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Posts tagged ‘special needs’

Preparing for College with Autism

Speaking from personal experience, I know that going off to college as a young adult on the autism spectrum can be an overwhelming prospect, one that many will not be able to overcome. The thought of leaving home for college is scary for every high school graduate; I mean, we’re still kids at that point. But considering the unique challenges that face so many on the autism spectrum, it can be exponentially more difficult. My first attempt at university immediately following high school was, to be completely honest, a train wreck. However, I believe that every failure you make it through brings you one step closer to success, and I learned and grew a lot from that time. Now almost three years later and with much more experience and knowledge under my belt, I have a far better understanding of what it takes to be successful for those with autism looking to make it in college. I would like to share these thoughts with you all, in hopes that it will give you a better idea of how to overcome certain obstacles.

The main issue that I and so many others face is the sudden leap into independent living. No longer will mom and dad be there to bail you out of your problems, or sit you down and force you to do your homework. It’s harsh, but that’s just the way the world works. Preparation BEFORE going to college is absolutely essential. Now, assuming you were diagnosed with a disability before the age of 16, you should have had an Individual Education Program (IEP) set up throughout high school. The IEP is all a part of “transition planning,” which, according to this article, is training or experience, “from hygiene to banking to job training, driver’s education, sex education, college admissions and more,” all things which are never really covered in school, but are immensely important life skills.

But it doesn’t stop there; in fact, the journey is just beginning. Once you get to school, there are plenty of resources available to you, and it’s essential that you utilize them as much as possible. At USF, there’s the Students with Disabilities Services and just about every university has something similar. These people want to help you, but it’s your responsibility to go to them, they will not come to you. If you take away any one thing from this, it’s that you need to become an effective self-advocate. Is there pressure on you to take on more of a workload than you’re comfortable with? Make sure to let the advisor know. You only have to take a few classes at a time, there’s no rush to finish college as soon as possible.

On the Autism Speaks website, there’s a large and comprehensive list of resources for post-secondary education that I suggest you take a look at. Most importantly, remember to relax and pace yourself, stress can ruin your life in college if you let it!

  • 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!

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

 

 

Funding an iPad and Apps for Your Child

iPads and apps are becoming more common as tools for communication and academic participation. The costs are still fairly prohibitive for many families, however. There are several ways to look for information on funding sources and other ideas for obtaining an iPad or iPad apps for your child.
These are just a few. Be aware that things often change quickly in the online world. Organizations, grants, and other opportunities can come and go quickly, so these directories, such as the ones from Autism Speaks, Bridging Apps and iTaalk may provide links to organizations that are no longer active. For example, the Babies with iPads program is still listed in several directories, but gave away its last iPad in December 2014, saying it was just too difficult to continue to raise funds as a non-profit.
Directories of grants and other funding ideas:
• Autism Speaks Family Grant Opportunities (collected info from various organizations). This is a very comprehensive list. https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-library/family-grant-opportunities
• Bridging Apps – Funding Sources for iPads and Mobile Devices: http://bridgingapps.org/funding-sources-directory/
• iTaalk Autism Foundation Resource page includes a list of grant organizations. They say it’s updated quarterly, so it should be fairly current: http://www.itaalk.org/#!resources/cqqo
• WonderBaby – 5 Ways to Get a Free iPad for Your Special Needs Child: http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/ipad-funding-special-needs
Here are just three of the many granting organizations mentioned in the directories:
• Autism Cares: www.autismcares.org/site/c.mqLOIYOBKlF/b.4844551/k.9606/Technology_Grant.htm
• ACT Today: www.act-today.org/act-today-grant-program.php
• HollyRod Foundation’s Gift of Voice program: http://www.hollyrod.org/gift_of_voice

Other ideas for raising money:
Website Fundraisers – These websites will let you set up a campaign so that family and friends can donate funds.
• PayPal for Personal Fundraising https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/fundraising
• Fundrazr https://fundrazr.com/
• Give Forward http://www.giveforward.com/
• The Puzzling Piece http://www.thepuzzlingpiece.com/
• GoFundMe http://www.gofundme.com/

Holiday and birthday gifts. Ask friends and families to give Apple/iTune gift cards instead of other gifts. Local businesses, community, or charity groups sometimes help with community fundraising by having special events.
Some credit cards give points that can be redeemed for an iPad or cash to purchase an iPad.

Finally, the Apps for Autism Facebook page will frequently list FREE apps offered by the developers, as well as the latest information on apps. https://www.facebook.com/AppsForAutism?ref_type=bookmark
Sources of information for this article:

Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org

Apps for Autism, Revised & Expanded Edition, by Jois Jean Brady, 2015.

Future Horizons http://fhautism.com/apps-for-autism-revised-and-expanded.html.

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!!)

Transition Planning: It’s Never Too Early To Start

transition

This is the third in a series of articles about transition planning. This article focuses on students in middle school. It is never too early to plan for transition to adult life. Preparing a young person for transition to adulthood is a gradual process stretching over several years. You may find the “transition roadmap” for middle school helpful in starting the journey: http://flfcic.fmhi.usf.edu/docs/FCIC_Employment_Roadmap.pdf

Involve your child in activities that foster self-respect and self-esteem, and enable gradually increasing independence. This may include participating in extracurricular activities that build on your child’s strengths and interests, such as playing an instrument in the band, auditioning for a play, or getting involved in 4-H. Assign specific tasks at home, and require that the tasks are done thoroughly and on time. Have your child join you in community activities that help others, such as cutting coupons for an elderly neighbor, cheering on friends competing in a marathon, or reading to a young child.

Take your child into the community, and point out occupations and the tasks and responsibilities of the persons doing those jobs. Encourage your child to talk about the occupation he/she might like to do as an adult. Highlight your child’s strengths and gifts. Expose your child to experts with similar strengths and gifts, such as attending a symphony concert for a budding musician.

In middle school, your child should become more involved in developing the goals on his/her IEP, and in self-assessing progress over time. Creating personal ownership of the IEP is a foundational base in developing your child’s self-determination skills. By the time your child is a 9th grader, he/she should be attending his/her IEP meeting, and possibly even chairing the meeting by grade 11 or 12. Did you know that a diploma option must be chosen in 9th grade (as per the new state statute)? Your child should be an active participant in making this important decision. More about that in the next article about transition…..

5th Annual Autism Health & Wellness Symposium

2014 CARD's Autism Health and Wellness Symposium Save the Date

It’s time again for CARD’s Annual Health & Wellness Symposium! Join us as we host our free one day conference aimed at uniting the community around health & wellness for individuals and families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder. Four presenters have been secured to share their expertise around health related topic areas; Caregiver Wellness, Food Aversion & Eating Challenges, Dental Care for Individuals with ASD, and Medical Visits for Individuals with ASD. Exhibitors will be present throughout the day and will share community resource information. We will also be providing Challenging Behavior Screenings as well as ASD Screenings. Appointments are not required for the Challenging Behavior Screenings.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Screenings will be scheduled for families with concerns regarding their child’s development on a case by case basis prior to the date of the event (Please contact Beverly King for more information to schedule your child for an ASD screening at beverlyking@usf.edu)

Register for the event today! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/cards-5th-annual-autism-health-wellness-symposium-tickets-12008913985

Transition Planning Series #2

transition

This is the second in a series of articles about transition planning at the secondary level for your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
On or before your child’s 16th birthday, transition services becomes an integral component of the Individual Educational Plan (IEP), better known as the Transition Individual Educational Plan (TIEP) at high school.
The TIEP must include a statement of the needed transition services, including (if appropriate) a statement of the school’s and each participating adult agency’s responsibilities or linkages before the student leaves school. “Transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for the student which are outcome-based to promote movement from school to post-school activities. Post-school activities may include post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment, continuing and adult education, and/or adult services focused on independent living and community participation.
The coordinated set of activities are based on the student’s needs, and take into account the student’s preferences and interests.The activities shall include the areas of instruction, community experiences, the development of employment, and other post-school adult living objectives; and, if appropriate, daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
The TIEP is a dynamic document that may be revised at the IEP annual review, as the student moves closer and closer to graduation. It is important that you and your child are actively involved in developing and implementing the transition plan. The TIEP is the pathway to your child’s future.

– Sue Thomas, CARD Consultant – Adult Services

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