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Technology & Autism

It’s no secret that technology has completely changed the face of society, especially in the boom of the past 20 years or so. We have things like smart phones, tablets, notebooks, smart watches, etc. which have made things so much easier for all of us. But how does this affect those on the autism spectrum? In what ways can we utilize this new amazing technology to improve life for people with autism and their families? It can act as either a learning tool or a great source of entertainment depending on the context.

Perhaps the most prevalent use of technology in regards to people on the spectrum is that of “assistive technology.” The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 describes assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities,” in this case autism. One good example I can think of is an app that one of my mom’s good friends uses with her son called “First-Then Visual Schedule.” Oftentimes visual learning is the primary method for those with autism, and this $10 app helps present a visually stimulating schedule that will help people keep better track of their lives. This is just one example, there are many more out there that do a myriad of different things; here’s a convenient list on parenting.com that features 11 apps including the aforementioned First-Then Visual Schedule.

Technology is not confined to the assistive variety, in fact many use it as a way to stave off boredom. It’s no secret that children with autism particularly love video games, as they talk about here, and with the rise of casual gaming brought about by tablets, there’s a never-ending supply of fun to be had. While tech addiction is a real thing and should be avoided, sometimes as a parent you just need some time to yourself. One of the best ways to keep your children occupied is to get your kid a video game system, or even just an iPad with Candy Crush, Crossy Road or Angry Birds, and they can keep themselves busy for hours at a time. Trust me, I speak from 21+ years of experience.

One interesting thing I would like to highlight is this little gem: Project EVO. It’s a therapeutic tablet game made specifically for kids with autism. Here’s what CBS said about Project EVO: “As they [the kids] go through the game they are supposed to skirt around certain objects while choosing others. The idea is to condition the brain to sift through and organize information in real time, requiring a player to stay focused on the task at hand.” It’s a very interesting concept. The game has not yet been released, but I look forward to tracking its progress.

 

  • G. Sosso

Autism & Navigating the Internet Safely

Ah, the internet. It is a vast place, with an almost infinite number of possibilities. Chances are, if it exists, it’s somewhere on the internet, and you can find it if you look hard enough. In fact, nowadays it’s difficult to get by without embracing the online world. However, this also comes with some great risks, and the internet can be a dangerous place if you don’t navigate it responsibly. I’m no expert, but as someone who has been using the internet my entire life, I’d like to think I’ve got a pretty good grip on the dos and dont’s of the web. I will do my best to share some of the most important ones with you, in hopes that you have a safe and enjoyable experience.

The first and most important thing is to never give out personal information, especially on a public forum site such as Facebook or Twitter. Examples include, but are not limited to: your Social Security number, home address, phone number, or bank and credit card account numbers. Many of these may seem fairly obvious, but people make the mistake every day. Additionally, never reveal any personal information which can be used to track you down in real life, so things like your school, sports team, clubs, and your place of employment should be off limits.

Remember, everything you post on the internet is there permanently. So make sure anything you post is something you’re okay with other people hearing. Basically, if you wouldn’t say it to your mother’s face, don’t say it online. You may think venting about how terrible your job and boss are, but keep in mind: that can come back to bite you. If the company you work for sees what you posted, they can and will fire you. This article is a perfect example. Just like in real life, you can never take back something you say online, so choose your words carefully!

Cyber bullying is a major issue in today’s day and age, like it or not. Cyber bullying is any form of harassment that takes place online instead of in person, and while that eliminates the possibility for any physical harm, it can make the emotional damage even worse considering the anonymity provided by the internet. According to this article, “Pupils with special educational needs are 16% more likely to be persistently cyber bullied over a prolonged period of time.” If someone starts getting nasty with you online, don’t give them the time of day. Just like regular bullies, they’re most likely just taking out their own personal problems and insecurities on those who are less likely to be able to defend themselves. It’s not worth your time to give them they attention they crave, and you’ll only be making yourself miserable in doing so.

Finally, and this one is crucial. Unless it is purely for business purposes, never agree to meet with someone you meet online in person. It’s a well-documented fact many people on the autism spectrum are naturally more trusting than the general population. While this is not always a bad thing, placing too much trust in a stranger can be dangerous, and it’s difficult for those with autism to discern that. Statistically speaking, there is a higher probability that the friend you’ve met online is a good person who means you no harm, but there’s also a lot of creeps out there who are looking to take advantage of young naïve individuals, and I don’t think I need to go into the things they’ll do. There have been so many cases of this, linking to one or two examples would be pointless; a quick google search will show you the true depravity of some people. Always keep interactions with strangers purely anonymous while online.

G.Sosso

Autism Moms: Things to Remember

With Mother’s Day 2016 just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mother and how much I appreciate her and everything she does for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if weren’t for her, so thank you so much; I love you! Today I want to talk about some things that “autism moms” may experience or should know about. I’ve compiled this list from various sources, including the internet, my own mom, and the moms of some of my friends from the Learning Academy last year. I included a few entries that apply for high functioning autism, and some for low functioning, so as to not discriminate against either demographic. Some of these things may seem obvious, but honestly speaking, being a parent to kid(s) on the spectrum is a challenging thing, and sometimes being reminded of these things can be a huge help in keeping us grounded. So here’s my list of the most important things you will experience as an autism mom:

  1. You will become very flexible. Kids with autism can often be unpredictable and don’t always have the same thought process as neurotypical children, so you will have to learn to adapt to their behavior. Don’t expect a “one size fits all” parenting style to work very well.
  2. At the end of the day, you will have the patience of a saint. For a while, your child will test your sanity, but you will come out stronger for it in the end. My mom used to be quicker to anger, now she can take anything that comes at her.
  3. No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, you will come to be thankful for progress of any kind, be it vocal, academic or social, so much more than the average parent. You may even feel happier than they do!
  4. Like it or not, you will learn basically all there is to know about autism itself. The moms I talked to formulating this list seemed to know more about autism than some neuroscientists, which I found humorous.
  5. This one is very important: please make sure you take care of yourself occasionally. You won’t be able to take care of your kids if you’re too fatigued to do anything. Treat yourself to a night out every now and then.
  6. You may or may not go crazy at times thinking about your child’s future. Just kidding… you will absolutely go crazy! All parents worry about this, but when you have the unpredictability autism brings like I mentioned before, it can really dominate your mind at times.
  7. Above all else, you will truly learn to appreciate what you have. Kids with autism are just as wonderful as those without it, and if you just have the determination, you can make them become a success through a loving relationship.

Make sure to show your appreciation this Mother’s Day, and to all the wonderful moms out there, thank you for all you do!

gage and mom

My mother and I

  • G. Sosso

Spectrum Employment Strategies

One focus here at CARD is helping adults on the spectrum find employment at a job where they can excel. Because of this, we know the struggles that these individuals will inevitably face on this crucial path. Even the most talented, hardworking of people with ASD can struggle with some social, communication, and behavioral issues that might dissuade potential employers from looking their way. Here in this blog, I want to highlight some of the strategies people on the spectrum can utilize to make themselves more appealing in the job market. If you follow these tips, hopefully it will help you take that next step that you deserve.

 
Knowledge is power, and the most important thing you can do for yourself is to know your rights. As a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. The ADA is, essentially, a “wide-ranging civil rights law that is intended to protect against discrimination based on disability”, while the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies. I highly suggest reading this, from their official website. It explains it all in a very easy to understand manner. Knowing all this is important so you are not taken advantage of. Companies are legally obligated to give you a fair chance just like everyone else, and as long as you realize this, you will be in good legal standing if you feel discriminated against.

 

Of course, just knowing your rights doesn’t guarantee you a job by any means. You still have to deserve the job in the employer’s eyes, so here are some things you can do to show that you will be a productive member of the team. First of all, realize that autism is not some crippling disease, but in fact something that makes you unique, and gives you a distinct skillset! Many people on the spectrum are lauded for their trustworthiness, reliability, creativity and low absenteeism. Stress these things in your job interview (if they apply to you, of course). Unfortunately, many employers have a negative stereotype of workers on the spectrum, so it’s up to you to prove to them that those things aren’t true, and that you would be a valuable asset to the team. Also, and this goes for everyone, not just those on the spectrum, but following up is essential if you want the job. Be persistent. Let them know that this is important to you. It will show them your determination, and will make them believe that you will be just as hard of a worker as someone not on the spectrum.

 
Now, getting employed is only half the battle. Keeping a job can be just as difficult, if not more so. That will be the topic of my next blog; until then, I hope these strategies will help you in your road to employment.Good luck!

Visit our websites for more information about CARD or The Learning Academy

  • G. Sosso

Early Detection of Autism: Feasibility and Importance

Back in the late 90s-early 2000s, when I was very young, my family took me to see a behavioral psychologist, as they wanted an explanation for some of my more peculiar tendencies. It ended up being a complete waste of time, as the doctor simply wrote me off as being “shy”, and that all I needed was to get out more, and “eventually it would fade away”. As a result of that blunder, I never received the proper aid that is now more readily available to children on the spectrum and their families. As I’ve grown, matured, and researched heavily into the topic, I’ve come to learn just how vital early detection really is. It can be the difference between a lifetime of success, or one of haphazard dependence.

As the years go by and our understanding of autism increases, so too does the ability for families to detect it in their children early on, and develop strategies to help prepare them for the real world. The numbers from several groups, including Autism Speaks, the Autism Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that as of 2015, 1 in every 68 people lie somewhere on the autism spectrum. According to the Autism Science Foundation, this number is changing constantly. Compared to the 1980s, where the rate was said to be 1 in 10000, or even as recently as the 90s, where it sat at around 1 in 2500, nowadays we have a much deeper understanding of what autism is, and the signs to look for in order to make the diagnosis.

To quote an article from parents.com, “There is one point upon which every autism advocate and expert agree: The earlier in life ASD can be identified and treated, the better.” So let’s say that you find a good doctor and get that all-important diagnosis. What now? Where do you go from here? Well, the truth is that it depends on where your child falls on the spectrum; i.e. the severity. In the case of high-functioning individuals, some of the most effective strategies are teaching them to make eye contact, play and relate with other kids, and giving them a bit more attention then you perhaps would otherwise, to let them know that they are loved. For those who fall lower on the spectrum, who may never even be able to speak, alternate methods of communication can be taught to give them the voice they deserve.

The most important question, then, is when is the right time to test your child for autism? For many years, the agreed upon earliest age was 3, but current American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines state that screening can (and should) begin at 18-24 months. Some, however, still hold onto the old number, as when you’re dealing with baby-toddler aged children, it can be difficult to ascertain what is typical and what is not. Regardless, one thing is clear: our ability to detect autism at an early age has never been better, and all families are highly encouraged to use the resources available to them. It could make all the difference in your child’s life.

Written by G. Sosso

References:

Autism Science Foundation How Common is Autism
Parents.com Importance of Early Detection Autism

Family Support

What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of supports for families of children with ASD? Probably service categories: respite, in-home ABA therapy, good placements and related services on the IEP, financial assistance, assistive technology – that sort of thing.
Increasingly, families are discovering that services are not available or they are limited, due to funding cuts, lengthy waiting lists, and shortages of providers.
Finding ourselves in this situation, it is tempting to feel as though we are without any support at all, left to manage as best as we can, even though we feel our children’s entire future is at stake, and the “system” is letting us down.
We can make a decision at this point to respond any of several ways:
• We can become angry and desperate, lashing out at anyone who picks up a phone at the other end, complaining, threatening, and sometimes crying. As Dr. Phil might ask, “How’s that working for you?” Exactly;
• We can advocate for change for the sake of our children and others, by contacting local, state, and federal legislative officials or state agencies that control the funding or regulation of various services, and ask how we can help them increase the availability of services, funding, or providers in our area or state;
• We can try to become one-person autism fix-it machines, learning how to implement therapies at home, homeschooling our children, or starting our own commercial or non-profit organizations to provide services, funding, or other options.
• We can ask for help from family members, friends, co-workers, fellow worshipers, and others, to give us time to run to the store, provide after-school care, or to help implement behavioral interventions.
However we decide to handle things, there is another type of support system we can add to our toolkit that we might not have considered. This is something that might not become apparent until years down the road, after our children have finished school, ended years of after-school therapy sessions, and we have found some kind of peace with the diagnosis, acceptance of the imperfections of public and private systems that are supposed to help, and have come to accept our own strengths and limitations, for whatever successes or failures we have managed to have, as parents.
Coming from the other end of this parenting experience, I can hand back a few pointers to my younger self for where to find this hidden system of support:

Dear younger me: Look in the quiet places of your life that have nothing to do with ASD, ABA, IEP, SSI or XYZ.
But what does that mean?

It means the peace, strength and acceptance you will find years down the road doesn’t necessarily come from yelling at people on the phone, or convincing people in power to do things your way, or “winning” the biggest battle of all – “fixing” the autism. Any or all of those may or may not work out.

What do you mean by “quiet places”? Where do I look?

What happens while you are dealing with the big “A” in the room, is that your life as a human being continues to go on all around and inside you. You may find love, happiness, acceptance, and inclusion in places that aren’t even on the checklist of “supports” you are going after on behalf of your child.

1. What about the teacher who says she is happy to see your child come to school in the morning because his fantastic smile always makes her day?

2. What about that person in the prep area at the back of the taco place who sees your very unique order come up on the screen and yells, “Oh that’s gonna be my girl. How’s she doing today?”

3. What about the spiritual leader, or counselor, or other mentor, who helps you gain insight into the purpose of your life, and helps you believe in yourself?

4. What about that friend or family member who takes a special interest in your child and always asks for updates and news on the latest successes? Even after all these years, dear younger self, I still run to the computer every day to send mom photos of my child’s latest painting or tell her a story about a little breakthrough.

5. What about that moment when you revisit an interest you had pre-autism, and get back into a spiritual practice, or dance, or theater, or sport, or fiber art, or painting, or finishing a degree you left half done in order to become a super autism parent? Let’s take a sensory tour of all those places. Walk into a place of worship, or meditation center. Feel the years of devotion, prayer, silence and peace that fill the space. Walk into a dance studio. Look at the beautiful floor and the mirrors. Walk into a theater. Smell the paint and sawdust, run your hands over a few seats. Walk into a gym or locker room. Smell the sweat. Remember what it feels like to be physically exhausted and emotionally flying. Walk into a fabric or knitting store. Touch some fabric or yarn. Walk into an art store. Smell, look, explore. Go online and look at next semester’s classes. Register for the one that excites you the most. If they still use physical textbooks, walk into the bookstore and take a sniff. If not, go to the office supply store and pick up a notebook and pen. Smell that place, and see if you don’t get an extra little thrill. Whatever it was that got you excited, put yourself physically in touch with it and briefly fill your senses with that particular environment.

Then go home and try, younger me, to sit quietly for a moment or two, and forget about all the advocacy and urgency and things that aren’t going right all around you.I know there are many. Just let images float through your mind of people, moments, places and activities that make you feel happy, alive, and peaceful. Don’t put words to it. Just let it all be there for a bit.

And by the way, younger me – try, before too many more years go by, to stop saying No to all those things in number 5 because you are too busy. Say yes to something small. See if your child might join you in doing something together. Crack open that part of your life where your deepest joys await you.
For all you know, doing things that excite and fulfil you might be an inspiration to your child to develop his or her own interest or hobby.

A parent-child relationship is built on the foundation of so much more than the services and supports we usually look to when a child is diagnosed. Sometimes the most profound inner strengths are grown and nurtured in the quiet corners of our lives that go unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Go there. Find what can be loved and nurtured. Let it grow and support you in ways you can’t imagine.

  • J. MacNeill

Editorial: Role of Fathers in Children with Autism

I want to highlight the importance dads play in raising a child on the spectrum. This is not meant to understate the significance of moms, but simply to give fair representation on both sides of the parenting duo. Perhaps if we in the community start giving them the recognition they deserve, more dads will be motivated to get more involved with their kids’ development. This is something we feel very strongly about, and something we feel needs more attention!

Ever since I was diagnosed with ASD at age 15, I’ve noticed the severe lack of not only father, but male involvement in the autism community as a whole. Why is that? Many researchers in recent years have noted the under representation of fathers in both psychological and sociological child-parent studies. They almost exclusively focus on the mothers, which can be seen as devaluing the paternal role. Some believe that this leads to a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, where the dads believe they’re not as important in their children’s lives, and as such, it becomes an unfortunate reality.

So what exactly is the role of fathers of those on the spectrum? The answer is quite simple, in theory; it’s the exact same as that of the mother. Reality, however, paints quite a different picture. From what I’ve gathered (and I quite agree with this), many believe that it comes from the pre-conceived cultural notion that the mother has to be the more caring, loving and emotional parent, while the father is seen as the cool, detached disciplinarian. Many dads are also more prone to wanting their kid to be a certain way; i.e. have similar interests and careers when they grow up.

With a child on the spectrum, you can see why this would be an issue. Kids with ASD need that extra parental devotion, since it’s difficult for them in their prepubescent and adolescent lives to develop along the same lines as the general populace without said support. The truth is that mothers in our culture are simply more inclined to do so, while many fathers believe they’re not up to the task, and that they’ve “failed” somehow. The culmination of this is the majority of the time, the kid grows more attached to the mom, ultimately resulting in the widespread belief that moms are better fit to raise their child with ASD.

So now that we know what the current state of fathers is (for many, not all), what can we do to fix it? We can spread the word of course! Showcase the wonderful contributions dads have made to the community, highlight those dads who have gone above and beyond to make a difference in their child’s life, and try to persuade those who are unsure that they are just as important as their wife is.

  • G. Sosso

***Update: Shortly after this blog was posted an article was released about a study done regarding dads’ involvement.

Study: Dads’ Involvement Key For Families Affected By ASD

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