We created these posters in 2013 and they continue to be very popular among school age children. You can download the PDF version here.
We created these posters in 2013 and they continue to be very popular among school age children. You can download the PDF version here.
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 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!
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.
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.
We here at CARD are incredibly proud to announce the recent success of one of our recent TLA graduates, Erica King, at the 4×6 Fest. Erica’s internship was at PowerStories Theatre where she got to write, direct and produce her own play called Splatter. Prior to TLA, Erica attended Focus Academy, where she was able to hone some of these creative skills. Erica’s play at the recent 4×6 competition, titled Time to Get a New Car, won the top honor (beating 7 other plays), and because of this she has qualified to compete in the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival on September 2nd at the Straz Center! Her mother, Beverly King, a consultant here at CARD, could not be more proud, and the outpouring of support here at the office has been incredible. As someone who shares her passion for writing, I wish Erica all the best at the upcoming festival. Speaking of which, I sat down with Erica and asked her a few questions, not only about her play-writing, but also how she cultivated this amazing talent. Here were some of her answers:
Q: Where did your passion for writing come from? Has it been there from the beginning or did it develop later in life?
A: If I remember correctly, I think it developed in first grade. We had to write essays in our notebooks, and I’ve loved it ever since.
Q: When did your love for “normal” writing transition into play writing? There’s a pretty big difference between those two things, and I imagine the jump was a difficult one.
A: One day I just started typing up some scripts with actual characters. All of this happened when I was still pretty young, when I just wanted to make some cartoon characters I had created interact with each other. The Timmy Jimmy Power Hour on Nickelodeon was a big inspiration for that.
Q: You mentioned before that you attended the Focus Academy. Could you tell me a little more about that experience and how it affected you?
A: It was basically a school I attended twice a week. There were acting classes and other creative stuff. We’d all come together with our inputs and create a piece that had a bit of everyone involved in it. Then we’d rehearse and perform it for all the parents.
Q: On a similar note, could you talk a little about your time at the Learning Academy? What did you learn and what role did it play in your play writing career?
A: I learned a lot about interviewing at TLA. You can’t just go to an interview without a resume, you need to have references that aren’t family, and you can’t just be a Gaston and claim that you’re the greatest. As for my internship, I was an usher, and the only thing my internship really taught me was how to compromise on details of my play. I got to read one of my plays which allowed me to meet Brianna Larson, the producer of 4×6.
Q: Do you see yourself having a future in play writing, perhaps as a career? Or is this just your current interest that’s more fleeting?
A: I’m interested in both play writing and regular writing. I hope to one day be both an accomplished author and playwright.
– G. Sosso