On the 24th of September, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a podcast called “Converge Autism Radio,” by Stephanie Holmes. It was here that I shared my long road in education. In this podcast, talk about living on the spectrum and dealing with road blocks and the opinion of others.
On November 30th, 2018, I had the privilege to attend the Future Horizon’s Autism Conference in Nashville, TN. Since there was a one hour time change, my body automatically woke me up at 5:00 AM central standard time. This was perfect because it meant that I would have more time to get myself ready for the day’s events. After a shower, half a cup and coffee and breakfast, I packed up bags and caught the airport shuttle to the Marriott Nashville Airport where they were having the conference. Once inside, I dropped off my bags and headed over to the registration where I checked in. Meanwhile, scanned the lobby where there were three tables with books that contained lots of autism resources Future Horizons sold that. Behind the tables were Aimee Baller, her daughter and Teresa Corey who were selling the books. On the far right was a line and in front sat Dr. Temple Grandin who signed books and posed for pictures. In the meantime, I found myself a spot on the far left end of the large ballroom (which I later regretted being I could not get any photos of the speakers). Afterward, I grabbed a cup of tea and a pastry while going back over to the resource table. Once there, I was hesitant to pick up “Animals Make Us Human” and have Temple sign it along with my copy of “The Stories I Tell My Friends,” When I attempted to do, Aimee was already escorting Temple away who appeared to recommend a book to another that she thought might be helpful.
In the meantime, I sat down and studied the room for the perfect spot in case I could get photos of all the speakers. Being that room was large and since I didn’t have a superb quality camera, I did the best I could. Aimee introduced Temple who made began by making a joke related to technology glitches. Like all of her talks, Grandin touched on everything from growing up with autism to being used while sharing lots of splashes of humor here and there. A few examples that caught my attention was her concern that the autism label became way too focused on rather than the careers. She also shared that too many professionals were too busy making these assumptions in the hotel like the one that Temple presented at. Another thing that stood was her acknowledgment of the late Stephen Hawking. “Do you know what Stephen Hawking said before he died? It’s better to focus on the things you can do and not on what your disability will prevent you from doing.” Finally, she touched on the need of employees and how they cannot replace them. She also emphasized that because autistics pay close attention to details, jobs in skilled trade fields would be good jobs for them. Yet, because it focuses too many people on autism as a disability, too many parents are not allowing their children to go out into the world and get a job. Finally, I got up and ask Temple a question regarding learning how to drive is that she has recently been placing emphases in this area. She suggested that I need to find a friend early on a Sunday morning and drive around a big parking lot of a stadium instead of going directly to driver’s ed. Rather practice driving every Sunday at the same place at the same time.
Post Temple’s talk, I had the chance to line up and get her to sign the copy of my book while even getting photos with her. Along the way, I chatted with other attendees. Some were teachers while others were parents. Still, others were adults on the spectrum who were fans like myself. One particular fellow who stood out was a man who lived in the great Tennessee area and worked as a counselor. While waiting, he jokingly encouraged both of us to moo which I playfully declined. “You go right ahead.” Other people were not in line approached me I had networked with at breakfast. Some showed me their pictures with Temple while others came up and said hello. Still, others asked me if I really would learn how to drive. Last, one parent who was interested in me came up to get pictures with me while I could give her my business card. All the same, it was my turn for Temple to sign my book and have our photo taken together. “Who is this to?” Temple inquired while I told her the book was too me. All the while that parent insisted on giving her my spelling but I kindly corrected her by giving Temple my real spelling. Finally, I had my photo snapped with Temple and I before I briefly thanked Grandin and looked at the photo.
Following this, I ran into Anita Lesko who was standing between Temple and the doorway into the ballroom. Before introducing myself, I shared my photo with Temple and me to Anita. I finally had the chance to meet her in person post watching her talk on YouTube and tweet to each other via social media. Upon meeting her, Lesko was getting ready for her talk. Before I returned to my seat, I studied Anita who had a basket in her hand and LED battery operated Christmas lights thrown over her shoulders. Likewise, Anita’s introduction was much more laid back than Temple’s where she used powerpoint slides were recorded narratives on her biography. In the process of her biography, Lesko explained that she came from a very poor background where her mother had to sew all of their clothes. She also talked Rocky being her favorite movie and had made “You Fly Now” her theme song which played as Lesko marched down the aisles and handed out pieces of paper with her autograph and a quote by Bon Jovi. To add to it, Lesko had the Christmas lights turned as she marched. Afterward, Lesko began her talk about growing up before being diagnosed at age 50 with Asperger’s Syndrome. Before that, she described herself as quirky and awkward. She talked about her childhood in which she did interesting things like driving her tricycle in their family swimming pool. She also talked about how if she wanted to do something related to her interests such as horse jumping, she had to learn to work in the stalls where she got free lessons. She also talked about learning she could make a lot of money just by braiding manes and tails. Further, Lesko talked about working at an ice rink where she did lots of variables such as working the concessions and driving the truck. Post Lesko’s talk, like Temple, she stepped out into the lobby where she too signed books and took and photos while answering lots of questions. I got photos of Anita while meeting two other women on the spectrum who were blown away at what Anita had to say. During that time, I got pictures of these young fans. Meanwhile, Anita signed my book which she spelled out my name and wrote “Have a great day” with a little smiley face.
Meanwhile, I posed with one more photo with Dr. Grandin who was headed out to catch a flight. Temple was on her way to another autism-related event in Las Vegas. “I have been there three times,” I returned before people snapped photos of the two of us. Afterward, the same parent who got pictures of Temple and me approached me and began asking me questions on how she could help her son who was feeling stuck. In his particular case, he had the dream to be a marine biologist and was shut down by a professor was also on the spectrum who discouraged him from choosing a career in this area. He believed he could not be a marine biologist. So she was asking me how she could get him out of his shell but could come up with a solution all by herself by taking him to a marine center and get him excited again.
Following my brief conversation, I waved goodbye to Temple and told her I would see her next time. It was after she left I went to grab lunch where I sat with four women who were vendors that represented the greater Tennessee area. There, we all networked and talked about what we did for a living. Post lunch, I headed over to the vendor hall where they had everything from attorney resources to fidgets for individuals in the spectrum. One such vendor was run by a 10-year-old boy on the spectrum and his mother which I was impressed by. However, since I had recently purchased a few fidgets at the Future Horizon‘ resource table, I picked up a business card for other future opportunities.
Finally, I went to Dr. Jim Ball’s speech who not only talked about Temple’s models but also carried a great sense of humor while talking everything from reinforcers to autism and employment. One such area that really stood out is why in the world there is such a high level of adults are under-or unemployed. One of the main reasons is because so many adults can‘t handle criticism or being corrected. He also stated that a lot of it is that autistics are often too honest for their own good. In the examples he used, Ball talked about Sheldon Cooper and how he called his new boss stupid because he wasn’t a real scientist while becoming temporary fired. He also mentioned a young adult who had been learning to drive besides learning all the rules of driving and would call other people out to his parents. “That person is speeding” Ball stated in a humorous tone as the crowd laughed. Next, he walked about the difference between behavior and being annoying in which he pointed out that annoying is not a behavior. Last, I chatted with Jim briefly who I found delightful and very passionate about her work. We talked about Temple and how we both really appreciate how much she has done. I also talked about my work at the Center for Leadership in Disability and how I am training to become certified in registered behavior therapy besides connecting with him outside of the conference.
All things considered, the conference ended, and I headed back to the airport that evening to catch my flight home. As I reflected on all the wonderful things that happened during that day, I came away feeling refreshed remembering there is hope for an autistic and their families. What I most love about Future Horizon’s is that they have positive people who care about helping other people in the community grow. As a blogger and an attendee, I would like to thank Future Horizon’s, Dr. Jim Ball, Anita Lesko and Dr. Temple Grandin for all that each of you do.
On April 21st, 2017, I gave my first presentation outside of the city of Atlanta and even further, out-of-state in at the 8th annual Chattanooga Autism Conference on “Steps to Becoming Independent,” which I shared content in my last blog entry on June 18, 2017. During that hour and 15 minutes in the adult’s track, the entire room was so packed that some of my audience members sat on the floor. The room consisted of individuals on the spectrum, parents, caregivers, professionals and people in medical-type of professions. While I lightly compared and contrasted on three individuals’ points of view on becoming independent, this blog will feature more of a practical application on how I believe one on the spectrum can strive to become independent, though I am reminded not to assume that every child, adolescent, and adult is the same in reaching those goals. Nonetheless, I would like to draw attention to my ideas on steps that one can take to independence.
On the whole, there are 15 steps that I identified when putting my together my presentation for the Chattanooga Autism Conference that I felt were real practical applications that can be put to use which I will again narrow down. Nonetheless, the entire principle behind these steps is like teaching a knight or a soldier to arm themselves for battle as the world outside of the home can be a very scary place. For someone living on the spectrum, teaching these things help in preventing an adult from going into one of the life’s battles without that armor. When I moved out on my own at age 20 for the first time, for example, I thought I could sit around and watch cable TV like I did at my parent’s house. In spite of that, I soon learned that I had new responsibilities and expectations. For instance, I resided in a rental house and was required to mow the lawn though I had no prior experience due to my father refusing to teach me as he then looked at autism differently than he would now. For that reason alone, I soon ran into a roommate who was constantly sullen around me. The experience of being around this kind of hostility scared enough that I got myself into trouble in other areas. All the same, I now have the tools that I lacked fifteen years ago that I can now instruct other individuals and their families to apply when reaching for the stars of independence.
The first step that I find to be the most crucial is learning how to do chores around the house and taking turns to do so. These chores should be put on a monthly chart where one does one chore all month long another does a different chore within the same month. For instance, the individual would spend the month collecting all of the garbage in the house, put into the big bin in the garage and taking it to the driveway for the garbage man to pick up on weekly. Another alliterative to this would be to take the trash to the dumpster or garbage chute on a daily basis. In return, parents and guardians should be giving the child allowance by not only rewarding the child but also teaching them about the value of employment.
The second step adjoins with the first by teaching and showing older individuals how to use more advanced appliances for household chores. Examples would be, a vacuum cleaner, a lawn mower, and a carpet cleaner. Like with the first step, each family member takes their monthly turns mowing the lawn, while another washes or steams the carpet.
A third critical step that I believe plays a huge role is learning how to plan, cook or prepare meals for entire family members. Being that this is the modern age mobile apps like Yummily and websites like Pinterest have lots of great and creative recipes for one to try. Other ideas entail cookbooks such as “Just 5 Things” where one can great a gourmet recipe on five ingredients for those who are beginners. First, though, one should always be taught how to cook, use proper measuring cups and spoons, and plan start and stop times accordingly to meal times. Second, learning how to look through these sources mentioned above, creating menus, writing them down and sharing them with family members along with negotiating when the individual will cook Third, going over the approved recipes planned and seeing what one has on hand and what is needed in order to prepare the recipe. Fourth, is advising one how to make a list and practice going to the store with their family members.
A fourth step that once again combines nicely while taking a slightly different angle is by gradually weaning when the child is old enough to be alone in certain places. This is not only allowing these individuals to use their allowance money, and a grocery list for their meals but also shop for other needs and wants in stores like Target.
A fifth step will come once the child reaches adolescence and adulthood where parents and guardians should have a list of networks which consist of family, friends, neighbors, and people in place of worship for the sake of employment. Notwithstanding, one these networks should be positive employers who should not only be understanding but also empowering and willing to teach essential job skills such as computer coding and perhaps job interviews.
A sixth step that may sound silly that may sound silly is allowing children and adolescents to sleep away from home. Situations include sleepovers at friend’s houses, going to visit family members far away, and retreats. Not only is a family member gradually weaning their child but the child is becoming comfortable with being away from home. Otherwise, one who has never been away from home without the family nearby can experience stress, anxiety, and fear. Being that people have put me into a little box, I have been around other adults who have been so overly protected that sleeping over at home was simply too much for them.
A seventh step brings about communicating with adolescents and young adults about serious issues outside of the home and even on the internet. Such topics should include, how to recognize when someone is trying to take advantage of the individual and when to say no, having a run on with law enforcements, and meeting people online.
An eighth step can be on guidance in using a checkbook, reconcile a bank statement and keep track of what amounts are in the account. Though I had failed during the time that I lived with my roommates between 2002 and 2003, I had eventually learned how to do each of these things in three years later after moving in with my aunt once my lease expired. Moreover, create a budget spreadsheet in order to help with budgeting for future living arrangements
A ninth step again ties into the eighth step by allowing these individuals to assist by splitting utility bills and perhaps rent so that they learn how to take on responsibilities. Another option would be to create a calendar with due dates of the payments.
A tenth area should be encouraging that one learns to use transportation suited to their needs and budget. For example, some people on the spectrum can learn to drive and get their own car. Depending on if they are ready, parents and guardians should encourage the adolescents and young adults to take driving lessons. If they cannot drive, however, options to learn the routes and bus schedules, learning to use ride-share companies and cabs are also included. Furthermore, arranging carpools with people going the same direction can be of help.
An eleventh area would be to encourage adolescents and adults to get involved in areas of special interests such as a community such as attending a local astonomy club and meet up groups based on those interest. Other areas that should be included are local houses of worship where one can learn to be involved by volunteering.
A twelfth and final area that should most definitely be encouraged is to steer these individuals away from people who are going to be patronizing because I feel that these adults are most likely going to have a negative view of autism as a whole. In fact, one late mentor who was also a self-advocate on the spectrum explained to me that you have people who act like hammers who have the tendency to treat people like a nail by finalizing that we are broken and need to be fixed. My suggestion is to avoid people like this as much as possible as they are going bring these individuals down.
While I feel that these steps will be helpful, there is a realization that there is a multitude of challenges among those who care for children, teens and adolescents alike. For one thing, I have seen parents argue over their children’s abilities. Whereas one will debate that their child has certain problems combined with their autism, the other spouse often battles the other parent on how they have enabled that child to become lazy. In the mean time, nothing productive gets done and the child continues to spiral downward. Though I cannot speak for every individual and their strengths and weaknesses, I do realize each had things that they can do and work around what they truly cannot do.
First Time Living Independently [Photograph found in LaLa Kringry]. (2014, December 24). Retrieved April 24, 2017, from http://www.memes.com/coffeeglue/87 (Originally photographed 2014, December 24).
[Photograph found in Making Money through Chores, Wikipedia]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2017, from http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Money-Through-Chores.
Savitzky, A. (2013, June 23). Match Cooking [Photograph found in Match Cooking, Good Thinking, Syracuse]. Retrieved June 20, 2017, from http://newatlas.com/match-prep-cooking-system-offers-independence-to-adults-with-autism/28028/ (Originally photographed 2013, June 23)