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Posts tagged ‘Education’

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

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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

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

Spectrum Employment Strategies

One focus here at CARD is helping adults on the spectrum find employment at a job where they can excel. Because of this, we know the struggles that these individuals will inevitably face on this crucial path. Even the most talented, hardworking of people with ASD can struggle with some social, communication, and behavioral issues that might dissuade potential employers from looking their way. Here in this blog, I want to highlight some of the strategies people on the spectrum can utilize to make themselves more appealing in the job market. If you follow these tips, hopefully it will help you take that next step that you deserve.

 
Knowledge is power, and the most important thing you can do for yourself is to know your rights. As a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act. The ADA is, essentially, a “wide-ranging civil rights law that is intended to protect against discrimination based on disability”, while the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies. I highly suggest reading this, from their official website. It explains it all in a very easy to understand manner. Knowing all this is important so you are not taken advantage of. Companies are legally obligated to give you a fair chance just like everyone else, and as long as you realize this, you will be in good legal standing if you feel discriminated against.

 

Of course, just knowing your rights doesn’t guarantee you a job by any means. You still have to deserve the job in the employer’s eyes, so here are some things you can do to show that you will be a productive member of the team. First of all, realize that autism is not some crippling disease, but in fact something that makes you unique, and gives you a distinct skillset! Many people on the spectrum are lauded for their trustworthiness, reliability, creativity and low absenteeism. Stress these things in your job interview (if they apply to you, of course). Unfortunately, many employers have a negative stereotype of workers on the spectrum, so it’s up to you to prove to them that those things aren’t true, and that you would be a valuable asset to the team. Also, and this goes for everyone, not just those on the spectrum, but following up is essential if you want the job. Be persistent. Let them know that this is important to you. It will show them your determination, and will make them believe that you will be just as hard of a worker as someone not on the spectrum.

 
Now, getting employed is only half the battle. Keeping a job can be just as difficult, if not more so. That will be the topic of my next blog; until then, I hope these strategies will help you in your road to employment.Good luck!

Visit our websites for more information about CARD or The Learning Academy

  • G. Sosso

There and Back Again: The Learning Academy

It always feels special to be able to gain a new perspective on something, and my most recent project is a perfect example of that. For those who may not know, I am a 2015 Learning Academy graduate now employed by CARD as a writer/copy-editor. It was the Learning Academy (TLA) that provided me with the skills I needed to hold down a job and cope with the real world, and now I get to repay them for all that they’ve done for me. I’m initiating a project where I’ll be tracking the progress of two current TLA students, Sean and Lizzy. I will be showcasing where they were at the beginning of the year, and how far they’ve come by the end. But that’s neither here nor there; the real focus of this blog is what a truly visceral experience it was going back into the TLA classroom, not as a wide-eyed, eager student, but as an employee, team member and someone of actual authority.

I caught my first glimpse of the new TLA class a couple months ago, during their orientation (which I remember mine like it was just yesterday!). I could see the looks of uncertainty on most of their faces, as well as a hint of cautious optimism. I can’t speak for them of course, but I can safely assume they were feeling the same torrent of emotions that I was; apprehension, hope, anticipation, joy and courage in the face of this new chapter of their lives. To be honest, when I went up to deliver my speech announcing the aforementioned project, I was very nervous. I had practiced what I wanted to say in my head a million times, and I had no problems speaking publicly last year when I was a student, but this time I had to make a good impression. I didn’t just represent myself and my own progress; I was a reflection of CARD and TLA as a whole. Luckily, I did not choke under the pressure, and received a warm reception.

My second meeting with the new class was far more low-key. In order to get a good feel for how things are going, I stopped by for the last half hour of class, and let me tell you, I can scarcely think of another time when I felt so much nostalgia. It was very tempting for me to raise my hand to answer some of the questions Megan was asking just as I had done last year, but considering I was no longer a student, I knew it would not be proper. It is a testament to Megan’s teaching ability that despite the fact that an entire year had passed, I still clearly remembered the lesson being taught, its real-world applicability, and how we used it to aid us in discovering an internship that we could succeed at.

I look forward to seeing how this year’s TLA class will fare, but from what I’ve seen thus far, I have the utmost confidence in them. And at the end of the year, when they all graduate, I’ll be watching fondly, knowing from personal experience just how special of a moment it truly is.

To learn more about the The Learning Academy at USF visit their website.

  • G. Sosso

Transition Planning

transition

This is the fifth (and final) in a series of articles about transition planning. This article identifies some of the unwritten elements for a successful transition. Is your child learning and practicing these skills across grade levels and into adulthood? Prepare, strategize, implement, revise, evaluate, and enjoy your child’s journey on the yellow brick road to adulthood. (And remember to contact CARD if you are seeking additional guidance along the way.)

o Effectively communicate expressively and receptively. Communication is critical to learning and doing.
o Accurately interpret body language. Much of communication is non-verbal and can be easily misconstrued.
o Productively problem-solve. Analyze personal thoughts and actions and learn from mistakes.
o Prioritize, organize, sequence, and complete tasks. Every task and activity requires planning and follow-through.
o Maintain a high level self-esteem. A positive attitude is a foundational element for success.
o Respect others. Accept and celebrate diversity. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and brings something of value to the table. Learn to cooperate and collaborate within a team context.
o Set personal goals and self-monitor your progress. Gradually increase your independence over time.

Reward yourself. (You did it!!)

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