Tag Archives: Autism Awareness

Teaching autism

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Autism has had a big effect on my life. I have never known a life without autism because of my brother, Brian. I wouldn’t want it any other way. He has taught me to see the world through a different lens.

For the past few years, I have been watching Brian as a summer job. This summer I’ve been taking him off the bus and hanging out with him at least once a week. Today, I invited a good friend of mine, let’s call him John, to tag along so he could see the everyday interaction between Brian and me.

Saturday afternoon, Brian asked if he could go to Dairy Cottage with me. This surprised me because I have never taken Brian out to eat. We have always gone to the moves and the bookstore together, but going out to a restaurant was something new.

I told Brian I would take him Tuesday when he got home from school. That night, I got in touch with John who is studying disabilities in school and has asked about spending time with Brian. I asked him if he wanted to spend the afternoon and he said yes.

John arrived at my house around four, and Brian was already in the pool. Brian has a daily one-hour trek to and from school so I try to get him outside to expel some energy. In the summer months, Brian is a fish. He’ll play in the water for about ten to fifteen minutes and then lay back on his raft for hours.

Today Brian seemed more on edge than usual. It took him some time to get in the pool, but he eventually got to his happy place. Brian and water somewhat coincide with each other. It’s amazing how something so simple can have such a big effect on him. It is likely because of the sensory issues shared by many autistics.

Maybe the water calms him because it surrounds and puts light pressure on his body. Maybe it is the effect of the water offering some resistance. Maybe the kid loves to swim and there’s nothing to it.

After swimming, the three of us went to Dairy Cottage. Brian was a happy kid and enjoyed his pizza and french fries, mountain of salt included. When we got home, I let Brian have some free time because he was so good. At this time, John asked many questions about Brian and his life. It was a neat experience for me to teach someone about the daily life of Brian.

 

Was Albert Einstein autistic?

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Autism awareness did not come into the full public forum until recently.

In the last twelve years, autism diagnosis has increased from 1 in 150 people to 1 in 88. That is a staggering increase when you think about it. This dramatic increase has led me to believe that many more people in the past some form of autism, but never knew it. Some of the most famous people in the world are thought to have had a form of autism. One of those people is Albert Einstein.

Researchers believe that Einstein may have had Asperger’s syndrome. (Before I go any further, I want to clarify that Asperger’s is a high-functioning form of autism and was recently given its own separate diagnosis.)

Einstein displayed many signs of the disorder. He had difficulty with social interactions, was very sensitive to touch and, obviously, was incredibly intelligent but had trouble in school. During his childhood, he spent much of his time alone. He would also repeat sentences, another tell tale sign of autism. He also seemed to not have a concept of time, a common symptom in the autism spectrum.

One piece of information that seems contradictory to the diagnosis is that Einstein did marry and father three children. Although researchers say he loved his children, he did not like them to touch him.

Despite his reclusive personality and heightened senses, Einstein had one of the most brilliant minds the world had ever seen. His work continues to astound modern-day scientists and mathematicians.

Einstein’s incredible computation skills gives us another symptom of autism. Those on the spectrum will sometimes take on very difficult and complex topics. They will obsess over them to the point where their lives were consumed by the subject.

Whether or not Einstein had Asperger’s is still a question up for debating. Maybe he was just a peculiar person who had his own methods and stuck to them. Some people are just naturally quiet and reserved. If, however, Einstein was autistic, then he set a huge precedent for what autistic people are capable of doing.

Optimism in autism

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Throughout the many posts of this blog, I try to advocate the positive nature of autism.

I try to let everyone know that it is not a stigma nor a burden.

The other day, I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama. The quote read:

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

 

I feel the same way toward having Brian as my brother. Instead of taking the well-paved trail, my family and I are blazing our own. Hopefully the trail we leave behind will help someone else in their journey with autism.

I constantly talk about how Brian has taught me so much about life. Appreciation is probably the most important. Aside from that, he has taught me patience, kindness and the only way to get the cleanest teeth in the United States.

311506_243785802325875_3599618_nI want to emphasize on kindness. When I think of kindness, I think of helping others when they need it. Maybe it’s opening a door for someone or helping an elderly person with a heavy package. Today I found a post that put an emphasis on kindness. This blogger explained that kindness is not only doing these random acts, but also taking a caring and curious interest in another person. Everyone has a story to tell. We just have to be curious enough to ask about it.

Some autism organizations today are attempting to find a “cure” for the disorder. Many parents of autistic children oppose this. What exactly is there to cure? While reading another blog today, I clicked on a link that lead to a poem called “If You Were ‘Cured.'” The poem expresses the endless possibilities should a cure be found, but what would happen to the person we came to love?

After reading the poem, I backtracked to the original blog and read the post. The author is a mother of a three-year-old autistic boy, who she loves with all of her heart. She doesn’t believe that people should be “sorry” for families who live with autism. Instead she embraces her son’s uniqueness. It is people like her, the blogger of “Flappiness Is” and those who see the bright side of the disorder who should be acknowledged.

We are all on our own path in life. Sometimes we begin on the pavement and all of a sudden life takes us into the forest. No matter where we travel though, we are all going to the same location. Some of us just want to take a more interesting trip than others.

Animals and autism

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There are multiple ways to treat autism.

Therapies range from hyperbaric therapy to physical therapy to music therapy. Each of these can help improve the lives of autistic individuals, but in recent years another form of therapy has caught my attention. One that needs no form of verbal communication.

Animals have a sixth sense. Dogs and cats seem to know we are leaving for a weekend vacation before our bags are even packed. They know when we have hit rock bottom and need a little reassurance that somebody still loves us. Other animals just know when to comfort, protect and accept a human being.

The story of one type of therapy begins with Karen Shirk. Shirk needed a ventilator to breathe and the service dog agencies she applied to said she was too disabled to have a dog.  After years and years of trying, Karen finally received her own dog. She became inspired to start her own organization where applicants would not be judged on severity of their disability. This is where 4 Paws for Ability began.

images (1)Today 4 Paws for Ability has become the standard across the country in placing “highly skilled Autism Assistance Dogs” with autistic families. The non-profit organization not only helps autistic families, but families with children of all disabilities. No one is turned away as long as they have a physician’s approval.

Over the years, Brian has developed a special relationship with one dog in particular. My cousin and his wife have a dog named Ace. He is a Shiba Inu. That means Ace is full of energy. Whenever he is around Brian though, Ace seems to know to tone it back a bit. He has this sense that his playful manner may come across as too much for Brian to handle. 

Aside from Ace, Brian also participated in horseback riding therapy for a few years at Thorncroft Equestrain Center. This center helps all people with disabilities and special needs. Through numerous scientific studies, results have shown that riding horses “provides balance, strength, mobility, and improved self esteem.” These horses, along with autism service dogs, can do wonders for those with the disorder. Both of these animals have an understanding of who autistic people are. A relationship develops between them that needs no words. Just watch and you’ll see the bond between them. 

Down in Florida, another non-profit charity program has gained significant notoriety in autism therapy. Island Dolphin Care brings together one of the most gentle creatures of the ocean with the some of the most gentle people on land. The organization also works with children at risk and wounded veterans. One family praised the charity, saying their son became “alive and vibrant” when interacting with the dolphins.

Photo from Island Dolphin Care website.

Photo from Island Dolphin Care website.

It’s sometimes strange to think about how close we become with our animals. We never converse in a single conversation, yet we form a relationship that is sometimes deeper than we have with our own friends and family. I think this happens because animals accept us for us. Their loyalty never waivers no matter what we do. At the end of the day, they will always be by our sides.

 

 

 

*A commenter brought up another non-profit organization called Autism Service Dogs of America

Autism on the tracks

Photo via Reddit

Photo via Reddit

Very few things seem to be universal in the autism world.

Symptoms, personalities and place on the spectrum vary so greatly, that fully understanding the disorder can be a challenge.

Over the past few days, I have found a couple different stories about autistic people and their love for trains. These stories intrigued me because my brother Brian also has a liking for trains as well. My dad and him go out to train museums several times a year and spend the entire day there. Brian has also received several train sets for Christmas and once I grew out of my Thomas the Tank Engine toys, he picked up right where I left off. I wish I had taken pictures of some of the trains he laid down because they were remarkable. A few took up an entire room.

Aside from Brian, it seems like Thomas the Tank Engine is a favorite among several other thomas-the-tank-engineautistic individuals. One blogger believes it may be because of the limited facial expressions of the characters. Another reason is because the background is always still. There is little distraction, so if an autistic person is watching, they can focus more on the characters.

Trains may also appeal to autistic people because there is always order. A train will never start with the caboose and have the engine in the middle. I cannot speak for other autistic people, but this parallels the daily planner for my brother. When Brian wakes up, he almost immediately asks for his schedule. In this breakdown of the day, there is structure and order. It leaves little room for guessing.

Up in New York City, the New York Transit Museum has seen a significant rise in field trip requests for autistic classes as well as autistic customers. Seeing how popular trains have become, the museum founded an after-school program called “Subway Sleuths” for 9- and 10-year-olds. The program focuses on the history of New York City trains while working on the social skills. The program became so popular, it needed further expansion.

Autism is the avenue for greater acceptance

Photo of USA Today

Photo from USA Today

Autism may be at the forefront of mental health news, but it also gives a brand new avenue to advocate for other special needs individuals.

This blog is largely centered around autism and my brother, but whenever special needs becomes the topic of discussion in the national media, I cannot help but smile most of the time. Some of the most entertaining and unique people I have met are special needs.

Autistic people are fun to be around. They have no filter and are so incredibly blunt with you. In a previous post, I said you’ll need a sense of humor when interacting with autistic people. That statement is also true with other special needs individuals.

I’ve said this many times in the past. People with down syndrome are the happiest bunch I have ever seen. I can not recollect a time where I saw a frown on someone who has down syndrome. I’ve actually come to believe that it is almost impossible for them to be sad.

A few days ago, I found a story on the Internet.

Thursday night the Cincinnati Reds had a special guest in the dugout with them. His name was Ted Kremer and he served as the team’s honorary bat boy during their game against the Miami Marlins.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Reds were up 9-1. With one out and a man on first base, Todd Frazier of the Reds stepped up to the plate. Prior to this, Ted had a small request. He wanted a home run from Frazier. This is what ensured.

Frazier said he was smiling before he hit home plate because he knew who would be there to congratulate him. As you can see, Ted brings so much excitement and enthusiasm to the Reds.

Sports seems to be the place for acceptance of special needs in today’s society. A few years ago, an autistic man sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park. When he started to get a little nervous, Red Sox Nation helped him finish strong.

Screen shot from the E:60 short "Perfect." Heath White carries his daughter Paisley across the finish line at a race.

Screen shot from the E:60 short “Perfect.” Heath White carries his daughter Paisley across the finish line at a race.

E:60, a show on ESPN, aired a story that was raw and real. It tells the story of a father who was the All-American for most of his life, until he found out his daughter would be born with down syndrome. He struggled to cope with the realization that his daughter Paisley wasn’t “perfect.” As an avid runner, he found a way for him and his daughter to connect. He began running all kinds of races, pushing Paisley the whole way.

It is these stories that will hopefully bring universal acceptance of not only autistic people, but all special needs individuals.

Autism is anything but adversity

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Autism has been a great teacher.

Four years ago, like any high schooler, I began searching the Internet for college scholarships. I happened to come along the Horatio Alger Association. This organization offered a scholarship to anyone who wrote an essay about facing adversity.

Adversity shows itself in many different forms. If you get a bad grade in school, the adversity may be to study that much harder for a better grade. A journey is only memorable when you’ve pushed yourself along the way.

With autism, some parents face the adversity of raising a child who is “different.” Siblings face that as well. Barbara Cain of Time magazine put out an article about the “invisible victims” of autism. What she found most striking about the siblings she spoke to was their “fierce devotion they showed to their affected brother or sister.”

I feel I have that same devotion, loyalty and care to my own brother. When applying for the Horatio Alger scholarship, I thought about what adversity I had faced. What I came to realize is that my adversity is showing others than growing up with Brian was anything but adversity. This is the essay I submitted:

 

“Have you ever been witness to an individual who is quietly enjoying watching their fingers dance before their eyes? Routinely, this behavior is deemed peculiar – sometimes followed by “what a misfortune.” The dictionary defines adversity as “a state, condition, or instance of serious or continued difficulty”.

 More often than not others perceive the “adversity” I face as a hardship or crucible. In my mind having a brother who is mentally challenged as well as classically autistic, is not an adversity. My adversity is trying to prove to others that Brian is a shinning gift. Brian is my twenty-year-old brother. He has patiently taught me about true life realities. Brian has taught me skills you do not learn in the classroom, such as patience, simplicity, and most of all, appreciation. I have learned to appreciate what I otherwise may have taken for granted. I find myself being mindful of the privilege of having the ability to talk and socialize. Brian has shown me to be attentive to the beauty of nature like watching the rain fall; or the waves of the ocean crashing into the surf. 

I have chosen to pursue and complete a college education in the field of communication with a concentration in journalism. This career choice will offer me the opportunity to be a voice for those who are non-verbal; yet have much to communicate. Using my gifts of being verbal and comfortable in a public forum will allow me to raise awareness about the grace and blessing those with autism and other special needs may offer our communities. I want to have the chance to articulate that these individuals are our special teachers, brought here to educate us about the value of difference.

My true adversity….. is the challenge to demonstrate how extraordinary special needs individuals are.”