Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Posts tagged ‘ASD’

Mental Health Awareness Month

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

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The Challenges of an Adult ASD Diagnosis

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.

2013-03CARDfriendposter

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.

Autism Owned and Run Businesses

I’ve talked at length before about how getting and maintaining a job is often a struggle for young adults with autism. The numbers of those on the spectrum who are currently employed is not where we want it to be, but thankfully, it appears as if things are on an upward trend. The Learning Academy program at USF works towards that very goal: preparing young adults to transition from dependent living to an independent life, with a career that caters to their interests. In relation to this piece, we’ve even had a Learning Academy graduate go on to start his own sign company, showing that entrepreneurship is not a pipe dream. And that’s exactly what I want to highlight today; I’ve done some searching and I’ve discovered that there are more than a few small business owners out there, succeeding while either run or staffed entirely by those on the spectrum! I hope that by casting a light on some of these companies, it will serve as inspiration to some young entrepreneurs out there that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.

The first business that jumped out at me was the Miami is Kind bakery, located in (you guessed it) Miami. It was started by a lady named Silvia Planas-Prats, who moved all the way from Barcelona for her son to have a better chance. When she realized the bleak outlook for many kids on the spectrum in regards to future employment, she was inspired to start Miami is Kind. The company “employ[s] bakers, packers, warehouse operators, maintenance crew, customer service reps and dispatchers that have autism or other disabilities,” and is currently thriving, being the subject of several videos and blogs like this one. Just like all of these, I want nothing but the best for Miami is Kind in the future, and I hope to see more businesses like this pop up in the future.

For our next success story, we have to go north of the border to Edmonton, with Anthony at Your Service, a delivery business providing fulfilling work for people with autism and similar disabilities. It was founded in 2012 by Anthony Barrett, along with family and friends. The goal was to give Anthony a meaningful way to engage in the community, but it evolved into so much more. They now have a small team that’s active in the Edmonton area, and have received glowing critical praise for their focus on improving the lives and wellbeing of their employees. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Last but not least, there’s Green Bridge Growers, an aquaponics farm in South Bend, Indiana near Notre Dame. It was started by Chris Tidmarsh, a college graduate with degrees in Chemistry, Environmental Studies, and French, and his family. I particularly appreciate this one, because it really plays into Chris’s strengths and knowledge about organic farming techniques. The company combines his parents’ business savvy with Chris’s expertise, and has created a thriving environment to succeed and work for.

These are just a few examples that I wanted to share, there are plenty more out there if you’re interested. Being on the spectrum myself, and having often doubted my future ambitions, it was inspirational to read some of these stories, and gave me a renewed belief that I will succeed.

Pets for Children with Autism

Pets for Children on the Autism Spectrum

I, like presumably 99% of us, love animals. For most of my life I’ve had a dog in my house, and I even have experience with guinea pigs and parakeets. Our friend Erica King, who I interviewed a few weeks ago about her success as a playwright, even has a couple of hedgehogs! My point is, pets can be an important part of the family, and for children on the autism spectrum, they can be a great source of companionship and socialization in a world where those things may be difficult. There are a lot of benefits to pet ownership by itself, but from what I’ve discovered, it can really help children with ASD who are struggling to better cope with life and all its trappings. So please join me as I briefly discuss our favorite furry friends!

So the main pet that I’d like to focus on for this piece is dogs, as they’re by far the most common pet to own and the one with information the most readily available. But this can very easily apply to cats, birds and yes, even hedgehogs. There’s a surprisingly large amount of research to suggest that owning a pet can do wonders for a child with autism’s social skills. The rate at which ASD children bond with dogs in particular is extremely high. A recent study indicated that a majority of families with members who are on the spectrum own a dog, and that 94% of those children had formed a deep connection with their pet. That’s sweet and all, but that same study, as well as ones similar to it, also delves into some very interesting facts. For example, children who are brought up with a family pet have been shown to possess comparatively above average social skills, and that children with autism will showcase a temporary increase in social capacity after a productive play session with a pet, such as a guinea pig.

But while a positive connection to socialization is great, there are other ways in which dogs are helping kids on the spectrum. Some training dogs are being specially tailored to suit this demographic, and I’m delighted to see the things they’re helping our kids out with. I found an organization called Dogs for Good, who trains dogs for children with all manner of disabilities. Their dogs help kids on the spectrum with road safety, reducing family stress, sensory support, overcoming fears, and a whole host of other things. So if you’re a parent whose child may be struggling and you don’t have a pet, perhaps consider it. It can be a worthwhile endeavor, not only for the child but the whole family as well!

Thoughts on “Atypical”

Recently I decided to give the Netflix original series “Atypical” a try, and my expectations were blown away. Starring Keir Gilchrist, the show follows Sam Gardner, an 18-year-old boy with autism, as he searches for love, acceptance, and a purpose in life. There is also a lot of focus on his family and their trials and tribulations, but for this piece I mostly want to focus on Sam and his characterization. I’ve had my issues in the past with the “Hollywood autistic” as I call it; where most people on the spectrum are typically portrayed as either some savant genius with no ability to socialize, or completely incompetent. Sam strikes a really great balance in being a realistic depiction, and I found myself relating to him on several occasions. This is a comedy series, so some things naturally are a bit exaggerated, and I enjoyed those moments, but for the most part I found Sam to be my favorite character with autism I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever.

I won’t get too deep into spoiler territory, as I highly recommend the series to anyone reading this, but I do want to cover some of the basics. The story starts off with Sam’s quest to find a girlfriend, which right off the bat I think was perfect. I’ve written before about the struggles of those on the spectrum to find meaningful relationships, and they captured the struggle really well. Eventually, that plot point gets somewhat pushed to the side in favor of discovering who he is, what he’s passionate about, what he wants to do going forward in his life, and (very importantly) how he’s going to live independently, as he’s always been with his family. Once again, I’ve written about these very things before and the challenges they bring with them.

Now I looked it up, and Robia Rashid, the show runner, is not on the spectrum, but I could’ve sworn she was due to how relatable many of these situations were. Sam’s often blunt nature which takes some getting used to, the sensory problems that can manifest in unpleasant ways, his ability to “hyper focus” on something he’s really interested in, and a brutal lack of care for that which does not. And the actor who portrays Sam, despite being neurotypical himself, does a fantastic job of showing a lot of little intricacies. As I said before, I highly recommend this show to anyone looking for an emotional yet entertaining ride, complete with a great cast of characters, one of whom happens to be an individual with autism done right.

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