Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

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.

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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

Meeting Donovan Smith

I had the amazing opportunity to have a private meet and greet with Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting offensive tackle, Donovan Smith. As someone who has loved football my entire life, I was very excited to meet a player for the first time in almost 15 years.

 

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Donovan Smith and I at One Buc Place

 

 

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Me with the Bucs’ Lombardi trophy

Donovan Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Bucs, and in that short time has already become one of their best young stars; and he’s not that much older than me! I didn’t get to speak with him for too long, but he seemed like a genuinely good guy who cared what we had to say.

 

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Raymond James Stadium on a beautiful Friday night.

 

It was a really great game, and an even better experience overall. I brought along one of my best friends, and we had fun cheering on Donovan and the Bucs against Cleveland. The Bucs ended up winning 30-13. I was even on the Jumbo-tron at one point, which has never happened before at any sporting event I’ve attended.

 

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Me with front row tickets to see the Bucs dismantle the Browns

Thank you Donovan for this great opportunity!

  • G. Sosso

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

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

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