Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

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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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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.

TLA Graduate, Erica King, Wins Big in Local Theater Competition

Erica

Erica King

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.

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– G. Sosso

Advanced Clinical Training: CBT to Treat Anxiety for Individuals Diagnosed with ASD

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Registration is now open! This two-day training is for professionals and is limited to only 40 registrants. Act fast! Register here.

Autism and Speech Language Pathology

It’s no secret that for many on the autism spectrum, the development of linguistics and/or speech can be stunted. This is commonly regarded as one of the defining traits of “low-functioning autism,” where problems more severe than social difficulties can manifest themselves. I’m incredibly fortunate to have never had to deal with any of these particular issues, even excelling in the language department, but others are not so lucky. In my work here at CARD and PEPSA, I’ve done a lot of editing work for various teachers around the state, and one of the common professions I kept coming across were “speech-language pathologists” (SLPs). In truth, I had never heard of that term before, and so for this piece I decided to look more into them and their relationship to ASD. After doing some research, I’ve concluded that SLPs can be lifesavers when trying to help out low-functioning people with autism, particularly children.

So, what exactly is a speech-language pathologist? According to accredited SLPs Gail Richard and Donna Murray, “The speech-language pathologist’s most-familiar role involves helping someone produce speech – making sounds, speaking words, improving articulation (intelligibility) and so on. But speech-language pathologists do so much more. They also help with the language skill of putting words together to communicate ideas – either verbally or in reading and writing.” And, perhaps most importantly, they even help articulate social communication skills. Already you can begin to see why these SLPs are so sought after in the autism community. I’ve noticed through my editing work that having a background in speech-language pathology is a huge plus when it comes to being a special needs teacher, as are many who have partnered with PEPSA all throughout Florida.

Unfortunately, I’m no expert on the subject myself and as I’ve mentioned, I never attended a session with an SLP, so I can’t get into the nitty-gritty of what exactly they do or the methods they employ. There’s plenty of independent research you can do if you’re really interested. However, I would like to discuss one of the activities they utilize that I am familiar with, so if something like this interests you, perhaps consider contacting an SLP for your own child. If you’ve never heard of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), you’ve probably at least seen an example of it before. They’re those cute little picture charts that speech-impaired people often use. The Tampa Police Department even started using them recently to serve their ASD community members thanks to the efforts of CARD! SLPs use them to teach basic communication skills, and to develop an understanding of language before delving into the actual use of language. There’s so much more that these amazing people do, but it would take an extremely long time to get into it all.

There might not be any other profession that seems more geared towards serving individuals with autism than SLPs, and I can certainly appreciate the work they do. If this seems like something helpful, there are plenty of them in the Tampa area alone, they’re all just a google search away!

Autism Across the World

As I’ve discussed many times, the rate of autism and the manner in which we address it has changed drastically throughout the 20th century and up until today. But some may forget that every year on April 2nd, we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day. Sometimes as Americans we tend to forget that there’s a whole wide world out there (I say this as affectionately as possible). And as someone whose top interests include history, international affairs, different cultures, and just generally learning about the world, I was curious as to how other countries view autism, and how prevalent it is. In my research, I discovered some very interesting trends that I would like to share with you all.

One recurring theme is that autism seems to be most common, or at least more widely diagnosed, in developed nations such as Japan, the UK, the US, Sweden, Hong Kong, etc. The data I pulled from here is consistent with every other source I found on the subject. Western Europe, North America and East Asia seem to have the highest rates of autism in the world, and a lot of that is most likely similar to what we see in the US: better awareness by advocacy groups, a more accepting social climate, and improved methods of diagnosis. Japan always seems to come in at number 1, while the US ranks anywhere between 5 and 3. The other interesting thing I found was the complete lack of autism prevalence in places like Africa and the Middle East. These areas are generally more poverty-stricken and less accepting to people’s differences, so it comes as little surprise that autism is not focused on in these places.

Speaking of, how do some other cultures view autism? Well, from what I can tell, across most of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, etc. it’s much the same as in the US, with improvements every year. However, in some places, there’s a more nuanced view of autism. For example, in South Korea, they have a phrase for autism: “chapae.” It is considered a “genetic mark of shame on the entire family, and a major obstacle to all of their children’s chances of finding suitable spouses,” and the stigma can become such a problem that Korean clinicians will intentionally misdiagnose their patients as having something else entirely. That is astounding to me that something like that is going on in such an advanced nation. Even here in America we see a different take on ASD in the Hispanic communities. Even adjusted for socioeconomic factors, rates of autism are lower in the Hispanic demographic than any other in America. It’s theorized that traits of autism can affect one’s reproductive chances.

I find it so interesting how autism is viewed so differently around the world, and how culture shapes that view so intensely. Personally, I’m glad to have it here in the US, where people are widely accepting and there are so many great resources available.

  • G. Sosso

Autism Rates Continue to Rise

The number we’ve all become accustomed to regarding the rate at which autism occurs is 1 in 68. The 1 in 68 figure held firm over the span of 4 years from 2010 to 2014. However, the latest report from the CDC (which comes out every two years and observes 8 year old children) shows a 15% increase in prevalence from 2014, and the figure has now moved up to 1 in 59. This, to me, is the most fascinating thing out of all the myriad of subjects I’ve researched regarding autism. What is going on exactly, and why does the amount of people being diagnosed with ASD continue to rise?

The answer almost certainly has to do with a heightened awareness to the condition and improvements in how we diagnose it. With that in mind, I imagine the 1 in 59 will shrink even further by the time I’ve graduated college and moved onto adulthood. However, there is one slight concern I have concerning the rapidly increasing number of diagnoses. As this article discusses, as we trend more towards diagnosing children at a younger age, we risk muddying the waters between genuine autism and other disabilities, or even standard neurodevelopmental setbacks. Once the autism label is applied, the consequences of that will stick with the individual for the rest of their lives.

The last thing I want is for anyone to receive an incorrect diagnosis. Obviously, I’m not a practicing psychologist, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to diagnose someone as being on the spectrum, unless they were severely low-functioning. I don’t doubt the ability or credibility of any professional, but I worry we’re becoming somewhat trigger happy with the ASD label. It simply does not seem right to me from a skeptical viewpoint for such rapid changes in such a short time as we see here. Especially considering that autism is not a transmittable disease like the common cold. I couldn’t be happier that preventative measures are better now than ever regarding ASD, but we need to be careful that we don’t start assuming that 1 in 2 or 3 have it.

From what I’ve read, it seems like the 1 in 59 will not be here to stay for very long. As the criteria for diagnosis broadens, and the amount of parents checking their children for ASD grows along with general awareness, I predict that by 2020 we’ll see it somewhere in the ballpark of 1 in 52 or 53. No matter what the prevalence truly is, groups like CARD will always be out there to support them and provide them with any help they need!

  • Gage

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