Mom and Former Police Officer Creates AutismTalk App to Help Police Interact With People on the Spectrum

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Former police officer and mother to a child on the autism spectrum, Stephanie Cooper created AutismTalk App — an interactive communication app that helps first responders communicate with people on the autism spectrum.

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Mom and Former Police Officer Creates App to Help Police Interact With People on the Spectrum.

Less than a year ago, Stephanie Cooper started Autism Law Enforcement Response Training (ALERT).

This program provides police officers with specialized training and sensory kits designed to help autistic people.

Now Cooper is taking her mission one step further through AutismTalk app.

The app helps first responders communicate through picture-based messaging.

“In every autism training class I have taught, I have had numerous law-enforcement officers and first responders ask the same question,”

“‘Why isn’t there an app for us?’”

The app includes picture communication boards with categories for law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS).

“This app is important to me because if something were to happen to me, first responders will be able to understand and have that extra tool which will allow them to communicate quickly with my son.”

AutismTalk app costs $8.99 And is available for ios and android.

A third of the app’s proceeds will be donated to alert to provide more police training.

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You Can’t Put a Label on How Tasty These Baked Goods Are

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Jacob Wittman, who’s on the autism spectrum, wanted a career as a chef and No Label At The Table Food Company is his own creation to make that happen.

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You Can’t Put a Label on How Tasty These Baked Goods Are

No Label at The Table is a gluten- and dairy-free food company staffed by people on the autism spectrum.

When Jacob Wittman turned 18, he decided he wanted to be a chef in a restaurant.

Wittman, with his parents help, started the baked goods company in spring 2017.

Based in Carmel, Indiana, the company has made its way to farmers markets and a wedding tasting.

The company’s $2 snickerdoodles and brownies packages usually sell out within hours.

The company continues to grow and employ more adults on the spectrum with every event.

To learn more, visit nolabelatthetable.com.

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Autism Makes Me Who I Am — and I'm Proud of That

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I didn’t know there was an Autistic Pride Day — June 18, 2017 — until the day before yesterday! And now it’s really playing on my mind. I’ve read all sorts of comments on social media. Mostly of the “Oh, really, there is one?” variety. But there was one post…

The writer asked why they should have pride in their neurology, and asked whether an Autistic Pride Day drew unnecessary lines that divide humanity. Reading those words made my brain hum. The cognitive wheels started whirring, and I did what I always do. Parse, deconstruct and draw the meaning from the words. Cogitate, reflect and ponder. Then finally, systematize my thoughts and my response.

So here it is.

I am proud to be autistic. Due to heredity, genetically, I could never have been anything other than autistic. My sense of pride was built during a childhood being nurtured and supported as “other.” Boy, my family was different! Papa was a refugee who came here after WW2. Mum was from the country, but was a woman out of time. She, like many of her generation who were liberated by the Women’s Movement, might have felt happier and more fulfilled if she’d been born half a century later. Their family, me and my siblings, stood out like flashing red lights in our white bread and comfortably conservative neighborhood. Nah. We never fitted in! Too bright, too quirky, socially isolated, focus fixed somewhere in the distance and with weird interests, we were on the outer.

 

But home was different. My mother built a safe place for us, just like her mother had before her. Our interests were encouraged, our sensory challenges accepted as totally normal, and we were taught to read ourselves — in our responses to situations and stimulation, and in our anxiety. We were taught that all of this was just us. And that we were fine. The rest of the world may be weird, but home, and us, we were the sane center in an incomprehensible world. My autistic pride honors that upbringing.

Everything I am good at, all my learned skills — in particular, social and emotional skills — my acquired academic knowledge, and my hobbies and interests have been filtered through my brain. My autistic brain. And I love my brain. I’m damn smart, too. And all of those things are mediated by my autism. My drive to systematize, the ability to deeply focus on details, my drive (compulsion, really) to learn and assimilate information, my extreme empathy — and my creativity — are heightened because I’m autistic. I am so sick of the deficit model! Yes, my anxiety isn’t removable, my sensory processing is out of whack, and I’ve got quirks galore that Must Not Be Ignored. But I am a better person knowing my autism and learning to live with it. And I’m damn proud!

Now, here’s the nota bene, the coda, maybe even the mea culpa I am expected to add. Autism has its challenges. Some experiences are different because of how autism manifests in some people. All of us struggle at some level with anxiety, social skills and managing the demands of life. But these are characteristics, not autism itself. In a perfect world (Ha!, Oh, I know!) we would all have access to the right supports to allow us to function like everyone else. It’s not the autism, it’s the response of other people that undermine our abilities.

I am really starting to wonder how far we’ve come if I have to make cogent arguments in favor of autistic pride, rather than just having it! After all, we live in a world where millions of dollars are being spent on trying to “cure” autism and autistic people out of existence. That’s why Autistic Pride Day is so important. If autistic people can’t be proud of who we are, how can we argue for our right to exist? How can we fight the “cure” fantasy and the tragedy line spun by others? This is our neurology. It makes me who I am. It makes us who we are. It makes us live, do, be, feel, experience, sense, love and learn differently. Not less. Just differently. I think that is worth feeling a sense of pride.

So — Happy Autistic Pride Day. Here’s to a better one next year!

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Someone I Love Is on the Autism Spectrum

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The day my grandson received his diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder was an overwhelming day. On one hand, we were relieved that finally someone besides ourselves realized there was a significant developmental delay for him and we weren’t imagining it. On the other hand, we were such newbies to the diagnosis, we weren’t sure what happened next. That was over a year ago. He was/is considered nonverbal, and he has made great strides in the past year.

By all appearances, he may seem like many other 3-year-olds. He is rambunctious, adventurous and active. I get so frustrated when people say things like, “He doesn’t look autistic.” What exactly does someone look like if they are autistic? His engagement with others has improved in the last year as well. He can look at someone and interact with them.

We have learned when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Everyone on the spectrum is different in how they act and how they interact.

When he wants something, he uses a combination of signs, words or visual supports to let us know what he wants or needs. It can be a challenge when he does ask for something correctly and we can’t give it to him. Maybe because it’s too close to dinner or too late in the evening for him to have ice cream or a sweet treat or simply because the answer is no. He might not fully comprehend the no answer, so he will use the signs “please” and “want,” and I have to say “no,” and he becomes confused. When he doesn’t have a word or sign to use, he grabs his book of pictures, and flips through until he finds what he wants and hands me the picture, along with the signs “please” and “want.” I am glad we have the pictures. They are a huge help for all of us. The problem is when he wants something and there is no picture, but he has figured out how to overcome that problem.

One day, he brought me his small picture book, flipping through the pages but still not finding the right picture. He left the room and returned with the larger book and once again went through over 200 pictures and still had difficulty. I told him I would go to the kitchen with him and he could show me what he wanted, but he was too fast for me. He came into the living room carrying a plastic bowl with spaghetti in it from the refrigerator! The most amazing thing to me is that he is undeterred. If pictures couldn’t tell me, he finds a way! There was a picture of pasta in his book, but it didn’t have sauce on it, so he might not have realized that was the same. There is now a photo of spaghetti in the book for when he wants something like that again.

Every day, he amazes me. I love when he stims. It is exhilarating to him and he does it when he feels overloaded. He loves to spin around and around to the point where I can’t watch because I get too dizzy, but he just plops down on the floor, giggles and does it again. He also does a lot of jumping on his tot-sized trampoline. He is full of energy from the time he awakens until he finally fizzles out. One minute he can be running through the house and the next minute, he is fast asleep on the floor.

 

If someone in your family received an autism diagnosis, learn all you can to provide help and support. All of us have struggles we face daily, and some of us need extra help in some areas. We all dance to our own beat, regardless if we are on the spectrum or are neurotypical. Live life to the fullest every day. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Our grandson has autism, but for us it doesn’t define him. He just looks at the world a little differently than we do.

Boy wearing a striped shirt, sitting in a chair indoors

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Why Conversation Can Be Hard for Me as a Person on the Autism Spectrum

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Most of the time, the main struggle for me is simply getting on with other people. Ideally this would be quite easy. This is mostly because of the importance placed on getting on well with others. It is not always easy, though. Typically it is possible for me, but other factors get in the way. There have been many occasions when I would have quite liked to converse with another person, perhaps in a spare moment. But the strain of everyday function always manages to get in the way.

If so much time was not spent worrying about where I was, what I was hearing, what I was seeing, I could do a much better job of starting a conversation. There is also the issue of considering what it is I could do to interest the other person. The automatic thought is that I am not interesting and that I have nothing of real value to say. If anything is started, I find I deliberately scale back some of what I am saying for fear of boring the individual I am speaking to. This then means if a conversation is brought about, then I can be restrained. I am quite happy to listen to the other person, but when the time comes for me to respond to something, I give half an answer.

On the face of it, this may not seem too bad. At least a conversation is taking place, even if it is at an early stage. The issue is developing those conversations further. I can sometimes find that my restrained manner could be perceived as a lack of interest from the other person. This then means the conversations never go further than being used as a way of wasting time, and that the individual either loses interest in talking to me and also thinks I do not really care about talking to them. This is a shame because in a lot of ways it could not be further from the truth. When it is manageable, I like to try and talk to different people. This is not always possible, but when it is, it is positive, because it feels like progress. If I can end the conversation thinking it went well, I will be quite pleased. The trouble is that this takes considerable effort. It almost brings about fatigue. I have to move beyond the comfort zone of sitting quietly and just have a go saying different things to see what works. Sometimes this works well and that is always good; other times it does not work so well, and it always brings about an amount of worry afterwards.

 

This then contributes to the fatigue that can be felt after an off-script conversation or particularly busy day. Off-script is a good way of describing it. A lot of the time I prefer for most days to be near enough the same. I have a tendency to informally plan the day and then go about the day following what that plan is. These are never written down, but I always know whether a day is going comfortably or not. Going off-script refers to any moment where I may try something I am not entirely comfortable with. If I have had a quiet few days, I may try to create conversation with the people I meet throughout the day. Despite the difficulty it can bring, it can also bring incredible positivity. If I go a long time without talking to many people, I start to think I may be something of a failure.

This is therefore an issue that continues to go round in circles. In one sense it is something I would like to improve. In another sense I am quite happy to carry on in my own way. It is probably a case of finding some kind of balance between the two. I do not have high expectations when it comes to forming friendships; in a lot of ways I would be quite happy to have a small group of people to meet up with every month, and that would be quite enough. It is also something I do not feel that I can have high expectations of either. This is because I find I am near enough starting from nowhere. The one thing that does need to change is the way I appear to other people. With things as they are, it is not difficult for me to appear rude or perhaps unappreciative of other people. This is the main thing I would like to work on going forward.

So it is simply a case of working on the simple aspects of conversation. Just saying hello to people would be beneficial. The trouble with this is that I have only recently realized this is something done quite often, and it is out of being polite. Part of the issue was that I perhaps thought acknowledging someone in passing was only really reserved for friends, not just for people I half know. I am going to try to do a better job of this in the future. It may then be possible that I get on better and then end up enjoying day-to-day life more.

As I have said, as much as talking to people is difficult, it always feels like positive progress. So if I can manage to do better over time, I may find I will get on better with other people. This can help with enjoying life more, and it could also be a route into employment. That is part of where some of my bitterness with the way the world works has come from. One of the best qualities that an individual can have, it seems, is to appear a certain way. This opens up a lot of doors and can make life a lot easier. It is therefore an important life skill. Yet it is usually left to the individual to learn the skill for themselves. This then leads to a number of people, including myself, being shut out of mainstream life. So it is now time for me to try and do something about it.

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What I Want the People Who Say ‘You Don’t Look Autistic’ to Know

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I am writing this so people will understand that autism has no “one look,” and that every individual with autism is affected differently. Autism can affect how people socialize and see the world, and it can affect a person’s sensory processing.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, and I also have ADHD, which affects my attention and makes controlling my behavior difficult. Yet I have come across a number of people who tell me, “Oh I know someone who has Asperger’s, there is no way you have it,” “Oh but you don’t look autistic,” or the most patronizing to me, “But you’re grand compared to other people, so don’t worry.” Even after I have explained to people what Asperger’s is, how it affects me and other people and also that there is no “one look,” they still don’t believe me.

When I asked these people what differentiates me from other autistic people they know, they say it’s down to my looks. Yes, my looks — the fact that I wear makeup and dresses the very odd time I get to go out is what makes them not believe me when I tell them I have autism. I have heard from many people who feel their diagnosis is also ignored because of that.

The author looking down and to the side, standing in front of a gray wall

I am here to tell people my experiences with autism in the hopes that they will gain an understanding and a better awareness of this, for me and maybe others on the spectrum, the invisible disability.

I was diagnosed at the age of 20. I developed late as a child. I began to walk and talk before the age of 3 and I had to start school at nearly 6 years of age. I had a horrible time integrating into three of my schools, and teachers noticed I was behind on my reading, writing, spelling and my social/emotional interaction with my peers. This led them to believe I had dyslexia. They then suggested to my parents, for me to improve my social skills, that I take up an eight-week socialization group in a clinic. Yet they still didn’t think I may have been autistic.

I had problems with my concentration as a child, and I had to be seated away from the window or from anything that may have distracted me. I went to an Irish school for four years and still I couldn’t understand any of the work I was given and had to be given an exception from learning the language. I have never had many friends. I have had to depend on my sister for friends for the most part of my life. I was left out and bullied growing up for being different, hyper, “weird,” ”goofy,” “annoying,” “odd,” and so on. This is due to me not being able to understand social norms or interact properly. I also take things literally, which before my diagnoses resulted in people making a show of me.

I was constantly in and out of jobs; no job lasted longer than three months. I would work long hours, over hours and do the job perfectly. I lasted less than two months in each job, and I was told it was because of my lack of communication, bad eye contact, weird behavior, being awkward, robot-like personality, no facial expression, clumsiness, not knowing how to speak to customers, etc. I even had the next job after that point out all these things, and one job stated how maybe customer service roles were not for me as I don’t do well with face-to-face interaction. Then I was let go. It felt as if I would do anything to please my boss and they would look for a reason to get rid of me. This is something I have to slowly improve.

 

In terms of education, I used to barely pass school and college. I was put into the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, which is intended for people to go straight into a job and is not intended for university. I always wanted to learn and studied hard. I was even awarded five endeavour awards for hard work, but yet still was nearly failing the easiest foundation classes. I believed I would never be able to get a degree, and it was like I was stuck this way forever. I wondered why this was happening throughout my entire life, but now I know it’s a part of my autism, which has led me to improve myself and get the right support. Now I am going into my second year of a degree, but this doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with exams, SA work and classmates and college itself still. I can only learn how to progress academically over time, and having a SNA reader in exams growing up and even now has really helped.

Autism also affects my sensory processing — how I taste, hear, see. I tend to become irritated with a noise in the distance, and I would have to wear ear plugs if I go to sleep or I lie awake all night from a sound in the other room. If I’m out in public and I look angry, it is because it’s too bright out and I’m getting a strain-like feeling on my eyes. If a room is too stuffy, I have to open a window but every 10 minutes. Or if a bus is too smelly, I’ll have to get off or the smell will just have a kind of control over me. If I have had the odd night out with people, usually the music will make me leave early or I’ll sit there hoping the night will end quicker, and that is why I leave early.

Another autistic trait I have is stimming. I can hide my stimming in public and I tend to do it only at home. One example of this is when I rock side to side when I lie down. It is something I have been doing since I learned how to move as a baby, and it’s my method of escape and calming.

One characteristic people with autism may have is a special interest. We can constantly go on about it. These special interests can change over time. My special interest at the moment is Steve Jobs and Apple. I tend to overly talk about this and the other person can get bored. I do this as I’m not able to start or hold down a conversation and go blank. I know I’ll feel somewhat safer just talking about this, so maybe next time ask me what my special interest is and talk with me about it.

So next time people think I don’t “look” autistic enough, please remember this. There are so many other ways my autism affects me too, but these are just some of the traits and difficulties I face, and there is no “one look” people have. We need understanding from the community that everyone with or without a diagnosis is different.

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