We are deeply saddened by the death of Judson Albahm amid his mental health crisis. We are proud of Judson for his forethought in seeking help in facing his challenges and disappointed that he could not find the help he needed. Central New York families are sadly familiar with the struggle to access appropriate mental health care. We mourn with Judson’s family and join with them in calling for the marshaling of resources to adequately care for vulnerable members of our community like Judson.
The closures of outpatient mental health facilities in Onondaga County have left families adrift as they seek help for their loved ones and for themselves. The inadequate understanding of the needs of autistic people further leaves people like Judson with limited options for treatment or support during a crisis.
We encourage families in crisis to reach out to Upstate University Hospital’s Emergency Psychiatry Service, located at the downtown campus, for care.
Sanchia A. Callender, Inc
Autism Mental Health Initiative Advisory Council
Parents for Public Schools of Syracuse, Inc
Neurodiversity Consulting LLC
The Academy of Excellence, Inc
Joshua Michael King for Students
Masking and Kompany
by Liza Citron
As teachers are going back to school, many might have an autistic or otherwise neurodivergent child in their class -- perhaps for the first time. Educators might reasonably wonder where to begin in tailoring the classroom experience to that child -- connecting to the child as an entirely new experience for the teacher. How different is the autistic experience to the neurotypical one? How does autism affect a child in their formative years? What changes should be made for the child to help them connect to the curriculum and the teacher, and to help them succeed? These are all questions teachers might be asking themselves as the “mad rush” to prepare for the school year comes into full swing.
All these questions may seem daunting to the teacher, especially ones new to their classroom. Everything comes down to paying attention to and carefully observing the child -- and, of course, listening to what they may tell you. Careful observation can tell you what the child’s most significant struggles are, and conversely, what their greatest successes or strengths are or maybe in the future.
As an autistic adult, I don’t personally know the neurotypical experience. I can, however, compare my autistic experience with descriptions from neurotypical friends and family members. My perspective helps provide insight into neurotypical and neurodivergent experiences that impact the classroom.
One of the main differences I have noted is the capacity for sensory input and susceptibility towards over-stimulation. Things neurotypicals might not even notice can be “deafening,” if you will, to an autistic individual -- and can cause either shutdown or meltdown, depending on the situation. As such, the best learning/work environment for many autistic people, and neurotypical people is one with the least sensory stimuli possible. In such a situation, it is easier to maintain concentration, and much easier to lower anxiety levels, both of which provide a more productive mental state.
Another difference to consider, especially with young children, is the theory of mind -- seeing situations from another’s perspective. Theory of mind is an aspect of human behavior and neurology that is important in relationship building and learning. Contrary to what some may think autistic people are not insensitive to what others need or want. However, it can often be difficult for us to see those needs and wants in the context of a situation. Providing an environment for role-play, or anything that requires “characters” can often help develop a person’s understanding of the theory of mind.
Every individual, autistic or not, will have their levels and specifics of needs, struggles, and strengths. The above are just two of the multitude of ways in which the autistic experience can differ from the neurotypical one. Taking the time to learn, understand, and account for these individual aspects allows educators to set themselves and their students up for success in the new school year.
Neurodiversity Rewires Conventional Thinking About Brains
Join us for the Autism and Mental Health Symposium June 9, 2018 to explore barriers to access to mental healthcare for people on the autism spectrum. Register here.
It’s well established in research literature that people with autism and related disorders have an increased vulnerability to mental health challenges. Despite this fact the mental health resources available to autistic people and their families in their communities are limited. In Onondaga County the clinician to patient ration in mental health is 1 to 202. In that number few are able or willing to meet the mental healthcare needs of autistic people. Families and individuals are left with little or no options for addressing their mental health care needs. We can do better.
Register now for our Autism and Mental Health Symposium to explore the barriers to access. Be part of the solution.
Gluten free diets, casein free diets, elimination diets, supplements, or any combination thereof. Are they any good for people on the autism spectrum? Research still says, no doesn’t really look like it.
Over a decade ago when my children were first diagnosed with autism gluten free and casein free diets were the thing to do to treat autism. I did some digging to find the scientific basis for the belief in this special diet. What I found were studies with small sample sizes, no control groups or poorly matched control groups, no blinded or doubled trials (researchers and participants often knew what they were getting), subjective measurements of outcomes, and no clear mechanism for how the diet was supposed to work or what is was supposed to improve.
I tried a gluten free diet anyway because, hey it was only food. After a year my children were still their autistic selves. I left behind the expensive food and dubious claims about special diets.
Fast forward to today and there have been some high-quality studies done on not only gluten free and casein diets but also the various restriction/elimination diets that parents try as well as the supplements they are often encouraged to use as treatment for their children’s autism. The results are still underwhelming.
Some days it feels like being a parent requires me to be a general education specialist, a special education expert, a psychologist, a neurologist and neuroscientist, a geneticist, an education law specialist, a diplomat, and a hunting dog all at the same time. It is exhausting. But it’s what you do. Will there be a time when I’m not going to advocate for my children and others like them? When I’m dead maybe.
My kids want to go to college. That means it’s my job to make sure everyone does their job to give my children that opportunity. Sometimes that means holding my children to a higher standard than others have for them. Sometimes that means cutting them some slack. It’s a delicate balance that requires knowing the child in question and what best motivates them.
Mostly it requires being present and aware of my child and their needs. It means setting in my mind that they can achieve their goals and working alongside them to make sure it happens. I fall into bed exhausted every night. My children do as well. We all work hard fighting for our futures. It is so worth the battle.
While I’m doing all that I also get to do the regular parent stuff. The nurturing, the loving, the laundry, the cooking, the cleaning, the teaching of life skills and how to be a decent human being. I need a nap.
April rolls around every year and every year for autistic folks, their families, and friends we become the center of a media frenzy. Some welcome this some not so much. Lost in the hubbub though is the fact that life is precious and beautiful especially when me make conscious decisions to make it so for our autistic selves, family, and friends.
When we think of social isolation in the context of autism spectrum disorders as parents we often worry about the social isolation our children may experience. We are concerned about the hurt we assume they will feel as a result of it. This spring I was dismayed when one of my teenagers missed out on a school dance. I was determined that he would not miss another opportunity to socialize with his peers. After all I know how much those opportunities to socialize meant to me when I was his age.
When the next school dance rolled around I made sure to have all my ducks in a row. I started with my husband first. You know that whole united front thing that parenting and relationship experts talk about. My husband’s response was something along the lines of, “Dance? Why would anyone want to waste time on something like that?” He then proceeded to retell the story of his parents writing notes to school to get him out of having to go to school dances. Something about being against their religion or some such. So much for united front.
I was having the conversation about the school dance with my son on my own. It was a very brief conversation.
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Your praise may be the only good thing they hear about themselves all day so make it really count.
Another school year has started and my kids are all getting used to the routine of a new grade and a new set of teachers. I spent this morning meeting with every teacher of my children that I could find. My fifth grader’s teacher and I had a particularly long chat. This teacher also had my seventh grader two years ago when he went through fifth grade. We had a good chuckle about what a challenge that was for him, the teacher. My current fifth grader is one of those challenging kids that may find his way to a self contained classroom if school staff can’t find an effective way to manage his behavior at school.
I’ve introduced the Nurtured Heart Approach® into our conversations about my fifth grader. We’ll see how receptive the school staff are to it. I’ve had a great deal of success with NHA® at home. But that’s not quite what this post is about. While we were chatting I mentioned the fact that my fifth grader is a great student of human behavior. This prompted my son’s teacher to go on and on about how sensitive his autistic students are to the behavior and emotions of the staff and students working with them. He seemed in awe of their abilities to do.
I was pleased to hear him make this observation about his students. He described how it might take a typical student a week to figure out how to push the teacher’s buttons where one of his autistic students could figure it out after just one go. Often times people think that autistic people are not dialed in to what’s going on around them. But the truth that my son’s teacher recognizes is that autistic children and adults are often fully aware of the emotional soup that we are all drifting in. Their social challenges put them in the situation of having to be very creative in how they get their needs met. Often times what gets them the most attention is acting out.
At this point I jumped on my NHA® soapbox and pointed out that NHA® is the perfect way to short circuit the negative attention seeking. By refusing to give energy to the negative and instead giving it to the positive these sensitive students can learn how to interact in a healthy fashion with everyone in the classroom.
But going back to the sensitive nature of autistic people, my son’s teacher commented that while not all of his students have been verbal they have clearly been aware of what was said to them and about them. While the main tendency is to characterize autistics by what they cannot do or by what they have difficulty doing it behooves us to remember what they can do. Sometimes we have to remind them about what they can do. The constant focus on what a person can’t do can leave anyone feeling as if they can do nothing.
So if you are a person of influence in the life of someone with autism, or some other special need, take the time to see what they are good at. See what they are doing right. Then take your sweet time telling them all about how awesome they are. The sad truth is that your praise may be the only good thing they hear about themselves all day so make it really count.