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Posts tagged ‘center for autism and related disabilities’

Getting a Good Night’s Rest: Autism & Sleep

Ah, the joys of a good night’s sleep. When we’re lying awake in bed at night, we want nothing more than to stay up just a little bit longer. Then as soon as we wake up in the morning, prying ourselves up from bed can be the most difficult thing in the world. Sleep is part of being alive, and it’s something that comes so naturally to many, but for people on the autism spectrum, it can be a constant struggle. This problem seems to be magnified with children. Personally, I’ve had difficulties with sleep bordering on insomnia for a great deal of my life. My family is well aware of how unhealthy my sleeping habits have always been (though in the past year I have improved greatly), and I’m sure that, for many parents out there reading this, it has been a major issue they’ve had to deal with. I want to outline some shocking facts and realities about sleep-related issues when it comes to ASD.

I figured the number would be high, but I have to admit, I didn’t expect it would be this bad. According to Autism Speaks, as much as 80% of children with ASD suffer from poor sleeping. Now here’s the thing: as far as I can tell, there’s nothing particularly unique about the effects of a sleep deficit on those with autism. It can result in increased aggravation, hyperactive behavior, lingering drowsiness, etc. This is consistent for all children. However, the issue is the exponentially higher rate at which these things occur for people with autism. Live Science states that in the neurotypical population, “Studies estimate that between 10 percent and 33 percent of children and 40 percent of adolescents experience sleep problems,” a far cry from the 80% with autism.

So why is this? What causes these issues to be so prevalent in the autism demographic? The truth is, we don’t know. Researchers have never been able to pinpoint an exact reason, though there are theories. These ideas range from decreased melatonin levels at night when they should be higher to aid sleep, to heightened sensitivity to various stimuli which distract from falling asleep, to the high levels of anxiety typically experienced by those with autism, which I have gone into depth with in previous blogs. No matter the root cause, there are fundamental challenges which prevent many from experiencing the proper rest they need to stay healthy.

There has to be some solutions to all this, right? Of course, though patience will most likely be required; there is no quick fix that’s effective. Autism Speaks and WebMD both have some suggestions for parents on maximizing their child’s “sleep efficiency.” These include avoiding any caffeine or sugar, providing a relaxing environment with soft music, dim lights, etc., turning off stimuli such as TV or video games, get melatonin (NOT sleeping pills), have the kid exercise during the day, early afternoon naps, and coming up with a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. That last one, once I finally implemented it after 21 years on this Earth, was the one that finally worked for me. Now I sleep a consistent 7-8 hours on work nights, and 8-9.5 on weekends. Follow those tips, keep at it, and eventually sleep will come as naturally to you or your children as anyone else.

 

 

 

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Autism & College

A large number of children growing up with autism have a difficult time thinking about what “comes next.” Because of the difficulties that come naturally with childhood and adolescence, along with the unique challenges presented by ASD, many parents are more focused on simply getting their child through high school, and who knows what comes next. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but everyone has to leave the nest sometime. I’ve previously discussed the possibility of jumping straight into the working world, which is a perfectly acceptable path to take. College isn’t for everyone. However, there are many advantages associated with going to college, whether it be for an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Currently, I am attending Hillsborough Community College, earning my AA degree, before I transfer to USF for my bachelor’s. I couldn’t be happier with my decision, and I’m proud to say that I know I’m going places; making something of myself. That sense of validation and self-worth is one of the many reasons going to college is a positive thing for those on the spectrum. But there are others as well!

Let’s not beat around the bush here. A college degree makes for a happy and healthy bank account. While it is more than possible to be successful in life without a higher education, the numbers don’t lie. This article paints college in a very favorable light, but I’d like to focus on the chart included herein. The more school you complete, the more you make and the lower your chance for unemployment. And as we see here, the autism demographic has a major unemployment problem, unparalleled in almost any other group out there. If you can find your passion, something you’re talented at and enjoy doing, then go for it and you can make a fulfilling career for yourself. And best of all, you won’t have to worry about financial strain while doing it.

As we all know, however, money can’t buy happiness. Love, family, friends, etc. are the true path to a satisfying life, and one of the most important aspects of that is love for what you do. “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Like it or not, getting a college degree opens up the door for so many different career paths that are unavailable to those without a higher education. Those on the spectrum often have a wide array of quirky and creative interests; luckily, there’s a major/degree out there for just about anything you can think of. Take well-known and outspoken autism advocate Temple Grandin for instance who, according to her Wikipedia page, got her bachelor’s degree in human psychology, and her master’s and doctoral degrees in animal science. Now there’s someone who’s really made something of themselves.

Perhaps most importantly is that, simply put, having a degree correlates strongly to increased happiness. As shown in every source I’ve found, such as this one, a college educated population is a content population, and considering the depression epidemic common throughout the autism community, this can only be a good thing. Personally, ever since I started my journey towards a degree, I’ve been feeling much better about myself, and I’ve never been happier!

_ G. Sosso

Video Games & ASD

In my previous blog, I wrote about some of the reasons why people on the autism spectrum might be attracted to anime, or Japanese animation. This time around, I would like to talk about something comparable: why video games are so appealing to us. Video games are not as niche of an interest as anime, and they are massively popular among plenty of demographics. However, every single person I’ve ever met with ASD, myself included, has been a huge fan of video games. Why is this? Many of the reasons are similar to those of anime, such as the presence of a wide, accepting community, but there are some unique reasons as well that make video games stand out. I will attempt to explain this appeal with a combination of research, as well as my own personal experiences and anecdotes.

Video games offer a wide variety of different ways to play, and there’s a genre for just about anyone. There’s single player, local co-op and online multiplayer, depending on what you’re looking for. As discussed in this article, video games can provide a level of escapism from the confusing real world, and into one where you, the player, control everything. You have the ultimate authority over what happens, and there’s an element of certainty and security. But security and comfort can’t last forever, and eventually you’ve got to deal with the harsh reality that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. Video games are highly competitive and can be difficult, and if you play against other players, you’re going to lose. It may be hard to comprehend for people who have never played, but these games are high intensity and can get pretty heated. But if you stick with it, you’ll learn to not be a sore loser and accept defeat, a good lesson to learn for those with autism who always want things to go exactly according to plan.

Those are some of the main reasons that I personally agree with wholeheartedly, but there are other factors as well. One is the development of fine motor skills. It is well known that people on the spectrum often have issues in the development of motor skills (once again, I’m no exception), but video games can certainly help with that. Chief among these skills is hand-eye coordination, which video games teach you. I know that gaming helped me in that regard, as well as practicing typing. I overcame things I couldn’t do naturally through practice, and others can too.

One more important thing I’d like to mention is the element of problem solving. Games present a challenge much like that of a puzzle, where the solution is something you have to figure out on your own. As we’ve discussed before, many individuals with ASD have wonderful amounts of creativity, and can come at problems from unique angles. Video games are a perfect outlet for this, where the solution is always there, but it’s up to the player to figure it out. There is a terrific sense of accomplishment you feel when you overcome a challenge in a game; it instills you with confidence which is often lacking from those with autism, and that confidence can even carry over into real life.

For all their negative press, video games have a lot of draw to them, especially those with autism. And now, we’re discovering that they could even be an effective tool for teaching!

  • G. Sosso

Personal Tales: Gage’s Autism Speech

I’ve been taking a Public Speaking class lately at Hillsborough Community College. Recently, I had to do an informative speech, and I chose to speak about autism. My speech, like every other, was broken up into 3 parts: what autism is and is not, autism prevalence and its rise in recent years, and what various organizations are doing to help individuals and families on the spectrum. I would like to share a rough transcript of my speech for you all today.

“Hello, my name is Gage Sosso and I will be talking to you today about autism spectrum disorder, or autism. I myself have been dealing with this condition my entire life, only being diagnosed at the age of 15. Since August of 2015, I have been working at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at USF, doing blog writing for them which requires me to do further research on autism. First, I would like to discuss what exactly ASD is, and what it is not.

Autism is, at its base, a neurological developmental disorder which affects social, non-verbal communicative and sometimes linguistic/verbal skills. Autism manifests differently for everyone, as it is a spectrum. There are two common terms in autism diagnosis: high-functioning and low-functioning. High-functioning people struggle in social situations, suffer from anxiety, and have trouble with non-verbal clues, amongst others. Low-functioning has all that, plus an inability, or at least extreme difficulty, to communicate at all.

Autism has an interesting reputation. Let me explain to you what it is not. As confirmed by mentalhelp.net, it is not mental retardation, as some would believe it to be. In fact, there is no correlation between autism and lack of intelligence. Many people on the spectrum actually have above average IQs. The other common portrayal, especially popular in Hollywood films like Rain Man, is the ‘autistic savant.’ While savant syndrome does stem from neurodevelopmental disorders, only 10% of savants are on the autism spectrum, as confirmed by the Wisconsin Medical Society in a study.

Our understanding of, and how we diagnose autism has changed drastically over the years. According to the Autism Science Foundation, as recently as the late 1980s, the diagnosis for autism was 1 in 10,000. Since then, it’s rose to 1 in 2,500, then 1 in 1,000, and so on. This rise has been astonishing to many psychologists and sociologists. It should also be noted that the rate of autism is higher in males than females.

A number that stuck for a while was 1 in 68, but the current number is 1 in 45. So why the meteoric rise? Is it an epidemic? Possibly, but there are other theories. One that I personally subscribe to comes from scientificamerican.com, which posts that autism rates have not increased; rather, the diagnosis has changed along with greater understanding in the field of neurosciences. What was once thought of as mental retardation, schizophrenia, or just outright insanity, is now understood to be ASD.

There is much being done in the area of autism awareness. Some organizations, such as the well-known Autism Speaks, focus primarily on research and figuring out what autism is on a fundamental level, where it comes from, why it happens, and potential ‘cures.’ They (and other, similar groups), have even delved into research on the vaccines cause autism theory, which is an entirely different can of worms that I won’t get into here. Essentially, they want to understand autism on a scientific level.

Then there are groups like CARD who take a more active approach in the lives of individuals and families with autism. They focus on community outreach, highlighting positive contributions people on the spectrum have made, as well as striving for inclusion and accessibility for those with disabilities. CARD, for example, has Autism Friendly Business, where a company can contact them and receive free training on how to better assist with customers or clients with autism. Essentially, these groups seek to improve the day-to-day lives of people with autism.

Autism is often symbolized by a puzzle piece. This came about in the 1960s for a very simple reason: the condition was considered puzzling by psychologists at the time. Maybe, just maybe, if we strive for inclusion and understanding, one day we’ll discover the missing piece to this mysterious puzzle.”

> G. Sosso

Link between Autism and Genius?

 

Hollywood has an odd history when it comes to portraying autism spectrum disorder in its movies. Autism is a wide spectrum, with many different behavioral traits exhibited, but Hollywood seemingly only ever portrays the “autistic savant.” With movies such as Rain Man, Adam, Mercury Rising, etc. people whose only exposure to autism comes through movies may be inclined to believe that everyone with autism is a genius with an IQ of 120+. This is obviously not the case, but the phenomena known as the autistic savant is certainly a real thing. In fact, there may be a link between ASD and having genius-level intellect or creativity.

Some of history’s greatest composers, scientists and innovators have been suspected of being on the autism spectrum. Although impossible to verify, according to several sources, Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emily Dickinson all showed strong signs of having autism during their lives. These men and women changed the world, in part due to devoting their lives to their pursuits. All were incredibly talented individuals.

One of the hallmarks of geniuses who leave their impact on the world is an utter devotion to what they do. This often requires shutting off other people completely in order to focus all your effort on your passion. As this article says, “Whether it is Edison inventing the electric light bulb, or Beethoven writing a symphony, the capacity to transcend prodigious challenges requires a keen ability to screen out distractions, whether social, or practical.” The same article goes in depth about the new film, Magnus, about the world chess champion Magnus Carlsen, who denies being on the autism spectrum, but his claims are treated with skepticism. Carlsen absorbs himself in chess so much he shuns his family in the process.

While not every individual on the autism spectrum is of the savant variety, there is definitely evidence that points to a correlation between ASD and being classified as “genius.” Savant or not, people on the spectrum continue to make impacts on the world today, with several talented people like Temple Grandin being great role models in the community, and shining beacons to the rest of the world that we can do great things.

 

  • 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

Technology & Autism

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

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