March 2017 newsletter
This is Max. He is 5 years old, and has severe Cerebral Palsy. Even though he doesn't have Autism, we would still like to celebrate him during this month. When I first met Max over a year ago he couldn't even sit up on his own. He depended on others to move him around and help him do everything; even small things that you and I take for granted. Over the past year, he has been seen by a hard working team of physical therapists at the St Joseph's Catholic Church twice a week. Two weeks ago, we help a Social Butterfly Event at ISK, just look at the pictures of Max below. He is playing on a playground almost on his own for the first time in his life. Being there to see the bright smile on his face was enough to bring most of us to tears. Tears of joy of course. Here's to Max and his determination to beat his diagnosis.
Autism Awareness Month (John)
April is Autism Awareness Month. During this month we would like to post stories and photos about different children whom we have encountered during our journey.
Our first story is about a young man named John. John is 22 years old. During all of my years working with children and adults with special needs, I have never met one that is so happy and full of life. This man is truly a joy to be around. I've never seen him without a smile on his face.
John used to be very different. When he was younger his mother had a hard time controlling him at home. It got to the point where John and his mother couldn't leave the house. He is now on the gluten/cassein free diet and has since then calmed down. He has very few verbal skills, and depends on others to do most of his daily activities. About 6 months ago, ASCK helped to find John a part time job. No one ever thought he would be able to work, now he is working about 12 to 16 hours a week and his earning his own paycheck. John holds a part time position at Kahesa Paper, he makes beautiful paper products from recycled materials such as banana trees and rice straw. When he first started he wasn't able to follow directions, and his motor skills were poor. 6 months later, he can now put on his own shoes, cut banana trees on his own with scissors, follow instructions, and knows the daily routine at work. His bosses and coworkers say he is a blast to work beside. Just look at the pictures below of John doing a great job at work!
Since the year 1963, the percentage of forests covering Kenya decreased from 10 percent to just 1.7 percent in the year 2006. It has probably decreased almost by half since then. In 2009 in Kenya’s Rift Valley 400,000-hectare (ha) Mau Forest was destroyed. Between 2004 and 2006 more than 100,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes in forested areas in Kenya. Deforestation has occurred from activities such as unregulated charcoal production, logging of indigenous trees, marijuana cultivation, cultivation in the indigenous forest, livestock grazing, quarry landslides and human settlement.
Forests are basis of water catchments in Kenya. Their destruction increases pressure on a population grappling with hunger and water shortage and power shortage. Forests are important for protecting ecological diversity, regulating climate patterns and acting as carbon sinks. According to Nobelist Wangari Maathai 20 percent of global warming emissions may be due to deforestation.
In November of 2012 The Standard newspaper released an article stating that “A joint report released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Kenya Forest Services says high cases of urbanization, poverty, and poor implementation of forest laws have been blamed on de forestation denying the economy billions of shillings. It is estimated that as a result of de forestation, the country lost Sh5.8 billion in 2010 down from Sh6.6 billion reported in 2009.”
Adopt an Autism Tree Project is an initiative of Autism Support Center (Kenya) that seeks to involve persons with autism and other developmental disabilities in activities that promote environmental conservation while raising money to provide them with therapy, specialized education and other important services. This project is being implemented at a time when the world is looking for solutions to forest degradation, deforestation and how to cope with the negative effects of climate Change. Persons with autism and other developmental disabilities are determined to engage in activities that promote a greener planet. We seek out organizations, businesses, institutions and individuals interested in going green to adopt an Autism Tree and help a child with autism access important educational and therapeutic services.
We are encouraging all of our friends and followers to please adopt as many autism trees as you can. We are cutting the price of adoption in half. It is our goal to have planted at least 1,000 autism trees by the end of 2014. Help us reach this goal!
ADOPT AN AUTISM TREE OPTIONS
Kshs. 50,000 (U$580) for 100 indigenous trees
NGOs, other organizations, middle level businesses Adoption
Kshs. 10,000 (U$120) for 20 indigenous trees
Institutions, Small Businesses, Estate Adoption
Kshs. 5, 000 (U$60) for 10 indigenous trees and flowers
Families and Individuals Adoption
Kshs. 1,000 (U$12) for 4 Indigenous trees
Friends of Autism Support Center (Kenya) Adoption
Kshs. 500 (U$6) for 2 trees
how should we approach autism? with hope, optimism, and a little creativity. by Raha njoki manyara md, msph
Autism, a pervasive developmental disorder has been a popular topic especially among physicians, researchers and parents in the Western hemisphere of the planet. The topic is slowly gaining popularity in developing countries as news and information on autism spectrum disorders spreads. The prevalence has increased from 1 in 150 children almost a decade ago to 1 in 50 children last year according to statistics released by the CDC in 2013. This is mainly because increased awareness has led to more children being diagnosed with the condition; not because it has become an epidemic. Autism is not new, but professionals no longer consider it rare. Autism touches the lives of more people than ever before yet, because of this frequency, we have much reason for hope.
With emerging science, autistic children are getting better. Through treatment plans, the care of extraordinary and experienced physicians, and the support of family members and caregivers, autistic children are looking healthier, behaving more appropriately, making friends and having conversations. These children can significantly improve and go on to maximise their potential abilities. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help a person with autism more than anything else.
So far, we know that autism is a brain-based, neurological condition that has more to do with biology than with psychology. It is usually diagnosed by the time a child is 3 years old or even earlier where awareness of the condition is more widespread. It is found in every country, ethnic group and socio-economic class. It is diagnosed more often in girls than in boys. Most importantly, children who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder need early intervention as soon as possible.
Each diagnosed case of autism appears to have its own pattern, like a fingerprint. Despite some evidence that there is a genetic predisposition that provides fertile ground for a trigger, researchers are yet to pinpoint the exact trigger. Some experts believe autism has one overriding cause while others insist it has multiple causes. Biomedical treatments can improve autism symptoms, but debate rages on about whether these treatments deal with the root causes of the disorder or just other related conditions that exacerbate the symptoms of autism. Despite some members of the medical community not being fully accepting of these treatments, those who have are seeing tremendous positive results with their patients.
The aim of this blog and, by extension, the Autism Support Center (Kenya), is to share both old and new, proven methods for treatment and management of the symptoms of autism. Despite what the medical community still does not know, there is hope. By sharing the information already gained and researching into new areas specific to our African setting, we may find more adaptable methods of helping people with autism adjust to our demanding world. The information shared on this blog will be for parents, with autistic children, people living with autism as well as caregivers and researchers interested in autism spectrum disorders. I hope to see you in subsequent blogs and look forward to reading about your ideas and suggestions in your comments.
Gluten and casein free diets
Children with ASD seem to be prone to gluten intolerance or celiac disease, which is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestines and can prevent it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. Gluten can be found in foods such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats. The symptoms of celiac disease are abdominal pain such as cramps, diarrhea, and constipation, vomiting, decreased appetite or unexplained weight loss. By cutting out these foods from your child’s diet you will see a decrease in these symptoms and possibly a decrease in problem behaviors.
Another disorder your child may experience is lactose intolerance; Lactose is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose intolerance develops when the small intestine does not make enough of an enzyme called lactase. Symptoms include abdominal bloating and cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and severe gas.
If your child seems to be suffering from either or both of these disorders, it is important that you remove the foods that are affecting them. It may seem difficult at first, you may have to endure tantrums and an increase in problem behaviors when he wants his favorite snack, but it is most helpful if the whole family cuts out the foods that he is no longer able to eat. If your child displays high hyperactive behaviors, also try cutting out sugar from his diet, you may notice that he will calm down quite a lot. You may not see a huge difference right away, be sure to keep up with the diets for several weeks; remember to be consistent and stern, you are not taking away his favorite foods to be spiteful, you are I have added a list of websites where you can find recipes for food and tasty snacks for your family and little ones.
FoodFacts.com is your go-to site for healthy living and help to easily manage food allergies. With over 75,000 food products, you'll find complete and comprehensive ingredient and nutrition information you can depend on, allergy-free foods, customized recipes, quickly created shopping lists, and more!
GFCF Diet Cookbooks, vitamins, and info on where to begin with Dietary Intervention Treatment for Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
Gluten-Free Choice Celiac disease and gluten-intolerance education and support services.
Natural Foods Education Eating naturally healthy meals has never been easier! There's no reason to feel confused or intimidated about how to eat more healthfully. A wide variety of natural food meal plans will guide you on what to buy, how to prepare it, and why it's good for you.
The Recipe Renovator Food blog with gluten-free recipes. I love the creative challenge of taking a naughty recipe and turning it into something amazing!
sensory integration dysfunction
Sensory integration is the process of the brain organizing the information that the senses; sight, smell, touch, movement, taste, and sound; gather within our bodies and from our surrounding environment. With this information we are able to form a complete understanding of whom we are, where we are, and what is happening around you. Because your brain uses information about sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes, and movement in an organized way, you assign meaning to your sensory experiences, and you know how to respond and behave accordingly. During this time of year, when we smell cinnamon and pine, the smells of Christmas; some of us may linger and deeply inhale these scents in order to enjoy them, but some of us may find them overpowering and rush to escape.
For most of us, we don’t even notice the process of sensory integration. Skills for sensory integration will develop normally and information is gathered and organized easily. But for some with Sensory Integration dysfunction, this process is disrupted. Those with SI dysfunction may avoid certain smells, sounds, and situations that are overwhelming to their senses; while other children may seek out certain sensory inputs to figure it out.
With the normal development of sensory integration, children learn about new sensations and become more confident about their skills, refine their ability to respond to sensory experiences, and are thus able to accomplish more and more.
Children who have sensory integration dysfunction may display behaviors showing that their senses are being overloaded. Some may gag and become nauseous when they smell certain overpowering smells. Some children may not like when their hands become dirty or when they touch glue or something sticky. When in a load and crowded place, the child may panic at the sensory overload and have trouble functioning properly. Sometimes these behaviors can be misunderstood by outsiders and the unwanted attention can make things even more overwhelming causing a meltdown which can be embarrassing for those accompanying the child in public.
Some other symptoms can include:
• Either be in constant motion or fatigue easily or go back and forth between the two.
• Withdraw when touched.
• Refuse to eat certain foods because of how the foods feel when chewed.
• Be oversensitive to odors.
• Be hypersensitive to certain fabrics and only wear clothes that are soft or that they find pleasing.
• Dislike getting his or her hands dirty.
• Be uncomfortable with some movements, such as swinging, sliding, or going down ramps or other inclines. Your young child may have trouble learning to climb, go down stairs, or ride an escalator.
• Have difficulty calming himself or herself after exercise or after becoming upset.
• Jump, swing, and spin excessively.
• Appear clumsy, trip easily, or have poor balance.
• Have odd posture.
• Have difficulty handling small objects such as buttons or snaps.
• Be overly sensitive to sound. Vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, hair dryers, leaf blowers, or sirens may be upset
• Lack creativity and variety in play. For instance, your child may play with the same toys in the same manner over and over or prefer only to watch TV or videos.
If you have noticed that your child is displaying some of these behaviors, it is important to seek the help of an Occupational therapist or physical therapist. They will conduct the necessary sensory integration therapy that will aid your child in learning to cope and respond to sensory input appropriately. You may also find that this therapy can decrease many of your child’s problem behavior.
Other ideas to consider:
• Give your child noise cancelling headphones to wear; this will block out and lower the intensity of the hearing senses making it easier for him or her to cope.
• Sensory seekers tend to be very active children, who are on the go. They often respond positively to very intense forms of sensory stimulation and look for ways to move, jump, fall, crash, kick, push, etc. Creating ways to incorporate these needs into safe and fun activities that provide the desired intensity may allow your child to come to a calm and focused place. Think about ways your child can safely push, pull, kick, hang, jump, and lift. (For example, bowling, playground monkey bars, trampolines, pushing a "heavy bag" back and forth with you, pulling a heavy wagon.) Children who are sensitive to certain sensations (sounds, lights, smells) may like activities that provide intense deep pressure to the skin, resistance to the muscles, and Bath time: Scrub with washcloth or bath brush, try a variety of soaps and lotions for bathing, play on the wall with shaving cream or bathing foam, rub body with lotion after bath time (deep massage), sprinkle powder onto body and brush or rub into skin.
• Meal preparation or baking: Let your child mix ingredients, especially the thick ones that will really work those muscles. Let child mix and roll dough and push flat. Allow child to help you carry pots and pans, bowls of water or ingredients (with supervision, of course). Let your child tenderize meat with the meat mallet.
• Grocery shopping: Have your child push the heavy cart (as long as the weight is within their capability). Let your child help carry heavy groceries and help put them away.
• Mealtime: Encourage eating of chewy foods and drinking out of a straw. Try having your child sit on an air cushion to allow some movement. A weighted lap blanket may be helpful as well.
• Household chores: Allow the child to help with the vacuuming or moving the furniture. Let the child help carry the laundry basket or the detergent. Let the child help with digging for gardening or landscaping.
• Play time: Reading books in a rocking chair or beanbag chair may be beneficial. You can help your child make up obstacle courses in the house or yard using crawling, jumping, hopping, skipping, rolling, etc. Listen to soft music. Play the sandwich game (child lies in between two pillows and pretends to be the sandwich, while you provide pressure to the top pillow to the child’s desired amount). Ask them "harder or softer?" as you push on the pillow. Some children will like much more pressure than you would expect. You can also go for a neighborhood walk with a wagon and have your child pull it (make it semi-heavy by loading it with something the child would like to pull around). You can do the same with a baby-doll carriage. Swimming in a pool is a wonderful activity if you have that available, as are horseback riding and bowling. Mini or full-size trampolines are excellent for providing sensory input as well. Make sure the child is using them safely. Sandboxes, or big containers of beans or popcorn kernels can be fun play-boxes too, if you add small cars, shovels, cups, etc.
• Errands and appointments: Before visiting the dentist or hairdresser try deep massage to the head or scalp (if tolerated), or try having your child wear a weighted hat. Try chewy foods or vibration to the mouth with an electric toothbrush. Let your child wear a heavy backpack (weighted to their liking with books and with the straps padded as needed). Be sure to give the child ample warning before any changes in routine or any unscheduled trips or errands. Many children with SPD need predictability.
(Ideas taken from the Sensory Processing Dysfunction Foundation website. www.spdfounation.net)
How much is that puppy in the window?!
Since moving to Kenya almost two years ago, I have noticed that most families do not have family pets. In most cases it could be the high cost of keeping a pet in this country, but in others they just prefer not to have one. This is strange to me. Since I was born I’ve always had at least one pet. It is my belief that every child should have a puppy, or a kitten, whatever the family prefers. Having a pet will teach children responsibility and that pet will love you unconditionally in return. Pets lower high blood pressure, decreases anxiety and stress, and in turn can lower cholesterol and decrease the chances of heart disease. There is also scientific evidence to show that having a pet can make a world of difference for children with autism and other special needs.
How can a pet make a difference? They can positively affect a child’s social behavior by leaps and bounds. Puppies are very social and playful little creatures; they demand your attention and affection. By having a dog with whom to interact, a child with autism that normally keeps to himself will be forced to focus his attention on another being. Studies have shown that when a child with autism interacts with an animal with peers and other adults around, they were more likely to socialize and interact with them. They showed a 60% increase in positive social behaviors such as eye contact and sharing in conversations.
If a puppy or dog is too much for a family, consider a kitty or even a guinea pig. Maybe these pets will suit the family more because they are smaller and a bit easier to take care of. The type of pet doesn’t necessarily make a difference; jus the presence a small furry companion is enough to aid the child in developing positive social behaviors, becoming calmer, and being happier in general.
Before going out to get a pet for your autistic child, it would be wise to do your research and try things out first. Take your child to the KSPCA to meet some of the dogs and cats they have. Make sure your child isn’t terrified of the animal. Also consider the costs of keeping a pet and the space a pet requires. Most importantly, do you have the time to dedicate to a new addition to the family?
If bringing a pet into the family home doesn’t seem like a wise option for you, consider weekly trips to your local shelter with your child and volunteer some time feeding, bathing, and playing with the animals. Or look into horse riding lessons. There are several places around Nairobi that offer horseback riding lessons to children with special needs, and the KSPCA is always looking for a friendly face and helping hands.
Children with autism tend to be more vulnerable to bullying from their peers, these children may not have the verbal skills to communicate with their parents about the harassment from which they are suffering while at school or they are not aware that they are being bullied. They may also display odd behaviors that make them stand out and therefore make them more susceptible to catching a bully’s attention. Struggling with social norms and trouble relating to peers means that autistic children are often picked on, bullied and teased.
If a child with autism is placed in a regular school, then it is important that this child is taught about social norms. They should be taught and trained on how to make friends and how to socialize with their peers. Implementing the use of social stories will help your child learn to share experiences and stories with their peers so that they are able to carry on conversations and social interactions. It is also important to teach the child about emotions; if they cannot recognize the difference in emotions they may not realize that a friend is upset and may respond inappropriately to their friends emotion, which can potentially cause turmoil. Teaching the use of social stories and emotions can also be useful in helping the child learn to identify bullying behavior, by being able to identify when they are being bullied they will be more able to communicate this with teachers, parents, or caregivers.
It is important that awareness of a diagnosis of autism is shared with peers and classmates in advance. If other children are aware of the difference in personality and behaviors they will be less likely to pick on a child with ASD and more likely to defend a friend with autism if he or she is being bullied. Be sure that your child’s classmates are also educated on the impact that bullying can have on other children, for example let them know that bullying can affect the ability to learn and make friends. Knowledge of how these negative behaviors can affect others may also reduce the risk of bullying.
There are many online tools and resources available for parents and children with special needs to give them tips on how to deal with bullying from peers. One specific site that may be useful for your child if he or she is having these experiences at school is kidpower.org. This site also includes bullying prevention, abuse prevention, as well as stranger safety; be sure to visit kidpower and read all the great resources they have to offer! I have taken 8 helpful tips to face bullying with confidence from kidpower, go over each step with your child and practice the exercises listed, it may give your child the confidence to prevent potential future bullying!
1. Walking with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence
People are less likely to be picked on if they walk and sit with awareness, calm, respect, and confidence. Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means keeping one’s head up, back straight, walking briskly, looking around, having a peaceful face and body, and moving away from people who might cause trouble.
Show your child the difference between being passive, aggressive, and assertive in body language, tone of voice and choice of words. Have your child walk across the floor, coaching her or him to be successful, by saying for example; “That’s great!” “Now take bigger steps”, “Look around you” “Straighten your back.” etc.
2. Leaving in a Powerful, Positive Way
The best self-defense tactic is called “target denial,” which means “don’t be there.” Act out a scenario where maybe your child is walking in the school corridor (or any other place where he or she might bullied). You can pretend to be a bully standing by the wall saying mean things. Ask your child what these mean things might be because what is considered insulting or upsetting is different for different people, times, and places.
Coach your child to veer around the bully in order to move out of reach. Remind your child to leave with awareness, calm and confidence, glancing back to see where the bully is. Let your child practicing saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!” while calmly and confidently moving away. Point out that stepping out of line or changing seats is often the safest choice.
3. Setting a Boundary
If a bully is following or threatening your child in a situation where she or he cannot just leave, your child needs to be able to set a clear boundary.
Pretend to poke your child in the back (do this very gently; the idea is not to be hurtful). Coach your child to turn, stand up tall, put his or her hands up in front of the body like a fence, palms out and open, and say “Stop!”.
Coach your child to have a calm but clear voice and polite firm words- not whiney and not aggressive. Show how to do it and praise your child for trying -even though she or he does not get it right to begin with. Realize that this might be very hard and triggering for your child (and maybe for you too).
Children need support to learn these skills. The idea is that your child takes charge of his or her space by moving away and, if need be, setting boundaries as soon as a problem is about to start – so that your child doesn’t wait until the bullying is already happening.
4. Using Your Voice
If your child does get into a situation where somebody is trying to push or hit or knuckle her or his head, you could practice by holding your child gently and acting as if you are going to do the action gently. Coach your child to pull away and yell NO! really loudly. Coach him or her to say “STOP! I don’t like that!” Coach your child to look the bully in the eyes and speak in a firm voice with both hands up and in front like a fence. Teach your child to leave and go to an adult for help.
5. Protecting Your Feelings From Name-Calling
Schools, youth groups, and families should create harassment-free zones just as workplaces should. However, you can teach children how to protect themselves from insults. Tell your child that saying something mean back makes the problem bigger, not better.
One way to take the power out of hurting words by is saying them out loud and imagining throwing them away. Doing this physically and out loud at home will help a child to do this in his or her imagination at school.
Help your child practice throwing the mean things that other people are saying into a trash can. Have your child then say something positive out loud to himself or herself to take in. For example, if someone says, “I don’t like you, ” you can throw those words away and say, “I like myself.” If someone says, “You are stupid” you can throw those words away and say, “I’m smart.” If someone says, “I don’t want to play with you” then you can throw those words away and say, “I will find another friend.”
6. Speaking Up for Inclusion
Being left out is a major form of bullying. Exclusion should be clearly against the rules at school. A child can practice persisting in asking to join a game.
Pretend to be a bully who wants to exclude.
Have your child walk up and say, “I want to play.” Coach your child to sound and look positive and friendly, not whiny or aggressive.
Ask your child the reasons that kids give for excluding him or her. Use those reasons so your child can practice persisting. For example, if the reason is, “You’re not good enough,” your child can practice saying “I’ll get better if I practice!” If the reason is, “There are too many already,” your child might practice saying, “There’s always room for one more.” If the reason is, “You cheated last time,” your child might practice saying, “I did not understand the rules. Let’s make sure we agree on the rules this time.”
7. Being Persistent in Getting Help
Children who are being bullied need to be able to tell teachers, parents, and other adults in charge what is happening in the moment clearly and calmly and persistently even if these adults are very distracted or rude – and even if asking for help has not worked before. Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.
We have found that practice is helpful for both children and adults in learning how to persist and get help when you need it. Here is one you can do with your child.
Pretend to be a teacher or someone else who your child might expect help and support from. Tell your child who you are pretending to be and where you might be at school. Have your child start saying in a clear calm voice, “Excuse me I have a safety problem.”
Remind your child that, if the adult still does not listen, it is not his or her fault, but to keep asking until someone does something to fix the problem. Tell your child to please always tell you whenever she or he has a problem with anyone anywhere anytime. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of adults to create safe environments for the children in their lives and to be good role-models for our children by acting as their advocates in powerful respectful ways.
8. Using Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort
Children need to know when they have the right to hurt someone to stop that person from hurting them. At Kidpower, we teach that fighting is a last resort – when you are about to be harmed and you cannot leave or get help.
However, bullying problems are often not as clear-cut as other personal safety issues. Families have different rules about where they draw the line. Schools will often punish a child who fights back unless parents warn the school in writing ahead of time that, since the school has not protected their children, they will back their children up if they have to fight.
Learning physical self defense helps most children become more confident, even if they never have to use these skills in a real-life situation. Just being more confident helps children to avoid being chosen as a victim most of the time. There are different self defense techniques for bullying than for more dangerous situations — let your child practice a self defense move like kicking someone in the shins, pinching someone’s leg or upper arm, or hitting someone in the chest. You can practice in the air or by holding a sofa cushion.
This blog entry is dedicated to young adults with special needs that are searching for employment. Looking for a job can be a long process. It is important to focus on the positive steps to gaining employment such as networking and meeting new people, learning about your strengths, learning new skills and exploring careers.
The information is taken from the employment tool kit, a free download available on the AutismSpeaks website. (autismspeaks.org) Other tool kits are available, also free, on this website. It is a site that I suggest all parents, caregivers, and children affected by special needs visits and explores thoroughly as they offer many resources.
What are Self -Advocacy Skills?
Self-advocacy is a life-long endeavor [and it is never too early – or late] to start cultivating self-awareness, self-monitoring, and deeper exploration of what it means to be autistic, by way of peer discussion groups. Self-advocacy differs from advocacy in that the individual with the disability self-assesses a situation or problem, and then speaks for his or her own needs. Learning how to do this takes practice and direct instruction. Too often, we raise our kids, treat our patients, and educate our students without ever speaking to them directly about autism. Perhaps we’ve made assumptions or even harbor fears that they aren’t capable of self-reflection. Yet if we deny kids our children this very important aspect of identity,
we limit their ability to become the successful adults we want them to be. As with any academic subject, teaching self-advocacy takes training as well as knowledge of and respect for the disability movement. Parents can model self-advocacy at home, teachers can offer curricula in school, and most importantly, peers on the autism spectrum can offer strategies for good living and share mutual experiences.
-Valerie Paradiz, Ph.D.
What job is right for you?
It is important to understand your strengths and interests when you are looking for a job. We all hope to find a job that we are very good at and that we can truly enjoy doing for a long time – our dream job! But being realistic is important, too. Sometimes we need to realize that what we are good at is not always something we can do as paid employment, or there may not be a job available that matches our top interests. That’s ok! A good approach is to list your personal strengths and interests, and then search the job market to see what positions are available that match up most closely with those ideals.
In addition to formal assessments, volunteering is a great way to learn about your interests and abilities prior to paid employment. There are many organizations that offer volunteer opportunities where you are not paid. Do not pass up a chance for work experience, as you will learn from all types of opportunities. Even learning that you do not enjoy a particular type of work is information that will lead you to the right career path in the future.
TIP: Always make sure that you get a recommendation letter from your supervisor when you have had a good work/volunteer experience. Update your resume with each work opportunity you have had so that it is always current. Don’t forget about work experience that you may have gotten while you were in school or during the summer. All work experience is important and could help you get that next job.
A paid or unpaid internship is another way for you to learn vocational skills and gain valuable work experience. An apprenticeship is a combination of on-the-job training in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation or trade from experts in the field. Apprenticeships can teach you skills for a trade that is in high demand in the job market. This may make it easier for you to find a job.
Some Jobs to Consider
A recent study has outlined jobs that individuals with ASD have successfully held after high school. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of your options, but it could help you as you start thinking about which in- dustries are right for you:
· Skilled Crafts
· Food Service/Restaurant Management
· Education, Childcare and Home
There are many ways to look for a job, but only some have proved effective for adults on the autism spectrum. Most jobs are not publically advertised (80%, according to Cornell University’s Career Center). You may wonder, “Then how do I find out about job openings?” An important place to start is with your personal “network” – your family, friends, neighbors and other people who know you well.
The vast majority of job seekers find their jobs through a personal contact. However, for young adults with autism who already are faced with social and communication challenges, people often suggest that they seek their job by looking at job postings or responding to online openings. This approach is likely to fail not only because the impersonal approach is less successful for most people, but also because young adults with autism like you may benefit from a personal connection or the willingness of a friend or a relative to accommodate your needs.
First, determine that kind of job and type of environment in which you would be most likely to succeed. Then, tell everyone you know – friends, relatives, neighbors, local store owners with whom you have a connection, members of your house of worship, members of clubs or associations to which you belong, or any other person who you know –
“I am good at ‘X’ (data entry, packing boxes, filing, scanning documents, etc.). I am a hard worker who will follow the rules and not spend a lot of time socializing. I always have a smile and am a joy to work with.”
Ask them, “Do you know anyone who owns a business or is responsible for hiring an entry-level position in which I could do ‘X’ in a ‘Y’ kind of environment (quiet, not direct customer contact, outdoors/indoors, etc.)? Could you please help me meet this person? I want to ask if they have an entry level job opening and see if they would be willing to talk to me about it.”
This tool kit is available for free on the following website, autismspeaks.org. Please visit this site for the full tool kit and all it has to offer. (which is a lot of useful tips and forms!)
I love to see the children with whom I work smile; when they smile, I smile. These children are our future, it’s important to give them a solid foundation on which to build their lives.