These Roses Make a Perfect Gift and Give Back to the Autism Community

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Roses For Autism hires adults on the autism spectrum and teaches valuable skills to help their future.

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Chris Bonnello Asks 150 Kids With Autism What They Love Most About Life for New Book

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Chris Bonnello, a former teacher who has autism, asked 150 kids and teens from the “Autistic Not Weird” community what they love most about life.

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The Different Types of Meltdowns I Experience

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As someone on the autism spectrum, I’ve had my share of meltdowns. But not all meltdowns are created equally. In fact, I could even say there are different types of meltdowns, ranging from being slightly upset to what I’d consider to be a full-blown meltdown.

In my life, being slightly upset is very common. It’s a state I’m in almost every day. I may feel a little stressed out over some plans that fell through. I’ll be mad, try to hold back tears, take a few deep breaths, and then reassess the situation. It typically doesn’t last much longer than a few minutes.

Next, there’s what I might call a “mini-meltdown.” This is where I can feel it coming, and while I may cry a little bit out of frustration, I can prevent it from escalating with my coping skills. Mini-meltdowns tend to come in groups. So I’ll get upset, prevent it from getting worse, and then get upset again. This process can go on for longer because of the time it takes to cycle through each one.

Then I could have a meltdown. I’m upset, and I’m crying. I have either tried to prevent this meltdown and was unsuccessful, or it was very sudden and unexpected. For this reason, it is the kind of meltdown I personally might be seen having in public. I’m not flying off the handle, however.

Finally, I may have a full-blown meltdown. This is a more intense version of a meltdown. Besides feeling extremely frustrated and crying hysterically, I might scream. I also usually end up self-stimming, where I’ll rock myself or flap my hands to try and self-regulate. These full-blown meltdowns are very strong, and can last for as little as 30 minutes or as long as a few hours. While most meltdowns can make me physically and mentally tired, these full-blown meltdowns are beyond exhausting. After one is over, I’m usually unable to fully function for the rest of the day. Thankfully, they are not as common for me now as they used to be. This may be due to people understanding me more since my diagnosis.

While I wouldn’t wish a meltdown on anyone, I feel they are also important. They allow me to express emotions built up for long periods of time. If I don’t have a meltdown, I will eventually shut down mentally. That’s when I am so overwhelmed that I can’t process the world, so my brain just won’t let me think about what’s bothering me. That being said, meltdowns, no matter what type, can be hard to handle.

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Can Autism Be 'Treated'?

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Can autism be “treated”?

I believe the answer is yes, and the absolute best “treatment” for autism is acceptance!

I believe everyone is created with unique strengths and talents, and the one thing we as fellow humans can do is embrace these gifts.

Autism can come with hurdles to leap, but these can enable the person living with them to develop their strengths. By overcoming challenges, one can increase their confidence and gain much to contribute to the world. I feel the key is to simultaneously capitalize on one’s talents.

By accepting autistics into our lives, I believe we can encourage them to embrace who they were meant to be. We can help each individual in the areas they need a hand, and we can learn from them at the same time. After all, our purpose is to come together for the good of humanity.

As an autistic myself, I would not be where I am today had I not had the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from others around me. I feel that is the best “treatment” I could ask for.

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To the Parent Who Googled 'Should I Let My Kid Play With an Autistic Child?'

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First, as the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I just want to say thank you for asking this question! That may sound odd, especially to some of my fellow parents of children on the spectrum, who probably read that headline and immediately went into ultra-protective-parent mode. It can be easy to hear (or read) about someone posing a question like this and then react with anger, bitterness, resentment, etc. But in all honesty, I wish more parents of neurotypical kids would ask these kinds of questions. Some may hear the word autism attached to a child, and it’s a deal-breaker when it comes to play dates, parties, sleepovers, and any other social interactions kids need as they grow and develop. At least by asking this question, parents like me have the chance to answer it.

First things first, let’s talk about the autism spectrum for a moment. For many people who have not had direct personal involvement with a child on the spectrum, the term “autism spectrum” itself may be a bit confusing. Autism is a developmental disorder that is unlike many medical conditions in that it is not “black or white” like, say, having the flu. When you have the flu, it’s an absolute; you’ve either been infected by the influenza virus or you haven’t, and there’s no in-between. With autism, however, it can be a bit different.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means there can be a lot of variability in the expression of the disorder from case to case. Each child who falls on the spectrum will have their own unique case of autism, and although sub-types can be similar, no two experiences are ever exactly alike. Like all kids, kids on the autism spectrum are unique, and that uniqueness can translate over to their particular case of autism as well. In the case of my youngest son, most of his issues revolve around social skills, social interaction, emotional control, etc. In the past, children like my son were diagnosed with a separate condition called Asperger’s syndrome. Asperger’s has since been redefined, along with several other similar developmental disorders, and is now considered part of the spectrum of autism.

Given that autism is a spectrum, the question this concerned parent posed to Google is not an easy one to answer. The bottom line is no one can answer this question but you, the parent of the child in question. It’s tough for me to admit that, given that I have a son who is on the autism spectrum. My gut reaction is to say, “Of course, your kid should play with autistic kids! Why the heck not?” But that gut reaction could be doing a disservice both to your child as well as the child who is autistic.

While every child on the autism spectrum is unique, and the way their autism manifests is unique, I’ve observed that some generalizations can be drawn. Many children on the spectrum tend to have a difficult time with social interaction. This can especially be true when the interaction involves peers of their own age group, new people, unexpected situations, and new experiences. And when you’re talking about kids playing with kids, odds are you’re going to get most, if not all, of those things coming together at once.

The best answer I can give you is if you are serious about reaching out to those in this community, then do your homework as a parent. Meet the family in question ahead of time, specifically the parents involved. Go over any concerns or questions you might have with them before deciding whether or not this is the right move for you and your child. Most parents of kids on the spectrum that I have met over the years will be very open and understanding about your concerns. After all, we’re parents as well, and just like you we want the absolute best for our kids. If the parents of the child on the spectrum do not want to talk or communicate about their child’s behaviors or needs with you openly, that might mean it’s not the best time for a play date.

This is also a good step, because it can give you at least a ground level understanding of what the complications and issues this particular child might live with every day. Once you have that information in hand, consider your own child and how they respond to different situations. Are they understanding of others’ differences, or do they tend to pick on other kids? Even though it may be done in good humor when they poke fun with other children, a child on the spectrum may have difficulty picking up on the nonverbal clues that can let neurotypical children know someone is joking around, and they may take good-natured ribbing as actual insults. That kind of confusion can be very hurtful, and it can be difficult to explain the situation once that damage has been done. Details like that can help you make an informed and responsible decision as a parent.

While it is true that some children on the autism spectrum can have complications that make social interaction with others in their age group difficult, if not nearly impossible, there are also many children on the spectrum who are able to have stimulating, fun interactions with their peers. And since social skills and interaction is one area where many kids on the spectrum struggle, it can be a huge benefit to the child in question. While the opportunities for playing with other children their own age can be rare, kids on the spectrum need that interaction to build their social skills and understanding. The more opportunities like that which are presented, the better a child can become at navigating the social landscape in less controlled settings like the playground, birthday parties and other social events as they grow older. By letting your child play with a child on the autism spectrum, you could very well be helping them build life skills that they will carry with them forever.

And, finally, consider the impact that something as simple as a play date can have, not only on the autistic child, but on their family as well. I will never forget the first time one of my son’s friends asked if he could go over and play. Such a small, simple gesture, but to me it was a sign that my son was making a real, deep, human connection with another child. One of my greatest fears, and a fear I’m sure is shared by many parents of children on the spectrum, is that my son will grow up alone and isolated. But in that moment, I saw hope. Hope that my son would be able to form deep, lasting connections with other people his age. Hope that he would not be left sitting alone at lunch, or isolated on the bus. I got to see the joy on his face as he left to go to his friend’s house and the broad, beaming smile when he came home. For our neighbor, it may have just been another afternoon riding his bike, playing catch, and being an 11-year-old boy playing with his friend; but for our family, it was so much more than that. For us, it was inclusion, it was acceptance, and it was a triumph.

As parents, we all want what is best for our children, and I know that desire for what’s best is likely where your question is rooted. So, again, I thank you for having the courage and the compassion to ask it, and I encourage you to look for chances and opportunities to have your children play with children on the autism spectrum. Something as small and otherwise mundane as an invitation to come over and play for an afternoon can mean a lot to a child on the autism spectrum and to their family as well.

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How an Adult Autism Support Group Can Reduce Loneliness

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It’s been a year since I filled out the paperwork that led to my autism diagnosis. Calling the intervening months an “adventure” doesn’t quite capture the roller coaster ups and downs I’ve been on since then.

There’s no question that it’s been mostly good. Yes, some false steps, like wasting time and money on a psychiatrist who saw a prescription pad as less work than taking the time to help me better understand myself. But nothing that didn’t turn out to be a worthwhile learning experience.

The good parts of the past year have been many. I shared the diagnosis with my family and more than a few friends without losing their love or inadvertently ending all life on Earth. Not everyone understood or accepted at first, but they listened patiently, paid closer attention to my differences, and made room for me to be myself. I can still talk the legs off a chair, but my friends no longer flee the room and I don’t end up feeling hurt and depressed. They mostly smile and seem amused at how I can go on and on.

My one challenge has been a persistent, entrenched loneliness. It took a while to figure out why, but it has to do with missing a sense of connection to other people. I volunteer regularly to force myself out of the house. I get together with friends, which is fine even if I’m quiet the whole evening. But I don’t spend time being me with people I can connect with.

I stopped by the Autism Society booth at a local fundraiser last year and asked if they knew of any adult support groups in my part of town. No, they said, and suggested I start one. It took six months for me to gather up enough courage to begin reaching out for advice.

We had our first meeting last weekend. It was made possible by complete strangers, every single one of whom was kind, incredibly helpful and downright enthusiastic about making this new support group a reality.

The head of the local Autism Society offered to sponsor our group, provide insurance and got the word out to everyone in their email list. Our local community college was so enthusiastic it offered us meeting space for as long as we’d like, free of charge. Parents who run a “fun” group for young autistic adults offered advice and support, plus spread the word to folks they knew. Local autism advocates did the same, even helping me navigate Meetup (I’m just too old for some things, and Meetup is one). Complete strangers on Facebook helped me think through what the group might become over time and how to make sure everyone who attended would feel valued and included.

Thirteen people (12 more than I expected in my darker moments) showed up. There were 11 of us on the spectrum or with similar challenges, plus two parents. Ages ranged from high school to over 60. Everyone was different, but we all shared enough interests and challenges to feel connected in a very fundamental way.

We had a great time getting acquainted, deciding what the group should be and who would benefit from attending. By the end of the meeting, we had a long list of topics to cover in future meetings and an amazing amount of detail about the younger folks’ favorite computer games and consoles (another thing I’m too old for).

Everyone agreed the group should be a place where, “those facing daily life with ASD/Asperger’s-related challenges will have the opportunity to get together and be who they are, feel how they feel, and talk about anything they need to express in a safe space with people who understand these challenges.”

We hoped it would be a support system and friendship network extending beyond the group meetings.

We wanted it to provide support, encouragement and resources involving self-advocacy with family, jobs, etc.

And we wanted it to offer ways to have fun together.

It was pretty clear by the end of the meeting that everyone was searching for a way to live life more on his or her own terms and to find that missing sense of connection with others like ourselves. We all struggled with loneliness and want friends who understand and accepted us.

There are all kinds of support groups. If you can’t find one you like, think about starting one.

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