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Posts tagged ‘Autism Acceptance’

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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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.

Stress and Depression in Autism

Today I would like to tackle a darker topic, but one that I find to be incredibly important. It’s a subject that needs to be addressed in our society at large, but I want to focus on it in the realm of autism, because I’ve noticed it to a concerning degree, both from personal experience as well as observation. I’m talking about stress and depression. I’m grouping the 2 together as, in my opinion, they essentially go hand-in-hand. There are many things which cause us to feel stress in our daily lives, and for those on the autism spectrum, it can easily spiral down into a dark place of depression. Things such as an overabundance of stimuli, things not going our way at school and/or work, difficulty in our social lives, facing some level of discrimination, etc. Because of the challenges presented to us by ASD, overcoming these obstacles, keeping on the right track and steering clear of the trappings of stress/depression can be very difficult. I’ve dealt with these issues extensively over the course of my life and, while I’ve certainly recovered a great deal from the depression, I continue to struggle with constant stress and anxiety to this day. I would like to further address this topic with some of the information I learned through my research.

Now I should specify, because I’ve noticed that nowadays depression is very often misunderstood. It’s not just feeling down on yourself for a couple days. It’s a prolonged feeling of extreme sadness and hopelessness, characterized by a lack of ambition, pessimism about the future, and feeling very alone. For individuals with autism, the effects can be even worse, with some reporting “a loss of previously learned skills, greater difficulty carrying out everyday tasks, and at worst, suicide.” The findings I came to on this topic were staggering. I knew there was a problem, but I almost wasn’t expecting the severity. According to a study by Springer, nearly half of all people with autism will experience clinical depression at some point in their lives. And that’s not all it mentioned, it goes pretty in-depth into how there is a serious risk factor for those with autism, and much of it stems from our susceptibility to stress. Another thing I found morbidly interesting was that the depression rate seems highest in those with greater intelligence, and since many with autism are exceptionally gifted, you can see how there’s a vicious cycle here.

There truly needs to be more awareness on this issue. Not just for those on the autism spectrum, but for the general population. The reason I wanted to bring light to this crisis, besides personal experience, is because of the disproportionate rate at which it affects those in the autism community. I’m sure for many parents out there, either your loved one has dealt with extreme stress/depression, or maybe even you have when things got particularly rough. Just know that you’re not alone and there are always people who care about you.

Reconsidering Neurodiversity

Here at CARD, our mission is and always will be to promote good relations between those on the autism spectrum and the general public, be it in the workplace, the community, at school, or even within the family unit. We believe it is imperative that people of all abilities throughout the Tampa Bay area are treated equally and fairly, and are never impeded from living their lives because of something they can’t control. While I’m sure everyone in the special needs community (and most people in general) believe in helping individuals who require it, there is some debate over the concept of “neurodiversity,” which is defined as “an approach to learning and mental health that argues diverse neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome.” Basically, if you’re a believer in neurodiversity, then you wouldn’t really view mental disabilities as disabilities at all, just quirks that can be worked on and managed with a few key strategies. Before doing my research for this post, I never even really questioned the validity of neurodiversity, but it’s definitely gotten me to question things a bit more.

I don’t believe it’s fair to argue for or against something without at least providing the counterargument which, in the case of neurodiversity, is that mental disabilities such as ASD, schizophrenia, ADHD, etc. are socially constructed and exist naturally as a part of the neural spectrum. Proponents argue that due to the lack of understanding of how the brain works, coupled with considerable doubts regarding the field of psychiatry, it can’t be proven that there’s anything “wrong with” and autistic or schizophrenic brain. As with many others, I’m not an expert on this topic, but this is their argument put as simply as I can.

As I outlined in the case for neurodiversity, there is a significant lack of hard evidence in neuroscience. The brain is not widely understood like other parts of the body, and as far as I can tell, this fact is acknowledged by the dissenters of neurodiversity. The 2 main critiques I found which I agreed with the most came from Psychology Today, and they were: while it is a noble goal to help people with these conditions, it’s absurd and even harmful to treat them as something desirable; and that all “medical diseases—not just psychiatric disease—rests on a subjective determination about what constitutes abnormality,” and it’s up to the professionals to make those determinations. While the goal is to de-stigmatize mental disabilities, the anti- crowd argues that neurodiversity proponents are doing the opposite. If these conditions are seen as totally normal, then why would there be a push to invest in treatment? It makes sense when you think of it that way.

I’ve lived with ASD my entire life, and here’s my viewpoint. I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I have, and I’ve worked through a lot. However, I don’t think autism should necessarily be “glamorized.” It does provide some benefits, but there are plenty of handicaps as well, and I’ve now come to seriously doubt neurodiversity.

-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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Father’s Day

Father’s Day is coming up and I wanted to devote this blog to all the wonderful fathers out there! Earlier this month, I got to visit with local autism dad Olando Rivera, former champion kick boxer and owner of the B.A. Warrior gym here in Tampa. If you’d like to read about my visit and get some great input from a primary source, please feel free to check out here.

It’s no real secret that compared to mothers, fathers don’t receive nearly the same amount of appreciation for what they do. To be fair, there are (mostly cultural) reasons for this. With many families in America, the dad is out working most of the day while the mom stays home and raises the kids. There is no study to support the claim that women naturally have more compassion than men do, though according to this article, women express compassion more often through “nurturing and bonding behaviors,” which is advantageous when taking care of a child with autism. Like most things, however, these are just generalizations, and not always the case. There’s a national trend lately that’s seeing more and more dads act as the primary caregivers in the household. Pew Research reported in June 2014 that at least 2 million men are stay at home dads in the US alone  and that number has surely risen since then. So the men are there, and they’re not going anywhere! And this is in no way meant to marginalize the impact or importance of moms; quite the opposite in fact. The mom is the wheel that keeps the whole family spinning, and without them we’d all be lost. This is more about giving thanks to the dads out there, who are just as important and should be respected as such!

To all the moms out there: please, encourage your husband to take a more proactive role in your child’s life. If you read what Olando had to say, follow that advice. His bond with his son is so strong because he got involved, broke down that barrier that so many kids on the spectrum erect, and both father and son are stronger for it. Ultimately though, it’s up to the dads to take that big step. Olando had a great quote: “There’s nothing you can do to change your situation, other than change your situation.” This is very true. A very similar thing happened to my own dad a few years ago. Before I got my diagnosis, my relationship with him was rocky. Not terrible, but we never really connected all that well. After the diagnosis, and after seeing a family therapist, he completely turned things around; he “changed his situation.” Now he and I have a wonderful relationship and I love him dearly. Its stories like Olando’s and hopefully even my own that we’re trying to create more of here at CARD, by raising awareness leading up to Father’s Day.

This Father’s Day, remember to give your dad a big hug, maybe get him a little gift, and most importantly, let him know how much you love and appreciate him!

  • G. Sosso

Autism Awareness Month is Not Enough

As many of you might already know, April is Autism Awareness Month! All around the world, groups like CARD are doing their best to bring attention to the unique struggles people on the spectrum face on a daily basis. There’s even a special campaign every April 2nd called “Light it up Blue,” which, as the name implies, is a day to wear blue, the color that represents autism. As someone who realizes how generally underrepresented and unappreciated the ASD demographic is 11 months out of the year, I can at least be thankful there’s a month devoted to the cause of helping these people.

I’d like to include some pictures of some of the world’s famous landmarks that participate in Light it up Blue, it’s really a beautiful thing to see:

There are many others, from famous Buddhist Temples in Asia, to the Eye of London and the White House; I suggest you look them up as well!

Anyways, the thing I would like to talk about is the idea of an Autism Awareness Month itself. Now, while I said before that I do love the idea, I (as well as many others), feel that it’s not enough. According to the Autism Society, there are more than 3.5 million Americans alone with ASD, or roughly 1 in 68 births, and that number seems to be climbing constantly. Too many on the spectrum are directionless, unable to find help, don’t have the necessary life skills to thrive in the world, and these things aren’t their fault. They just need the proper guidance, and an awareness month dedicated to them is a great first step, but we need more.

Autism awareness is something that should take place all year long, not just in April. The fact of the matter is, while many people who normally don’t think too much about autism are more cognizant of it for 30 days, once May 1st rolls around, they’re back to forgetting for another 11 months. This is how many feel about other dedicated months, such as Black History month or Women’s History month. Until the day where individuals on the spectrum are fully integrated into society (or at least as well as we can be), let’s focus on making Autism Awareness Month “Autism Awareness Year.”

  • G. Sosso

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