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Posts tagged ‘Center For Autism & Related Disabilities’

Autism & Religion

For millions of families around the world, religion plays an extremely important role in their lives. Entire societies have been formed based on a common belief in God or gods. Here in America, Sunday is an important day for many churchgoers, and the diversity of belief found here is unlike any other in the world. But what exactly is the relationship between religiosity and autism, if there’s one at all? While I would describe myself as spiritual, the majority of those I’ve met on the spectrum were not of that inclination? Among the ASD community, what exactly is the consensus?

Surprisingly, this was one of the most one-sided topics I’ve ever researched. Every source I found seems to point to there being a connection between autism and lack of religious belief. In this study, Catherine Caldwell-Harris – a psychology professor at Boston University, paints a pretty clear picture. One further study only further enhanced these findings, as it was discovered that those with autism were only 11% as likely as their neuro-typical counterparts to believe strongly in a God. People on the autism spectrum are not only more likely than average to be agnostic or atheist, but are more likely to reject organized religion if favor of their own personalized belief systems. That’s actually how I’d describe myself, so these findings definitely clicked with me.

But why exactly is this the case? The answer is actually simpler than you’d think. For hundreds of years, there’s been a strong divide between religion and science. The more logical and rational-minded you are, the lower your inclination towards faith. This relates to people on the autism spectrum, as it’s a well-known fact (which I have discussed in previous blogs) that we’re often logical, fact-based, straightforward thinkers who need to see evidence in front of us before we’ll believe anything. An excerpt from this article summarizes it quite well: “I recalled what Simon Baron-Cohen and others have written about autistic people’s tendency to systematize and our love of routine, rationality, and logic. All that makes sense, and I can see how a strongly rational person would reject religious dogma if it does not seem logical.”

Obviously, none of this is universal, as with most topics related to ASD. While it is true that those on the spectrum have a higher chance of being atheist/agnostic, it’s not a foregone conclusion. I know how important going to church, synagogue or mosque is for a lot of families out there, and if you have a child on the spectrum who makes going to service difficult, there are resources available. CARD-USF has their own resource for this topic; View it here.

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Internet & Cordiality

In today’s world, I try my best to not be cynical; to maintain a positive outlook on life despite all the divisiveness that’s going on in our society. However, even in my best moments I can’t deny the volatility that exists in certain places, and nowhere is this more apparent than the internet. In particular, online forums like Reddit or micro-blogging sites like twitter. Now obviously everyone is free to say and do whatever they’d like online. In the overwhelming majority of cases you’re not in any physical danger, but I do have some suggestions on how to make your time on the internet as enjoyable and non-confrontational as possible. I do this because many people on the autism spectrum are naïve. Mind you, this is not a knock on anyone, as I would certainly include myself in that category.

Allow me to get this one out of the way as soon as possible: unless you’re going into political science in college or something similar, try to stay away from political discussions. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t stay informed; in fact, I encourage everyone (autism or not) to keep up with current events. Just make sure to check as many sources as you can to avoid false information. No, what I’m talking about are the comment sections. Chances are, you go to the comment sections of any political post on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. and you’re going to encounter a firestorm of negativity and vile. If you value your sanity and self-worth as an individual, keep your distance.

Repeat after me: anonymity is key. Again, in writing these blogs, my hope is for them to be of use for at least a few people. This is a mistake I know many with autism make, and it is so important to remember. Do not give out your real identity or personal information to anyone ever. Predators know how innocent people on the spectrum can be, and they’ll use that to their advantage, either to scam you or have some mean-spirited fun. Besides the obvious financial issues that arise, this can lead to a plethora of nightmarish scenarios such as doxing or swatting. It’s harrowing to read about some of these occurrences, and it can be a mentally scarring experience, so please tread carefully and protect your privacy.

Unless you’re talking with a trusted source, or if it pertains to your health, try not to disclose your ASD to strangers online. Having autism, unfortunately, has become somewhat of a stigma in certain corners of the internet. Being forward and upfront about your diagnosis just invites cyber bullying and other cruel treatment. On the flip side, don’t try to use your ASD as a catch-all for avoiding any criticism. For better or worse, when you post something online, it is truly there forever, and is open for scrutiny. The world is never going to stay silent on anything you say or do just because you have autism. In fact, many will see it as a feeble attempt to garner sympathy if you use your condition as an excuse, something I’ve learned the hard way before.

> G. Sosso

Loneliness & Autism

Image result for lonely picture

 

We’ll be shifting gears this time around to talk about something a bit more serious. There’s been a trend in my blogs to write about subjects which hold significance to me for one reason or another, as I find it much easier to write when you can personally relate to the topic at hand. This week is no different, as I’ll be discussing loneliness and how it affects people on the autism spectrum. Due to the socialization issues faced by those with autism, making and (perhaps most importantly) keeping friends can be a daunting task, despite our pure intentions. This lack of companionship can be highly damaging to anyone, let alone individuals on the spectrum. However, I promise if you just keep at it, and stay true to yourself, eventually good friends will come along. But I digress, let’s get into it.

From what I could find, apparently there used to be an idea that people with autism didn’t feel lonely or, at the very least, weren’t as severely impacted by it as others. I find this idea dubious at best. One study from the University of Missouri measured “loneliness, number and nature of friendships, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem.” It was discovered that among this demographic, a lack of close friends increased depression and anxiety, while lowering self-esteem and satisfaction with life. This holds true for myself and everyone else I’ve ever known with autism.

It is possible that many people, mostly children, with ASD may not understand the connection between loneliness and real friendship. Making acquaintances is one thing, but having a true friend who’ll be there for you through thick and thin is difficult for so many of us. According to Tony Attwood, a well-known figure in the autism community in Australia, children with autism have weaker friendships than their neurotypical peers and don’t understand that their loneliness stems from that. “Whereas typical children define and understand loneliness as being alone (with no one to play with) and feelings of sadness, the majority of autistic children define loneliness as only one dimension of being alone. They tend to not attribute an emotional feeling (e.g. sadness) to their loneliness.” That degree of sadness that they don’t quite understand leads to intense feelings of depression and loneliness which is almost impossible to break out of.

As I’ve alluded to, the true cure for the devastating effects of loneliness is to forge strong friendships. A few years ago, I made 2 friends who are the best I’ve ever had, and for the first time I feel truly happy in my life. I feel better about myself than ever before. And this idea is definitely supported. From the first study I referenced, it was found that a “greater quantity and quality of friendships were associated with decreased loneliness among adults with autism spectrum disorders.” Interacting with the social world we live in can be challenging, and even scary at times, but as I said before, just keep being you and one day the right people will notice, and make a great friend in the process.

  • G. Sosso

A Note to High School Teachers about Autism

It’s no big secret that high school can be a challenge for anyone, not just those on the spectrum, but for many of them, the struggle is greater than any other. They’re still growing up, many have yet to learn any true applicable life skills, and classes can be a challenge if the teacher is incapable of keeping the pace of their lessons at an acceptable level for all of their students. Many go through that phase where everything their parents say is wrong and they’re always right (don’t worry we all do it). These are just some of the many issues which can make high school so difficult. I know for me personally, high school had its ups sure, but on the whole I barely made it through at times, often only passing due to the intervention of my mom or dad chatting with my teachers and getting me back on the right track. Here, I want to discuss some issues facing students with autism in high school, and perhaps some solutions that can help resolve the main issues.

Nowadays, students with ASD participating in general education classrooms is trending. Many are beginning to feel that just because a kid has autism, doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t receive the same knowledge as everyone else. For those who may not be “in-the-know” about what autism is, some of the most common characteristics are difficulty in social situations, an inability to spot sarcasm or tone of voice, repetitious actions, and a general aversion to change. According to Veronica Fleury of UNC’s Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, “Many educators find that they’re not prepared to adapt their instruction methods to meet both state standards and the diverse needs of students with autism.” In a similar study, it was noted that students on the spectrum had a disproportionately high participation in the STEM fields compared to the general populace, regardless of gender or income. If that’s really the case, then it’s apparent that high schools need to prepare these students with the necessary skills for achieving their goals, as STEM fields are some of the most difficult to succeed in.

Another thing to keep in mind, especially if you are a teacher, is that a lot of individuals on the spectrum have unique (or at least different) learning styles. When planning for instruction, keep in mind that for the most part, students with ASD are visual learners, literal learners, and require consistency, according to this resource. For example, out-of-nowhere pop quizzes and numerous hands-on activities aren’t going to be very effective for most, as they’ll quickly lose interest and won’t absorb a single word coming out of your mouth. Be forthcoming and explicit with your expectations, don’t leave anything up for interpretation or else the student may not understand what they’re supposed to do in a given situation.

Additionally, try to keep the student engaged with other members of the classroom. If given the chance, many with autism will clam up and not want to socialize at all. This simply isn’t going to cut it in the real world, so try to prepare them by having them participate in group work. If you follow these tips, dealing with your student should be much easier.

> G. Sosso

Transitioning into the Working World

Out of all the issues we try to address here at CARD, there is perhaps none more important than how can we help kids on the spectrum, who just finished, or are finishing, high school successfully transition into the adult (working) world? It can seem like a monumental task at times, even downright impossible, but it’s not! I was in the exact same position when I graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School back in 2013, and my life sort of stalled until I found CARD, and of course the Learning Academy. They helped me a lot, and hopefully I can do the same thing for anyone reading this.

According to the Autism Society via the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of “June 2014, only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. were participating in the labor force – working or seeking work. Of those, 12.9 percent were unemployed; meaning only 16.8 percent of the population with disabilities was employed (By contrast, 69.3 percent of people without disabilities were in the labor force, and 65 percent of the population without disabilities was employed).” The difference between the 2 is enormous, and clearly speaks to some sort of correlation; such a gap cannot be mere coincidence. Now, to be fair, part of the blame does lie on those with the disabilities. Less than 20% of people on the spectrum were looking for work, and that is a huge part of the problem.

Many employers hear the negative stereotypes associated with workers with mental disabilities, and don’t want to take the risk of hiring them. Things like laziness, the inability to follow orders, taking longer to accomplish tasks, lack of social skills, etc. are just some of the reasons companies aren’t hiring from this demographic. And it cannot be denied that, for many young, and even full-grown adults, these things are an issue that plagues them. But, just like any other problem, it can be fixed if both the boss and employee are willing to work together and be understanding. Perhaps if more companies realized this, they could see some of the positive attributes people on the spectrum can bring; i.e. resourcefulness, creativity, unique perspectives and the ability to point out the little details others might miss.

So now we know a few of the issues, but how can we go about fixing them; i.e. making the transition? I think this article sums it up quite well, “For young adults who go directly into the employment world, it will also be critical for them to focus on their strengths and what brings them the greatest joy. They will want to explore different areas of the job market. Different work environments may help different individuals to excel. There are many opportunities for supported employment, where the employer offers supports to a worker with different challenges. Other individuals will require less support and may do better independently.” Basically, you need to find your passion, and there are many organizations that can help you out with that, including CARD!

Source: http://www.autism-society.org/what-is/facts-and-statistics/.

 

G. Sosso

Meet Olando Rivera: Where Kickboxing Background & Autism Connect

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to interview one of the most prominent dads in the Tampa Bay autism community, Olando “The Warrior” Rivera. The former kickboxer, whose record boasts several championship titles, now is a successful business owner running the B.A. Warrior Gym and soon opening the Warriors for Autism Fitness & Sensory Center specifically designed for individuals with special needs. The center inspired by his own son and other children on the spectrum will have a sensory room, zip line, rock wall and various activities that are geared toward children and young adults with sensory sensitives.

As you can imagine, I was a little nervous meeting someone with his résumé, but it turns out he was a really nice guy who seemed to genuinely care about all the kids that walk into his gym. As I was listening to his story, I couldn’t help but feel like it could be the plot to a movie; star athlete who had it all, life tries to knock him down, comes out in the end happier than ever, knowing family is more important than anything else. Listed below are the questions I asked Mr. Rivera, followed by his responses. Hope you enjoy!

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Coach Olando helping a young boy on the Sensory Center’s rock wall

 

Q: Please describe your mission here at the B.A. Warrior Training Center. We can all read it online, but I’d like to hear it straight from your mouth.

A: “The mission here, our vision, is to have a place where the kids can come in and have fun, but at the same time, not feel like they’re overwhelmed with all the noise. I can’t have it loud and noisy in here, or have a lot of bright lights, because as you know, I have an autistic son. He’s 17 now, and I want him to know that when he comes into this room, he can have fun and not squint his eyes or cover his ears and stuff like that; I’ve been through this with him his whole life, so I understand what he needs. I basically designed this place alongside my wife with the thought of helping these kids, and my son, to not only have fun, but to get some exercise. Can’t get in shape when you’re sitting at home on the computer!”

 

Q: What sort of growth do you usually see in your disciples, from when they first walk in here to when they leave for the last time?

A: “That’s another reason why I’ve been so inspired to do this program. Since I started this back in 2000, what I’ve seen throughout the years with all the kids that have come through those doors to train with me, is that when they got here they were very shy and scared, and didn’t know what they were getting into really. I’ve seen them transform from that into saying, ‘Hey this is so fun and cool!’, and it had to do with simple things that I did to help them, which I’ve also done with my own son. I figured if it works for him, I could probably duplicate it with other kids. Why not help as many of these kids as I possibly can? The best feeling is when I see some of them go from non-verbal to verbal, and actually say, ‘Thanks coach!’, it’s magical. It shows how much they truly do care. The key, I believe, is the eye contact. Once you’ve established that, and they’ll look at you right back, you know you’ve gained their trust.”

 

Q: How did getting that initial diagnosis for your son change things for you and your family?

A: “That one’s really close to the heart. When we found out, we didn’t know what it was. Who did? He was 5 when we found out, so going on 12 years now. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I’m a champion athlete, why does my son have something like this?’, and it was hard for me, as a man, to wonder how could he have gotten this from me when I’m so healthy? It caused a lot of problems between me and my wife; shifting the blame on one another, going back and forth, it was bad. But through the grace of God, we realized fighting wouldn’t solve anything, and that he’s our son and he needs us to help him. Being completely honest, I was in denial about it, thinking he’ll be fine, or “grow out of it,” but as the years went by, nothing changed. My wife Deena stayed on top of it though, making sure he always got what he needed. They called me a warrior when I was fighting, but she was the real warrior, doing what needed to be done for her kid. When I realized that, I accepted my son for who he is, and began my mission to help out other kids in similar situations.”

 

Q: There’s an unfortunate stigma against dads of children with autism, that they “can’t be as involved as the mom.” What would you say to any dads out there to convince them to be proactive in their child’s life?

A: “It comes down to the last question I answered. I was in denial as a dad, I didn’t want to believe it even existed, let alone that my son had it. I’m sure there are a lot of dads out there who go through the same thing I did. But that’s crazy, because if you think that way, then you’re not really a dad. When you’re a parent, you take your child, and you deal with the hand you’re given, and you do what you have to do to ensure they’re the best they can be no matter what’s involved. Moms are going to do what needs to be done almost always, because they carried you! They know what’s best for you by instinct, but many dads don’t have that. What I can say though, is to just remember: it’s not about you, it’s about your kid. Just love them and take care of them, and I promise you’ll do just fine.”

 

Q: Thank you so much for doing this. Last thing, can you give any general advice to all the dads out there who may be reading?

A: “It’s no problem, glad to do it. My suggestion to the dads out there: get down on one knee, look them in the eye. MAKE that contact with them, if they look away, pull their face back to yours. Let them see you, because once they do, it breaks that barrier they put up automatically. “There’s nothing you can do to change your situation, other than change your situation.” Doing nothing will change nothing. I’ve seen it consistently ever since I opened this place up. When you work hard to make things better, the change you will see is contagious, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. That’s the reason I’m here today standing in this building with you, is my determination to make things better, and that is my advice to all the dads out there.”

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Olando and his wife, Deena.

 

  • G. Sosso

 

 

Autism Moms: Things to Remember

With Mother’s Day 2016 just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mother and how much I appreciate her and everything she does for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if weren’t for her, so thank you so much; I love you! Today I want to talk about some things that “autism moms” may experience or should know about. I’ve compiled this list from various sources, including the internet, my own mom, and the moms of some of my friends from the Learning Academy last year. I included a few entries that apply for high functioning autism, and some for low functioning, so as to not discriminate against either demographic. Some of these things may seem obvious, but honestly speaking, being a parent to kid(s) on the spectrum is a challenging thing, and sometimes being reminded of these things can be a huge help in keeping us grounded. So here’s my list of the most important things you will experience as an autism mom:

  1. You will become very flexible. Kids with autism can often be unpredictable and don’t always have the same thought process as neurotypical children, so you will have to learn to adapt to their behavior. Don’t expect a “one size fits all” parenting style to work very well.
  2. At the end of the day, you will have the patience of a saint. For a while, your child will test your sanity, but you will come out stronger for it in the end. My mom used to be quicker to anger, now she can take anything that comes at her.
  3. No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, you will come to be thankful for progress of any kind, be it vocal, academic or social, so much more than the average parent. You may even feel happier than they do!
  4. Like it or not, you will learn basically all there is to know about autism itself. The moms I talked to formulating this list seemed to know more about autism than some neuroscientists, which I found humorous.
  5. This one is very important: please make sure you take care of yourself occasionally. You won’t be able to take care of your kids if you’re too fatigued to do anything. Treat yourself to a night out every now and then.
  6. You may or may not go crazy at times thinking about your child’s future. Just kidding… you will absolutely go crazy! All parents worry about this, but when you have the unpredictability autism brings like I mentioned before, it can really dominate your mind at times.
  7. Above all else, you will truly learn to appreciate what you have. Kids with autism are just as wonderful as those without it, and if you just have the determination, you can make them become a success through a loving relationship.

Make sure to show your appreciation this Mother’s Day, and to all the wonderful moms out there, thank you for all you do!

gage and mom

My mother and I

  • G. Sosso

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