Autism and Going Away to College

Greetings Earthlings! 😀

This week I’m going to to talk about perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a teenage autist- going away to college.

Ah college, some of the best years of your life- but years that can be difficult to adjust to for people on the spectrum. Granted, going away to college is a huge step for anyone, but considering an autists’ difficulty with change the stress can be tenfold. Living away from home, living with new people, finding your way around campus, the lack of routine, social expectations etc.- it can be completely overwhelming!

When I think about preparing for college, it always put’s me in mind of this Blink-182 song:

I haven’t been this scared in a long time, and I’m so unprepared…

This is exactly how it felt for me when I went away to college- sure, I was sick of school and excited to learn new things, but it is still one hell of a transition! I definitely cried a LOT those first few days/weeks settling in.

But never fear- here are some tips that I found helpful for starting out in college:

  • Register with the university disability service– If you think you need a little extra support when starting out, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you don’t currently need any of the disability support services the college offers, it’s always good to have the safety net there when academic problems related to autism arise
  • Join a club/society– I know it can be really scary and overwhelming at first, but you won’t regret it! There’s loads of societies to choose from, and surely one that will suit your interests- they even have Harry Potter societies and Quidditch teams in colleges now (which sadly didn’t come to my university until after I had graduated 😥 )  It’s a great way to meet like minded people, make new friends and give you a break from the books 🙂 And if there isn’t a society that you like, why not set one up?
  • Get to lectures early– This is one that could really have helped me out during my first few weeks in college (but sadly I tend to me a tumble out of bed, last-minuter in the mornings). Give yourself plenty of time to get to the right room/building; universities aren’t always designed well and can be an absolute maze to navigate (which won’t help your stress levels). But more importantly, this can help you to keep an eye out for people you know. In my first month in college, sitting in a lecture hall with 300+ science students, I found it very difficult to get to know people, and when I did get chatting, I found it even harder to physically find the same person to chat to a second time among the masses. In getting to class early, you can pick a prime seat to watch out for familiar faces so you can flag them down to sit with you
  • Get a head start on your assignments– An obvious one I know, but a critical one if you tend to be a last minuter. College life is stressful enough coursework aside; don’t risk needlessly stressing yourself out and melting down

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  • Invest in scented candles/air fresheners– If you’re anything like me, the smell of some unfamiliar dishes cooked by your roommates can turn your stomach! Find a scent that you’re comfortable with or something that reminds you of home when offending odors threaten your senses. But make sure you test it out before you buy it- some odors can be even worse than the offending stimulus (I had a bout of nausea from a Christmas Yankee Candle last year- although that could have been a side effect of the antibiotics I was taking! 😛 )
  • Buy a decent pair of earplugs/noise cancelling headphones– the night time activities of the average student can often impact sensitive ears (I went through a few weeks of insomnia in my first year due to late night partying, fire alarms and drunken doorbell ringing), so plan ahead to ensure you get your full nights sleep
  • Google, Google Google– When navigating a new city, Google is your best friend, Google Maps, Google Street View, Google everything! When you’re not feeling confident about your directions, where to find shops, college facilities, timetables for public transport etc., pull out your smart phone and within a few clicks you’ll have everything you need. I would not have gotten through college without Google Street View. It really helped to put my mind at ease when travelling to unfamiliar parts of the city/university and kept me from getting overwhelmed
  • Make use of video chats– Video chatting has become far more accessible than it was when I started out in college, but nevertheless having the comfort of Skyping my family every evening really helped me to settle in during my first year (after that I rarely needed this crutch). Seeing my sisters in the familiar office at the Desktop after they came home from school every day really helped the transition from my old routines to my new college life

Going away to college can be a very scary experience, but try not to stress it- everyone finds it tough at first, but before long you’ll wonder why you ever resisted this change 🙂

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Hope you enjoyed this post dearest Earthlings! 😀

Have a great weekend!

Aoife

Autism Assistance/Service Dogs

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

This week we’re taking a cuteness break to take a look at autism assistance dogs!

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Just look at him!!! 😍

Sooo cute- but, they also provide a very important service to children, and adults, with autism (some days I wish I could justify getting one to have an official reason to always have a dog around! 😂).

To state the obvious, an autism assistance dog is a service dog that has been trained to help autists to navigate the world and allow them to gain some independence. Some service dogs have been trained to keep their human from leaving the house unattended,  alert children/adults with autism of dangerous situations, prevent self injurious behaviours and even induce calm by applying pressure to the foot or lap of their charge!

So smart!! 😍

Ever since the first autism assistance dog was trained 21 years ago back in 1997, these cuddly canines have made a world of difference to the lives of their owners.

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But what does the research have to say about these benefits?

There is limited research data to show the specific/scientific impact of service dogs as of yet, however the glowing reports from assistance dog owners speaks for itself.

As I discussed in a previous post, some studies have shown that the social skills of autists who live with an animal are much greater than those who do not have a pet as they act as “social lubricants”. Studies have also shown that animals in fact can have a noticeable biological calming effect on people with autism as stroking animals has demonstrated a measurable drop in anxiety levels! So just by being there, autism assistance dogs are having a huge impact to the mental and social wellbeing of their human.

These dogs do however cost around €15,000 to raise over two years, so if you’re thinking about applying for one, really consider yours/your childs needs first as there are many out there who could really benefit from their assistance.

Hope you enjoyed this post Earthlings! 😀 I do love it when I get an opportunity to chat about dogs! ❤

Okay- maybe just one more cute pic 😉 😍

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Have a good weekend everyone! 🙂

Aoife

Levels of Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Leading on from my previous posts about the different forms of autism (lesser known ASDs; Asperger’s Syndrome (AS); Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) etc.), I’d like to talk about some changes in the classification of autism that have taken place since the introduction of the all encompassing ASD in 2013.

To recap- an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term to describe a range of neurodevelopmental disorders (such as AS, classic autism, PDD-NOS etc.).

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In 2013, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5 as it is more commonly known, changed the previous diagnostic criteria to effectively subsume all previous separate diagnoses under the one term- ASD. As such, these separate diagnoses no longer exist in the eyes of psychologists.

However, in using the umbrella term without these separate diagnoses, it is difficult to determine levels of functionality among autists.

So how do we break it down?

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Autism is now classified using 3 different levels:

  • Level 1 Autism: Requiring Support- These autists have noticeable issues with socializing and communication skills. This level is characterized by:
    • decreased interest in social interactions or activities
    • capable of social engagement but may struggle with conversational give-and-take
    • difficulty with planning and organizing
    • struggles with initiating social interactions, such as talking to a person
    • obvious signs of communication difficulty
    • trouble adapting to changes in routine or behavior
  • Level 2 Autism: Requiring Substantial Support- Symptoms for these autists are similar to level 1, but more severe as they often lack both verbal and nonverbal communication skills which can make daily activities difficult. These autists may also exhibit a number of behavioural problems
  • Level 3 Autism: Requiring Very Substantial Support- This level is where you will find the most severe cases of autism. These autists experience extreme difficulties with communication and also exhibit more signs of restrictive and repetitive behaviours than may be observed in the other levels.

The behaviours at each level can be broken down a little further than this, but these are the nuts and bolts of how autism is classified under this system.

Until recently, these updates have mainly applied to the American classification system, however in the last few weeks the global updated version of the “International Classification of Diseases” (ICD-11) now mirrors it’s US counterpart, dissolving all separate diagnoses of autism in favour of the all encompassing ASD.

So how do I feel about the dissolution of my own diagnosis?

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In many ways, this new classification system is a good thing as it will greatly benefit autists who experience greater challenges. It also allows clinicians more flexibility in that the clinician determines if a patient is on the spectrum using their best judgement rather than the patient fitting a specific combination of traits/reaching a set number of traits, which may benefit borderline/masking autists who are highly functioning enough to pass just under the diagnostic radar.

However, I am concerned for higher functioning autists. I would classify as Autism 1 under the new system, however, whilst I fit some of the bill for this level in my childhood, it does not describe me as well as my original diagnosis. In fact instead of benefiting an aspie, to my mind, it could in fact disable them further as the very word ‘autism’ infers a greater level of need than Asperger’s Syndrome.

Yes AS is a form of autism, but it is worlds apart from many of the lower functioning forms. If an employer for example were to hear the word’s ‘autism level 1’ or ‘high functioning autism’ rather than Asperger’s, this could have a serious disabling effect in their perception of the autist before them. Indeed, in recent years we have become a more inclusive society and are better educated about the spectrum, but for many the ‘A word’ still rings trouble.

On the other hand, the vagueness as to what classifies as support is concerning for autists at each level. Sure, this generalized approach widens the spectrum net, but we also cannot ignore the finer details and traits that ultimately determine the needs of the autist- every case is unique after all.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings- enjoy the weekend! 😀

Aoife

Autism and Robots

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Today I’d like to briefly discuss a somewhat unusual topic- robots and autism.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, Aoife has finally lost it- but just before you call in the men in the white coats, let me tell you about the clinical benefits of using robots for children with autism! 🙂

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Recent technological advances in the field of robotics offer great possibilities in the treatment of autism. As interactive robots are increasingly becoming more human like, this technology can be used clinically to help teach social skills to children with autism.

Whilst the research into the therapeutic benefits of robots is in it’s infancy, several schools across the globe have begun to use social robots reporting very positive results 🙂

So how do these robots work?

The robots engage autists with a specially tailored curriculum. For example, the robot makes a sad face or starts laughing and the child has to say what the robot is feeling, or when interacting with the robot if they do something that could hurt a real person, the robot will cry out so that the child can learn that this  behaviour is not appropriate.

It’s really cool! 😀

You can check out Milo below- one of the many models of social robots helping kids with autism worldwide (try not to let  him creep you out though, Kaspar the robot is way freakier….might have further to go in making these robots more approachable in my opinion 😬).

The benefits of using this technology currently include improved:

  • Engagement
  • Eye contact
  • Vocabulary
  • Attention
  • Self-motivation and regulation
  • Emotional recognition and understanding, and
  • Improvements in appropriate social behaviour

And all of this within just 1-4 months of using a robot like Milo! 😲

All in all the technology looks really promising in the treatment of autism, even if a few tweaks may be needed to improve the appearance of these robots 🙂 😛

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Aoife

 

Non-Verbal Autism

Greetings Earthlings,

Leading on from my recent post about voice control and autism, this week I’d like to briefly talk about non-verbal autism. bitmoji-39779843

Granted, I cannot provide any personal insight into the matter, (I could never be described as non verbal 😛 ), but I’ll do my best to explain it! 🙂

So first things first, what is non-verbal autism?

Affecting approximately 25-50% of autists, non-verbal autism is pretty self explanatory- the autist is unable to speak.

So what causes non-verbal autism?

Again, as with most aspects of the spectrum, the cause is unclear. Non-verbal autism is highly under-researched and therefore poorly understood. However, one particular study does indicate that there may be differences in the structure of the brains of verbal and non-verbal autists in areas associated with language. Brain imaging analysis of toddlers indicated that autists who grew up to be verbal showed similar signs of activity in these areas to their neurotypical peers. Toddlers who grew up nonverbal however displayed signs of reduced brain activity in the same areas which would likely explain their struggles to formulate speech.

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With early intervention and improved techniques, many nonverbal children can now learn to speak, however, a minority of autists will remain silent. But don’t despair, technological advancements in speech generating devices are now helping to reveal the inner voice of nonverbal autists.

Take the inspirational Carly Fleischmann for example. As I have discussed previously (lesser known ASDs), Carly is a non-verbal autist…and talk show host! :O Carly never let her inability to speak to keep her from her dreams of being a talk show host 🙂

Here’s a video of Carly in action 🙂 :

 

That’s all for this week dear Earthlings! 🙂

Enjoy the bank holiday weekend!! 😀

Aoife

Finding and Maintaining Employment

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

In continuation from my blog post about autism in the workplace, this week I’m going to give some of my tips and tricks for finding and maintaining employment for autists.

Finding employment:

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Job seeking can be a daunting prospect for anyone, but for autists in particular, this can be quite the overwhelming experience. Navigating career search engines, filling out applications, preparing for interviews, coping with rejection- it’s a lot to handle.

When it comes to applying for jobs, there are a few important questions that an autist should consider:

  • Is this job a good fit for me?
  • What areas may be challenging for me in this role?
  • Is this an equal opportunities employer?

It’s important that you apply to jobs that cater to your strengths with an employer that will support both you and your needs 🙂

Top Tip: Glassdoor is an excellent online tool for job hunters. It allows you to look up different companies, read employee reviews and interview experiences, giving you invaluable insight into what life could be like for you within that company.

Next comes the dreaded interview- a real struggle for autists, but it doesn’t have to be 🙂

Fun Fact: According to career experts, 95% of interview questions can in fact be predicted and prepared for in advance! And there’s nothing we love more than predictability 😉

There are a number of organisations out there that are dedicated to advising, training and preparing people with autism for the workplace. For example, Specialisterne is an international organisation dedicated to creating jobs for people with autism through partnership with several companies in the science and technology sector. Specialisterne coaches people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome to prepare them for the workplace and additionally provides employers with training so to best support their employees.

There are also numerous career coaches and communications agencies out there which can sit you down and help you to prepare for an interview, run through mock questions, give you tips on body language etc.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to get you through an interview:

  • Preparation is Key– research the company, prepare answers to common questions, look up your interviewers on LinkedIn (don’t worry, you can use a private setting so they won’t know you’ve looked them up! 😉 ) etc. A mock interview can also be very useful. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel in the interview.
  • Keep your answers relevant to the question– I know it sounds obvious, but if you’re anything like me, beware of tangents!
  • Ask for a moment to think– if a question throws you, drink some water and ask for a minute to think. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for this. It gives you time to gather your thoughts whilst remaining in control.
  • Aoife says ‘Relax’! – Easier said than done, I know, but it was only when I began to relax in interviews that I was finally offered a job 🙂

Maintaining Employment:

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Congratulations-you’ve gotten through the interview stage and the job is yours! 😀 However, a number of people with autism will struggle to maintain this job. The workplace can be quite overwhelming as I’ve discussed, and we often do not receive the support we need from our employers.

So what can you do?

If you feel comfortable disclosing your diagnosis to your employer, steps can be taken to help accommodate your needs. For example, autism training can be arranged so that other members of staff can better understand and support you.

Having a work mentor or job coach to talk to and advise you about your workplace can also be helpful. This person can advise you on workplace ettiquette, social skills, interacting with co-workers and the unwritten rules of your place of work.

There are also some steps that you can take to better cope with the pressures of working life:

  • If you struggle with organization as I often do, making use of lists, diaries and Google Calendar can help you to stay on top of things
  • As I’ve said before, talk to someone about your problems with work- let it all out!
  • Take a breath- if you feel overwhelmed or a meltdown coming on, take a moment away from your workstation. Go to the bathroom, step outside the door (if possible), grab a coffee or a glass of water- do anything to distract yourself until you feel well enough to return to work 🙂
  • Try to maintain a good work- life separation. At the end of the day, we all need to leave work at work. It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day, especially for autists, so try to relax! Why not take up a hobby that will engage a different part of your brain such as art, exercise, music or gaming? Do what you have to do to unwind!
  • Take care of yourself- Keep snacks nearby, stay hydrated and get to bed early! Sleep tip– Blue light from screens interferes with the hormone that induces sleep, Melatonin. So ditch the laptop before bed; read a book instead!

Finding and maintaining employment as an autistic adult can be challenging, but remember, you have just as much to offer as any other candidate out there 🙂

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Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! 🙂

Aoife

 

Supporting a Child with Autism

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

For a change today, I’d just like to write a quick post for all of the autism parents out there.

I recently received an email about special needs parenting and it got me thinking about ‘autism parents’. How they must be feeling, the difficulties they face, the struggle to understand, teach and support their child. They really should be called ‘awesome parents’- I certainly didn’t make life easy for mine! 😛

Autism is not the easiest of diagnoses for a parent to hear, but there are many simple ways that you can support your child. Granted, I’m not an autism parent, but as someone who has been on the other side of the fence, I’ll do my best to give you my top tips to support and encourage your child 🙂

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Educate yourself– Read, read read! Understanding is key to helping your child. A mechanic can’t help your engine if he doesn’t know how it works first.

Don’t believe everything you read–  You’ll quickly learn that one size does not fit all when it comes to autism. Each case of autism is different, every autist will have different needs and experiences to the next. The advice and experience of others can be useful, but remember to take everything with a pinch of salt.

Try to put yourself in their shoes– The world is often alien to us, we don’t always fit in or understand it’s ways. We don’t mean to act weird or meltdown and cause trouble, but oftentimes our brain has other ideas. Try to understand how we see the world before you judge us too harshly 🙂

Know their limits, but don’t limit them– This can be a challenging balance to strike. As I have discussed previously, we should endeavour to understand the capabilities of autistic children, but we must not use autism as an excuse– explanation yes, but never excuse. When we repeatedly excuse an autists behaviour, or tell them they “can’t” do something, we keep them from reaching their potential. For example, as a child, I could not seem to master the humble skip. Had my parents told me to give up due to my coordination difficulties, I would never have overcome this struggle- and would have looked pretty stupid in school shows where such simple choreography was the cornerstone of many a dance number! 😛 😉

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Never underestimate the power of small victories– whether it’s getting your child to wear a bra, tie their shoelaces or a mastered skip, sometimes it’s the little steps that can have the greatest impact. Had I not overcome my seemingly left feet, I would not have discovered a love of dance, never danced on stage or gone out to clubs. Without this small victory I would never have gone on to help choreograph my school play or even teach dancing to kids as a teenager! The victories seem small, but they just may be the tip of the majestic iceberg lurking underneath 🙂

Accept the A-word– Acceptance is at the heart of supporting a child with autism. Without this, they can never truly fulfill their potential. There’s no use in burying your head in the sand. We won’t grow out of autism, we need to accept and grow around it.

Always remember:

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So there you have it Earthlings- my top tips for supporting a child with autism. However, like I said, I can only speak from my experiences of autism, so here are some other helpful advice links on more specifc ways to support autistic children:

At the end of the day Earthlings, armed with a little bit of knowledge, understanding and most importantly love- there’s no better way to support your child 🙂

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Aoife

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