Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Summer & Water Safety

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It’s that time of year again, where the temperature and humidity rise so high you can’t go outside without sweating. And what better way to cool off than to take a nice dip in the water! Swimming is the go-to activity for Floridians in the summer, and whether at a pool or at the beach, it’s always a good time. But for children with autism, it can certainly present challenges that the parents may need to consider. We’ve got you covered here at CARD, with our most important tips for water safety.

Drowning is a serious concern for those with ASD and those concerns don’t seem to stop as the person gets older. Drowning can happen in an instant and in water as little as 2 inches deep. Parents, caregivers and anyone should be vigilant with children around water. If your family has a swimming pool, we suggest maintaining barriers around the perimeter of the pool, so that your child won’t be able to wander into it. Also, knowing CPR is always a positive in case of emergency.

It’s also important that children learn how to swim. If you’re an adult and you never learned, please consider doing so. There are many sites throughout CARD-USF’s 14 county service area that provide swimming lessons to individuals with special needs. That list can be found here. I’d also like to direct you to CARD-USF’s wonderful Water Safety brochure, which lays out many of the things I’ve discussed and so much more. If that’s not enough, the brochure has a long list of external resources you can check out on this topic.

Happy summer everyone! Stay cool and stay safe.

  • G. Sosso
Pool safety infographic

A great infographic from American Academy of Pediatrics

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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.

AIRPORT COVER

Happy May! May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Did you know, according to research (Ghaziuddin and Zafar, 2008) up to 80 percent of individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum disorder have at least one co-occurring mental health disorder. Common co-occurring mental health disorders include ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, mood disorders, and eating disorders.

For Parents:

It is important to make the point that there are other medical issues that need to be ruled out before a mental health diagnosis. However, if you have a child on the Autism Spectrum and suspect a mental health concern here are some signs and symptoms to be aware of: impulsivity, attention challenges, hyperactivity, aggression, irritability, crying, avoiding school, restricted or rigid rules with food, resistance to change, low frustration tolerance, bullying, unusual fears or worries. If you feel that you child may be having mental health concerns please contact your primary doctor for a referral for an mental health evaluation.

For Mental Health Practitioners:

Take a look at our mental health guide book to support you while working with individuals on the autism spectrum who have a co-occurring mental health disorder.

Guidebook

As always if you need assistance with resources please contact CARD-USF for assistance. We can be reached at (813) 974-2532 or Card-usf@usf.edu.

 

Written by Charisse Dawkins, LCSW

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.

Tampa Mayor Goodbye

In his State of the City Address in 2017, Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced that the City of Tampa will partner with CARD-USF to make Tampa an autism friendly city. There the #AutismFriendlyTampa initiative was born and we hit the ground running. CARD-USF facilitated 60 trainings and has trained over 1,700 first responders and City of Tampa employees. CARD-USF has worked closely with the city’s parks and recreation department, created Distract Paks that contain sensory materials for various City of Tampa locations and local parks are being updated to become accessible for all. So much good has come from this initiative and it is because of your commitment Mayor Buckhorn. We thank you for this great partnership and for your service to this amazing city and ALL of its citizens. Farewell and good luck on your next adventure Mayor. #AutismAwarenessMonth #CityofTampa 

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We created these posters in 2013 and they continue to be very popular among school age children. You can download the PDF version here.

Autism Success Stories Pt. II

In my previous blog, I talked at length about some successful small businesses that were founded or run by (or both) individuals on the autism spectrum. It was one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written for several reasons. On one hand, it’s just nice to surround yourself with positive, uplifting stories, and on the other, these people serve as an inspiration. Not only for myself, but hopefully anyone reading as well. I’ve discussed this problem at length, but many on the spectrum struggle with finding and maintaining employment, so I think it can be beneficial to see that not only is it achievable, but you can do a great job at it. And as I was browsing the internet the other day, I came across an article that I knew I had to write about. So for all these reasons, I decided to go back to this topic. The stories I found were every bit as fascinating as the first, and I’m excited to share them, as well as my thoughts, with you all.

Ironically, another 2 of these examples come from Florida (maybe we just thrive in the heat?), and the first one I’d like to focus on comes from down south in Miami. I actually heard about this place from here at CARD, it’s called the Rising Tides Car Wash. According to their website, “Rising Tide was founded by a family affected by autism in an effort to empower individuals with this diversity by giving them the tools to be elite car wash professionals.” They currently employ over 60 people with ASD, which is one of the highest rate in the whole country. Their logo even prominently features a puzzle piece, which as we all know is the primary symbol for autism. Rising Tides has been featured in the press quite a number of times, so if you’d like to read about any of it, please visit http://risingtidecarwash.com/press/.

Next up is the story which actually inspired my return to this subject. Back in January, 24 year-old Haley Moss became the first person who is open about having autism to be admitted to the Florida Bar. Becoming a full-fledged attorney is no easy feat, and she did it. At the age of 3, her doctor said she might not ever speak, fast-forward 20 years and she’s giving a commencement speech at the University of Miami Law School. Haley wants to serve as an inspiration to others in her position, as she’s already written several books aimed at those with ASD, and is trying to change the conversation regarding autism in Florida. If she can achieve such a lofty goal, then I know one day I can become a published author if I keep at it!

Admittedly, this last story doesn’t necessarily relate to employment, but I really wanted to share it nonetheless. It actually doesn’t take place in Florida, but rather Colorado, and relates to a man named Justin Hansen. He went from your typical teenager with autism, struggling with speaking and making eye contact, to playing Division I football for Colorado State University. And while he has since graduated, he accomplished something that relatively few can ever claim. He didn’t let his weaknesses get to him, but instead used his strengths (like his physicality) and hard work to make it to where he did. Who knows, maybe one day someone on the spectrum will even make it to the NFL.

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