Monday, November 28, 2011

Autism and the Workforce

The criteria for an autism diagnosis has been updated and refined during the past twenty years or so.  As a result of this, more people are find themselves included in the autism spectrum, even adults who have already lived most of their lives.

Today, in 2011, we have a new generation of individuals on the spectrum who are entering adulthood with full awareness of their condition.  In this tough economy, many companies are forced to make do with less, pushing the abilities of their workers.  I feel this all the time at my retail job.  I have stated previously that we who have autism can literally change the world under the right conditions.  Those on the spectrum need to find the right job that makes the best use of their abilities.  By doing so, we can each do our small part to change the world.

Everyone has natural abilities and talents.  No person is superior or inferior to another, because all of us, both on and off the spectrum, have different gifts. For example, I am good with words and possess self-understanding of my life on the spectrum.  Through these blogs, and eventually books, I will move forward to make optimum use of my natural abilities.  Just because I am a writer who has tasted a little success, it does not make me better or worse than an individual with Asperger's Syndrome who knows so much about photography that he finds classes on the subject boring.  We are each making use of our unique skills and interests.

Writing about this brings the following quote to mind: "do not judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree."  Those with autism possess outstanding skills in certain areas, but outside of those areas of interest, those with autism continue to have difficulty focusing and remaining on task.  Do not judge someone with autism by an ability that they do not possess.  This is not relevant for just autism.  We are all gifted in different ways.  In this life, we have enough time to make use of those gifts we are each granted.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Creativity is the Key

In this blog post, I wanted to explore an idea that I came across while participating in the blog radio show a few days ago.  It is well known that those with autism possess great creativity, but how often is that creativity encouraged?  Many parents and teachers are focused on giving those with autism the skills they need to function in school and eventually in the workplace.  But, is enough attention being paid to the creative abilities of those with autism?  I know that as a writer of both blogs and fiction, if creativity is suppressed, it can create turmoil in my head, an unrecognized need that is only fulfilled through a creative outlet.

Please excuse the expression, but sixth grade was when a lot of things hit the fan for me.  I was struggling with a chemical imbalance, depression, and I was doing poorly in school.  During that time, a first year teacher's assistant started helping out in a few of my classes, to replace a teacher who moved to another job half way through the school year.  I was very compulsive at that time.  I would always draw pictures of epic Star Wars space battles on paper when I should have been studying. 

This was in early 2000 so I was also interested in the "Inspector Gadget" film starring Matthew Broderick  that had just been released. I created my own little Inspector Gadget out of paper and staples with many of the features, such as extend-able arms that folded up, the helicopter hat made of paper and staples and other such things.  I hid this little creation under a notebook whenever a teacher came by because I didn't want it confiscated.  This teacher assistant saw it one time before I could put it away and was completely amazed by what I had created.  Once I had decided that her amazement was real, I wasn't quite sure what to think.  It was not the reaction I was expecting from a teacher, when all I had received prior to that time was misunderstanding.  She encouraged me to bring out my creativity which no one had ever done prior to that time.

This teacher's assistant would later go on to work with children and teens with autism.  I am still friendly with her today and keep her up to date with my success.  She has really impacted my life.  Parents and teachers, please be aware how important creativity is to any autistic person, no matter whether it is writing blogs or creating a make-shift toy out of paper.  Creativity is the outlet that those with autism use to express their deepest feelings, the ones that are too complex to put into words.  I cannot stress enough how important this is.  Thank you for reading.

Meet Annie Eskeldson and My Blog Radio Show

A few days ago, I received the opportunity to speak at a blog radio show about autism.  On Monday , November 21st, I participated in "The Children Express" hosted by author Annie Eskeldson.   "The Children Express" was aired online at 8 p.m. eastern daylight time.  During this show, I discussed many aspects of growing up with autism.

Annie has two children with autism.  She has written a few children books on the topic of autism.  Annie was told that her children would never live "normal" lives.  She is proud to have proven the experts wrong.  Her oldest daughter is a great student and very social.  Annie is truly an inspiring figure because she has done what the experts told her could not be done.

Annie hosted the blog radio show I participated in a few days ago.  It was a very good interview, I was able to directly address parent concerns about children with autism.  I hope that this is the first of many such opportunities that I receive in order to raise autism awareness.

For more information about Annie, visit her website

Also, visit her blog

To download an listen to "The Children Express," visit the following link and then fast forward to an hour into the track to listen to the "The Children Express," there is another show on prior to my show.

Change is Always Possible

Change is not something that happens suddenly or without conscious effort.  Change is an uncomfortable experience for anyone.  For those with autism, change can be more than uncomfortable, it can be downright unsettling.  It takes time to get used to something and the process cannot be related through words, but the end result can always be seen: a parent will accomplish that change through gentle persistence, through maintaining that this current behavior is unacceptable and needs to be adjusted.

I want to relate a memory from long ago.  When I was in Kindergarten, before I knew that I had autism, there were unfenced woods on the boundary of the playground at school.  It was well known and enforced that kids were not allowed to enter those woods.  As a kindergartener, I pushed that boundary.  I ventured a little ways into those woods at times, never out of sight of the school.  And I got in trouble a few times.  This was the same year when I didn’t eat my lunch, as I mentioned in a blog post a few weeks ago.  I was told that it was not safe to go into those woods.  I was carefree as only a five year old could be.

The start of first grade brought some changes.  I started eating my entire lunch and I stayed well away from the woods.  At the time, I couldn’t say what had prompted that change.  The closest association I could make to how I was able to implement and stick to that change of routine was the simple fact that I was not in Kindergarten anymore.  I was now a first grader.  In my mixed “Hi-Five” class with both Kindergarteners and first graders, I felt that I had to grow up a little.  I felt like I was supposed to be a role model now.

Many parents may want their children to change, to gain acceptable behaviors, to fulfill their responsibilities, and to learn how to function in this world.  I am suggesting that a change can come from sources that no parent can anticipate.  Such as simply entering first grade like the example I just gave.  There comes a time, when a child who has autism recognizes that there needs to be a change in behavior.  Once that happens, the change can be sudden to parents, but to the child with autism, it is the end result of an internal process.   No matter how many tantrums there might be, or how many tense evenings pass by, never lose hope.  Your child with autism is changing in his or her own way.  You just can’t see it yet.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm talking, why don't you understand me?

I am one of those people who have vivid memories from when I was two or three years old but can never remember where I put my car keys.  When I was three years old, I was nonverbal.  Less than a year prior, I was developing normally until I lost my language skills. At this time, I had not yet regained my ability to communicate.

At this time, I rode a school bus across town to attend a preschool a few miles away.  This bus parked at the end of my driveway and my mom walked me out to the bus to make sure I got on.  This particular morning, I had received some stickers that I was very excited about.  I held them and played with them and had a good old time.  When I was walking out to the bus, I dropped the stickers and they started to blow away.  I remember pulling at my mom’s hands, trying to tell her that I wanted to pick up the stickers.  She didn't understand me and carried me to the bus.  At that point, I got really upset, crying and screaming.  It was plain to me what I was trying to say. I wanted the stickers.  It wasn't like it would take a lot of time.  Why wouldn't she let me pick up the stickers?

At that time, I didn't understand that my mom couldn't tell that I was saying; that my garbled words did not have any meaning to her.  It was at that point when I realized I was different.  That memory has stayed with me at age twenty three, more than twenty years later.  It was painful to experience at the time, and now I want to use it to help others who are dealing with the negative aspects of autism.

I don't know what is Bothering my Child

I am going to take a moment to make a point but it might not seem related to autism at first, so please bear with me.

I'm the kind of person who likes a stable foundation.  That sense of security really helps me to stay comfortable with who I am as a person.  I have mentioned before that those with autism have interests that they spend much time and energy learning about.  In this post, I am going to mention one film that really had an impact on me at a young age because they literally scared me.  I want to say that this fear did not directly threaten me in any way, and the fear I felt was irrational.  I have long since overcome that fear.  That film I am talking about is the Disney movie "Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book."

Last night, I found "The Jungle Book" on TV and decided to watch through it.  That is not something that I would have done even five years ago.  You might be thinking, how did I find that movie frightening?  Well, when I was younger I was really fascinated with quicksand.  When I watched one of the antagonists drown in quicksand turned that fascination into fear.  Why did it frighten me?  Because the moment he disappeared below the surface you could not separate the quicksand from the jungle path.  The fact that the very ground could hold a hidden threat was not something that my seven year old autistic mind was okay with.

I first saw this movie before I discovered that I had autism.  I had a few nightmares about quicksand and I would always talk to my friends about the question I so desperately wanted to know: does quicksand have a bottom or does someone keep sinking?  My autistic mind really focused on this fear for such a long time that I stayed far away from that movie.  That fear came back to me at different times in my life.  When I would see a person who looked like the man who drowned, I couldn't help thinking about that.  When I visited New Orleans and went on a swamp tour, I couldn't help thinking about the quicksand in that movie.  My fear and imagination had amplified quicksand into something it wasn't.  I have since learned that this was Hollywood's version of quicksand and in reality it was not as threatening.

The point I am trying to make in this post, is that if a parent to an autistic child notices that their autistic child is bothered by something, and cannot get the child to tell them what is bothering them, it may be something just like this.  In other words, it may be based on something that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with the present moment.  In order to for the autistic child to get their parent to understand, they would have to tell the entire story, just like I did with this post.  It is not easy for an autistic child to do so, they might try to explain but the parent would not understand.  Things below the surface are hardly as they appear to be by examining a child's face.

I have hardly mentioned this fear to anyone.  I want to try to use this to help parents to better understand their autistic child.  It may be complicated but it is not impossible.  Never give up hope.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Autism Communication Barrier

In this post, I would like to take a moment to talk about communication barriers.  There are many such barriers present in our day to day lives.  For example, there are barriers between the way that men and women communicate.  There are barriers between those who live in different regions, cultures, sub-cultures, and nationalities.  Autism has a separate communication barrier entirely that is different among the individuals on the spectrum.

In can be very difficult for someone with autism to communicate because, in addition to the communication barriers that everyone faces every day, we have the autism communication barrier.  The barrier is different for every individual on the spectrum.  We might take statements literally, not read sarcasm or irony, and we might not see humor in the same way that others do.  Through our black and white thinking, we may have trouble comprehending situations where there is more than one correct answer.  In other words, we expect there to be a clearly defined right answer and wrong answer for everything.  Even though I am armed with that knowledge through experience, it is still difficult to handle situations where there is considerable gray area involved, such as controversial topics and political topics where there are strong conflicting viewpoints.

 In addition to that, there is the sensory issues to consider.  I have heard that when individuals with Aspergers Syndrome are very focused on what they are doing, they might be completely unaware of what is going on around them.  To my understanding, they can literally be deaf to everything around them and only see what the task that they are preoccupied with.  In some cases when I am dealing with a sensory overload, I might stop listening to someone who is speaking in order to deal with the overwhelming sensations.  Someone with moderate to severe autism might be so caught up in the swirl of sensations that is their reality. They might be completely unaware of what is going on around them.  All their actions are based off of reactions to those sensations that dictate their reality.

This description is by no means exhaustive. What I have tried to give here is a brief overview of what I consider to be the autistic communication barrier.  Some of those are communication barriers that I encounter in addition to all the other communication barriers that exist between genders, nationalities, and even sub-cultures.  While communication can be difficult for everyone in some situations, try to keep in mind that those with autism are dealing with extra barriers in addition to the difficult barriers that everyone experiences in this diverse world.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On the Subject of Diversity

In this post, I want to share a recent achievement of my friend, Dani Bowman.  Dani has autism like me, and is very successful with what she loves most.  Dani founded Powerlight Studios at age eleven and now at age sixteen she has accomplished great things as an animator and an autism advocate.

Dani recently made a video about diversity where she talked about the emergence of a new type of diversity concerning those with disabilities.  She suggests that autism should be treated as a form of diversity, much like differences between cultures, nationalities, and races.  Autistic people are diversified from those who are not on the spectrum.  As Dani most rightfully says, "diversity is something to be celebrated."  She also believes that the world would be boring if everyone was the same.  I could not agree more.

When I was struggling with my self esteem in middle school, I used to imagine what my band class would've been like if everyone in the class was like me.  My imagination did not present me with very promising images at that time.  I was not comfortable with who I was as a person.  I knew I was different, and I wanted to be accepted and liked.  I thought that since I was different, I was somehow preventing myself from receiving the acceptance I desired.  I was wrong.  This is why I am so passionate about raising autism awareness.  I don't want any autistic child to feel alone like I did.  I am sure that Dani believes the same thing.

Check out Dani's video about diversity by clicking the following link.

We are Just Different...

Autism has its advantages and disadvantages, just like anything else.  We are not superior or inferior to anyone.  We are just different, that's all.  Whatever sensory issues or other weaknesses we might have are equally compensated by something else.  Someone with autism might feel uncomfortable sensations while being hugged, but he might know everything that can be learned about cats.  He might be able to perceive what a cat is feeling by its posture or other factors; much like Temple Grandin has proven she is capable of doing with horses and livestock. 

I believe that there is always trade-offs: meaning for a good characteristic to be present, something equally negative also has to be present to balance out a person’s abilities.  If social skills are a weakness to someone with Aspergers Syndrome, then some other area of their life is enhanced.
The thing people fear in autism is nothing more than the unknown.  When a parent is faced with an autism diagnosis for their child, they often do not know what to expect from that child.  Parents receive many messages: they have doctors telling them that their child will never live a normal life, and also have others telling them their autistic child is unusually gifted.  The fear of the unknown magnifies whatever issues might exist in the eyes of a parent. 

We who have autism are our own separate category.  We are not inferior or superior to anyone just because we are different.  We cannot be compared to someone who does not have autism.  We can only be compared to others are like ourselves. Most especially, we who have autism should be compared to those who are on the spectrum and lead successful lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Words for my Readers

In this post, I want to take a moment to address my readers.

I am less worried about the cause of autism than with doing my part to raise autism awareness.  Many causes of autism can be debated, such as vaccines for example, which is a controversial topic to many.  Scientific evidence has been presented that proves that vaccines are not associated with autism.  That is good enough for me.  Whatever trouble I had with autism in the past is long gone.  I am now focused on using my powerful writing skills and intuition to help others struggling with autism.

I am writer, not a scientist.  I would rather take action using the insights and talents I have then to debate what might cause autism.  I have received confirmation that my words have helped many people.  The Voice from the Spectrum has been read in different parts of the world, including parts of Europe, China, Russia South Africa, Peru, and Australia.  Autism is not a condition that is affected by international borders.  I cannot imagine the impact my words are having that I don't know about.

Later this week, I will be launching a second blog: "OUCARES-Did you Know..."  This blog will report the activities of a center for autism at my school Oakland University.  I encourage readers of The Voice from the Spectrum to read posts from my OUCARES blog.  This blog will also be posted on The Oakland Press website and I will continue to share my posts on Facebook from both blogs. 

I also wanted to say that I am set to graduate from college December of 2012. By that time, I plan to have a book ready to submit to a publisher.  This first book will tell my story in greater detail than I can achieve through blogging.

Finally, I want to thank my readers of The Voice from the Spectrum.  I want nothing more than to make a difference and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my posts and allows my words to impact your lives.  Thank you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Just Fly Away

In this post I wanted to talk briefly about something that came to my mind earlier.  It was actually based off something that happened at work today.  I stock shelves at a local grocery store.  How many people can remember going to the grocery store and seeing a bird flying around the store?  When I went to get some water up front, I came across some coworkers who were discussing how to get the bird out of the store.  The bird in question was sitting on broad windows facing the parking lot.

This bird kept on flying from one window pane to the next trying to find a way out of the store.  It was cheeping frantically.  It could see the way out through the glass but didn't understand what was in its way.  All it wanted to do was fly away.

It doesn't sound like much to a lot of people, but I know exactly what it feels like to face a barrier that I don't understand, which keeps me from what I desperately want.  That was what it was like growing up with autism.  I was like that bird, facing barriers that I didn't understand.  Barriers that no one could explain to me.  All I wanted was to be understood.  It was no wonder I felt sorry for the poor bird.

This is just something to think about.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some Past Eating Habits

Prior to my autism diagnosis, there were some habits that became ingrained when I was just starting school.  For one thing, when I was five years old in kindergarten, I was in the habit of not eating my packed lunch. Instead, on a daily basis, I put my lunch back in the bin that would be returned to the classroom.  Even if I was hungry, I would not eat because it was just what I did at the time of day.  It was an ingrained habit.  There was no logic behind it besides: well, I've done it all year, things just won't feel right if I don't do it today as well.

Eventually, I overcame that habit.  I think the fact that I started first grade contributed as much to that change of behavior as the scolding my mom gave me.  My rationality was: oh, this is first grade, it is not kindergarten any more, so this change of behavior is okay.  Since it's a new year, bad things won't happen if I make that change.  Now that eating habit was overcome.  I now ate my entire lunch from first grade onward.  Now I was belligerent about eating the crusts off of my sandwiches.  I just refused to do that.  This particular habit was not something that I overcame until I was in middle school.

I hope that my experience in this matter helps parents who are struggling to get their autistic child to eat the food that they need to grow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Autism Success: Not so Far Away

Many parents faced with the prospect of raising an autistic child often experience a feeling of despair.  Some might feel like their life is over.  They have been told by doctors that their autistic child will never live a normal life.  I am telling my readers that this is wrong.  There is not enough known about successful individuals with autism to really judge what an individual with autism may achieve, or not achieve, in their lifetime.  There is too much emphasis placed on what someone with autism cannot do, rather than what they can do under the right conditions.

Think back to the old cliche phrase: it ain't over 'till it's over."  There is no way to judge what any child will achieve in their lifetime based upon the dismal words of professionals.  Assuming that an autistic child will be unsuccessful based upon the judgment placed upon the child at a young age is the worst thing that a parent can do for their autistic child.  I understand that professionals do not want to give any parents "false hopes" of what their child might achieve.

Think back to the greatest stories that litter the news and inspirational books throughout the world.    These people have been told, for example, that their cancer is untreatable and are faced with the prospect of months to live.  Sometimes, this dismal foreshadowing comes true.  In these cases, individuals allowed the despair of the situation to dictate their actions.  Others tell inspirational stories of people who have lived far beyond the life expectancies placed upon them by doctors.  All of these individuals have triumphed through positive human spirit.  They focused, instead on what they were told couldn't be done, but instead of why can't I do it?  This positive human spirit who has allowed many individuals to "beat" their cancer can also be applied to autism.

Parents, I implore you not to place limitations on your autistic children.  You never know what they might be able to accomplish under the right conditions.  Many individuals are writing success stories about rising far beyond any expectations that were placed upon them.  Dani Bowman, who I have mentioned in previous posts, takes her love of art and applies it to her animation company Powerlight Studios.  There is a lack of understanding of autism that places limitations of autistic children.  Take away those limitations, and watch your children surprise you.