A College Tour for Autism

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This past week, the teenager and I went on our first college tour. This wasn’t just any old college tour though. This was a tour specifically for potential students on the Autism Spectrum. So, I’m calling my last post of April, College Tour for Autism. This is also the last week of Autism Awareness month and what better way to end this month than with a talk about college for our children on the Autism Spectrum.

Our first tour was at a local Community College. Holyoke Community College (HCC).  I will admit that because I knew nothing of this college I was apprehensive. Truth be told, I was not ready to take my high school sophomore on a college tour for Autism. I know this played a big role in my apprehension. Adam really wanted to go though. He signed up for it a few weeks ago and was really excited about it.

I am one who really wants to support her children in their endeavors so I agreed to take him. 

The directions to get to the college was easy. Once there though, I realized that we both forgot the flyer to tell us which building we were to meet at. So on this rainy afternoon I parked in visitor parking and went into the Administration building. The lady at the desk was very helpful and friendly. She directed us to the building down a short hill.

words_collegetourforautsim_rockinrandomomFinding the floor to the auditorium was a challenge but we found another student who was nice enough to direct us again. She was also very friendly. We like friendly. I was stressed by this time too because we were 20 minutes late and I hate being late. So finding friendly people when you’re stressed helps a lot.

Finding this college tour for Autism wasn’t so easy but at least the students and staff were helpful to us and we eventually found our way. When we got to the auditorium we were handed packets by even more friendly students. On the stage were a panel of six students. All of them are on the Autism Spectrum.

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I loved being introduced to this tour by students on the spectrum. It was amazing to see these young people up on stage speaking about their college experiences. Some had transferred from other colleges that didn’t offer the services that they needed. One student, who transferred from Virginia, spoke about one of her early experiences at HCC where she had a melt down in class.

She was so overwhelmed and stressed out that she couldn’t communicate her words. Any parent with an Autistic child knows what that is like. The amazing thing is how the professor and counselors helped her. They were understanding and empathetic. Because of that she was able to calm down and speak to the professor and together with the counselor, came up with a coping strategy for her.

I was very impressed by this. It’s one thing to be in a high school with all of the supports at the ready when a child has a meltdown and even then it can be difficult because it disrupts the other students. College is a whole other ball game. The fact that she had these supports and was able to advocate for herself afterwards, then to add that the professor was also understanding and helpful blew my mind.

Then came the Q & A portion of the college tour for Autism. I didn’t ask any questions during this because I was still just taking it all in. Adam did have a question though and I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous for him. Usually his questions are really just comments accompanied by a fictional story and not always related to the topic at hand. My boy really surprised me though. He ask, “I am a literal person and I don’t always understand innuendos, idioms, and sarcasm. How does the school handle that?”

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Then came the tour part where my son went with the students on a tour of the campus – WITHOUT ME. It was surreal. I’ve gotten so used to always being there to back him up that it was hard to stay behind and speak with the staff along with the other parents and educators.

By the end of the tour he met back up with me and he is in with love with the campus. This won’t be our last college tour but it was a wonderful first experience and I learned something very valuable. As any parent who is about to send their child off to college can probably attest, he is growing up. I don’t need to hold his hand anymore. It was a bittersweet moment of realization for me.

The reason I wanted to talk about this College tour for Autism though is I want other parents out there to know that there are colleges who will support your son or daughter. Many parents think their kids can’t go to college. For whatever reason and not all kids can. Even with neurotypical kids, not every kid is built for the college life.

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But the option is out there if you and your child want it. It is possible to send your child to college. I found many colleges throughout the U.S. that do provide services and programs for those on the spectrum and Asperger’s.

I walked into this with apprehension and fear.  I walked away with a new found hope for my son’s future.

Let me know your opinion in the comments.

Thanks so much for reading!

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My Son’s Participation in Autism Awareness Night

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As most of you already know Every April we celebrate Autism Awareness all month long. Adam was really proud to participate in his first presentation this year on Autism Awareness. The high school has been running a workshop for the past two years where the middle school and high school students present to visitors what Autism is. They go beyond that though and talk about their own experiences living with Autism. My son was so proud to be a part of it. I’m going to highlight a few things from that very inspiring night.

 

So let me give you a rundown of events

Junior High!

Our first stop was the Junior high school table. Two young boys, both in the 7th grade, each talked about their experiences having Autism. These two brave young boys talked about the teachers who have helped them while praising their parents for being there for them through all of their tough times. We also got to see how each boy talked about the differences they had within the spectrum. One boy loves anime while the other boy was all about Science! They helped to spread Autism Awareness through their presentation.

 

Next Up

ADAM!!

While the high school kids had a group presentation, which I will get to in a minute, Adam put on his own. He worked really hard with the help of his paraprofessional and Special Education Liaison. They told me though that it was all Adam. He came up with the theme of his power point using old cartoons and the Simpsons, and wrote his own speech. You can view the video below.

 

 

The rest of the high school group

High School!

There were four other high school students and they all spoke about their specific issues within the Autism Spectrum. Two of the kids have ADHD as well as Autism. They are all high functioning but they all have slightly different social drawbacks too. One girl was very talkative and communicative while two others were quiet and spoke softly and slowly. They said this was because if they talk faster, their words get jumbled. I know I, myself, have done that quite a few times. These kids also spoke highly of their teachers at the high school but also spoke highly of their parents. One boy said if his parents weren’t so understanding and patient about his meltdowns when he was younger, he wouldn’t be where he is today. His meltdowns centered mostly around social situations.

 

Now to the last group

The College Kids!

I will be honest here. While I loved Adam’s presentation and am so very proud of him, I really enjoyed listening to the college kids. The main reason for that is because Adam wants to go to college. He wants to study video production and script writing! So, naturally my curiosity about what college life is like for young men and women on the spectrum filled me with excitement.

There were four young people at the college presentation station. Two of them go to one of the local Community Colleges while the other two attend a small college in Vermont that was designed for men and women with various disabilities. I don’t know much about the college but the two young men praised it for the small campus and the welcome home feel they receive from the professors, students and staff.

A lot of questions were answered but one thing the young woman said really stood out to me. She said, “Let them find their way.” Now that is a scary notion for any parent regardless of their abilities. The young woman made a good point though. She added that we should help our kids do research to know which office to turn to for help. She also pointed out that most college students don’t know there is help on campus. Having had that experience myself, I understand what she means.

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And the night went on

After the Autism Awareness presentation the Special Education Department treated all of us to dinner at a local restaurant. They are hoping to add in the elementary school kids next year. It was such a great night for everyone. All of the children gave high praise to their teachers and parents during their presentations. The night was pretty magical and awe-inspiring. The best part is afterwards I got a huge sense of relief that my boy will be okay. He has a bright future ahead of him and I couldn’t be a prouder parent!

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Thanks so much for Reading!

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Preparing For High School

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I know Adam has just started the 8th grade. Preparing for High School might be too soon. This is his last year of Junior High and his next step before adulthood is high school. In fact, High School is his LAST STEP before adulthood. Last year, he had such a great year.  He got Honor Roll all year long but the year didn’t go without it’s minor hiccups. It was as much of a transition for me as it was for him. It was more so for me because rather than keep in touch with the teachers through notes or phone calls, I was now being expected to use email and Power School in order to get informed of his grades and his progress.

Power School doesn’t tell me if he is making any friends (neither does he). Power School doesn’t tell me how he is getting along with his teachers or how often he is participating in class. With a child who has Autism, keeping an open and honest communication with the school is so important.

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Last week I attended Open House for Adam’s school and everything went well.  Most of his teachers love him and think he is such a great asset to their class. I did say, Most though. The last two teachers, Science and Social Studies, I didn’t get much good feedback. These are the same two classes that Adam excelled in last year but last year he had two teachers who were more understanding and had more personal experience with people on the spectrum. The vibe I got from these two new teachers, both of whom came from the high school he will be attending next year, were less than encouraging.

They both said he was disruptive but that he is getting better. He has a paraprofessional working with him in the classroom and from what all of the teachers told me, the paraprofessional is amazing with Adam. While I am very happy with that, I am not happy with the look of annoyance on the Science teacher’s face, and I’m not happy with the remark from the Social Studies teacher when she said, “His behavior just won’t be acceptable in high school.”

So, now I am a little worried.  I’m not stressing to the point that I can’t think straight and I need to down a bottle of wine in order to cope, but I am conflicted about things now because I am thinking two things:

  1. There’s the part of me, the protective mother side, that says, “What the hell do you expect? He has friggin’ Autism and he’s doing the best that he can. He is in a class of 20 students where he is bound to get a little overwhelmed at times.”

nothappymomma I’m going to vent a little here because this is my boy and I want to protect him from the world. I want to shield him from all of the nasty, impatient people he will meet in his life and it’s only going to get harder from here. This is just middle school.  What’s going to happen when he gets to high school? If High School can’t handle him, what about College? Is this why so many people on the Spectrum DON’T go to college?

2. Here’s the other side of me, the fighter who knows what her son can do: I need to prepare him for High School and I need to start now.  I need to get him ready for those teachers who aren’t going to be too happy with him when he blurts out a statement about not liking the class or the lesson of the day. I need to get him ready for peers who will be less than understanding.

Up until now, he has had it made. We’ve been very lucky that he has the classmates he has. In Elementary school, he grew up with all of the kids. He had the same classmates from kindergarten to 6th grade. When going into Middle school, they all followed him there. He just gained about 50 more classmates. High school will be even bigger though and College will be bigger than that. These are the steps they take as they grow and prepare for the world.

I’m going to start small. He’s already an independent person so I need to take advantage of that and help him build on his strengths. I will recruit his IEP team to help with his independence but mostly, we need to help him with the social aspects of this world. This is the biggest issue right now. People with Autism don’t understand tact. That’s because they don’t understand the abstract. At the same time, I want people to accept him for him. Compromise is key. I know he can do this! I am going to help him!

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5 Ways My Autistic Son is a typical Teenager

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My son Adam is amazing!  He is funny, laid back, so sweet, and so smart.  He is an awesome big brother to Conner, who can certainly push his buttons sometimes but his patience with him out does even my own.  Let’s face it, when it comes to patience, I need to practice some more.  Adam is also a *gulp* teenager.  Many people think that children with Autism or Down Syndrome, or any disability really, are less than human because they don’t act or think like your or I.  This also means to those people that they aren’t normal teens.  Hello? Have you met a teenager? Between the raging hormones, their growing social lives, and homework, are ANY of them normal? Well, I’m going to tell you the 5 ways my Autistic son is a typical teenager!

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1, He loves Video Games: They are all the rage with today’s teens and my son is no exception. From Mario Brothers, to Skylanders, to even playing Call of Duty occasionally (not his typical type of game), Adam loves his video games.  Ask him anything about them and like any other teen, he knows the ins and outs of EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. I’m hoping he will let me play a little Mario Brothers with him. He has the original and I used to love that game!  I played it every day with my younger brother when we were teenagers. Aah…Brings back memories.

2. He likes to stay up late and sleep in: Yes, he does get up in the morning for school, ready to start his day with an excitement rarely seen on any teenager but when he doesn’t have to worry about getting up in the morning, he loves to stay up late, usually playing video games, and yes, he enjoys sleeping in the next morning, just like any other teen.

3.  He loves to stay in his room:  Just like every other teen out there, he loves his room and he loves his privacy.  He hates when his little brother barges in without knocking and gets really annoyed sometimes when he is asked to leave his room. He practically lives there and I do believe he could very well be happy and content never leaving it.

4.  He doesn’t like being told what to do: This is the part that inspired me to write this.  Last night I asked him to take a shower (he isn’t quite at the point in his teen years yet where showers are all-important) and he got so mad at me for asking him to do something he didn’t want to do. He actually started to argue with me. There have been other time when he has gotten mad at me.  Like when I ask him to clean his room or the other day when I finally told him he was old enough to start washing his own dishes. Which leads me to the last one…

5. Oh, The Drama!:  In typical teen fashion, he viewed my asking him to take a shower as an invasion and said very clearly to me, “Thanks mom….FOR RUINING MY LIFE!” He also said this when I walked him to the kitchen and showed him how to wash his dish, then made him wash it. This is a kid who doesn’t typically argue or get angry but since becoming a teen, he has definitely let me know when I am making his life just a bit too difficult for him. And oh man, can he stay mad! Even though he took his shower, he dwelled on my telling him what to do for at least an hour.

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Why does this make me happy?  I studied human development in college and all of these things that we see in our teenagers are completely normal.  My son is no exception and this makes me happy and also proud.  These are signs that he, like his peers, is growing up.

Have other parents come up against this sort of thing?  I know what I was like as a teen and I can honestly say, everything I was made to do made me feel like I was in prison, forced into servitude.  It was all so dramatic.  This is how my amazing, smart, funny, and angelic Autistic son is like every other teen out there.  How about yours?  What are some of your stories.  I’d love to hear them.

Thanks so much for reading!

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Raising a Child with Autism

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Raising a child with Autism is a challenge. This is what my oldest son, Adam has.  I’ve mentioned before that when he was first diagnosed, I knew nothing about Autism and was even more clueless that there is a spectrum.  Upon doing the research I needed to do in order to better understand what my baby was going through, I discovered the varying degrees to which a person might have Autism.  Then there was Asperger’s Syndrome (the thing the pre-school psychologist thought he had) that is sometimes on the spectrum and sometimes its own disorder, depending on the most current DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

My son used to flap his ears so hard I thought he was going to hurt himself.  He also did the spinning, which, when he did it prior to his diagnosis I thought he was just burning energy or doing some interpretation of what he was watching on his pre-school shows. When he lined up his cars, instead of playing with them, I thought he was doing something unique that no one else could understand. Then there was the echolalia.  Adam had that really bad.  Instead of being able to carry on a conversation, he would repeat what we just said or he would repeat his cartoons, verbatim.

AutismRocks

Once I realized what was really going on with him and how these things affected him, I worked to understand the signs.  The spinning and the flapping were his senses being overloaded.  It made me look back to when he was two years old and I played music in my car (like I always do).  Adam would be fine until the end of certain songs.  One song I remember vividly is Love Shack by the B52’s.  Every time that song ended, he would scream bloody murder.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME!  It got to the point when I stopped playing the song altogether.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that certain sounds, certain frequencies were literally hurting his ears. I would avoid certain activities that I knew would overwhelm him. I couldn’t take him to any sporting event because he gets easily overwhelmed with the noise.  We had taken him to one when he was six and it was disastrous.  However, he is 13 now and has recently expressed interest in football so maybe I will try this year.

Even with all that Adam was going through, I didn’t treat him differently than I had before.  I approached certain situations with more understanding but I didn’t expect more, or less from him.  I felt that it was important that I keep being his mother and continue to teach him and guide him through life because that is my job.  It is my right and it is my honor.  I still utilized time-outs on the few occasions when he needed it.  Adam was and still is a very good boy.  He hardly gives me any trouble.

I didn’t deal with violent tantrums that other mothers dealt with on a daily basis.  I didn’t have to feed him special food or use special utensils.  In fact, Adam has always been a very independent child. Because he couldn’t use his words or even point to what he wanted, he just went and grabbed it and brought it to me.

So, Adam had echolalia and I would find him spinning or flapping his ears often.  He wasn’t able to use his words, he lined up his cars (and other toys), and certain noises hurt his ears, but other than that, my boy was a typical little boy.  Adam loved Bob, The Builder and Winnie, the Pooh.

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I met other mothers who had children on the spectrum, only their kids were more severe so I felt a little out of place talking with them.  Many of the things that all autistic children seem to have are stimming, flapping, repetitive use of objects, the list goes on but every child is different so while some kids may have the stimming behavior really bad, another one might only do it occasionally.

When I would go to online forums to try to reach out to other parents, these other parents complained so much about their child (really, it was as if their children were aliens from outer space, rather than human beings) that the negativity just made me stay away.  I didn’t see my child that way.  I didn’t see him differently.  I saw him as I have always seen him:  A unique individual capable of greatness!

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Then there were the parents who loved their children so much but struggled to pay the medical bills for the various therapies their children needed.  I didn’t need any special therapies outside of what the school had already provided.  I felt that I couldn’t relate to these parents because compared to them, my life with my autistic child was a breeze.  While I have made a few friends with parents of autistic children, I still struggle with this.  I feel guilty because I got lucky with my son but others aren’t so lucky.  While I get to go on with my daily activities and have the privilege of raising my son like a normal kid, other parents whole lives’ revolve around feeding schedules and doctors’ appointments.  Knowing this keeps me humble and I remind myself that I am a very lucky mom.

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