Florida's First Choice for Autism Support

Posts tagged ‘sensory’

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!

olando

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.”

olando 2

Olando and his wife, Deena.

 

  • G. Sosso

 

 

Still Learning from My Adult Child with ASD

noise
Long ago, I stopped accepting most of the things that are supposed to be true about people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Recently, I was reminded about two of these supposed “truths”:
     1. People with ASD make meaningless sounds such as humming, and sing or recite content from movies just to hear themselves make noise.

     2. People with ASD have sensory processing issues that must always be controlled externally by altering the environment or providing them with additional tools such as weighted blankets, noise-cancelling earphones, or other sensory-calming products.

Whether verbal, non-verbal, or somewhere in between, our children have a lot to teach us about how they perceive and process the world around them. Perceptive parents quickly learn a lot from their offspring – about ASD, about children with other differences, and most importantly, about their own children as individual human beings.

This is a little story about tuning in to my 26-year-old daughter, whose habits, movements, sounds, and sensitivities I know almost as well as I know my own, though I don’t always understand the communicative intent of her behaviors.
Three mornings a week, a van arrives to transport Anna to her day program.
Every morning for several years, she would pace, recite movie lines and hum in an agitated manner with her fingers stuck in her ears in anticipation of the van’s arrival. As it pulled up in front of the house and the horn honked, she would gasp loudly and push harder on her ears, then walk out to the van holding both her lunchbox and her ears.

For the past month or so, there has been the same van, same driver, and two quick honks on the horn, all of which have made much of the morning more predictable and easy. However, the time of arrival still varies each day, and that still meant there was enough unpredictability that waiting was anxiety-producing.

Over the last few weeks, Anna would pace, cover her ears, hum and chatter only for a few minutes, then as the time drew nearer for the van to arrive, remove her fingers from her ears, and peer intently out the window. Inevitably, within 60 seconds of the time the van actually arrived (how does she KNOW that?!), she would softly insert her own closely approximated version of the tone, pitch, and time interval of the two quick horn blasts into the rest of her chatter. “Yada yada yada yada beep beep yada yada yada yada.”

It took a few days for this to get my attention, but once it did, I also noticed she no longer gasped and clamped her hands over her ears when the van arrived, and it dawned on me what she was doing. She was preparing her sensory system for the unpredictability of the arrival time, using her own version of the sound of the horn, something like an auditory immunization. It’s brilliant! All of the muttering and chatter seems to be meaningfully connected to the two little honks she makes.

So – two things are still true, after all these years:
• never assume odd noises and sounds are meaningless, and
• it’s easy to miss noticing when our children teach themselves calming and self-management techniques on their own and apply them to specific circumstances.

This story does not negate instances where self-produced sounds may be stimulating or reinforcing for unknown-to-us reasons, nor does it argue against the anecdotally reported benefits of sensory-integration tools and techniques. I appreciate fellow parent Beverly K. for pointing out that we especially need to remember many of our younger children have not yet developed self-management and self-regulation skills to help them deal with bothersome sensory input. For parents of younger children – when people tell you, “It gets better” – this is the kind of wonderful thing they mean.

Watch and listen closely! We never know what our children, no matter what age or ability, might have to teach us!

  • Jean

Water Safety is Critical

water safety tip

There are a number of swimming lessons and water safety education resources throughout the communities we serve through CARD-USF. They may or may not have expertise working with students with autism spectrum disorder. CARD-USF staff provide trainings upon request to various recreation programs, but even with our training, you need to make sure the instructors and programs you choose are right for your family. Please let us know if there are some terrific programs that worked well for your family so we can share the good news with other families. Here is a list of resources for all 14 counties we serve: swim lessons

Disclaimer: As a policy, CARD will not lend its name to the endorsement of any specific program, practice, or model that is offered for service to people with autism and related disabilities. However, the sharing of information and training opportunities are key functions of the CARD program.

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