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Autism & Dating

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I’ve been meaning to cover this for a while but, being the genius that I am, didn’t actually get around to it until AFTER Valentine’s Day. Romance is a tricky subject for anyone, and by no means am I qualified to talk about the intricacies of dating. However, I can give some insight on the topic from the perspective of someone on the autism spectrum. Familial and friendly bonds can be scary and/or difficult for people with ASD, let alone being in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean its something we don’t desire or can’t achieve. In this piece, I’d like to focus on what the experience of dating someone with autism is like, as opposed to a standard dating guide which you can find plenty of!

So, what is it like to be with someone on the spectrum? It’s certainly a bit different, but in which ways? I pooled together my own ideas, as well as a few different sources, to give a general idea. I believe one of the most important aspects is that just because we may not know exactly how to express our feelings, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist and that they’re not strong. Make the extra effort to work with us through our feelings and we’ll reward you with all the love and affection in the world. There are several other minor considerations to make when dating someone on the spectrum, such as a lack of eye contact, shying away from anything physical (at least at first), not picking up on sarcasm as well, and not wanting to go out to typical date locations.

I actually interviewed a friend of mine who’s dating a guy on the spectrum. I asked her some of the first questions that came to my own mind, and here’s what she said.

  1. Q: Being honest, have you ever looked at your partner differently because they were on the autism spectrum?

A: Yes, but in a good way. I see my partner as someone who is extremely organized, smart, extremely caring, and someone who has his little quirks that I love so much.

  1. Q: What, if any, are some of the unique challenges presented when dating someone with autism?

A: A challenge that I’ve personally faced is trying to understand the difference between the silences. It’s hard for me to understand if my partner is silent because he’s mad, or just zoning out, or something completely different. Another challenge is making sure to remember the sensory issues that he has, but I am getting much better and I love learning about him.

  1. Q: Do you need to put in any extra effort in dating someone with autism as opposed to someone without? If so, is that something you’re okay with or is it straining?

A: Personally, I think you have to put effort into every type of relationship, regardless if someone is on the spectrum or not. I do agree that it calls for more effort because in my experience, people on the spectrum are used to a certain routine and it is different to not only see that routine but to become a part of it/add new things. This is definitely something I’m okay with. I have been around people on the spectrum my entire life and now that I’m dating someone on it, I really wouldn’t want it any other way. I love learning about him and I think he is perfect just the way he is. I know I have SO much more to learn, and honestly, I can’t wait!

 

> G. Sosso

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Internet & Cordiality

In today’s world, I try my best to not be cynical; to maintain a positive outlook on life despite all the divisiveness that’s going on in our society. However, even in my best moments I can’t deny the volatility that exists in certain places, and nowhere is this more apparent than the internet. In particular, online forums like Reddit or micro-blogging sites like twitter. Now obviously everyone is free to say and do whatever they’d like online. In the overwhelming majority of cases you’re not in any physical danger, but I do have some suggestions on how to make your time on the internet as enjoyable and non-confrontational as possible. I do this because many people on the autism spectrum are naïve. Mind you, this is not a knock on anyone, as I would certainly include myself in that category.

Allow me to get this one out of the way as soon as possible: unless you’re going into political science in college or something similar, try to stay away from political discussions. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t stay informed; in fact, I encourage everyone (autism or not) to keep up with current events. Just make sure to check as many sources as you can to avoid false information. No, what I’m talking about are the comment sections. Chances are, you go to the comment sections of any political post on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. and you’re going to encounter a firestorm of negativity and vile. If you value your sanity and self-worth as an individual, keep your distance.

Repeat after me: anonymity is key. Again, in writing these blogs, my hope is for them to be of use for at least a few people. This is a mistake I know many with autism make, and it is so important to remember. Do not give out your real identity or personal information to anyone ever. Predators know how innocent people on the spectrum can be, and they’ll use that to their advantage, either to scam you or have some mean-spirited fun. Besides the obvious financial issues that arise, this can lead to a plethora of nightmarish scenarios such as doxing or swatting. It’s harrowing to read about some of these occurrences, and it can be a mentally scarring experience, so please tread carefully and protect your privacy.

Unless you’re talking with a trusted source, or if it pertains to your health, try not to disclose your ASD to strangers online. Having autism, unfortunately, has become somewhat of a stigma in certain corners of the internet. Being forward and upfront about your diagnosis just invites cyber bullying and other cruel treatment. On the flip side, don’t try to use your ASD as a catch-all for avoiding any criticism. For better or worse, when you post something online, it is truly there forever, and is open for scrutiny. The world is never going to stay silent on anything you say or do just because you have autism. In fact, many will see it as a feeble attempt to garner sympathy if you use your condition as an excuse, something I’ve learned the hard way before.

> G. Sosso

ICI’s Evaluation of TLA

“The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University for Massachusetts Boston conducted a one-year evaluation of TLA to explore its essential programmatic elements, and the ways in which the experience influenced student transformation. The evaluation included a thorough observation of program structure, curriculum, daily practices, and history, as well as detailed interviews with TLA staff, students, parents, mentors, and external collaborators. The findings showed that TLA influenced students’ personal growth and transformation, manifesting in a newfound self-confidence. At the end of the program, students described themselves as having greater self-awareness, self-esteem, independence, preparedness, and social competence. The purpose of this brief is to share the lessons learned from TLA to inspire similar programs and other transition professionals striving to optimize transition outcomes for students with ASD.”

Read the entire brief here.

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Autism & College

A large number of children growing up with autism have a difficult time thinking about what “comes next.” Because of the difficulties that come naturally with childhood and adolescence, along with the unique challenges presented by ASD, many parents are more focused on simply getting their child through high school, and who knows what comes next. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but everyone has to leave the nest sometime. I’ve previously discussed the possibility of jumping straight into the working world, which is a perfectly acceptable path to take. College isn’t for everyone. However, there are many advantages associated with going to college, whether it be for an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Currently, I am attending Hillsborough Community College, earning my AA degree, before I transfer to USF for my bachelor’s. I couldn’t be happier with my decision, and I’m proud to say that I know I’m going places; making something of myself. That sense of validation and self-worth is one of the many reasons going to college is a positive thing for those on the spectrum. But there are others as well!

Let’s not beat around the bush here. A college degree makes for a happy and healthy bank account. While it is more than possible to be successful in life without a higher education, the numbers don’t lie. This article paints college in a very favorable light, but I’d like to focus on the chart included herein. The more school you complete, the more you make and the lower your chance for unemployment. And as we see here, the autism demographic has a major unemployment problem, unparalleled in almost any other group out there. If you can find your passion, something you’re talented at and enjoy doing, then go for it and you can make a fulfilling career for yourself. And best of all, you won’t have to worry about financial strain while doing it.

As we all know, however, money can’t buy happiness. Love, family, friends, etc. are the true path to a satisfying life, and one of the most important aspects of that is love for what you do. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Like it or not, getting a college degree opens up the door for so many different career paths that are unavailable to those without a higher education. Those on the spectrum often have a wide array of quirky and creative interests; luckily, there’s a major/degree out there for just about anything you can think of. Take well-known and outspoken autism advocate Temple Grandin for instance who, according to her Wikipedia page, got her bachelor’s degree in human psychology, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science. Now there’s someone who’s really made something of themselves.

Perhaps most importantly is that, simply put, having a degree correlates strongly to increased happiness. As shown in every source I’ve found, such as this one, a college educated population is a content population, and considering the depression epidemic common throughout the autism community, this can only be a good thing. Personally, ever since I started my journey towards a degree, I’ve been feeling much better about myself, and I’ve never been happier!

_ G. Sosso

Loneliness & Autism

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We’ll be shifting gears this time around to talk about something a bit more serious. There’s been a trend in my blogs to write about subjects which hold significance to me for one reason or another, as I find it much easier to write when you can personally relate to the topic at hand. This week is no different, as I’ll be discussing loneliness and how it affects people on the autism spectrum. Due to the socialization issues faced by those with autism, making and (perhaps most importantly) keeping friends can be a daunting task, despite our pure intentions. This lack of companionship can be highly damaging to anyone, let alone individuals on the spectrum. However, I promise if you just keep at it, and stay true to yourself, eventually good friends will come along. But I digress, let’s get into it.

From what I could find, apparently there used to be an idea that people with autism didn’t feel lonely or, at the very least, weren’t as severely impacted by it as others. I find this idea dubious at best. One study from the University of Missouri measured “loneliness, number and nature of friendships, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem.” It was discovered that among this demographic, a lack of close friends increased depression and anxiety, while lowering self-esteem and satisfaction with life. This holds true for myself and everyone else I’ve ever known with autism.

It is possible that many people, mostly children, with ASD may not understand the connection between loneliness and real friendship. Making acquaintances is one thing, but having a true friend who’ll be there for you through thick and thin is difficult for so many of us. According to Tony Attwood, a well-known figure in the autism community in Australia, children with autism have weaker friendships than their neurotypical peers and don’t understand that their loneliness stems from that. “Whereas typical children define and understand loneliness as being alone (with no one to play with) and feelings of sadness, the majority of autistic children define loneliness as only one dimension of being alone. They tend to not attribute an emotional feeling (e.g. sadness) to their loneliness.” That degree of sadness that they don’t quite understand leads to intense feelings of depression and loneliness which is almost impossible to break out of.

As I’ve alluded to, the true cure for the devastating effects of loneliness is to forge strong friendships. A few years ago, I made 2 friends who are the best I’ve ever had, and for the first time I feel truly happy in my life. I feel better about myself than ever before. And this idea is definitely supported. From the first study I referenced, it was found that a “greater quantity and quality of friendships were associated with decreased loneliness among adults with autism spectrum disorders.” Interacting with the social world we live in can be challenging, and even scary at times, but as I said before, just keep being you and one day the right people will notice, and make a great friend in the process.

  • G. Sosso

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

Having a Sibling with Autism

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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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