Mom Creates Autism Law Enforcement Response Training for Police Officers

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Why I Will Be Watching 'Sesame Street' as an Adult

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“Sesame Street” has a new character, a 4-year-old named Julia. Not only does this adorable new personality have bright orange hair and enthusiasm for life, she also has Autism. This is something many of us having been waiting for.

When I heard about this, I immediately searched for every video and article I could find to learn more about this new character and the show’s push for inclusion and acceptance. This show has been a wonderful platform to teach life lessons to children and “Sesame Street” has done it again.

Julia is Elmo’s friend, a bright character who is immediately accepted into the “Sesame Street” family. While Julia gets along well with the other characters, she does things a little differently at times. She covers her ears when loud noises overwhelm her, flaps her arms when she is excited, and sometimes avoids eye contact with others. I especially love how real the show is making this character. They are not trying to cover anything or pretend she doesn’t have a disability — instead they embrace everything that makes Julia unique. There have been times when I’ve watched people in the community seem uncomfortable, unaware of how to interact with someone with a disability. This is when we often see people with disabilities treated like tragic heroes or victims. In “Sesame Street” everyone simply embraces Julia. They acknowledge and accept her differences, and are quick to explain that while Julia does have autism, it simply makes her “just Julia.”

I am 20 years old and you can bet I will be watching “Sesame Street.” I am eager to see what situations and experiences Julia will have on the show, and how other autistic traits might be portrayed. This is a huge step for the already inclusive cast of “Sesame Street” and I can’t thank them enough. I am eager to see upcoming episode and watch this new story-line unfold. To those inside the disability community, I know some of us are doing our own little happy dance right now.

For those who do not have a child with a disability, please use this as a tool to teach your children about autism and other disabilities. Teach them these individuals do have differences, just like everyone else has something that makes them unique. Teach them not to be afraid of the child with autism in their classroom, but instead be a friend and peer advocate. Children are curious, let them be curious. Show them it is not only okay to reach out to a child with disabilities, but encouraged. And adults — nobody is too old to watch “Sesame Street.”

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Photo by: “Sesame Street” Facebook page

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To the Man Who Brought Me Stim Tools on Our Second Date

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On our first date, I awkwardly tossed my stim tool in the air and told you what it was. I’d just bought it from Stimatstic and was very excited. During all of the excitement of a first date and having a new stim tool, I somehow lost the tool. Perhaps by the waterfall under the moonlight, or maybe it slipped out of my pocked in the restaurant; I’m not sure.

I sent you a text the next day, telling you I lost the squishy little beanbag. You expressed that you were sorry it happened and tried to help me figure out where I may have lost it. A few days passed and I didn’t see you because you were away for work. I was excited for our second date, though.

Little did I know what you were preparing for me before our second date — a little pouch filled with items of which I could stim. Some cat hair from your beautiful long-haired cat, oddly bunched up and ready for feeling; some string; a necklace with tiny jingle balls on it; and three gorgeous stones. I was blown away by your thoughtfulness!

What made this even more special was that the outstanding gesture came from a neurotypical man. Let’s get this straight, though — in no other way are you typical. If more of society knew what you seemed to know (or perhaps you did some research after you met me) about stimming, we’d be a lot closer to a more aware and caring society. Stimming is important for many people on the autism spectrum. Thank you so much for showing me that you were accepting a big part of who I am. You are indeed very special.

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Thinkstock image by ElenaMichaylova

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How Autism Helps Me Be Mindful

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Mindfulness is an essential skill for self-development, as it allows for the silent observation of thoughts, and the filtering of the negative from the positive. The starting point of any thought is an observation, either immediately or sometimes long before it.

So it follows that the more potent the observations, and the more aware of them we are, the easier it can be to track our thoughts, from their source as a quiet observation all the way to their emotional context when we interpret them.

At all these stages of thought, autism can lend a great gift in many ways. The senses of an autistic person can be very refined in at least some channels — sight, hearing, touch, etc. This means we can have a very different experience observing the world than neurotypical people. Observations to a heightened mind are bright and loud, and so are difficult to ignore.

Each and every person, texture and object in a place is noticed and registered at once as I enter it, and none of it escapes me. This is the first stage of mindfulness. Seeing so much, only a small portion of the information is interpreted. There is then a relatively quiet time when my mind decides how to interpret the information and apply emotion.

When it does so, my body reacts in subtle ways to the chemicals, that we associate with emotions, released. Things like the sensation in our fingertips when we feel excitement. To me, as an autistic person, even these changes are felt as potently as a bright light. If I know which emotions have stimulated which response, the second stage of mindfulness is also achieved with help from autism.

It isn’t difficult for me to trace feelings back to their source; most usually have a logical cause to them. Because both the initial observation and its associated sensation are so loud and clear, if anything is seen multiple times, then both the characteristics of what I’m looking at, and the exact emotion I first experienced, are replicated immediately as though its the first time.

As a result, any activities that lead to the same scenario (or just something in it) appearing before me many times are predictable. I know what I see each time, and how that makes me feel. It also works for the complex emotions that can be made up of many simple ones. So autism also helps me to pinpoint, in most cases, what caused me to feel a certain way, and therefore whether it is an emotion worth dwelling on, or whether it should be let go. My autism gives me awareness of my emotions, so that they do not always control me. I’m glad of this, as they are temporary, and I can always choose to let them pass.

Autism also helps me to isolate thoughts from observations. This increases awareness of them as they’re not drowned out by new information. The observations are external, whilst the interpretations are processed internally, in an inner world that much of the time remains isolated from the one we all share.

It may not always look like it, but autistic people can have just as much capacity for, and as much understanding of, emotions as anyone else. Even if it doesn’t happen in the same way as for neurotypical people.

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Thinkstock image by Design Pics

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Wendy Williams and Identity Salon to Offer Sensory-Friendly Haircuts

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Over the past year, multiple retailers – from Toys ‘R’ Us to Costco – have announced one-off sensory-friendly quiet shopping hours. While these events are certainly a step in the right direction, people on the autism spectrum and sensory sensitivities need to go shopping and get the same services everyone else does, and they need to go more than once a year. To help make personal care services more accessible to kids on the spectrum, stylist Wendy Williams will be offering sensory-sensitive haircuts every Sunday to those on the autism spectrum.

“My husband is a school social worker and we have had many conversations about the gap in services and overwhelming need to provide sensory-sensitive social experiences for kids,” Williams told The Mighty. “I just think it is important that we all do our best to be open-minded and recognize the unique talents and needs of others. I’m hopeful my little part in doing so makes life easier for a few.”

All appointments, which must be made in advance, will take place at Identity Salon in Grand Blanc, Michigan, where Williams works. Salons are not typically a sensory-friendly place; most are loud, bright and overwhelmingly fragrant. To reduce the sensory-overload of a fully operating salon, Williams will be offering services on Sundays, when the salon is typically closed, ensuring the space can be adapted to fit her clients’ needs. Williams will also provide sensory tools and social stories to help make each haircut as enjoyable as possible.

Of course, Williams is just one stylist and can’t cut everyone’s hair. Her advice to other stylists with clients on the spectrum: Prepare ahead of time. “Get to know the child and their specific needs before they arrive,” she advised. “Have the parents or child complete a sensory response inventory, create a social story specific for the child and be willing to take as much time as needed on the day of the hair service to be sure the first experience with you is a positive as possible.”

For those on the spectrum looking to get a haircut, Williams suggests letting the stylist know your needs before the appointment and visiting the salon ahead of time, so you know what to expect.

The sensory-friendly appointments will begin March 26.

Thinkstock image via -Elika-

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