Autism and Genetics

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For far longer than it should be needed, a vast majority of us in the autism community have said that genetics may account for a far bigger role in autism than any of the other factors being explored. Now, a study of over 2 million people in several countries is saying similar…to the tune of 80%.

This study not only included 2 million people, but covered a 16 year span. There have been many studies confirming the same findings, but none have been this huge. And while the study is not perfect (what study is?), it is leading researchers to a new field of exploration and questions regarding the role genetics play in autism, along with the role “environmental” factors may still play.

But how does one look for a history of autism in their family, especially if there are no concrete diagnosis to be found (which is often the case, particularly in minority families)?

The key lies in education; being familiar with the symptoms and listening to that instinct that something may not be adding up on the developmental milestones.

The key lies in communication: talking to the professionals (doctors, psychiatrists, etc.) and speaking up about your concerns.

It also lies in understanding: knowing what autism is, is not, and looking at it with empathy instead of sympathy.

The links to the study and an article about the study are below.

There is also a link to my first FREE autism class happening on August 3 in South Florida, which will give you a head start on all of those aforementioned keys.

Article on Study: Majority of autism risk resides in genes, multinational study suggests

A summary of the study itself in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (the full study has to be ordered through the Journal): Recurrence Risk of Autism in Siblings and Cousins: A Multinational, Population-Based Study

SPARC Guidance FREE “Hello, Autism” Class!

A Resource Desert

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While living in the Bay Area of California, I felt as if there were a lot of resources for families on the autism spectrum. I watched former co-workers open up therapy service organizations for autism, and the universities (such as Stanford and the not-so-local UC Davis) had entire departments and programs dedicated to research and/or community outreach. There seemed to be something going on all the time, from walks and conferences, to trainings and meetings…there was always something to learn and gain.

You can imagine my surprise when I moved back home to South Florida and found nearly nothing compared to where I came from. Granted, there are some organizations that say they do the very things that I am looking to do, but I still hear from my community that there aren’t any services being provided to them. There is a disconnect somewhere.

Because of the wording of the laws in Florida (many of which only specify ABA as an acceptable intervention), many of the agencies that provided such services when I last lived here no longer can due to the guidelines. I am also noticing fewer professionals in my area who are trained or have experience with autism, so that is contributing to the resource desert as well. It is a strange and unfortunate situation all around.

So, what is SPARC hoping to do in the midst of this disconnect and resource shortage? Well, while we may not provide direct therapy, we do want to give families, communities, schools/daycare centers, and potential employers a better understanding of autism and encourage advocacy. That is how the system is improved. Awareness leads to Acceptance, Acceptance leads to Affirmation, and Affirmation leads to Advocacy.

It’s time to create an oasis in the desert.

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School Daze

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Parents with kids and teens on the spectrum are starting to notice the range of different experiences they are having with regards to education, at least in my home county. While this is a goal further down the line for SPARC, I am fascinated by how a school district can have such extremes in providing services for those with special needs.  The private and charter school sector has similar range of differences, leading to parents trying school after school in hopes that they actually provide the services that they say that they do (because I’m learning that this isn’t always the case, either).

Right now, I am looking at what is available in my county. I hope to start reaching out in the spring and summer to these programs already in place and help them connect better to minority communities. There are some great resources out there that many do not know about. I hope to change that and help bridge some obvious gaps. This is honestly Stage Two in SPARC Guidance’s plans, but with Stage One in its testing phase already (on an individual basis), I want to start laying groundwork for the next steps.

There will probably be some future posts on this topic as I learn more about what is available for families in the school district and the community.

Just because you cannot see the movement, does not mean that movement is not happening!

Stay tuned!

 

Saying “No” and Walking Away

This can be a tough one for me, and I think for many who consider themselves to be Healers and/or Helpers.

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*Thought I’d add a little Halloween fun to this one*

As we move into the holiday season, and as Christmas stuff and fluff starts to pop up everywhere (already), I think it’s important that this little reminder is revisited.

Do not try to be everything for everyone this season.

Do not push yourself into a breakdown trying to appease others, no matter who they are.

Do not feel guilty for saying “no” if it is to take care of yourself. Most of us know our internal signs of being spread too thin, so when you start to see them, that’s your cue to cut some of the chaos back.

Do feel free to walk away if someone is not hearing your request for peace. I’ve had to do this a lot in the last few years, and I’m doing it now. If you respectfully state why you can’t invest time, money, or energy into something, and they ignore that request, then your feelings in the matter are not important enough to them. Seek out those who respect your desire for balance.

Do give yourself the all-important “me time.” Even if it’s a few blocks worth of a walk, 2 minutes in the car, or a 5 minute cup of coffee in silence, carve it out. Those little moments add up.

Do what you can and/or must to show yourself some love. All of the other statements above roll right back into this: love yourself.

Trial By Fire

The past few weeks have been nothing short of a roller coaster for me, but it inspired this post, so…that’s a plus!

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Sometimes the Universe will give you lessons in fairly easy or straight-forward ways. Maybe you’ll see someone else go through a hard time and learn from watching their experience. Perhaps a movie, song, or book will lead to a great, life-changing “a-ha” moment for you.

And then sometimes the Universe will just snatch the rug out from under you, throw you in the ocean, or set you on fire and go, “Okay, make it out of that!”

Both approaches get you to (hopefully) the end goal of learning something important about yourself, your life, and/or the world around you. The second set of circumstances, though, often feel unfair when you’re going through it.

“God, there’s an easier way to show me this, isn’t there?”

“Geez, Universe, really? This is what we’re doing now?”

“What did I do wrong, because I must’ve screwed up somewhere to get into this mess.”

Truth is, glass is tempered and shaped in fire. Tripping causes you to use your reflexes to protect yourself, reflexes you might have forgotten about. Being surrounded by water forces you to swim or tread. It’s a daunting task, but wow, do you feel accomplished once you emerge out of it! Even if everything is not 100% perfect yet on the other side, you came out of the fire much stronger than when you went in.

Sometimes it does take a so-called Trial By Fire in order to grow stronger. We need our Dark Night of the Soul because it often forces us to stop, to humble ourselves, and to listen because that is all we can do.

Sometimes, we need to stop.

If we don’t stop, best believe that eventually, the Universe will do it for us. Bluntly.

Still, even in those dark moments, remember that it is a learning cycle. The wheel will turn, and momentum will build again. You will get through this, and you will emerge stronger, more aware, and more in love with life itself than you were before.

You. Will. Get. Through. This.

 

 

Painting, Self-Identity, and Deviation

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On Saturday, I had a chance to do a “paint and sip” afternoon. I wasn’t even going to go at first, but was talked into it by a childhood friend of mine. The experience gave me an interesting look at creativity, our self-identity, and how willing we are to deviate from societal norms.

For these events, we are usually given a beginning sketch, and then are walked through how to essentially duplicate the picture. It’s a genius idea, because the steps are explained in such a way where you would have to really try to mess it up. It’s nearly fool proof. This picture, titled “Golden Goddess,” featured a black woman’s facial outline and shoulder. Everything else would have to be painted in.

I started deviating a bit from the start. I mixed the colors for the skin tone a bit differently, and I decided that I wasn’t going to give her a curly afro like the example because I wanted her to look more like me. I also wasn’t going to be too crazy with her makeup because, again, that wasn’t me. I found myself wishing that I had blue instead of green paint so that I could make purple and really let loose on the color scheme.

Strangely enough, it never crossed my mind to ask for blue paint.

I knew what elements I wanted to add to the painting, but I didn’t because I didn’t feel that I had the resources or access to them…even though there was plenty of blue paint on one of the counters at the front of the room. I didn’t think to ask and instead just sat, wishing.

While in the midst of this mini-crisis, I starting looking at the others’ paintings. Most were following the instructions to the letter. Then I saw one woman who had clearly decided to go a different route. Her finished goddess ended up with pinkish-red bushy hair, a green top instead of a red one, and roses around her instead of circles. It looked awesome.

My finished goddess looked like a halfway point between the example and whatever I wanted. I love her, but I know that she can be more.

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I then started looking at more pictures from the business of other painting parties. I was genuinely curious at how few people tried to deviate from the presenting pictures. There were several where I thought, “Oh, I would’ve added these colors, maybe changed that background into this.” When it came to the painting of a black woman, though, I saw the highest number of deviations to have the subject look more like the painter. So why didn’t I see such deviation with the landscape or object painting classes?

No, I’m not answering or looking to answer that question. This is more simply food for thought. How willing are you to paint outside the lines? Do you prefer to follow the norms, or pivot a little? How much do you pivot? How does art help one deviate a bit more than usual? If you know what you want to create, how willing are you to pursue it?

Monday motivation, indeed.

SG versus Therapy

I’ve said this briefly before, but I have seen this line crossed so many times now that I decided it needs an entire post. Just to forewarn you, this may turn into a bit of a rant because this is a subject near and dear to me.

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Spiritual guidance (SG) and therapy are NOT the same thing. They are also NOT interchangeable.

Speaking as a guide, I would never attempt to diagnose or treat a mental health issue. Even with my background in counseling, I am not licensed, so this is not within my scope of active practice. If I feel that therapy would benefit the client, I will readily and gladly recommend it. Having opportunities to engage in both SG and therapy can be extremely beneficial; it allows for both mental and spiritual healing with professionals working within their proper boundaries and areas of expertise.

Speaking from the experience of working as a therapist, I get alarmed when I see guides start to act more like therapists. Guides have a unique duty and focus, which is the spiritual well-being of the client. This is not the same as the mental well-being. There are many aspects of spiritual practice that, in a mental health setting, may appear to be signs of pathology. Visions could equal hallucinations. A bond with nature may be seen as delusions of grandeur. I like to use the “harm question” to distinguish the two: is this person’s beliefs or experiences causing harm (of any kind) to themselves or others? If not, SG can continue. If so, I will get other professionals involved promptly.

The other issue with blurring this line is the flip side of the coin: guides who are unable to recognize mental health issues at all. I have seen a self-proclaimed guide completely miss what to me were obvious signs of depression in a client, and instead they chastised the client almost relentlessly for being “unmotivated.” The client was called lazy, insubordinate, childish, etc. The “guide” threatened to abandon the client and stop communicating with them if they didn’t do as they were advised.

This is not good therapy or spiritual guidance. Honestly, this isn’t even respectful. This is bullying. Rather than punishing a client for not following instructions (which, by the way, you shouldn’t be spending your time as a guide doing, anyway), a guide would seek to understand the roadblocks that the client is putting up. A good therapist does this as well. There is always a reason for blockages, and they are rarely there just because the client is “lazy.” Punishing the client by fussing at them or threatening to basically abandon them is not going to get you to the reason. It only alienates the client or leads to dependency with the client constantly trying to please the guide. The client in this example should have been referred to a therapist to address the depression symptoms.

I could probably go on forever with this post, but those are some of the bigger issues I’ve seen when two different practices/approaches collide in ways that they shouldn’t.

Can you think of other ways that these lines could be blurred, and/or how to prevent this from happening?