Autism and Employment

Finding meaningful employment can be a struggle for anyone. As a caregiver or parent of a young adult with ASD moving into the workforce, you want to not only to prepare your family member on how to gain and maintain employment, but also aid in where to look for help and guidance on the transition from school to the workforce. Milestones Day School and Transition Service can help provide many resources as well as trained personnel to take you and your young adult to the next phase in this journey. Here are a few tips.

  • Work with your son or daughter to assist them in articulating their strengths, talents and challenges to their transition teacher or counselor.

  • Encourage your child to request a career assessment from the school’s transition coordinator or a vocational rehabilitation counselor.

  • Explore the option of supported employment where a job coach, co-workers, business supervisors, and mentors who can be utilized as employment supports for people with autism.
  • Encourage skill development at home such as teamwork, counting change, social skills, taking directions, manners etc.
  • Encourage self-advocacy where your young adult speaks for him/herself in a challenging situation.
  • Work with teachers and transition team members on employment opportunities and how they may or may not match with your young adult.

Resources –

The Symbolism Behind the Autism Jigsaw Pieces

In 1963, the puzzle piece logo was first introduced by the National Autistic Society. We often see this logo on bumper stickers, pins, key chains, coffee mugs, license plates and any number of keepsake items or promotional materials. Historically the logo was meant simply as a method of raising autism awareness. For many families impacted by autism spectrum disorders, it has come to mean a commitment to funding research for a cure. Today, however, the symbol has come to be a bit more complex and is not without its critics. Here is a quick breakdown of the symbolism of the puzzle piece, its colors and the criticism of these.

Puzzles can be difficult to solve given the number of pieces and the intricacy of the puzzle. Autism, like a puzzle, has many complexities and mysteries. ASD is not easily defined within set terms and definitions. The logo tells people that even though the disorder is not easy to understand, it is worth understanding and spending time on for the sake of those who have it it. It is a rallying point for people who want to bring the attention of other people to autism. The different shapes represent the diversity of people who are dealing with autism whether they are autistic or they are the family members of someone with autism. The interconnectedness of the pieces symbolize that this disorder affects all of us. The colors used are bright and basic, which symbolizes hope for defeating the disorder.

While the puzzle piece logo seems like a memorable and harmless advocacy symbol, it does have its critics. Many families do not like the branding that their child is a puzzle to be “solved” but rather a unique individual. Others are critical of the logo in that it shows the puzzle is missing a piece, or something is missing from their child or family member.

What are your thoughts on this logo? For almost sixty years this logo has been raising awareness for research and funding for autism needs. Whether you are a critic or supporter, it seems this logo is here for a while longer.

 

Reluctant Readers and Autism

Reading can be such a joyous and special time to escape into another world and learn about so many things around us. Sharing reading with a child can be a great way to connect and learn about social skills and ideas that are new to the child. Unfortunately, for many children, reading does not come easily and thus they are reluctant to read or, at the least, must be coaxed into reading more. Many children with ASD often have trouble with reading and relating to characters or plot lines. Here are a few ideas to help with reluctant readers as well as a few series that he or she may find interesting.

  • For younger readers who do not have the attention span needed for longer books, choose age appropriate books with lots of pictures and a catchy rhyme or plot. In addition keep reading time short and at a time when they are most likely to pay attention. Build up minute each time you read together. Make it fun!
  • Read aloud and talk about what you learned or the characters that you like or dislike and why.
  • For school age children, find books that are on a topic that interests them whether it is Minecraft, Barbies or the Solar System. Letting them choose puts them in control.
  • Using audio books while a child follows along can take the pressure off while still providing vocabulary and a plot.
  • For older children, try books that they can relate to with characters their age such a Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Timmy Failure series. Reluctant readers who are on the spectrum may benefit from shorter chapter books that have pictures that relate to the story and have straightforward story lines. Avoid stories that have subtext or double meanings as it may get confusing.
  • Remember that reading is reading, so it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as they are enjoying it and are invested in it. If that means graphic novels or books that drive you nuts, so-be-it!

Autism and Pop Culture

Not too many years ago, autism and all autism spectrum disorders were fairly taboo to speak of, especially on television shows and in movies geared toward children and teens.  Thankfully, in the past few years, prime time shows have begun to de-stigmatize autism by portraying main characters who has varying degrees of the disorder. Several shows including Parenthood, The Big Bang Theory and, most recently, Sesame Street have introduced characters who either have autism or have characteristics that highlight the disorder. For millions of viewers, parents, therapists and even those who have autism, this means that more and more people have begun to be more open, accepting and tolerant of differences.

The Big Bang Theory‘s main character Sheldon Cooper shows many signs of Aspergers Syndrome. For example, Sheldon plays a scientific genius who works at a local university and shows several characteristics typical to those who have Aspergers, such as extreme attention to detail, repetitive actions and a lack of social skills. Directors and producers claim he is not autistic but he does seem to portray many characteristics common in Aspergers. Regardless of whether Sheldon is meant to be “on the spectrum” in the show his character has brought the discussion to a national level. This awareness and openness will hopefully lead to understanding and tolerance. It may also help students who have ASD relate to a character they see on the screen.

Sesame Street has just introduced a new muppet, named Julia, a friend of Abby Cadabby and Elmo who is bullied as a result of being different. Even viewers this young  can learn that a child with differences is not worse or bad or somehow “less.” The goal of Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children,” initiative is to is to reduce the stigma associated with autism.The initiative also aims to educate kids as well as their parents on how to have successful interactions with kids on the spectrum.

To read more about the Sesame Street initiative follow this link to Autism Speaks.

Special Education Advocates

Every child deserves a rich and meaningful educational experience. When a child has special needs, however, the experience may be very different from his/her peers. How can parents find out their rights and their child’s rights when it comes to special education, IEPs, 504 Plans and modifications in and out of the classroom? Special Education Advocates are a great tool that can help parents navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of special education.

While advocating for your child requires some level of self-education and research about your child’s needs and disability, it may also require the help of a professional advocate. An advocate is someone who helps a parent or family to understand the special education process. Advocates can provide information about special education options and requirements, and can help parents seek a specific service or program for your child. Advocates usually have a broad range of professional and or personal experience within the special education system – as teachers, lawyer advocates or parents of a special needs child. They have the insider knowledge of how to navigate the special education process so that your child will get the services he/she deserves. 

Advocates are intended to help empower you as parents with information and provide concrete steps that will help you get your child the services needed. Many advocate groups provide workshops and mediation services as well. Here are a few resources to check out while researching advocacy and how it works.

Special Education Advocacy 

Advocate Support for Parents 

 

Connecting through Blogging

Being a parent of a child with special needs can be stressful, overwhelming and down-right hard at times. It can extremely painful to watch as neurotypically developing peers advance and evolve through milestone after milestone while your child struggles along at home and at school. It can be sad to see the hurt in your child’s eyes as they try to do what others around them do. It can be exhausting to deal with meltdowns, communication issues and social interaction triggers. For social media savvy parents, there seems to be some relief in a new method of connecting with parents in the same situation – blogging.

Blogging is not something that is new, but is new to many parents who are using it as a release from the daily grind. The wide range of types of blogs coming from parents who have a child on the spectrum are amazing. From moms of the newly diagnosed kids to moms of adults on the spectrum, there are blogs that can help you connect and deal with whatever issue you are currently facing. There are even blogs written by children and adults with Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders. For siblings who are looking for answers and someone to listen, there are blogs of that nature as well. 

No matter what stage or life event you are dealing with, blogs from parents, siblings or those affected first hand by ASD can create a sense of community and a feeling that you are not alone out there navigating this by yourself.

Find a blog that you can connect with through these resources or better yet start your own blogs.

Autism Speaks Blogs 

Top 10 Blogs by People with ASD 

Autism Blogs Directory 

The Initial IEP Meeting

Last month we discussed the IEP evaluation process as well as common Special Needs lingo that you would need to understand your initial IEP meeting.  An initial IEP (the first one) must be in place within 30 days of the evaluation meeting determining eligibility. Special education teachers often use the term “IEP” interchangeably to mean the formal document and the meeting in which it is discussed. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) allows educators to tailor an educational plan for the child so that he or she can reach his or her full potential. That being said, the decisions for how to tailor the education of a special needs child is discussed as a team at the IEP meetings. The first – or initial – meeting can be the most stressful as parents and teachers navigate what is best for the child. Here are somethings to expect at the first IEP meeting. 

  • Attendance – Who will be at the meeting for your child? Every IEP meeting must have in attendance the special education teacher, district representative (often an administrator, but not required to be), someone to interpret test data, and a general education teacher. Additional members of the school community such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists and psychologists could also be in attendance.  Each person will sign in to document the meeting.
  • Testing Results – During the initial meeting there will be lengthy discussion of what the testing and evaluation process discovered about your child. Try not to get overwhelmed about what each number means but rather what is says about how your child learns best.
  • Input from Classroom Teachers and Parents – After the test results are discussed many times a teacher will discuss what they see in the classroom. This can bring the test results to life in how learning disabilities or behaviors are showing themselves in the actual setting. This is a good time for parents to chime in as to what they see as struggles at home or where their child does best.
  • Drafting the IEP – Most times the special needs teachers will come to the meeting with suggestions of goals as well as accommodations that will help the child meet those goals annually. While the actual IEP document is not written at the table, the  goals, modifications and issues are discussed at length to decide what the IEP will look like. It is only after the input of the team members that the IEP is drafted and mailed to all the appropriate parties. Parents should be an integral part of this process and have the right to agree or disagree with the findings.

Depresion and Special Needs

It is pretty normal for students to have occasional times in their lives when they feel sad and/or moody. Life events such as a death, illness, being bullied, family arguments, or school stress can bring on periods of sadness. But what if a course of moodiness is more than a momentary event caused by a significant life event?

Depression is extremely common. The World Health Organization reports that globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. That statistic indicates that an estimated 20% of the population will experience a period of depression at some point in their lives but it is even more common in people on the autism spectrum. These numbers can seem overwhelming but the good news is that there are treatments and programs that can help. Depression can be successfully treated — with psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination of therapy and medicine — in most cases. The first step is to identify the symptoms and then seek help via school, a primary care doctor or a counselor. 

Here is a quick look at some of the symptoms of depression that your child may be exhibiting at school or home.

  • show a lack of energy, be irritable, and seem down in the dumps for no reason
  • withdraw from friends and family
  • not be able to concentrate in class
  • be defiant to teachers and other school staff
  • ask to go to the school nurse often
  • show significant weight loss or gain in a short period of time
  • talk about death or suicide
  • engage in risky or self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or cutting, for example)
  • need additional time to complete classroom and homework assignments
  • miss class time due to doctors appointments, hospitalization, or inability to attend classes because of depression
  • need to go to the school nurse for medication
  • need short breaks throughout the day to avoid feeling overwhelmed

For more information and resources on Mental Health and Autism

Interactive Autism Network 

National Institute for Health 

What to Expect During the IEP Evaluation process

If you suspect that your child has a special need when it comes to his/her schooling, getting special education placement is the best course of action. In order to gain special education services for the first time, he/she will need to undergo a comprehensive evaluation. This process is guided by legal rules in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Starting the process of evaluation is fairly easy in that asking for it in writing from the school system within your community is the first step. A letter to the child’s teacher, principal and special education director should state your concerns and formally request evaluation by the school district. The school district then has a certain number of days to respond, gain permission and conduct the testing.

Once an evaluation date has been agreed upon the child will undergo the testing. These tests may include:

  • A psychological evaluation. This gathers information about how your child learns best. It may also look at social skills and emotional health.
  • Interviews. The evaluator will speak with you and your child’s teacher about your child’s social and academic history. You may also be asked to fill out questionnaires. Teachers who currently have your child in class as well as past teachers may be asked to fill out a questionnaire so the evaluator knows what the issues are.
  • Physical exam. If needed, tests are done to measure vision, hearing and general health. Usually this is done to rule out a medical issue and can be done at your child’s pediatrician’s office or done during a routine yearly exam.
  • Observations. Your child will be observed in the classroom. Special education teacher will watch your child interacting with others, reading, writing, and behaving in the classroom setting.
  • Educational testing. This may include new tests to measure your child’s skills and needs. It may also include information collected from schoolwide testing. Each school system has certain tests that they will administer. Do your homework and ask what tests and why.
  • Functional behavioral assessment. This information, gathered from teachers and others, aims to get a better understanding of how your child behaves in a variety of settings and situations. A functional assessment includes rating scales, checklists, questionnaires and observations.

From here the team of teachers and special educator will meet with parents and make their assessments known. Check back with us next month when we discuss the initial IEP meeting.

 

Deciphering your IEP

Individualized Education Plans are meant to bring teachers, specialists, therapists, and parents together to develop an educational program for the student. This plan – IEP –  will support progress in the general curriculum and meet other educational and functional needs resulting from the disability. In general IEPs are meant to help the student, parents and school personnel all get on the proverbial “same page” when it comes to the needs of the student. Unfortunately, some educational terms and acronyms are confusing and get lost in the wording of the plan. Here is a quick cheat sheet to help you decipher an IEP.

 

  • IEP – Individualized Education Plan
  • Accommodations – Resources given to the child.  For example, taking a test in a small group, having a longer time to take the test, taking the test in a different environment. While the test had not changed the needs of the student have been taken into account.
  • Early Intervention – These are services provided to children 0-36 months who are at risk of having a disability or have been diagnosed with a disability. Early intervention has been shown to help children progress.
  • Inclusion – This is a term used to describe services given to a special education student in the general education classroom with appropriate supports and modifications.
  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – Special Education and related services are provided at the public’s expense, without charge to the parents.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) –  In 1975, legislation was written guaranteeing students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education and the right to be educated with their non-disabled peers.  IDEA was revised in 2004.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) The placement of a child with special needs in the general school population in a manner that promotes the maximum possible interaction with general education students.
  • OT – Occupational Therapy/Therapist An Occupational Therapist supports school staff in the areas of fine motor and sensory integration.  Fine motor being skills such as writing, picking up objects, and pointing.
  • PT – Physical Therapy/TherapistA Physical Therapist supports school staff in the area of gross motor.  Gross motor focuses on larger muscle sets and include walking, throwing, climbing.