting with businesses.

Haley is also an accomplished author and has written four books so far: The Young Autistic Adult’s Independence Handbook, Great Minds Think Differently: Neurodiversity for Lawyers and Other Professionals, A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Middle School: The Stuff Nobody Tells You About.

PERSPECTIVES

When she was thirteen, Haley had no intention of being a spokesperson for people with autism.

She once thought because she was labeled as “high functioning” compared to other people with disabilities, that meant she was not like them. Honestly, I myself can strongly relate to this. I held that same sort of belief as well for a large portion of my lifetime.

But she doesn’t believe in that anymore. Haley now strongly believes she’s no more deserving than anyone other than herself. We all need help sometimes. Using functioning labels can be harmful because people may not get the best suited kind of help or be seen as not needing help in a certain area entirely.

During her second lecture, Haley said that just because you’re set apart from others and you’re not in the same position as the rest of your peers, doesn’t make you a failure. You’re just taking a different path that leads to the same destination as most other people are headed, but your own path is carved differently. According to Haley, development generally follows a linear path, but in autism that’s not the case. She says just because she processes information differently from other people, doesn’t make her or other people stupid. Each person’s brain is unique and no two are ever the same.

Haley believes that one barrier for autistic people is ableism. Ableism is the stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination against people with disabilities. Ableism can be both internal or external, conscious or not. A prime example of ableism is when someone views disabled people as inferior or weak and vulnerable. If serious enough, ableism can also be a very hostile discrimination and includes harmful behaviors such as bullying, abuse, or violence.

Haley revealed when she’s asked what’s it like having autism, she says that she’s just trying to reach the same destination as they are, like getting a good education. It really frustrates her when having autism is made into such a big deal and being looked down upon.

Another topic Haley covered was masking. Masking is taking on a persona that is felt to be more neurotypical. When she was younger, Haley would want to be socially included and make friends, and one way to do that was learning about what’s popular to everyone else. When she was in high school. that topic was the Twilight saga, even though she much preferred other fiction like Pokémon. But Haley was afraid that others might make fun of her or exclude her if they knew that. Haley says that masking prevents people from being authentic and can ultimately be very exhausting. It would be ideal for environments to be welcoming and accepting so that people don’t feel they must mask who they truly are.

MY TAKEAWAYS

As someone who wants to write stories and books, I personally asked her how she managed to write and publish several books already. I wanted to write and publish something ever since I was fourteen, I’m now twenty-four and still haven’t published or even written anything yet. Her answer was that it was overwhelming for her to write those books, but she managed by setting aside an hour just to write. And if you haven’t started writing your own stuff yet, that’s okay. You have plenty of time!

Different people have given me that advice in the past, but on this occasion, hearing it come from someone who’s an experienced author and has written multiple books gave me more relief this time because thanks to her experiences in writing, her words carried more weight to them.

It was a pleasure to have met Haley Moss and to witness her two presentations. I was very impressed by Haley and all the achievements she accomplished so far in her life. I got more clarity on how a person with autism can live a life of success regardless of the hardship they faced at first in life. And as someone who has autism as well, this gave me a little more hope that despite my own mental barriers I can achieve my lifelong hopes and dreams!

  • Brian Anderson

My name is Sydney Claire Lanier. I am twenty years old and have autism. I have a huge passion for drawing, writing stories, animals, music, singing, and Disney.

I was first diagnosed with autism when I just turned four years old back in 2005. Back then, it was a huge challenge for me because there were times where I couldn’t handle change in certain routines and had trouble sharing my belongings and trying new things. I also had a hard time speaking back then. So, my parents helped me conquer those challenges by taking me to Mount Dora and meeting with an autism therapist named Danielle. There, she helped me try and experience new things while also having fun. I eventually got better and better and as time flew, I began talking a lot. I then also learned that my autism is not only a challenge, but a gift. The kinds of miracles that it gives me are honesty, amazing memory, and seeing details. Autism also makes me see things that others can’t see, which makes it really special. Because of that, it gives me an amazing gift of creating and writing unique stories. Even though autism is a gift to me, it’s still a challenge here and there. For example, I still have trouble changing certain routines or trying new things and get easily distracted and annoyed by loud noises. However, sometimes, I always try to see the good in everything to make situations a little less frustrating or stressful as well as having hope and accepting myself for who I am.

Because of my creativity and how I want to become an author or a movie maker for my future career, my parents signed me up for The Learning Academy at USF. On my first day there, I met new friends, who were very unique and supportive to me. I also learned about communication, handling criticism, job opportunities, daily lifestyle, and so much more that will help me live a better life whenever there are times where I’m doing things all by myself without having any help. Every Monday now, I spend time with my mentor while we’re in person or virtually working on assignments, communicating with each other about interests we both have, and having fun. We also eat lunch together whenever we meet in person. Not only that, but I’m taking internships for my learning experience. One is a book club for Harry Potter while the other is creative writing for CARD. The reason why I’m taking those internships is because it’ll help me experience new things and start building up my future goals.

In conclusion, my hopes for my future life long career are writing stories and eventually making movies, since it is a deep passion of mine and I would love to see people react to my amazing and unique ideas about how we should treat each other and the world in a nice way. Even though it’ll never be perfect, it never hurts to have a little bit of help by any unique form of working.

I am looking forward to writing for the CARD blog this semester and I hope it works out well for me.

  • Sydney

My name is Brian Barry Anderson, but those close to me call me Bri. I’m 24 years old and not too long ago I became a permanent resident of Florida. I was born and raised in Connecticut but moved down here for a better life. I don’t have a house yet, but I’m currently renting in Lithia while I look for a new home.

When I was at the age of 2, I was diagnosed with high functioning autism (some call it Asperger’s, though last I heard that’s an outdated term for it) and this mental disability prevented me from being able to read until I was 14 years old. Ever since then, I’ve loved reading novels and I consider myself a bookworm! Though I like to read books that I choose to read or pick out on my own and not books that I’m told to read. Other than reading novels, I love to draw and I’m very good at it. I like to make art on my iPad, and I usually draw dinosaurs, landscapes, and my own fictional characters. I’ve been drawing ever since I was 3.

I am currently attending The Learning Academy at USF. This is a program for adults on the autism spectrum to learn about themselves and work on employment skills. This semester I am participating in an internship with CARD-USF to write content for their blog. Before I came to the Learning Academy, I did attend a school program similar to this that assigns you to an internship. So, I was no stranger with this kind of program.

My experience here at the Learning Academy has been good so far. I have a very competent teacher, a manageable schedule, and a supportive mentor to help me with certain tasks assigned to us. The homework at times can be a little stressful, but that’s nothing new because I get anxious about homework regardless where I get it from.

So far during my time at the academy, I’ve been learning about how disabled people find work, how famous people with disabilities found success in life, making PowerPoint presentations about myself, and what working preferences we would like to have in a job. Before graduation, I hope to have a little more clarity on how to achieve my personal goals while having a suitable job where I don’t feel stressed or overwhelmed.

My ultimate hope and dream is to be a graphic novelist/illustrator and an author who specializes in fiction. My goal after graduation is to get much better at balancing a working job while having the energy to commit to practicing my creative writing. I also hope to find a good place to work at that meets with most of my working preferences to be able to thrive and keep me receiving some profit while I develop my creative projects. I might also attend some creative writing courses at the university while I’m at Lithia too.

Stay tuned for more articles this semester from myself!

  • Brian

The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students by Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rappaport gives a new twist to dealing with hard-to-crack students in an easy format to understand. When I was first given book to review I knew I would find it interesting, but I did not think it would be so important to my future. The authors covered uncomfortable topics in the classroom discussing ways to deal with inappropriate sexual behavior in the classroom. Along with inappropriate subjects they also cover topics such as anxiety, oppositional behavior, withdrawn behavior, and sexualized behavior.  

Instead of solely focusing on how to deal with inappropriate behavior, The Behavior Code focuses on tracking that behavior, finding out what triggers the behavior, and how to prevent those behaviors. Throughout the book the authors elaborate on how to use the FAIR Plan: Functional Hypothesis of Behavior and Antecedent Analysis, Accommodations, Interaction Strategies, and Response Strategies. The ultimate goal of the FAIR Plan being to change inappropriate behavior to appropriate behavior for the long term. The FAIR Plan is arguably the purpose of the book as it is brought up in five out of seven chapters of the book. The plan is applicable to all behaviors spoken about within the book and focuses on reinforcing desired behaviors while deterring unwanted behavior. 

Personally, I believe this book is a vital step in managing students in classroom settings rather than figuring it out for yourself. As an elementary education major The Behavior Code has been extremely useful in giving me ideas for my own future classroom and future students. Although it has been targeted towards children with disabilities for me, it is applicable to any and all students from different backgrounds and capabilities. The Behavior Code is for parents and educators willing to put the time and effort into understanding and helping kids in the long-run.  

Reviewed by USF Student, Kayla C.

This book is available through our E-library along with an array of books covering numerous topics in the area of autism, as well as, books authored by individuals on the spectrum. Our digital library is available to registered professionals and families across our 14 counties.

On Thursday, October 14th, 2021 the University of South Florida’s Status of Latinos Committee (SoL) held their annual USF Hispanic Heritage Celebration Awards. The event celebrates Hispanic heritage and awards deserving students and staff of USF for their contributions to the university and to the Hispanic community.

Yma Campozano, a current student in the Masters of Social Work program, is an intern for the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and was a recipient of this year’s Status of Latinos Committee (SOL) Award.

Yma Campozano began her internship with CARD by learning about their mission and familiarizing herself with the services and resources available to the autism community in the Tampa Bay region. She collaborated with CARD consultants to provide direct support to families and individuals with ASD, and co-led community trainings for educators, autism-friendly business partners, law enforcement and other systems of care.

Yma is a co-host on CARD’s La Hora del Cafecito show, a weekly live public awareness and training resource geared toward the Spanish speaking autism community. She immerses herself in learning about the needs of our communities and always respects families’ cultures and rights for self-determination while keeping family empowerment at the forefront of all of her interactions.

She conceived and developed a new program that engages individuals on the autism spectrum to examine how autism is portrayed on television and film. Her Let’s Talk About It program meets monthly to watch and discuss selected film and television clips and examine issues of bias, stereotypes, assumptions, and self-advocacy. The program has created a forum for individuals to meet and learn from others, share ideas, learn self-advocacy skills, and develop a broader sense of community.

Yma mentors a young adult on the autism spectrum helping him to develop independent living skills and social-emotional understanding. She collaborates with The Learning Academy (TLA) at USF to teach a college preparation course to high school graduates and has researched evidence-based practices and now runs a mindfulness program for young adults to help relieve the common anxiety, self-regulation challenges, and physical stressors.

Yma Campozano is a woman of Ecuadorian heritage. She grew up in Queens, NY with her family and has a younger sister with an intellectual disability. Yma has a physical disability herself. Her mother always encouraged her to overlook her disability and approach life with vigor and a “can do” attitude. With the guidance from her mother and intention to help Yma face the challenges in life, Yma has grown to become an advocate for people with disabilities. In addition to excelling in her academics and being deeply committed to the disability community, Yma is also a mother of two children.

We are so proud of Yma and all that she has accomplished and continues to contribute to the CARD/TLA team.

Congratulations Yma!

E-Library Book Reviews

One of our current interns here at USF was asked to read and provide feedback on two books that are currently available through our E-Library. Annie decided on two books that are popular topics for families impacted by autism; self-care and puberty and the other, a book for the siblings of individuals with a disability.

Both books are available through our E-library along with an array of books covering numerous topics in the area of autism, as well as, books authored by individuals on the spectrum. Our digital library is available to registered professionals and families across our 14 counties.

Special Brothers and Sisters: Stories and Tips for Siblings of Children with Special Needs, Disability or Serious Illness written by Monica McCaffrey & Annette Hames

This book teared me up a bit. Having grown up with a younger brother with autism, it was hard particularly in my early childhood years, to understand how I could get along with my brother. I was lucky in the sense that me and my brother established and have a great relationship. However, I do know this is not often the case. This is a perfect piece of literature that should be shown to all brothers and sisters who have a sibling with a developmental/neurological disability, not just autism. The structure of the book allows a mini check in for the sibling of their sentiments of the story followed by the defined terms of what disability is stated in the specified story. Continue

The Autism-Friendly Guide to Periods written by Robyn Steward

The Autism-Friendly Guide to Periods is in my opinion, a must read for all mothers who want to find a piece of literature to explain to their daughters, who have autism or are neurotypical, what it means to encounter a period. Steward provides an interactive and personalized book filled with need-to-know information and tips on understanding what a period is in all aspects. With nice, neutral drawings and step-by-step photos, any girl who encounters this book is relieved of the anxiety of asking questions to an easily overwhelming topic. Continue

Kyle and Olivia as children celebrating a birthday.

When people ask me what it’s like to have a sibling with autism, I always struggle with how to respond. I can tell them about how in some ways it’s like having any other sibling. When we were little, Kyle would occasionally mess up my playhouse or do something I’d find embarrassing. I can also share the things that were different growing up. We weren’t able to sing “Happy Birthday” with Kyle in the room because of his sensory issues or I did most of my homework in my mom’s van in the parking lot of a therapist’s office. I can focus on how seeing my mom fighting for my brother’s rights taught me how powerful my own voice can be. I can talk about how our relationship has changed as we’ve both become adults. Certain social things, like humor, that were always so confusing, he now understands and we can joke and tease each other. This improved social knowledge also means he can now frequently tell when I’m just being a drama queen and he’s not afraid to say “Get it together Olivia.”

I admire how amazing of an uncle he is to our niece and nephew and how patient he is with them despite the fact that their loud voices and shrieks clearly bother his ears. Or I can share the harder realities, like the fact that I’m preparing to one day take over being his guardian (while possibly also caring for my parents and my children). When the pandemic first started, my biggest fear was who would look out for Kyle if I died.

What I want parents and other family members to know is this: siblings have their own spectrum of experiences, strengths and challenges, that will change with life circumstances and as they and their brother/sister with autism grow as individuals. Know that fierce love and deep resentment (and a whole mix of other emotions) can co-exist at the same time. Don’t make assumptions about our thoughts or feelings. Ask us and, most importantly, really listen. 

  • Olivia Macdonald

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