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Coding Autism Teaches People on the Autism Spectrum How to Code

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Across the U.S., more and more companies are looking for web developers as well as people who can code. This field of job growth can provide significant opportunities for autistic individuals, Coding Autism, a new training program for people on the autism spectrum, believes.

“Coding is a great career for people with autism because many of the traits associated with people on the spectrum correlate with those of a successful coder,” Austen Weinhart, co-founder of Coding Autism, told The Mighty. “Some of these traits include attention to detail, talent for recognizing patterns, comfort in repetition, introvert personalities, and directness in communication. With the right training and accommodations, a person on the autism spectrum can transition into a position where they not only have financial stability but also long-term career growth.”

Coding Autism is currently crowdfunding for its first web development boot camp and hopes to raise $50,000 to provide full scholarships for its first group of students. Its first course, ASPIRE Web Development Immersive, will be a 15-week, full-time course in Thousand Oaks, California. The course will teach coding basics, preparing students for an entry-level job as web developers. Coding Autism also plans to launch online classes for those who cannot attend in person, starting in 2018. So far, the campaign has raised more than 60 percent of the funds it needs to get started.

“It is completely unacceptable that our autistic community is experiencing an over 80-percent unemployment and underemployment rate,” Oliver Thornton, Coding Autism’s CEO and co-founder, who is also on the autism spectrum, said in a press release. “As passionate advocates who have either been diagnosed with autism ourselves or have family members affected with autism, we understand that with the right resources, training, coaching and environment that individuals with autism can thrive in the workforce.”

In addition to teaching software engineering, quality assurance, and web development, Coding Autism will also assist its trainees in finding jobs. Coaches and educators will provide students with resume workshops, career counseling and interview preparation all of which is designed specifically for autistic individuals.

The training program is a certificate program and not a degree. “Many coding jobs also do not require a degree. All that matters is that applicants show that they have the skills needed and are up to the task,” Weinhart added.

Many companies, including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, have launched hiring initiatives geared towards employing those on the spectrum. “The vast majority of people with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, leaving a large pool of untapped talent. If we work together, we can help make a difference,” Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft, wrote on the company’s blog earlier this month.

With more opportunities arising, Coding Autism hopes to help more people on the spectrum enter the job force as prepared and qualified applicants.

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Learning Not to Second-Guess Myself After My Autism Diagnosis

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I’m in the car, stopped at traffic lights. I’m at the front of the line. Our traffic light turns green. The car next to me doesn’t move. I check the traffic light again — it’s green. Green means go. But I must be interpreting this situation wrongly somehow. The cars behind me start honking their horns. Is it to warn me not to go? The driver in the car next to me realizes the light has turned green and speeds off.

I second-guess myself a lot. It’s because I get seemingly obvious things wrong when I’m so sure the answer is different.

It was the same when I finally went to get myself assessed for autism as a 26-year-old woman. I was so fed up with feeling like there was something horribly wrong — even though I have a wonderful family, live in an amazing country and work at the best place in the world doing a job I love. Since childhood I have often felt so overwhelmed and disturbed that it leads to despair.

I made the decision not to tell anyone about the assessment. I had already done all the research and their doubt would stomp all over my certainty. I left three hours early to get to the appointment that was located only half an hour’s drive away, because I had never been to this place before. So of course I got lost and panicked and confused about where I was allowed to park, and took three hours and 20 minutes to get into the building, crying and shaking.

They asked me questions for two hours, then I showed them some of my drawings. They called me soon after to confirm that I have autism. This was great because for me it tied up so many frayed ends of psychiatrist suggestions of major depression, OCD, BPD, ADD and whatever else I had received throughout life. The awful sensations I felt about everyday things that didn’t seem to phase anyone else — like having to hold my breath when walking through a grocery store, scratching my skin raw when I see a texture that makes me uncomfortable, calming myself down by being alone and doing something repetitive like picking every grass seed pod from a garden, shelling and sorting each section of it into piles (this is how I spent my time after school every day as a child).

A year later, some people are still coming around to the idea of me being on “the spectrum,” but will concede that I “have difficulties” because their mental picture of autism conflicts with their image of me. Others weren’t surprised by the diagnosis at all. Others still have been so respectful and asked questions to understand more.

I work at a wonderful school that loves to help the kids who are wired differently, like me. And as I work to help them, I get to learn a bit about myself, too.

My different way of seeing things can give people a wider perspective. My obsession with art can bring joy to people. My going through horrible feelings means I can understand and be there for people going through horrible things.

So I’m learning not to second-guess myself, but tune into the way I’m wired. We’re all different and have something crucial to contribute to the world — and I’m thankful for the special things I get to share.

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Autism and Me: What I’ve Learned in the Year Since My Diagnosis

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This year, 2017, is vastly swimming by. It seems that just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas and now we’re welcoming in spring and all the beautiful flowers that bloom and the gorgeous baby animals that are born.

April is an incredible month; besides the fact the weather is becoming warmer, it’s also Autism Awareness Month. This is the first Autism Awareness Month I have ever participated in, and it feels amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Autism Awareness should occur every day, every month, but it’s refreshing to know that there is a dedicated month for autism and Autistic people.

It’s approaching a year that I was diagnosed with autism, and what a year it’s been, with learning more about myself as a person, attending support groups and learning how to be more independent. Without forgetting to mention the incredible people I’ve met and had the privilege of working with, including my lovely support worker, and the lessons I have learned in terms of myself, other people and life.

I was diagnosed with autism at 19, and I can assure you that only positives have come from my diagnosis. My eating disorder therapist was the first to pick up on my possible autistic traits; I am thankful that she did or I may have never been diagnosed, meaning I would never have received the help and support I currently have access to. However, just because I have been diagnosed a little later on in life doesn’t mean I haven’t always had autism. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition, meaning it’s present from birth and you cannot just catch it or develop it in the future. The reason I hadn’t been diagnosed prior to this is because nobody had picked up on it. It seemed to me like everybody just assumed I was shy, and I had grown somewhat comfortable with being “the quiet one.” In addition to this, autism can be harder to recognize in females, with one potential reason for this being that we might try to copy those around us as a means of fitting in. But this certainly doesn’t mean males cannot be diagnosed later on in life, too.

I find that people fail to understand autism due to the stigma that surrounds it. It’s time to address this stigma in an attempt to stamp it out completely. Comments have been said to me, including “you don’t seem Autistic.” And I simply put this down to a lack of understanding and knowledge regarding the condition. For example, autism is not a mental illness. It’s impossible to “look” Autistic, and people are only aware of my autism if I trust them enough to discuss it with them. Many people were in shock about my diagnosis because I am intelligent and because of how well I do academically, which is silly considering Autistic people can be highly intelligent. I am blessed to have such understanding and loving people in my life, including my family, my friends and my medical professionals.

Before I was diagnosed as Autistic, I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant or what it included as such. But with each day I am growing to accept and understand my condition, because it doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of who I am. There is a huge Autistic spectrum, and no two people with autism are the same. For instance, I struggle with communication whereas others may struggle with knowing when to let others communicate. I have a huge passion and admiration for animals, whereas others may have interests in other areas. Some people may find certain noises or bright lights frustrating (I hate the ones in supermarkets, ugh), and some people may only feel comfortable wearing a specific brand or item of clothing.

Due to my autism, I struggle with certain aspects of life, but fortunately for me I can learn to challenge them and to maybe overcome my difficulties too. I’ve yet to meet somebody who doesn’t accept me for me. But if the time comes and this does happen, I will simply tell them where to go because I need acceptance and understanding, not judgment and criticism. I struggle with tolerating change, social communication, high levels of anxiety, and low self-esteem/confidence. I cannot always understand sarcasm and have been known to take things literally. I struggle with small talk as I find it pointless and unnecessary, not to mention that it makes me feel extremely awkward. I dislike meeting new people and going to new places, and I also feel uncomfortable in busy/crowded places. I don’t always enjoy things my peers enjoy, including going out drinking and going to parties. Instead of putting myself down for not fitting in with those aspects, I simply carry on and do things I feel comfortable doing instead. I do enjoy spending time with animals, including my cat and rabbit, visiting animal-related places such as animal sanctuaries and zoos, and going for walks in nature. I also enjoy reading, writing and doing anything artistic (well, apart from sewing!).

Being diagnosed with autism has had such a huge, beneficial impact on my life, and despite the fact that I get frustrated with it sometimes, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Why? Well, because autism makes me, me and it makes me unique. It has given me answers to so many things in terms of who I am and why I do, say and understand things differently. In the beginning I was ashamed of even being put in for an autism assessment. I am slowly, but surely, moving on from that feeling, and I’m learning to accept that it isn’t a negative thing at all, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Accept difference, not indifference. I see things in the world differently at times; that doesn’t mean I should be seen or treated differently.

I am an Autistic young person who was once an Autistic child. Instead of judging me, support me and provide me with reassurance and understanding.

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When My Son on the Autism Spectrum Points Out the Details I Miss in Our Day

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April is Autism Awareness Month. It’s also National Poetry Month.

This could be random coincidence. But the coincidence is nicely poetic, because as literal as my son on the autism spectrum tends to be — working to understand symbols or inference — his heightened sense of awareness of the world around him reveals the stuff of poets and artists. Stuff other people might filter out as unimportant.

Take patterns, for example. I may not notice patterns, but my son does. Everywhere. It seems to me like their predictability reassures him, and that he would like life to follow patterns so he isn’t surprised by what’s coming; he’ll know how to react. When he doesn’t find this repetition, he creates it. He wants to wear the same kind of pants. Eat the same food. Watch the same movies.

It’s like a refrain he can keep coming back to and join in on, because he knows the words. Even if we eat at a new place, he orders the same thing, because he knows how to order it.

Beyond patterns, he hears and sees singular details I miss: in the whiney pitch of car’s transmission, in a streetlamp that burns a slightly different shade of yellow. By pointing them out, he makes me stop my oblivious march through the day to see each day. And at the end of the day, he comes back with a refrain: “Remember when we saw that streetlamp that was a different color?” Of course I remember; we just saw it 10 minutes ago. “Remember that joke we made about the cash register not working? The ‘crash register’?” No, I’d forgotten that one. That was a good one.

The repetition may reassure him, and for me, it serves to sear those details I would have forgotten into my mind. Now we have a shared narrative, like a poem created to commemorate the day. And when he gets overwhelmed by all those details or loses his place, I can recite it with him, or for him. “Remember that streetlamp?”

A version of this story was originally published on Elaine’s blog, Dispatches from Planet Elainer.

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My Journey to Receiving an Autism Diagnosis — and Why I’m Thankful for It

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Have you ever had a problem, or perhaps a question, that you really wanted answers and solutions to? Maybe the question was so mystifying and vague that you never thought an answer existed. Perhaps you figured, after years or even decades of searching, that the problem would always be present.

This is how I felt until about one month ago, when I received my autism diagnosis at age 21.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. An early diagnosis certainly would have helped me overall, especially through school. However, I still have plenty of time to adjust my daily life and thinking processes so I can improve the quality of my present.

I wasn’t surprised by my diagnosis. I had been considering the disorder as a possible reason for my struggles in life since I was 18, and a college counselor had suggested it as well. So, when I received my official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder from a psychologist in mid-March, I just nodded and said something like, “Yeah. I kinda figured.”

Basic day-to-day living comes quite easily for me. But you see, all my life I have felt separated from the rest of the world. I have never been able to relate to the human population and humans as individuals. Since I started school, since the very first day, I realized I was far different from everyone else. I went through 13 years of education wondering why the noisy, bright, smelly classrooms and hallways made me upset and angry (sensory deficiency) and why socializing was near impossible.

I became an angry person. I was upset nearly all the time because I didn’t have my answer, my solution. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me. I attempted suicide twice and was in psychiatric hospitals at least five times. I was diagnosed with psychosis, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other conditions that rolled through my life and were treated without success.

But I wasn’t experiencing psychosis. I see the world in a vastly different way than neurotypical people, and the only way I knew how to make friends in childhood and adolescence was through imaginary characters in my head. I don’t have OCD; I just like to organize junk, silverware, clutter and knick-knacks for no other reason than it’s satisfying. I bounce my legs, touch my ears and nose, and wring my hands because it’s comforting.

I do have unspecified anxiety disorder and unspecified depressive disorder, likely because of not being able to cope with aspects that can come with my autism — because I didn’t even know I was on the spectrum.

We as humans have learned a lot more about autism since I was born and while I grew up, and for that I am thankful, for otherwise I may have struggled a lot longer. By implementing a routine in my life and working with a counselor at the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, I have already made leaps and bounds.

I’m still fully accepting my diagnosis, but for the most part, I have made peace with it. I finally have my answer.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Edaville Family Theme Park Offers Sensory-Friendly Weekend and Accommodations for Visitors

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As part of Autism Awareness Month, Edaville Family Theme Park in Carver, Massachusetts will host a sensory-friendly weekend for visitors on the autism spectrum.

The weekend’s festivities include educational and informational events as well as a “Touch a Truck” event featuring emergency vehicles. During the event, music will be turned down and the park’s trains will feature a softer blast. (Trains are required to sound their horns by law.)

Edaville, which features a railroad, has transformed one of the train cars into a quiet space for people on the autism spectrum. The car includes weighted blankets and fidget toys, which visitors can use while waiting in line. Edaville’s bathrooms are also designed to be sensory-friendly, eliminating noisy automatic toilets and hand dryers. These features are available year-round.

To make the park more accessible to those with sensory sensitivities, Cherie Daly, Edaville’s group sales director and special needs specialist, whose son is on the autism spectrum, spoke with educators, teachers, physical therapists and occupational therapists. Daly also hosted a discussion panel allowing families with autism to share ways the park could be adapted to suit the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum.

“Sensory Friendly Awareness Weekend, where everyone is welcome, is focused on inclusion, celebrating and having family fun,” Daly said. “We are very proud of the sensory friendly initiatives we put into place in 2016 that are available throughout the year. Our goal is to address the needs of all children, in the hope that all families will join us in creating lasting family memories.”

Edaville is not the only sensory-friendly theme park. Earlier this month, Legoland Florida announced a number of sensory-friendly initiative for visitors on the autism spectrum.

Edaville’s “Sensory Friendly Awareness Weekend” takes place from April 22 to April 23. Tickets are $27.00 and can be purchased online.

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