Spectrum: A Story of the Mind

I strongly encourage everyone to watch this video, because it is amazing. I agree with Dr. Grandin in this film; we should focus on the sensory input just as much, if not more, than the social skills when it comes to autism treatment. It’s about 23 minutes long, but so worth it. I may make this required viewing for my workshops in the future; I like it that much.

Also, the last adult interviewed in the film is Nick Walker, one of the first autistic adults that I had ever met. I actually had him look over my thesis proposal (which was about autism and multiple intelligence) some years ago. He was also the first person to make it clear to me that most adults like himself refer to themselves as autistic, not “a person on the spectrum.” I was pleasantly surprised to see him in this, and yes, he is very good at Aikido!

If the embedded video does not appear (it was acting funny while I was writing the post), then the direct link is also below.

Spectrum: A Story of the Mind

Data Puzzles

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

There is a lot of emphasis on data in the autism field, especially since Applied Behavior Analysis has a monopoly on the field right now (unfortunately). Everything is data driven, meaning that numbers must support everything. Success is measured in data. Research is (of course) measured by data. Intervention techniques soar or crash based on data.

So what happens when the data confuses people?

A recent study on autism prevalence in 4 year-olds is doing just that, because some of the data doesn’t make sense. For example, if the number of diagnosed kiddos below age 3 decreased in New Jersey, then why is the prevalence number increasing? One possibility is that the number of professionals trained to diagnose and treat autism is low and not increasing with the demand. Having been in three different metropolitan areas in the last 3 years (Bay Area, LA, and Palm Beach County), I can attest to this suggestion. There aren’t enough of us.

The link to an article about the study is below. New Jersey was one of the states examined because it appears to have the highest prevalence in the country right now, but also has a huge array of resources. They also said that because of this, NJ probably has the most accurate information in the study.

New autism prevalence stats spotlight challenge of early diagnosis

Seeing Trends

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Photo by Dazzle Jam on Pexels.com

Most of my 10+ years of work have been in the autism and special needs communities as a therapist or developmental specialist. While the clients themselves (kids or teens) are the main focus, I have also been taking mental notes on trends I see amongst the parents and families. The notes have been interesting and at times, concerning.

First, there are a few common ones I have seen across all of the families, regardless of race, location, or socioeconomic status:

  • If it’s a two parent household, the mother often feels like she is carrying the weight of the autism journey. Granted, this seems to be the feeling in a lot of two parent households in the non-autism community as well, but I hear it more often overall with this population.
  • The parents feel as if they have to fight for every service, meeting, and opportunity that they can get.
  • A lot of parents/guardians feel lonely.
  • If the entire family becomes invested in helping their autistic family member succeed, the client usually does (and often goes beyond what any of us professionals may have thought they could do). These cases taught me early on to never underestimate my clients.

Since my change of scenery from California to Florida, I have now started noticing trends that I knew little to nothing about before, but always suspected. In Cali, my population was mostly white with some Mexican families included here and there. Here, the clientele is mostly African-American with some Latino families included here and there (mind you, my therapeutic population is not autism-based here, but mental health based instead). Some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • The children in the black community in general are getting diagnosed much later than their white counterparts. We’re talking *years* later. Early intervention has been proven time and time again to be critical to helping autistic individuals with navigating this really insane, overstimulating world of ours. The later the diagnosis, the more intense and prolonged treatment may have to be.
  • Professionals aren’t listening to the minority parents/guardians. Many parents have told me that they “had a feeling” that something was different about their child, only to have their primary care doctors brush it off and say, “They’ll grow out of it.” This has directly led to the first bullet point above this one: delayed diagnosis.
  • Minority parents/guardians often feel alienated in their own communities. They don’t feel that they have anyone they can talk to, and that few others know their experience enough to even provide support. This diagnosis is still considered foreign in many of these communities.
  • Incorrect myths and assumptions about autism are still quite common. This also leads to delayed diagnosis.

Below are some links to different articles and studies about this disparity in the autism community as a whole. Our services here at SPARC Guidance aim to improve the situations in the minority communities in particular.

Race, class contribute to disparities in autism diagnosis: This site overall is a great one for autism-related news. There are links at the bottom of the article to the studies that were used in the article (these also inspired my post).

Under-Representation of African Americans in Autism Genetic Research: Yes, this is from a few years ago, but I’m pretty sure very little has changed. If populations are not included in the research, then programs for those populations will not even be considered or thought of.

African-American and Latino Children Often Diagnosed With Autism (ASD) Later Than Their White Peers: There is one quote in particular from this article that I wish to highlight, because it speaks to another trend I have noticed since working here in Florida: “In 2007, a study by a team at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research and Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania, found that African-American children were 5.1 times more likely to be misdiagnosed with conduct disorders before being diagnosed with ASD.” (Rentz, 2018).  Also, kudos to NPR for recognizing and correcting their article regarding how they classified autism (see their correction box at the bottom of the article).

If you wanted to know why I’m leaving the therapy field to focus more on autism education and empowerment in my community, now you know. 🙂

 

A biomarker test for autism?

I really love the work that the UC Davis MIND Institute is doing with regards to conditions such as autism and ADHD. This newest bit of news could help identify a certain subset of autism much faster. According to the article, it would probably only identify about 17% of children on the spectrum for now. This could, however, lead to specialized diagnostic tools and interventions that could benefit everyone further down the line.

Here’s a link to the article, and definitely check out the rest of their site. The MIND Institute is always looking for research participants, and has regularly updated information on their findings.

New Biomarker Panel Could Accelerate Autism Diagnoses 

Being Aware/Autism Awareness Month

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Don’t worry, I didn’t miss the fact that April is Autism Awareness Month. Now that I’m settled, I wanted to give my own take on the month.

I saw this quote a few days ago, and it stuck with me. I’ve experienced this recently myself, and it does make you laugh when people think that they know you and actually don’t have a clue.

This was one of the first lessons I learned working with special needs children, particularly those on the autism spectrum. I had to learn that a vast majority of my clients knew exactly what they needed; the problem was that us “experts” weren’t listening. We were assuming that we knew what they needed. So naturally, we were met with resistance. For some of these so-called experts, the solution to that resistance is to push back harder, to literally break the spirit of the client so that they conform. Even in the beginning, I had an issue with this.

Instead, I chose to drop into the client’s world. I wanted to see how they saw things. While I can probably never know exactly how the world is to them, this simple state of being made me more aware of their awareness. The repeated actions aren’t mindless, but an attempt to regulate (same as how neurotypicals have quirks like biting our nails when nervous…except here you’re nervous most of the time). In doing this, I also quickly learned to never talk about them (in a negative way, especially) within earshot, because just like anyone else, they can tell if you’re talking about them. They may not be able to verbally tell you, but trust me, it will come out in some way. I’ve had to remind many parents and peers about this.

Finally, having said all of that…they can tell you more about themselves that I ever could. In these final days of April, I urge you to follow an autistic individual’s blog, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. You will see, hear, and feel the struggles and triumphs from those who live it, rather than those who work with them. I’ve included a few I follow that are awesome people (and yes, the number of women listed was kind of on purpose). If you are on the spectrum and have a social media presence (or know someone who does), leave your links in the comments as well. I’m going to try and highlight more of your voices going forward!

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/astimmypuzzlepiece/

https://www.instagram.com/girlonthespectrum/

 

Blogs/Sites:

https://davidsnape.me

https://neurodivergentrebel.com

Settling In

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*Pretty accurate depiction of what the view was like for most of my road trip, give or take a few highway lanes. 

Sorry for the lack of updates! My main focus has been this move from CA to FL, which finally happened late last week. After dwindling my belongings down to whatever fits inside a Mazda 3, driving a huge chunk of I-10, and trying to adjust to the multiple time zones I had just rode/driven through, I am finally feeling a bit more centered.

I stumbled upon this article on girls with autism that I wanted to share. I find it interesting because it is from Australia, and they have developed a separate set of guidelines for diagnosing girls/women on the autism spectrum. Having had autistic girls as clients in the past, their guidelines look pretty spot on to me.

I do believe that it’ll take a special set of guidelines to diagnose girls and women, and I think this will go double for minority girls and women who already tend to get the short end of the diagnostic stick. In any case, it’s a good, quick read and a piece that I think practitioners here in the States should take note of.

Girls with autism flying under the radar

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-24/when-mother-and-daughter-are-both-on-autism-spectrum/9662966

Video: Autism in the Workplace

This is a video from CBS about some of the programs major companies like Microsoft and SAP are using to invite and grow autistic talent to them. I attended part of  last year’s Autism at Work conference mentioned in the video, and it was a very inspiring and informative experience. Here’s my blog post about that experience.

Thanks to @beautmindstalk for posting this, and for the follow!

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-growing-acceptance-of-autism-in-the-workplace/