Current Autism Airport Rehearsals at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport

Since April of 2016, I had longed to be involved with the developing autism airport rehearsal tours.   During my second “Wings for Autism Tour” where I volunteered and worked in my blogs for youtube, I managed to seek out the right connections who would allow me to get involved with the tours.   Upon my research, I connected with the director, who is an airline pilot named Captain Erich Ries who also have a young boy on the spectrum himself.  Early on, Ries and I swapped a few emails led to being involved with his autism airport tours which are held every first Saturday of the month unless there is a holiday, the tour is held on the second Saturday.

At present, Captain Ries and other members of Team Delta and myself lead a tour of the airport.  Each tour entails lots of information by a TSA member who often talks about accommodations through a program called “TSA Cares” which requires a family to call a toll free hotline at least 72 hours in advance in order to notify security of the child or adult’s special needs before helping the each attendee get through a security checkpoint.

By the same token, Ries leads a guided tour from the checkpoint, to the first state of the art sensory room, a concourse and a gate with an aircraft sitting at the gate.  At this point, Ries,  three other Delta employees and I give our input on what families can do.  For instance, Erich says that a family should always mark the calendar ahead of time with lots of stars and while sharing as many pictures as possible that are related to the destination. Meanwhile, my guidance has suggested that families skip taking the plane train and use the tunnels being that they are quieter and less crowded.

After sitting at the gate, the members of Delta use special security clearance in order to open the boarding ramp and let families and their children get a taste of an aircraft.  Once on board, Ries has each family sit in the Delta Comfort class as the seats are not only bigger but quieter as well due to some sensory overload.  He has also often talked about setting up a living room like an airplane setting in order for each individual to get accustomed to an airplane type of setting.  While Rise gives tips on air travels, other members of Delta hand out snacks and gifts for each child such as a narrative that provides visual support on the whole experience of traveling through an airport.

After Ries provides the information, each family gets a tour of first class and has the privilege of sitting in one pilot’s seat, holding the steering wheel while families can get pictures.

After each aircraft tour, families are them asked to meet back at the gate where group photos are taken after each session.

Erich on board
Enter a caPictured: Captain Erich Ries aboard an aircraft as second annual “Wings for Autism” event April, 2017 ption

 

 

 

 

 

While I hold such zest for these monthly autism airport tours, I feel that much work to improve the rehearsals needs to be set into motion.  For one thing, the monthly tours need to be more organized differently.

For one thing, Ries could attach a document into the emails of every single family member who has made plans to attend the tours rather than spend lots of time talking about these procedures.  Rather, his same tips and advice could turn into rehearsals at home.   For example, parents could use the tour date as if it were an actual day of flying, mark the calendar and use it as a pretend trip with all kinds of stars.  All the while, taking pictures of Atlanta in and showing them to their children, teens, and adults who are on the spectrum.  That way the experience would be made awarding.   During the interval, families set up chairs in their living room as if they are on an airplane and practice boarding.  For the moment, individuals sit in chairs while another member of the family plays the sounds of an airplane while another pretends to be a flight attendant offering things to eat and drink which I believe can be rehearsed as many times possible.

As the date gets closer, families should be encouraged to contact TSA Cares 72 hours in advance in order to practice letting the security so that each member is well prepared to handle an individual with autism.    Thereafter, each family would show up at the airport and practice checking in by walking to the ticketing counter where an agent would be well aware of each family member in order to receive a special boarding pass with the gate number and concourse location.   From there, they would meet rehearsal guides who would then lead through to a TSA Cares member not only get them through security but also demonstrate by patting down parent or sibling in order to let each individual know that they will be touched.   From there, the tour guide would show each family how to use two options in order to get to the gate.

The plane train- which is the faster option
The using the tunnel with the moving walkways in order to avoid lots of people and noises that would cause over-stimulation.
Regardless, a tour guide would be on either choice of getting from point A to point B.  In option 2, the individual can learn to use sunglasses and headsets in the tunnels and the moving walk-ways depending on the types of sensory issues.   For example,  the sound of wheels hitting the grooves on a moving walkway might be squeaky.

Upon arriving at the gate, families sit at the gate and engage at the gate with other families and tour guides before listening to board time, which is 30 minutes on prior to departure.  Like on a real flight, passengers board rows according to their seating by walking through the sky bridge or boarding ramp while the pilot turns the plane on (Depending on funding) As the plane is boarding, flight crews would demonstrate and talk about emergency procedures as the pilot maybe able to pull away from the gate and taxi around the run-way in order for individuals get used to the feeling of the plane in motion along with getting to know the sounds of the engines(Depending if there is funding).  All the while, a flight attendant offers  drink and snacks while another walks to a lavatory and demonstrates the sound of a toilet, while some families have their headsets ready and other gets accustomed to the sound.  However, Ries pointed out that families can have their loved one use a lavatory and sit down during mid-flight while a parent or sibling flushes the toilet.  Anyway, flight attendants would feel the need do a fake welcome to Atlanta and give baggage claim information and the carousel.

Yet, families can check out first class, get pictures in the cockpit with pilot while receiving gifts which includes an improved narrative which entails how to get from the gate to aircraft and how families can get to baggage claim and ground transportation.

Miyah in Cock-pit
Me in the cockpit during one of the tours

Once done, families are encouraged to follow tour guides back to the plane train towards baggage claim and ground transportation where they exit the airport and visit the baggage claim areas to see where luggage is picked up.

 

 

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Blogging for Future Horizon’s

Blog networkSince late 2013, I have been running a blog series called “Hello World with Miyah” which originally began on Youtube after being encouraged by a cameraman who interviewed me in 2007 for a charity benefit.  He felt that I was so outspoken extremely straightforward that my voice needed to be said to other people in the autistic community.   During the first year of vlogging, I faced unemployment and attempting to take a real estate course which I had a great distaste for it.   Still, I pushed myself to build the brand “Hello World with Miyah Sundermeyer”  by recording myself using an iPod touch.   Topics contained everything daily life as an autistic to relevant information on autism for the general public.  Other topics included things that I am passionate about including Dragon Con and the classic and very popular animated series, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” while having no desire to write any blogs.

Future Horizon's
Grandin and I at the Asperger’s Conference in Atlanta, November 12,2014

It was only in 2014, after meeting Dr. Temple Grandin that I learned about creating a portfolio and selling my work in order to get into a job that could turn into a career that writing counted. As a result, I knew that I was a skilled writer and wanted to sell my skills in writing by writing blogs related to autism.   In 2016, I officially opened an account with WordPress.  What I was going to write about I had no clue but I did know that I was on my way to writing my introduction to my blogs.  However, when I have invited a special event entitled,  “Wings for Autism”  which were known as airport rehearsal tours that I perked up. Based on what I had seen, I elected to write my first official blog on what I felt needed to be done and how I would like to be involved in the airport tours.  I also decided that I wanted my blogs to offer scholarly advice which held some practical applications that families, professionals, and other advocates could use to take seriously.   So far, most of these blogs have lots of cited information and other resources in addition to my own writing that I felt my reader could find helpful.

However, how where does the publishing company come on and what does that have to do with blogging?   It all began on the 11th of 12th of November in 2014 when I had two opportunities to meet and hear  Dr. Grandin along with giving her my business card.   It was also on the 12th of November that I first met Teresa Corey, the liaison of FH and her assistant Brad Masala.  Like with Grandin, I managed to give business cards to  both being that I had started at the Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) and was doing things related to autism resources for individuals on the spectrum and their families in order for them to get better access to services.  All the while, sitting on a planning committee for the first statewide autism conference in Georgia which gave me an opportunity to bring many ideas to the table.  One of those included having FH attend out conference a vendor and sell their books and other resources that could be essential to families, professionals, and individuals with autism.  However, I would only have to wait for our 4th annual autism conference for that dream to actually come true which finally took place back in May.

 

When that day did finally arrive, I had a chance to purchase “The Stories I Tell My Friends,” “Temple Talks” as well as a few magnets along with networking with Amy.   It was during that time that I had told her that I was a blogger and had just gotten a press pass to blog about Temple Grandin in Chicago(The event was on June 22, 2018).  Amy recommended that since I am a blogger that I consider blogging for them by doing two things

  1. Read and review books which have been published by Future Horizons prior to being released in the market
  2. Attending their conference and blogging for them

Though I would like to keep blogging about scholarly and practical applications related to autism, I realize that this opportunity will not only help me build up my portfolio but also sell my work and learn how to build my skills in lots of ways and especially in writing.

Learning Social Skills in Natural Vs. Paid Supports

At present, there are 1 in 68 cases of Autism Spectrum Disorders(ASD) according to latest statistical data located at the Center for Disease Control.  Some of the most common characteristics include failure to read social cues and other nonverbal cues from their peers and others around them.   Another common trait is the inadequacy to pick up on social skills as the brain develops but processes information differently.   In the last decade, there have been a significant number of studies on why autistics struggle to pick on social skills.

One such finding has been on mirror neurons which are nick-named, “Monkey See, Monkey Do” according to Science Daily and other resources.    Many investigations have found that mirror neurons fire inside the brain of a neurotypical when he or she observes his or her peers acting a certain way in a certain place.  For example, one might walk into a library and notice that everyone in this atmosphere is either quiet or whisper so they be quiet too.  Whereas, inside the brain of an autistic, where the brain processes information differently, their neurons only reflect the actions of the autistic.  For instance, that autistic’s neurons might pick up the appropriate behaviors of others in that library.  Rather, it would copy the behaviors of the autistic where they might get loud over the excitement of seeing a favorite book Science Daily;  (2005,2008).

 

Homer Simpson Brain

In 2008, a team at the University of California, San Diego ran a study on 10 difference autistic boys by attaching an electroencephalograph (EEG)  in order to look for mu waves that can often be found in humans.  These waves disappear when a humanoid is seen copying the action or behavior that was picked up by the mirror neuron.   All the while, each subject was required to move their hands while watching a video with white noise that contained the image of a bouncing ball.  While they found the mu waves were being blocked normally, the team found abnormalities as well.   What they discovered was that mirror neuron were only reflecting the actions and behaviors of individuals. Science Daily, (2008).

All the while researching have used brain imaging to look for clues on what causes developmental delays in a lack of social skills among autistics.  Such investigations have found damage in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for learning and picking up on social skill without having to be taught directly.     Finally, the was a study that looked at the deficiency in the hormone vasopressin, which is responsible for blood pressure and linked it with lack of social skills.   To investigate, 28 individuals with ASD were looked at by giving them the hormone but the findings came back with uncertain results.  Whether a direct result is ever found, teaching social skills to individuals with ASD is key.

When teaching social skills whether they are a child or adult, there are many tools that one can learn to use when teaching these skills.  Additionally, these tools can be taught in paid supports and in natural supports.  Yet, one set of tools requires a degree and professionals who are licensed and trained or even have the opportunity for a good internship.   The other, which is natural can doesn’t require one to have a degree or special qualifications.  Rather the only requirements needed are patients, understanding, and education about autism, parenting and mentoring.  By the same token,  anyone can teach social skills in the form of natural supports whether it’s a family member, friend or an elder at a house of worship.

Cat and Dog table manners

My the first form of learning social skills, natural supports can be taught at home by families, other adults in the individual’s neighborhood,  employers, colleagues, and friends.  Such examples of social skills include learning basic table manners,   such as not talking with your mouth full, managing anger, using appropriate humor and even ordering from a restaurant.  Another good example that I often demonstrate at my presentations on this topic by using an object so people to learn to take turns talking while holding a certain object while others learn to listen and wait their turn.  I find this helpful being that I tend to dominate the conversation.

Examples of social skills

  • Table manners
  • Turn-taking
  • Eye contact
  • Appropriate humor
  • Anger management
  • Communication
  • How to deal with irate people or bullies

 

 

Temple Portrait
You can find a short video by Dr. Grandin about teaching social skills at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9Z5CCvGiZ4

While there is advice from Dr. Temple Grandin herself, I have created a list of do’s and don’ts when teaching social skills.

 

What should be done: 

  • Be honest and direct with tact: Pulling individual to the sides
  • Mentors visually play the role of individuals
  • Play games at tables– Patrick situation “The
  • loving push.”
  • Baby steps
  • Role play and practice going to parties, places
  • in communities

 

I believe that the main reason why teaching social skills in natural supports is important is because this type of teaching not only saves a family a big amount of money but it also helps build a better foundation for helping these individuals grow.  Teaching social skills naturally can be done when an individual is 21 and over.  For example, I began learning my first social skills by a family member and one of their close friends in 2003.  They taught mine by way or role-playing where one individual with be me and show me how to interact with people by looking down at the ground.  They also showed me that I barely acknowledged others around me by saying “Hello ” and walking away while barely acknowledging them.

Contrarily,  there are ways that social skills should never be taught to autistics among natural supports.   Growing up, I have seen some really bad methods of teaching social skills well as good.  One example would include using sarcasm or hints which most autistics struggle to process as most of us often take everything seriously.  Among this example, you can find a list of don’ts below.  Another thing to keep in mind is when teaching social skills to an individual on the spectrum, they not be taught with the expectation to make an autistic become a cookie cutter person or that teaching can cure autism.  In fact, there is a short list of don’t’s for the community.

 

What should not be done

  • Yelling and screaming
  • Name calling
  • Nagging
  • Calling the individual out on the spot
  • No hints or sarcasm
  • Humiliating
  • Guilt tripping
  • Make the person feel bad because they missed the expectations of social norms

 

While such examples above can get out of hand, good getting into the good practice of helping individuals by teaching them everyday values that the mentor was taught can create growth.

Eye of a Horse
Eye of a Horse offers social skills by observing equine body language https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCNR-lroA8&t=1s

 

Unlike natural supports, which are community-based licensed and certified professionals take center stage and provide broader teaching forms where families and others in the community cannot reach.

Examples entail:

  • Learn to take turns talking or talking more-use
  • rewards
  • Theatrical models to read facial expressions
  • Exercises – Listening
  • How to socialize at parties and social gatherings – mingling, appropriate topics
  • Invite clients to do things in community-tips in the mail – Places like coffee shops
  • shop to practice social interaction
  • PEERS- Teenagers where parents and teens separated.
  • A. 14 Sessions- each week different topic- Coach and teen leader
  • B. Homework each week- Practicing making appropriate phone
  • calls
  • C. Taught table manners
  • D. Example- Jeopardy to get to know each other and finding
  • common interests
  • E. Trained to handle parents with inappropriate behavior –  Keeping them focused when they try to distract others

Likewise,  there is a list of do’s and don’ts for professional running these social skills programs as well.

Do’s                                                                                                                         

  • If the behavior is inappropriate- Pull to side or cal after the event is over and be direct.
  • Have clients sit at different tables-color coding-
  • Mention when there are new clients and
  • introduce new clients to other current clients and talk about interest
  • Offer mentor sessions- one on one.
  • Check in and out.
  • Listen to client

On the other hand, there is also a handful of don’t’s that professionals might find helpful when working with autistics.

                        Don’ts 

  • Correct or humiliate them during the event
  • Minimize client something bothers them-
  • Just say “That’s inappropriate” or “That’s not
  • appropriate” and walk away.
  • Nitpick every little detail of client’s behavior or nagging.
  • Setting the poor example: Sarcasm and name-calling  example, “Put client down and say, “I was just kidding”
  • Laying a guilt trip on the client for everything he or she does wrong
  • Making them feel like they don’t the mold
  • Shout at them
  • Shame them
  • Badmouth their family to them

 

Last but not least, if an autistic is not comfortable attending a paid support,  there are great alternatives to learning social skills. One of those opportunities includes learning on the internet.   One of the great resources out there is a website that was created by another autistic named Daniel Wendler.   The name of his site is “Improve your Social Skills.”   Not only does he offer paid one on one sessions via Skype that offers coaching  session but he offers lots of practical steps that are free as well.

 

Daniel Wendler
Daniel Wendler, Entrepreneur of Improve Your Social Skills.com

Another alternative is the Asperger Experts which is run by two adult men on the spectrum.  One of which goes by Danny Raede and offers lots of ways that an autistic can get out of his or her comfort zone in order to understand why it’s essential to learn social skills. The Asperger experts  Unlike Wendler, AE offers many types of workshops via video, webinars and even conferences that are designed to help autistics and their families grow and get out of what they call, the “Defense Mode.”  While these can be costly, Raede and his team have a list of free videos on their Youtube Channel the “Asperger Experts” along with a blog that autistics can easily read and find helpful tips correspondingly.

 

To conclude this week’s blog, here is a list of resources that I hope families, individuals in the community at home.

Resources in which some are located right here in the Georgia area

Online Supports

Books

  1. “Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism spectrum disorders”:: Elizabeth A. Laugeson and Fred Frankel
  2. “The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals can help spectrum kids become successful adults,” Temple Grandin, Deborah Moore\
  3. “The Way I See it:” Temple Grandin, Ph.D., Foreward Emily Gerson-Saines
  4. “The Unwritten Social Rules of Social Relationships.”  Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.

 

 

 

References

Ecoweekends. (2013, November 12). Students with Asperger’s develop social skills through interaction with horses. .  Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxCNR-lroA8&t=2s

European Science Foundation. How mirror neurons allow us to learn and socialize by going through the motions in the head. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081219073047.htm>.

Equine Therapy for Asperger’s Children. (Photo) (2010, May). Equine therapy for Asperger’s children. My Equine Therapy. http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2009/11/equine-therapy-for-Aspergers-children.html

Grandin, T [Maine Public] (2011, October 20). Temple Grandin on teachable moments[Video File].Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9Z5CCvGiZ4&t=1s. •

Haelle, T. (2015, July 22).Hormone linked to social difficulties with autism, early study finds levels of vasopressin associated with ‘theory of mind’ tasks in children with ASD [Web log post]. Retrieved September 2016, from https://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-health-information-26/autism-news- 51/early-

Sundermeyer, M. (2017, November). Learning social skills through natural and paid supports. (Presentation). Georgia Positive Behavior Supports Conference. Lawrenceville, GA.

I’m Dan (Photo). (N.D). I’m Dan.  Daniel Wendler. http://www.danielwendler.com/

Nydesjo, J.  (2018, February) (Photo) Our musical Brain. Homer Simpson brain.   Jonas Nydesjo. http://www.jonasnydesjo.com/var-musikaliska-hjarna/

Packer, A.J. (2014, November).(Photo) NEVER Land: 15 table manner taboos. Bad table Manners 5 Cat.  Alex J. Packer, PD.D.  http://www.alexjpacker.com/blog/2014/11/2/never-land-15-table-manner-taboos

study-links-hormone-to-social-skills-deficits-in-autism-701556.htmlLatham, C. (2006, October 14). The Asperger experts- AcidRayn.com.  <http://acidrayn.com/2015/11/12/short-review-of-an-asperger-experts-video/&gt;

Social intelligence and the frontal Lobes [Web log post]. Retrieved September 2016 • Laugeson, E., & Frankel, F. (2010).

Social skills for teenagers with developmental and autism spectrum disorders: The PEERS Treatment Manual. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Short review of an “Asperger Experts Video” (Photo).  Asperger Experts: Take it from Us, We’ve Lived It. 

University Of California, San Diego. “Autism Linked To Mirror Neuron Dysfunction.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/04/050411204511.htm>

VanderPloeg, L. (Illustrator).  (N.D). Table Manners. <Book keeping.com. http://fsgbookkeeping.com/table-manners/>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Create a Game Plan during the “Taking Flight” Airport Rehearsal Tours.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, now one of the business in the world, had its third annual, “Wings for Autism” airport rehearsal tour. event on April 11, 2018.  Since volunteering my time with the “Taking Flight: Autism Airport Rehearsal Tours” on a monthly basis, I was able to provide a lot of information to families.   Not only did I provide my monthly tips and advice by speaking over a PA inside the aircraft but I educated patrons who walked up to the registration table in the atrium at the domestic terminal as well. Though these rehearsal tours continue to move forward and open lots of new doors, much work still needs to be done.  In the meantime, families can take advantage of these tips when attending the airport for the tours and when they are traveling. Likewise, airport rehearsal tours are only offered once a month but a rehearsal goes beyond just meeting with airline team members and participating volunteers.  Rather, here are some helpful pointers that families can consider during their visits to an airport with their autistic loved ones.

Me at wings for autism sign
Me at the third Wings for Autism Event

First and foremost, since families receive special passes for each airport tour, not only can they attend the session but take time to exploring the airport.  In the midst of their exploration, I encourage families to take their loved one to a gate where passengers are boarding an aircraft.  When making observations, make sure you check out a few different airlines to compare and contrast the way airlines are boarded so an autistic has an idea of what to expect.  For example, Delta airlines boards by assigned seating and rows whereas Southwest boards by a random first come first serve.

 

A second tip is that autistics cannot have any surprises when learning about a new setting.  Otherwise, the environment would become a threat where they are expecting certain stimuli to set them off due to higher levels of fear and anxiety. Say the door alarm at a concourse gate and the buzzer at a baggage claim carousel.   In correspondence with Temple Grandin, she suggested that having headsets and earplug ready and worn at the gate and baggage claim.  I highly recommend doing so during time exploring each airport so that individuals get a better idea of what to expect.  To add to the surprise sensory list would be inside the bathrooms at the airport where toilets and automatic hand dryers could contribute to the stress of the airport.  Finally, families can take this time to walk through the airport while your loved one wears their headsets.

A third recommendation entails families stopping at a favorite restaurant outside of the airport and purchasing a bag full of their loved one’s choice.  From there, families can take their orders to a rehearsal tour and bring them while boarding an aircraft and have their loved one eat on a carrier.   Yet, if families didn’t bring food through security, I recommend finding an eatery such as McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A and form a habit of taking that food to a nearby gate where an autistic can observe how each boarding process works.

Delta Flight Crews
Team Delta members at the end of a Taking Flight Rehearsal Tour at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

 

Fourth, while at each gate, families can get a better idea of what special accommodations may be offered at each airline and airport.  Following the tour,  I recommend that caregivers and other supports speak to a customer service agent who can assist them in coming up with a game plan when it comes to boarding a plane and selecting the best seats in advance.  Families may also need to know which accommodations are offered at each airline.

Fifth,  while making observations of the boarding process, families can look up a flight beforehand  online or on overhead monitors and make note to practice traveling to that gate with their loved ones while rehearse paying attention to the time that passengers begin the boarding process, which is often 30 minutes prior.  Though not required but highly recommended, bring along laptops, mobile devices and other things that may keep a family busy watching movies.  To set examples, caregivers can get their own work done on their laptops, make phone calls while each autistic finds something that interests them.  Such examples include logging into wi-fi and watching a movie on google play, playing a game or even reading a book.  If there is a flight delay, families can practice letting the customer service agents know they are going to a quieter area but be finding someone to accommodate their needs until it’s boarding time.  At Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, located in Atlanta,  a sensory-friendly room is located at Concourse F, which is just outside the international terminal.  For those who live in Atlanta and participate in the “Taking Flight” rehearsal, which includes a visit to the sensory room can practice contacting a CSA so they can practice using the room for respite from the large jostling crowds and overwhelming stimuli.   Notwithstanding, only 2 out of 22,429 airports have sensory rooms which are only 8.29% of the airport population in the US.   At this point, finding a backup plan in a quiet area with fidgets, play-do, and items that block out major sensory issues can help decrease stress levels.  For example, Hartsfield Jackson has a transportation mall which not only provides an electric train but tunnels with art and moving walkways.   After each tour, I often prefer to walk through this area versus taking the train is that most can get crowded along with enjoying the art which is mounted in each well-lit tunnel.

Plane taking off

Sixth, while at the airport, families should find a gate where they can help their child observe a carrier being taxied, taking off and landing.  That way,  individuals will know what to expect when they fly for the first time.   Meanwhile, have lunch or a snack available all the while encouraging the individual to watch the process of a plane becoming airborne and showing them pictures of possible destinations such as Walt Disney World or pictures of Characters and landmarks related to Disney World.

A seventh and final recommendation, which was also suggested to me by Dr. Grandin which includes a video that shows passengers being patted down by TSA officers which can be shared with autistics. Once these videos are seen, families can practice patting down their loved ones.   One way to do that is to find an area inside the airport, past a checkpoint where caregivers can take content of officers patting down a few passengers and put them on their computers and televisions to show their loved ones and show it to them to a few times so each autistic will know they will be touched.  From there, families can practice patting the individual down so they know what to expect upon arrival at the airport.

In closing, I hope that you will find this blog helpful for families planning on attending an airport rehearsal tour. To do so, one can contact their local autism program providers or local airport and find out through the airport’s customer service or ADA coordinators to find out more information.

 

 

 

How I met a Great Accquaintance and Network

(Pictured above: Dr. Temple Grandin and I at the 2016 Matthew Reardon Autism Conference in Savannah, GA)

 

During April of 2008,  which is better known as “Autism Awareness Month,”  the Center for Disease Control held a special talk by Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman who I heard about off and on, post my autism diagnosis during my adolescence.   When learning t that she was an animal behaviorist, while commuting to the event, I pictured Grandin as a woman who worked with exotic wildlife in zoos nationwide while having a very business type of personality.  It was only that I got my first glimpse of her when another attendee point her out while she was signing books.   “Oh, she’s a cowgirl,”  I thought based on seeing wearing western attire.  This got me wondering what she would be like to listen to as my image got shattered.  Upon hearing her speak, I soon learned that she could be quick to make one laugh with her quirky random humor.  I also never expected that she would get overly excited about every autistic having careers, hobbies, and interest where every other sentence was, “That is so cool.”  Finally, she talked about three different kinds of autistic minds which I found to be the most interesting though everything blended together and there was a lot of information to take in. I also had a hard time understanding what she meant about thinking in pictures until I saw the movie starring Claire Danes when I rented the DVD via Netflix in 2011.

Temple Portrait
Pictured right: Temple Grandin posing in front of a painting during 2016 Matthew Reardon Autism Conference

 

Afterward, I became excited about Temple Grandin and looked forward to seeing her at other speaking engagements and maybe even reading her books.  One year after seeing the movie, I met a during a graduation celebration for another autistic who graduated from Marshall University. All the while, she asked me if I knew about Dr. Temple Grandin which I said yes because she thought that my self-determination was similar to hers. ” Now she would like you,”  I recall her telling during festivities that afternoon. Of course, I got excited about the possibility of connecting with Grandin at some point.   Though I didn’t get to meet her, I had my second opportunity to hear speak the very next Summer in the Atlanta area.  This time, the content made more sense to me is that I had seen the movie and now knew who she was.  I was also more intrigued by the different ways that one would autism could think and all the possible talents that could be developed. Amid Grandin’s lecture, I had this feeling that we would end up meeting at some point though I didn’t where and when but knew it was soon. Why I even asked her a second question related to learning math at age 21 and what she thought.  “Oh get over it, you were 21,” she acknowledged as the crowd roared with laughter.  Then she told me something very profound that I will never forget.  “Just because you are autistic, doesn’t mean that your mind isn’t ever going to stop growing,”As I was moved by these words, I was nearly brought to tears.  Though I did not meet her that night, something inside kept telling me that we would meet.  In the meantime, I purchased her book, “Thinking in Pictures” a few months later and began to read it.  It also would wait another year and five months before actually meeting her.

That opportunity came when I was able to hear her speak at two different events.  The first speaking engagement occurred on campus at Georgia State University which was  two weeks after being hired as a staffed employee on campus.  In the course of hearing Grandin speak, I wondered if I could even get into the event being that one was required to register beforehand.   Just in case I could get in, I brought along my copy of her book which I bought earlier along with some business cards so I could network with her being that the Center for Leadership in Disability, which is housed in the school of public health downtown Atlanta, which had a statewide plan related to autism. Sure enough, plenty of empty seats were available and I attended with one of my colleagues.  Out of curiosity in regards to the way that I think, I asked her a question.   Based on what we both discussed, she felt that I was a visual thinker along with having a brief discussion with her while she was standing at the pulpit, which was both hysterical to others in the room.  When it came to getting my book signed, I learned that Grandin’s voice sounded slightly different to the microphone which I learned was a tad lower which kind of scared because I  had only heard her speaking behind the pulpit before that point.  Be that as it may, I let her sign my book and asked to shake her hand which she agreed to.  I also had a chance to pose in a photo with another friend who is also on the spectrum in which we used Vulcan hand signs being that I had heard that Grandin is a huge fan of the Star Trek series.  I even attempted to ask her who her favorite character was since Danes’ adaptation of her said that she liked Mister Spock.  Rather than answer, she responded with her usual, “Okay?” before my colleague snapped the photo of all three of us.

 

Future Horizon's
Grandin and I at the 2014 Future Horizon’s Conference

 

 

Fifteen minutes later, the event ended, and Grandin, publicist, and liaison were just leaving the student ballroom.  Before she left campus I caught up and give her a polite “Nice to meet you,”  she replied, “Nice to meet you.”  It was there that I gave her my business card and began by telling her that I would be at the other conference the next day the one who asked about the way that I think.   She inquired what I what I wanted to do careerwise but I barely knew where to begin.   So I started by telling her that I am a student but I quickly learned that she is not one for small talk and enjoys short answers.  She bluntly responded with, “Yeah I don’t have time for that jargon and that rest is garbage.  What do you want to do with your life?”  Standing agape, I nervously said, “I don’t know you’re Temple Grandin but I am just Miyah Sundermeyer.”  She responded by telling her about the time the cattle workers put bull testicles on her vehicle and then talked so fast about other similar situations in letting me know that she was not perfect.  Still, I could never understand a word that was said. It was only when she told me to take baby steps and work on what I can do and don’t do what I can’t,” that I could.  At that point, I nervously told her about an alternative set of words to the “Disability,” for those who learned to focus on their strengths over their weakness and go against the odds.  These words were made up during a sci-fi convention in 2013 when I was first beginning my vlog series on youtube.  “I call that a human detour system,” I explained in getting a smile out of her and maybe even a laugh or two before finally leaving for the evening.

The next day, I got up early and commuted to a cinema in Roswell Georgia for the second event which was put on by “Future Horizons”  that was a conference related to individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome.  The audience was twice the size of the event held the day before and most of them were professionals from schools, therapy centers and other organizations that were required to get continuing education units(CEUs). Though I was dressed down in a pair of brown linen pants and a Doctor Who t-shirt (pictured above), I considered myself a professional being that I was just hired at GSU.  Though I was nervous about interacting with Grandin during the previous day, I didn’t let that it ruin my joy.  Rather, I learned how to best communicate with her by direct questions and straightforward comments.  I did such by asking her whether I left possible employment interviewers where I am autistic.  No, it would be better to create a work portfolio for all my projects and sell my work rather than myself which I have since taken into consideration.   I also was fascinated by some of the other things that she talked about during this presentation which were about Disney and Pixar having career program for adults on the spectrum and how they look at their abilities and not focus so much on the label.   It was after she left that I was determined to ask her a question whether she had been to Hasbro studios and whether if she knew there would be a similar career program there which I asked her about in Savannah in 2016.

In final conclusion, she left that conference but I knew that other opportunities would come up such as in 2016.  In that time, I made connections with her liaison and her assistant who helps sell her materials and facilitate each event, networks who have collaborated with the Center for Leadership in Disability.  Like that woman I met 6 years ago, they too have had some sort of network to Miss Grandin.  One of them happened to be the director of the 2016 autism conference which I once again attended.  It was during her time in Savannah that our interactions were much more pleasant and she was much more cordial.  I even asked her about Hasbro studios which she had not yet visited but filled me in on the work done at Disney and Pixar.  Since then, my interactions with her have gotten better as she continues to inspire me to be all that I can be and look at possibilities rather than impossibilities.

Why Support Autism Speaks?

(Cover Photo: Autism Walk 2016)

Within the last decade, the organization, otherwise known as, “Autism Speaks” has sought to “Cure Autism.”  In return,  a large portion of individuals living on the autistic spectrum have pushed back and joined the “Autistic Self-Advocacy Network(ASAN).  Numberless autistics have come away with the feeling that Autism Speaks looks at the autistic population as broken and diseased.  Reacting, huge masses of self-advocates have protested events such as walks, posters and even turn having nothing to do with the color blue.   Others have formed the organization, “Red Instead” which is working to provide alternatives to ABA and other popular therapies.  While I agree that we can’t cure autism and find a way to make a person fit into the norms of society,   there are other reasons why I support such an organization.

 

Why Autism Speaks
Pictured: Temple Grandin and me at one of her keynotes in Atlanta: Facebook Profile Autism Speaks Frame

First, being that I am a leader in the autistic community right here in Georgia, I feel that the logical thing to would be to work with everyone.   Yes, I may disagree with the “Cure Autism” attitude and clash with the current vaccination theories,  but I cannot simply avoid running into opportunities related to autism and not avoid this organization altogether.   By the same token, I feel that it’s my job to educate professionals who work for autism speaks that autism isn’t a disease and that we have to push for acceptance and inclusion among communities worldwide.    Despite my actions in proceedings to help, Autism Speaks, I realize that not every professional and family will adopt my philosophy.   Rather, I recognized that this educating will not change people’s minds overnight.  Still, I can give a push by laying the groundwork that these professionals and families may greatly benefit from later.

A second reason why I support Autism Speaks is due to the high volume of families members and people in local communities who are currently very heavily involved with them.  Being that I am a leader, having a series of blogs and working for Georgia State University,  I feel that getting to know the families and various organization individually is key.   For example, there might be a family who is looking to get their child diagnosed and might not know where to go for help.  Others might want to know about airport rehearsals and how they can sign up to take a tour and spread the word to other families.  Say, to support groups designed for parents and guardians.   By the same token, Autism Speaks offers a guest blog WordPress series called, “In Our Own Words” which bloggers on the spectrum can promote themselves.  Although some autistics would look at this as a form of “Tokenism,” I see the opportunity as the “Glass half full.”   In my case, I find that this opportunity will only open up doors for me to get the word out about my blogs.

 

(Pictured above: Delta Flight Crew from “Taking Flight Program” works with Autism Speaks to raise acceptance at airports and planes.

 

A third reason why I support is through the organization is not perfect, I have seen a ray of hope.  Rather than seeing, “Cure Autism” I have witnessed a gradual change in their views on autism.   For instance, in their new page, “Share Your Story Mosaic,”   the message says, “Help Increase Understanding and Acceptance of People with Autism,” which went live on April 1, 2018.  Specifically, self-advocates, family members and people in the community can share 500 character stories and photos relating to their own personal stories.   What’s more is that each individual can share videos on youtube. In responding, I sent three photos and two videos from my youtube channel series, “Hello World with Miyah.”    Being that I am fighting for inclusion and acceptance, another self-advocate felt that I needed to share my story with autism speaks.

A fourth and final reason for supporting Autism Speaks is attending the walks and for a very different motivation. In this case, I attend those walk to serve a different purpose. The first being is that I have no problem participating in a walk for autism particularly due to the feeling that the walk could raise money for essential programs like grants so that families can get things like evaluations and other services.  Other funds could be raised to fund programs like the airport rehearsal tours so that my desires can be put into motion.  A second reason why I wish to attend is that these walks often lack the knowledge of sensory research and have overstimulating events like concerts and other sudden noises such as popping balloons that can set off a panic attack.   Rather, I feel that the walk should be in a park with silver balloons and a silent concert where attendees would listen to recorded music by supporting artists.  During the interval, autistics could either walk with their family or go to a designated sensory friendly area with weighted blankets and other touch-friendly items.  Finally, the walks could have their booths and vendors set up while the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing.

 

Though I have gotten resistance from other autistics, I realize that I cannot please everyone despite their views on the organization and anyone who supports them.  While I could join in and join the boycott, I feel that it’s better to work with the organization as a whole to find a healthy solution that everyone can adopt.

 

Links below:

Autism Speaks Mosaic

http://autismmosaic.org/?key=M3228656-1