Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Congrats Class of 2014! What's next?

Thirteen years of education has come to an end.  There were good times, there were bad times, and there were we-made-it-through-the-day times. Whether the child attended "mainstream" classes, special education classes in a public school, or had a specialized education at a place like the Autism Treatment Center, the educational experience for families affected by autism was very different from nearly every other family on the block.  Students with autism are as different from each other as any other student is from the next, and every child has their own best method for learning.  The autism student may or may not have enrolled in AP English, played a sport, learned to drive, or gone to senior prom, but they had their own milestones along the way that are just as worthy for celebration.  Happy Graduation Day!

At the end of this long long road many parents experience the joy and trepidation of sending their child off into the "real world".  Many parents will drop their son or daughter off at the university dorms in the fall.  For the parent with a child with autism, the joy might be quickly outweighed by the nervousness that comes with the question: What next?  Many parents knew that after graduation college would not be the next step for their child.  It is estimated that over 2,000 students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) graduate from Texas schools each year.  While many may be off to college in the fall, there is a large percentage who will not.
As students become adults treatment and program options change.  They were once enrolled in a structured educational environment that filled their day, which was possibly provided by the State.  Upon graduation, or "aging-out", students and parents are left to find their next steps.  This is where many adults with autism fall through the cracks.  Without the structure that was once provided, recent graduates may be filling their time by playing video games, watching tv, or simply sitting in their room.  This may sound like the typical teenage summer, but this behavior can often become a permanent way of life for these adults.  While support services for adults are scarce, there are options to ensure that a student with autism can continue to progress and learn; it just takes a little research and work to find, and maybe even create them.

Though the autism community is growing, it is still a small group.  Chances are parents of children with autism know one another.  The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child and this is never more true than with a special needs child.  There are many support and peer groups in the community where parents and adults with autism can commune.  Parents are able to seek advice and adults with ASD can practice communication and social skills.  The Autism Treatment Center hosts a peer group once a month where adults in the community can come together for a life-skills lesson, dinner, comradery, and a chance to practice communicating.

Parents can also search for Transitional and Employment programs and services.  There are many employers with programs specifically focused on hiring adults with developmental challenges.  These businesses are committed to working with individuals to help them succeed and be an active member of the community.  Many in the Adult Services program at ATC spend several days a month volunteering at nonprofit organizations like World Vision, Volunteer Center, and Meals on Wheels.  Lora, one of the adult volunteers, says "I deliver food to old people! I like it. My favorite thing is giving people their meals and everything. I want to tell them thank you for letting me help."  Read more about ATC Volunteering here.

Heading off in to the "real world" can be scary, but having a plan and a support group can help make the transition easier.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meeting the Needs.

Have you ever wanted to take a cruise or even go to the movies, but thought that the needs of your child with autism would not allow such a vacation or outing?

We have good news.  Lately, we have received more and more notices about companies who are paying special attention to the needs of families affected by autism by providing autism-friendly activities and versions of their services.  We are always delighted to hear about these wonderful opportunities for families with special needs.  While ATC has not participated in all of these programs, we do want to share with our readers that there are options out there to experience many of the things you may feel like you are missing. Below are a few of the companies we know about that are taking action to include as many families as possible.

Royal Caribbean - This year, Autism At Sea named Royal Caribbean as the world's first certified autism friendly cruise line. Royal Caribbean offers sensory friendly films and toys, alternative menu options, and autism friendly training for Adventure Ocean staff. You can read more about their programs here

Studio Movie Grill - The SMG Special Needs Screening series presents family friendly movies for free for children with special needs and their siblings with a discounted admission for adults ($6).  Movies are shown with increased lighting and decreased volume.  Children are free to experience the movie as they like, there is no need to worry about attempting to keep them in their seats and quiet.  Click here for locations and information about screenings in your area.

AMC Theaters - AMC's Sensory Friendly Films program offers special screenings on a monthly basis in select communities.  Audience members are invited to get-up, dance, shout, and sing.  Click here for info on movies in your area.

Live theaters are also presenting special performances.  Fans of The Lion King and Mary Poppins can see an autism-friendly performance
of these shows on Broadway that include adjusted lighting and sound, quiet areas, and fidgets - small toys to be held during the show. Volunteers are trained to answer questions and provide assistance during the play.  Not in NYC?  Look up your local theater, more and more theaters have added a special performance to their schedule.

If there's a museum, amusement park, or other business you'd like to visit, just give them a call and ask about their programs.  The AMC Sensory Friendly Series was started because one parent called to ask if they had a program for special needs.  If your local business doesn't yet have a program, you could be the one to get the ball rolling for you and your community!  More and more business are willing and happy to learn what needs there are and how they can help.

Know of any great autism friendly events/businesses?  Leave a comment with your favorites!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Hunt is On...Almost!

Children and adults at the Autism Treatment Center primarily look forward to two events during the year. One is the Roundup for Autism Rodeo in Fort Worth. Unfortunately, we are more than six months away from that event. The other event is the annual Easter Egg Hunt put on by volunteers of The Fairmont Dallas – and that is only days away.

Jenny, age 24, enrolled at ATC 12 years ago for residential and educational services. Once she turned 21, she transitioned to ATC’s Tiger Café and has focused on culinary skills while continuing to improve daily living skills to increase her independence. Jenny is non-verbal and uses sign language as her main communication; she has to work a little bit harder than others to express her feelings, ask questions, and to carry on with regular communication.

For the past several weeks, Jenny has known Easter is around the corner. Each morning, she has asked several staff members about the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt, to be held April 17th. She does this by signing the word “egg”.

After several days of asking about the Easter Egg Hunt, we developed a calendar system for Jenny. On the box for April 17th, Jenny glued a cut-out of an Easter Egg. Starting with March 26, she has crossed off one day before she goes home everyday. Today is the 8th day she has marked off; 14 days remain for her project to count down the days until the big hunt!

In this simple task, Jenny is doing more than just counting down the days until she hunts eggs. She is learning patience and positive behavior is rewarded. She is also increasing math skills, learning about the usage of calendars, and how fun the different seasons are. At ATC, education is more than learning. It is a fun, interactive, and enriching experience. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meet Ethan.

In the summer of 2011, Ethan was in personal health and behavioral crisis. At 6’4” he weighed over 415 pounds and refused to eat most foods, with the exception of fast food. His challenging behaviors were so severe that his family and school were unable to control his temper. After a nationwide search for a program that could successfully meet his needs, Ethan and his family found the Autism Treatment Center.

At the age of two, Ethan’s mother, Willie, began to notice something different about him. What speech he had developed was now gone. Treatment began right away, but Ethan was not officially diagnosed with autism until he was three. At the time, Willie was a stay at home mom and spent the day learning ABA techniques and working with Ethan to keep him engaged. Even though Ethan has severe autism, he has always had a variety of interests and has kept active in the community for most of his life.

During his last few years at home with this mother in Santa Barbara, California, Ethan became more and more limited in his ability to socialize and attend school. Meanwhile, Willie had gone back to work and was using all of her vacation hours to run his treatment program. His challenging behaviors began to increase to the point of being unmanageable; it was during this time that fast food was the only thing that would temporarily calm him. Consequently, Ethan gained a significant amount of weight and his health suffered.

Eventually, the school district decided that they would no longer be able
to provide an education for Ethan and began the search for an appropriate program for him. “It has always been my firm belief that Ethan would succeed best in an environment that was structured across home and school, like a residential school,” Willie said of the search. In the months that followed, the Autism Treatment Center was recommended, and the search was over. “After our first phone conference we were convinced that if Ethan was going to do well in and out of his home environment, that his best chance was at a place like ATC. We were not disappointed,” said Willie.

At the age of 19, Ethan enrolled in the Autism Treatment Center's Educational and Residential Programs. 
Through intense behavioral therapy, Ethan has grown into a healthy, fun, and happy young man. Within a year of enrollment at ATC he adapted to a fitness program and now enjoys eating healthy foods, and therapy gardening. Over the course of his journey, Ethan lost over 220 pounds and is doing so well he began his own cottage business called "ATC Coffee Express", selling coffee and snacks to staff and guests throughout the ATC campus.

Ethan continues to progress and maintains positive social interactions with his teachers and peers at home and school. In October 2011, Ethan was nominated, and won, the ARC of San Antonio’s Achiever of the Year Award!

Throughout this process Willie has been able to watch Ethan grow, “I am so proud of Ethan's progress and I am so grateful that he has a place to thrive and live life to his full potential!”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Relationships and The Aspie

by Ken Kellam

Rachel & Ken
People on the spectrum struggle to understand the meaning of non-verbal social cues. Unfortunately, this can be very hazardous when it comes to inter-personal relationships, especially those of a romantic nature. I used to think I had a chance at a relationship with someone as long as they didn't flat-out reject me. What I failed to understand was the non-verbal cues, i.e. not returning phone calls, not being receptive to conversation. But while these things may not come easy to the Aspie (someone with Asperger's Syndrome), they can certainly be taught.

Another area Aspies may struggle with is in handling rejection. It used to be whenever a person rejected me, I thought it was all about me and I had said or done something to put off the other person. With counseling I came to realize that it wasn't all in my control. I also came to realize that sometimes when things don’t work out there’s no one to blame. Neither party did anything wrong; it just didn't work out.

Aspies tend to see everything in black and while, which can cause problems given the intangible and ever-changing nature of relationships. For example, two plus two will always be four, and pi will always equal 3.14. But relationships aren't nearly so set in concrete. They are always changing, sometimes daily. But the Aspie may be reacting to how the relationship was before, or at least how he thought it was before, or how he thinks it should be, instead of responding to how it is in the here and now. This can obviously include realizing when the relationship has run its course.

How can the Aspie overcome this? With coaching and counseling. If he can be taught to look at things from the other person’s perspective, he might be able to see things more clearly. But he also needs to be taught the different ways a situation can be perceived. Otherwise, he might not be able to understand that everyone doesn't think the same way he does.

Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Planning to Succeed

January was undoubtedly all about your New Year's resolutions and making plans for the year ahead.  We've all heard the saying that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  It takes a little organization and forethought to achieve the goals we have set.

Often, for parents of children with autism, long-term plans are made for the child's education and skill development, but it is also important to make short-term goals and plans as well.  What may be seen as a simple trip to the grocery store for most families can be a challenge for a family affected by autism.  Though parents are usually the focus of "tips" articles, if you are an adult with autism you may experience some of the same struggles.  Here are a few tips we hope will help you and/or your family make plans for the new year:

Be Prepared:  Channel your inner Boy Scout and think of anything you might need to have on-hand for a smooth day.  For example, if you or your child is especially sensitive to loud noises, bring some earplugs when you head out to a sporting event, party, or restaurant.  Think of what your day out will involve, and then think of items that can help alleviate stresses and triggers for uneasiness and bring them with you.  You might even call ahead to ask about any special accommodations your or your family might need.

Practice, Practice, Practice:  We all feel a little better when going into a new situation if we at least have an idea of what we're getting ourselves into.  While practice may not give you a perfect dinner out, going through the motions of talking to a waiter, ordering from a menu, and sitting still at a table might provide a more enjoyable experience.

Be Realistic:  Being prepared and practicing activities can open you and your family up to new experiences that were once thought of as off limits.  Even so, it is important to keep in mind that it will take time to build up to these new things.  If you or your child have never been to a sporting event, you probably don't want to get court-side seats to an NBA playoff game.  Try watching a local high school team play first.  You and your family will be able to build confidence and memories together.

Keep Trying:  You can follow all the tips you've ever been given and your day may still hit a few snags. This week you might have a difficult trip to the grocery store, but don't let that deter you from trying again next week.  Make note of the things that went right as well as the things that went wrong, learn from your experiences, then get back out there!  The more you try, eventually you may find the right combination for a successful day out.

And lastly...

Don't Worry:  We know it's MUCH easier said than done.  Many parents have expressed that they prefer to stay at home than risk disapproving looks and stares from strangers in public due to a sudden outburst or meltdown.  Remember, everyone has a bad day now and then, and who hasn't been in a restaurant or store with a nearby toddler throwing a fit.  Try not to let the worry of what others may think of you or your family hinder the fun and experiences you could be having.  So, don't worry and get out there!

We hope these tips will help in planning for a pleasant outing, get-together, or activity for everyone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Meet Wyatt.

Wyatt is an All-American guy you’d love to have for a best friend. He is very outgoing with good looks, a wonderful personality, and enough charisma and charm for anyone. Wyatt is also a 20 year old adult with autism.

Wyatt came to the Autism Treatment Center when he was 5 years old.  He and his 2 siblings were removed from their parent’s home and were placed in foster homes.  Ultimately, Wyatt’s siblings were adopted by another family; because of Wyatt’s challenges brought on by autism, he was left behind in the foster home.

In 1998, Wyatt enrolled in the Educational and Residential programs at ATC and started receiving therapy services, as well.  Wyatt has grown from a small child to a young adult before our very eyes.  We have seen his struggles and shortcomings, but we have been there to share his successes and joys, as well.  After all, ATC has been his family for over 15 years.

Wyatt stands at 6”1’, though he is thin as a rail.  That’s because he loves to dance.  AT ATC’s Spring Prom or Fall Dance, you can always find Wyatt on the dance floor gliding to the latest hip hop song, dancing in perfect rhythm.  While he is not dancing, Wyatt is working on basic living skills and increasing his own independence.  

Wyatt is still in ATC’s residential program, though he has a dream of someday moving out to his own apartment and getting a job to support himself.  While he now requires supervision to assure his daily tasks get accomplished, his ATC support staff is doing everything they can to teach Wyatt the skills he would need to accomplish his dream.  Wyatt can do his own laundry, cook delicious meals, and complete daily living skills.  Most of all, he craves independence.  When his residential supervisor told him that he would be moving in to his own room and would no longer share a room, he jumped out of his chair and high-fived everybody in the room!

In 2005, Wyatt enrolled in a Dallas-area public school and learned to read on a first grade level and write very basic sentences.  While his educational goals are being met, Wyatt still has a ways to go to achieve full independenceWyatt is still working on behavioral issues to minimize meltdowns and to follow multi-step directions.

Wyatt has career aspirations to be a chef.  He has trained with the Tiger Café, ATC’s in-house culinary program for budding chefs who often cook with visiting professional chefs.  In fact, Wyatt wants to own a food truck so he can travel around the city and cook for lots of different people.

Walking with him every step of the way are his teachers, support staff, therapists, and all his friends at the Autism Treatment Center.