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Eden Autism Services is offering a Family Fun Day and Resource Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 16, 2011 at the Eimerman Education Center, 2801 County Barn Road in Naples, Florida.  Trained Eden staffers and volunteers will be on hand to supervise and promote play and social skills in children with autism or Asperger’s, while parents and grandparents learn more about the conditions.  Registration is requested by April 12.  To register, call (239) 992-4680, ext. 205 or visit www.edenflorida.org.

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The son of music legends James Taylor and Carly Simon, Benjamin Taylor, is returning to Naples to headline this spring’s Alive in the World Concert benefiting Eden Autism Services Florida.

The concert and auction event is presented by the Trust for the Advancement of Responsible Artists (TARA) at 6 p.m. on May 6th at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts Daniels Pavilion in Naples, Florida.

Tickets are limited and cost $150. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (239) 919-0408 or visit www.gigforgood.org.

Eden’s philosophy of lifespan services is based upon the premise that the majority of individuals with autism require services throughout their lifetime. While the extent to which these services are needed will differ from person to person, their specialized nature will not.

Lifespan services are at the core of Eden’s service continuum that ranges from early intervention programming to services for older adults with autism. Lifespan services are the vehicle by which individuals who have autism continue to learn and to grow – and to become active, contributing members of their communities.

Our daughter’s psychologist always said… just get her through high school.  College will be easier once she gets to choose her courses.  Well, in some ways yes — in other ways, not so much!

Once your Aspergian is an adult, there’s little you can really control — unless they allow you to.  Privacy policies and over-enthusiastic freshman advisors will block you at every turn in the effort to ensure this young adult starts to test their wings (no matter what the consequences!)

At orientation, the big message to parents was to “let go”.  I’m sure that with NT (neurotypical) young adults, that’ is absolutely the best thing to do.  However, with Asperger’s Syndrome in the mix, the decision-making capabilities can be more diminished.  Some Aspergians will accept authority and not question things enough.  So, at orientation, parents were not allowed into the course selection process and our daughter ended up with THREE virtual courses and only two on-campus courses.

LESSON #1:  REAL CLASSROOM TEACHING WORKS BETTER FOR OUR ASPERGIAN THAN VIRTUAL COURSES

First semester completed.  We’ve been told by our daughter that she did pretty well, although she had dropped one class.  Well, wasn’t she surprised to receive a letter from the university right before second semester letting her know that she is on academic probation.  Failed two courses her first semester.   Of the courses she had trouble with — all three were “virtual” – requiring her to keep track of assignments, tests, etc. and do them on time via computer.  Two F’s and a withdraw.   For her on-campus courses, she earned an A and a B!

LESSON #2: COLLEGE PROFESSORS ARE NOT AS SYMPATHETIC AS  HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS

This was a rude awakening for someone who was pushed and prodded through high school by instructors who contacted her or us about missing assignments or low test scores.  She contacted one professor and was told pretty succinctly that she had not turned in two assignments that were  a large portion of her grade, therefore she had earned what she got.  There were some tears and (I hope) the realization that college professors are not as forgiving as her high school teachers when it comes to grades.

LESSON #3:  AN ASPERGIAN WILL HAVE OPPORTUNITIES TO EXCEL IN COLLEGE WITH THEIR SPECIALIZED AREA OF INTEREST

On the bright side, during her first semester, she joined many student organizations, including the staff of the university newspaper.  Politics within the newspaper staff resulted in editors playing favorites with some of the writers — which didn’t include her.  She attended editorial meetings and presented many ideas and articles, but was only published once or twice during the semester.  She was becoming frustrated and ready to quit, but we encouraged her to stick with it.

It paid off. This semester, she is taking some different courses (ALL ON CAMPUS, thanks to mom helping with the registration this time).  Her journalism professor took notice of her writing skills and told her how talented she is.  She mentioned to him her frustration with the school newspaper not including her articles.  He must have made a call. Right after that, she got a full-page feature article in the university newspaper and was promoted to Senior Staff Writer!  In addition, her professor has recommended her to the local newspaper as a freelance writer.

Compared to many Aspergians, our daughter is really only mildly affected, but it DOES affect her daily life.  She must learn to embrace her strengths, but know that she has a responsibility to push through and improve upon her weak areas, such as communication, time management and organizational skills, in order to gain opportunities.  In starting to let go as parents, it is a daily struggle to deal with the worry about the decisions she will make; things she might forget; things she should be doing, etc.  All parents of college students probably go through this as their sons or daughters make possibly life-altering mistakes.  However, we must remember that it IS their life, and every mistake will lead – hopefully – to learning accountability and self-sufficiency as they begin to take life on their own two feet.

Award-winning production company, Pie Town Productions, is currently developing a series that would follow one family through the everyday challenges of raising multiple children on the autism spectrum and/or with Asperger’s.  We think this could be an amazing opportunity to shed light on the misconceptions surrounding an individual’s ability to live a fulfilling life with this disorder(s).  To see additional info about Pie Town, please visit www.pietown.tv  Interested in participating on the show or finding out more?  Please email: ally_weinberg@pietown.tv

Aspergers Meets Sorority Rush

As a new freshman at a state university, my daughter’s totally engrossed in college classes and activities.  In addition to joining several organizations and interest groups, she decided to participate in sorority recruitment, otherwise known as “rush”.

As a sorority alumna, I’ve been though rush, although many years ago, so I wasn’t totally in the dark about how things operate.  However, this is 20 years later, at a different than I attended.  I found the process the same in many ways, but it was on a much larger scale, with over 500 girls participating.

Since she’s come a long way with her social skills over the past few years, and can carry on a conversation with almost anyone without them knowing anything’s amiss, she chose not to reveal her diagnosis during this process to avoid being labeled or ostracized.   However, Asperger’s Syndrome still presented some unique complications which didn’t mesh well with the process:

  • Impulsivity – she posted messages on Facebook talking about rush or certain sororities.  Although the messages were all positive, she didn’t think ahead to know that people she had friended on Facebook in other sororities, or at the college in general, might be offended by what she wrote.
  • Communication – She wasn’t able to adequately communicate with her rush counselor or her work manager about some scheduling conflicts.  This resulted in her having no choice but to withdraw from rush altogether, during the final stages.  This could have been avoided if she were more adept at handling this type of situation and necessary schedule negotiations.
  • Emotions – There’s a lot of pressure to impress the sororities because of the massive numbers of young women who are competing for a limited number of spots.  This, combined with long, late hours attending events, and the subsequent selection (or non-selection) results causes emotional overload, amplified by the effects of Asperger’s.
  • Timing – Sorority recruitment occurs during the second week of the school year, when freshmen are just adjusting to being in college for the first time, and in most cases, away from home with new-found independence.  It’s a stressful time even before you add rush activities.

Another thought to ponder is… is a sorority the right place for an Aspie?  I firmly believe that’s an individual decision, much like every activity an Aspie might be drawn to.  It depends on their comfort level and what their college goals are.  Although I didn’t have Asperger’s, I was a shy college freshman – the first one in my family to attend college.  Joining a sorority gave me an instant group of accepting friends, and great opportunities for leadership development and socializing.  I believe this would have advantages for someone who’s has very high functioning autism. Sororities strive for diversity within their ranks — people who complement each other and who share their ideals.   Perhaps there are some sororities who are on the superficial side (as depicted on TV and in movies), but by going through rush, a potential member can usually find a sorority they can identify and bond with.

Although it didn’t work out this time, she is considering trying again next fall (recruitment is only once per year).  At least she’ll know what to expect and what pitfalls to avoid.  In the meantime, she’s finding a ton of activities and causes that fit her interests and enjoying spreading her wings.

Anyone with suggestions or experiences?  Please share!

Over 30 experts, including four word-renowned autism experts will speak at the US Autism & Asperger Association (USAAA) 5th Annual World Conference and Expo to be held October 1-3, 2010 at the Hilton St. Louis Airport Hotel in St. Louis, Missouri.

This year’s conference boasts a new format including nine panel workshops in non-concurrent sessions in addition to the keynote addresses by Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Martha Herbert, Dr. Stephen Shore, and Areva D. Martin, Esq. Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome experts will present new interventions and new research in both education and medicine.  Each panel workshop will include five or six experts who will provide immediate answers to attendees’ questions.

Topics include:

  • Current Status of Research and Strategies for the Future
  • Medical/Biomedical Cutting Edge Interventions and Treatments
  • High Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Self Advocacy – Experiences, Perspectives, and Challenges
  • Behavioral/Developmental Approaches
  • Support Services
  • Siblings of individuals on the autism spectrum
  • Adjunct Therapies,
  • Nutrition, plus much more

CEU accreditation is offered throughout the entire conference and there will also be displays and information from sponsors and exhibitors.

For more information about the conference, visit the USAAA web site.

Aspergers + Prom = One Rough Night

After my daughter’s disastrous night at her Senior Prom, I’m left wondering, “Is taking these risks really worth it?”

When my daughter had her heart set on going to the Prom, I knew it was risky based on previous outcomes of dances and other school functions.  (See my other post about Prom for the back story.) And, I’m not talking about what most people associate as Prom risks – drinking, drugs, sex or wild parties.  My biggest fear was that she would be isolated, alone and miserable.

I tried to reduce the risk by counseling her about what to expect, ensuring she was going with a group of nice kids, getting her a nice dress and making her look great so she’d fit in, at least on the outside.  She’d been coached on what to do. The rest was up to her, since beyond those aforementioned factors, the situation was out of my control. The evening started well when meeting up at a friend’s house for a dinner, taking photos, everyone complimenting each other. I had high hopes.

However, my biggest fear was confirmed when I picked her up after Prom at 11:30, and she was in tears, not wanting to talk about it.  The only things I could confirm were that a) she was so nervous at the pre-party she didn’t eat; b) she was by herself most of the night; and c) she didn’t dance or actually enjoy herself at all once she got to the dance.  After an emotional, insomniac night spent with my sobbing daughter, I’m left feeling guilty and broken-hearted. I hurt for her and for my own shattered expectations.

Every parent instinctively wants to protect their children from disappointment and unpleasantness. However, we can’t be around them 24/7 and the training wheels have to come off eventually.  There are valuable lessons to be learned from each experience, whether dealing with success or disappointment.  With that said, it doesn’t make it any easier when things go wrong.

Thankfully, this morning she’s in a better frame of mind and can look back on her Prom experience a little more objectively.  Rough night though. Thankfully, she’s looking ahead towards graduation.

If you have experiences to share, please do!  Comment below.  Would love to hear from other parents who are also going through challenges, whether Asperger’s-related or not.

I’m killing time in Barnes & Noble since they’re open until 11pm and I have nowhere to be until 11:30 when I pick up my daughter at prom.  I want to stay close, but not too close, and it’s too far to drive all the way home and back anyway.

I guess I should explain that my daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome, diagnosed during her sophomore year.  She’s very smart, polite and pretty, but has always been a loner — left out, teased, bullied, marching to the beat of a different drummer.  The other students either think she’s extremely brainy, or just odd, because of her advanced vocabulary, deep thinking, and a demeanor which shouts, “I want to be alone” even though that’s not what she means at all.

This is the first dance she’s been to since freshman year.  That was a disaster.  My husband and I took her out to eat since she didn’t have a date and of course there were a bunch of other students with their dates at the same restaurant a few tables away from us.  We dropped her off at the dance, then went to the movies.  An hour later, got a call from her that she wanted to be picked up right away because she was having a terrible time.  All the kids were “bumping and grinding” and she was being ignored.  She has had no desire to go to any dance since then — until now — senior prom.

Thinking back to the freshman dance experience, and the numerous times we’ve had to pick her up early at school events when she was either uncomfortable or bored or just decided she was ready to leave, I’m hoping for the best – that she’ll have a fun and memorable evening – or at least make it through the whole dance until it ends at 11:30.  I’m also prepared for the worst – a call from her or a chaperone asking to pick her up.  That’s why I’m staying fairly close. So far, so good though.

She doesn’t have a date, but met up with a group of about 20 classmates at one of their homes where the parents were putting on dinner for all of them.  Some were going as couples, most were going “stag”.  I walked her in and chit-chatted with some of the other parents as we took photos and complimented the young adults in all their finery before taking our leave of them. Since she doesn’t have her own car yet, she was to get a ride to the dance from a classmate.

Texts… dance started at 8:30 pm
8:44 pm   Hey
8:44 pm   Everything ok?
9:34 pm   Yes I guess

No more since then, and it’s now 10:02.  I’ll figure no news is good news.  Fingers crossed that she’ll have a positively memorable evening.

Canisius College, home of the Institute for Autism Research has developed a unique treatment program for children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger’s Syndrome.   The research team led by Christopher Lopata, PsyD and Marcus L. Thomeer, Phd, has conducted studies and clinical trials based on a multi-component five-week summer social development program.  The findings of their most recent clinical trial were published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (March 16, 2010).

The program has shown measurable improvement in social performance of children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders.   After the 5-week program for youth age 7-12, the children in the treatment group scored much higher on tests of non-literal language skills and knowledge of appropriate social behaviors, and showed fewer autism or withdrawn behaviors than children in the control group.  Parents, children, and staff also reported high levels of satisfaction with the program.

An excerpt from the press release posted on NewsWise

“These findings are very promising, as they suggest that the children in the treatment group not only learned the skills but also used the skills to an extent that parents and staff clearly noticed a significant and meaningful change in the children’s social performances,” said Lopata. The significant reduction in autism-related features was also considered a major finding, as these features constitute long-term barriers to meaningful social relationships for these children.

“What is truly special about this program for children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders is that children in the program do not view it as a ‘treatment program’ but rather an enjoyable summer camp,” added Thomeer. “For many children in the program, this is their first successful social experience. Parents reported that their children really enjoyed participating though the program worked on the children’s deficits and pushed them to develop social competencies.”

The hope is that the studies will result in programs and results that are feasible in less controlled community settings.

I was just reading about an inspirational project in Prospect Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota, aimed at helping young adult students with Aspergers and other disabilities transition to independent living.  The article by Alex Holmquist originated in Minnesota Daily.

The project led by ANSWER Aspergers Network Support, began when developer Dawn Chapman, from Firm Ground Architects and Engineers was discussing her own son’s learning disability with a psychologist, who said there is a huge housing shortage for people with autism spectrum disorders. Stepping Stone House will provide transitional housing for people between ages 18 and 26 with Asperger’s syndrome and other learning disabilities.

The dormitory style complex is intended to give residents the opportunity to learn how to live on their own while still providing them with 24-hour support.  It will be managed by staff from by staff from The Cooperating Community Programs, an organization that specializes in residential home care for people with disabilities.

Construction will begin as soon as funding is in place.